Thursday, July 5, 2007
Dir. Ken Kwapis
Starring John Krasinski, Mandy Moore, Robin Williams, Josh Flitter,
Sometimes you’re watching a movie and something happens that makes so little sense that you wish the director or screenwriter or anyone involved with the film were nearby so you could shake them and ask what the hell they were thinking. In Ken Kwapis’ License to Wed, this happened on at least a dozen occasions. The film’s inability to maintain any logical consistency is remarkable considering the relatively simple story. This isn’t a labyrinthine David Lynch plot after all. This wouldn’t be such a problem if the film were funny, but despite a handful (for someone with small hands) of amusing moments, this miserable film is uncomfortable and unintentionally creepy for a variety of reasons.
License to Wed focuses on the newly engaged Ben (John Krasinski) and Sadie (Mandy Moore) who are forced (well Sadie forces Ben, but we’ll get to that later) into taking a marriage preparation course so they can get married at her family church. The course is run by Rev. Frank (Robin Williams), who we can tell is an oddball preacher because he teaches children the Ten Commandments utilizing a game show format. He puts Ben and Sadie through a series of tests designed to help them get to know each other better and apparently this will prepare them for a successful marriage, but all it does is seem to drive them apart.
This silly high concept premise suffers from a very major flaw. There is no reason for us to believe that reasonable adults would willingly subject themselves to this nonsense. Some of the “hilarious” things that they have to do include taking care of robot babies, driving blindfolded, or talk openly about sex with him in the room. The entire idea of the Robin Williams character is fatally flawed and downright disturbing. In the game show sequence, they have him delivering sexual double entendres for some of the commandments. Then he spends the rest of the film with a young boy (Josh Flitter, in a performance so annoying that it merits a Razzie nomination) who helps him out with his schemes. At no point is the boy’s parental situation explained and he performs tasks for the Reverend at all hours of the night. In the wake of major church abuse scandals that are still fairly recent, the filmmakers here seem to not have any sense of perspective.
License to Wed marks John Krasinski’s first leading role after doing three seasons of duty on the splendid TV comedy The Office. His work there is some of the best on television and some of that does carry over to this film. Krasinski’s trademark on that show are offbeat facial reactions to the uncomfortable actions of other characters. That asset is on display here, but at times you wonder if he’s reacting in character to Reverend Frank’s actions or if he’s really reacting to the horrible film he’s found himself in. He does have an ingratiating charm that makes him the only character worth rooting for in the film. Thanks to Krasinski, it’s easy to identify with Ben’s exasperated anger at the ridiculous antics of those around him.
On the other hand, Mandy Moore is unable to rise above her blandly written character. She does nothing to make us understand why Ben would put himself through all of this to marry her. The way Sadie is written certainly does not help. At every single moment where Ben tries to explain that he’s uncomfortable with something the Reverend is making them do, she completely ignores him, essentially telling him to shut up and do it. The very worst moment is when Rev. Frank has them do a trust test where Sadie drives blindfolded while Ben is supposed to give her directions from the back seat. Ben clearly does not want to do this, but Sadie yells at him for it, calling him a quitter. This is not rational behavior from any adult. If not wanting to die in a stupid car accident, not to mention potentially kill innocent bystanders, makes me a quitter then sign me up. Ben clearly agrees as would most sane people, but the way the scene is played out, the view of the film is that he’s a jerk. This is the main scene where I would like to shake Kwapis and have him explain to me how that makes any sense.
There are traces of a dark comedy in here. Just changing the tone of the movie and the events of the 3rd act and you could have a pretty interesting film about a nice guy who unfortunately falls for a selfish woman who has a nasty family and creepy pastor. In fact, there are so many disturbing moments that I wonder if the screenplay was originally written as a dark comedy and later changed by the studio. It’s clearly not what Kwapis is going for here. The film features bright colors all the way through and a final sappy romantic gesture that seems stolen straight from an episode of Beverly Hills, 90210. Of course, I’m not sure which is more embarrassing; that this film stole from a scene in that show or that I remember the scene in question.
At the end, we’re expected to believe that what Rev. Frank has done is a good thing, but there is nary a moment in the entire film that supports that. We’re also supposed to buy that Ben loves Sadie, but the five minutes of courtship that we see at the beginning of the film do nothing to make the audience understand that. On top of that, Sadie’s actions in this story are so inexcusable that they would have destroyed even the most solid of relationships. Sadie should be single for the rest of her life and Rev. Frank deserves to be in jail. As for Ben, well I hear there’s a pretty cool receptionist in Scranton that would be perfect for him.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 2:38 AM
Wednesday, July 4, 2007
Dir. Michael Bay
Starring Shia Labeouf, Megan Fox, Jon Voight, John Turturro, Peter Cullen
Michael Bay has made a name for himself with big budget spectacles that have become enormously successful at the box office. They’ve also been consistently idiotic and insulting to the audience. In films such as Pearl Harbor, Armageddon, and The Rock (his only decent film thanks to a great cast), he has employed a very annoying filmmaking technique of rapid editing that distracts the audience from the fact thet there is very little going on in the movie. Thankfully, he jettisoned that approach for this update of the classic 80s cartoon series Transformers, but what’s really interesting is the style he decided to adopt. Transformers has quite a bit in common with the silly, sappy, and sometimes unintentionally funny Roland Emmerich blockbusters like Godzilla, Independence Day, and The Day After Tomorrow. It’s definitely a better approach, but not necessarily a good one, as Transformers falls apart due to Bay’s reliance on silliness to make up for logical gaps in the plot.
The story centers around a mysterious cube device called the Allspark. On the planet of Cybertron, the Autobots and Decepticons, waged war over this item which would grant unlimited power to the owner. The Autobots gained possession of it and hid the device on Earth. Now more than a century later they have come back to prevent the Decepticons from recapturing it and destroying mankind. High school student Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) gets involved in this mess because his ancestor discovered the Allspark in an arctic expedition in the 1850’s and whose glasses (that Sam is trying to sell on Ebay) may contain a map to the location. He is aided by an Autobot named Bumblebee, who protects him from the Decepticons while waiting for the rest of the Autobots to make their way to Earth.
This basic premise is not a bad one. They had to come up with a reason for the Transformers to fight on Earth and the Allspark served as a good MacGuffin. It’s clear what Bay was interested in was exciting and elaborate fights with the various robots. The movie is certainly successful at achieving that goal. The special effects are outstanding, with completely convincing shots of the robots interacting with the humans. Also, Bay seems more confident this time around, allowing shots to run for much longer than he usually does, which will certainly nix the huge increase in sales for Tylenol that usually accompanies his films. For the first time in a Bay film, you can actually follow the various players in each action sequence.
Unfortunately, the film runs into problems with a lazy script. The Allspark serves as a good plot device, but when it starts getting explained in detail becomes extremely silly. Midway through the film, there is a clumsy explanation of how the device can be destroyed, obviously setting things up for later in the movie. Unfortunately, this presents some moral problems with the actions of the Autobots, who argue that human life is worth preserving even when it would be necessary to kill one in order to rescue a comrade. If they really believe this, then the movie should have ended a bit earlier than it does because there was an obvious solution. How many humans had to die because Optimus Prime didn’t have the courage to do what he could’ve done much earlier in the film?
Transformers has a heavy reliance on comic relief. It’s always good to have some of that in an action film, but Bay completely loses control with this one. Anthony Anderson shows up in a pointless role just to deliver random one-liners. John Turturro inhabits much of the 2nd half of the film with a bizarre character that seems to have wandered in from an X-Files repeat. The absolute worst part is an extended sequence at Sam’s home as the Transformers hide in his backyard while he tries to dodge questioning from his parents and recover the glasses. What starts off as a mildly amusing joke soon falls to the level of an awful family sitcom (complete with an awkward masturbation joke!) and the scene just keeps going and going for what seems like an eternity. Since the film already had a pretty long running time at two and a half hours, there’s no reason large portions of this scene could not have been excised from the film.
Only Shia Labeouf is able to rise above the screenplay with a strong performance at the center, utilizing his everyman appeal with an offbeat line delivery to create an interesting character. In fact, he’s the only character worth caring about. As the defense secretary, Jon Voight sleepwalks through a role that he’s played countless times before. Megan Fox tries to invest some humanity into the typical hot girl love interest, but all attempts at giving her a third dimension are wrecked by a director and screenwriter clearly interested in something else. Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson show up as military men that battle the Decepticons, but they have nothing to do other than fire guns and yell generic military dialogue. Finally, the worst character is Rachael Taylor (not her fault, though) as the typical hacker that knows all the answers but no one will listen to. The movie tries to sell her as being smart, but then later she’s too stupid to cover her tracks after copying confidential files.
Without much to care for in terms of character, dialogue, or story, the action sequences feel repetitive and dull, no matter how well they’re conceived. Of course, there is little doubt that most audiences don’t really care about the flaws I’ve pointed out. Bay and the studio know their target audience and have hit it well. As a nostalgic fan of the original animated series, even I can’t deny the pure visceral thrill of seeing the live action version of Optimus Prime transform for the first time. It’s just too bad that it wasn’t in service of a more interesting and consistent story.
Posted by Larry McGillicuddy at 4:33 PM