Has there ever been a more non-suitable name for a studio than Screen Gems? If your studio name implies that the movie you are unleashing onto the world is a "gem", then you've got a lot to live up to even before the logo has left the screen. But, alas, Screen Gems does not want to live up to its name. The studio (owned by Sony) is content to clog the cineplexes with countless schlocky horror films and dumb comedies, which seems to be what they gravitate toward. I'm sorry, but if you have both of the Resident Evil movies under your belt, you don't deserve to call yourself "Screen Gems".
The Cave is the latest to continue in this tradition of suck that makes me snicker everytime the studio logo appears on the screen. It's main offense is not so much that it is bad (and it definitely is), but rather that it is the most mind-numbingly boring excuse for a "thriller" I've seen in quite a while. It is a repetitive, emotionless, and dippy slog through all too familiar "trapped in a dark place with monsters" material. It does very little to make its reasons for belonging on the big screen clear to the audience. In fact, more than once I thought this film would be right at home on the Sci-Fi channel, which I'm sure is where it will enjoy a long life in about 3 years or so. The poster's tagline oh so ominously states, "There are places man was never meant to go". Yeah, well there are films man was never meant to put on the screen, but that didn't exactly stop first-time director Bruce Hunt, now did it?
The film opens with the pre-requisite ominous prologue hinting at the doom to come for our heroes. Some nameless explorers uncover a vast underground cave system located underneath an abandoned church up in the Carpathian mountains. Something goes wrong, and the men are burried alive by very fake looking boulders that come tumbling down, blocking the only way out. As the men survey their doomed situation, they hear a strange chirping sound from somewhere off in the distance. They go to investigate, and the movie fades out, not even giving us the luxury of seeing them meet their fates at the hand of their own curiosity.
Flash forward to the present day, and a new team of explorers and scientists have cleared away the rockslide rubble, and discovered the vast cave system beyond. I know they had names, but I'll be damned if I can remember them, as everyone in this movie is characterized so paper thin you'd probably get a paper cut if you touched them. But, we seem to get the usual cliched suspects for this kind of film. There's the rugged leader, the rebel, the joker, the black guy, the Asian guy, the smart girl, the tomboy tough girl, the brilliant scientist with the accent...They all begin to explore the massive tunnels that seem to stretch for miles below the surface. Of course, they are not alone, as they begin to hear the same strange parakeet-like chirping sound during their exploration. Seems these caves are filled with bizarre parasitic creatures that come in two forms - fake looking rubber eel-like creatures, and fake looking winged monstrosities that resemble the creatures from the Alien movies more than just a little. The rugged leader of the group is bitten by one of the creatures, and begins to gain their abilitities of super hearing and senses. The group is picked off one by one, and they become increasingly suspicious of their increasingly mutating leader.
That's pretty much the entire gist of The Cave in about 3 minutes. It's a lot better than sitting through the film's entire 100 minutes, which seem to stretch on for 1,000 due to the overly leisurely nature of the plotting and scripting. For a thriller about people trapped underground with demonic monsters, these people never exactly seem quite as paniced or scared as they should be. Even when they are faced with the corpse of a loved one, they simply gasp, or put their hand over their mouths, then walk away to be slaughtered by the next available cave critter. The movie does not have a single thought or idea in its head, it simply wishes it could be Alien, or maybe even settle for Pitch Black. This movie is kind of like a pathetically geeky kid trying desperately to imitate the cool kid, and failing so miserably you just want to kick his ass for even trying.
It almost seems as if director Bruce Hunt knew audiences would not want to watch his movie, as he embraces the darkness of his cavernous settings, making most of the movie very hard to see. The action sequences don't hold up much better, as the camera suddenly goes into an epileptic fit whenever a monster strikes. We hear screaming, and we see fleeting glimpses of a person's face, or the open jaws of a monster, but the camera is spinning and shaking around so violently that for all we know, we could be watching Martha Stewart showing us how to make brownies. Perhaps the film's PG-13 rating is to blame. This certainly does feel like a watered down R film, as there are a number of "cover ups" for profanity that sounds like they were added at the last minute. The movie seems to be afraid to even show us a fleeting glimpse of excitement or danger, since the camera always goes out of control whenever something happens, so we pretty much end up watching only characters we don't care about poking around in dark tunnels for what seems like hours on end.
This is a pretty stupid movie, and it'd be almost unbearable if it weren't for some unintentionally hilarious moments. The first time the leader of the expedition begins to lose control of himself as the parasitic bite begins to mutate him, it looks more like he is jacking off or having an orgasm instead of fighting back a parasitic alien. The characters use a "soundwave gun" to battle the creatures, since they are highly sensitive to sound. The funny thing is, the sound this device makes looks like it came out of a 30s Flash Gordon serial. I'm serious, you could have a 6 year old make laser gun sound effects into a tape recorder, and get a better sound effect than the filmmakers did. Oh, and wait until you see the film's "surprise ending" which actually seems to hint at a sequel. I don't know what's funnier, that the filmmakers had the audacity to pull off the ending they did, or that they actually thought they'd get a chance to do another one.
The Cave really leaves me mystified as to how anyone thought this deserved the big screen treatment. This is straight to video or straight to Sci-Fi Channel calibur filmmaking, and it makes no effort whatsoever to hide its intentions. It's about as thrilling as a trip to your mailbox, as meaningful as banging your head against a wall, and about as original as putting butter or jelly on toast. The makers of The Cave should be glad that there has been much worse films so far this year. If this movie had come out in a much better year for films, I may not have been as kind.
Hollywood is home to a lot of mysteries and unanswered questions. Questions like how the hell did the Police Academy series run so long? Sure, I remember loving the movies as a kid, but looking at the films with adult eyes thanks to Comedy Central's insistance of showing Police Academy 3 every two weeks, I wonder what the hell I saw in them. Another good question is brought about by The Man, the new action comedy that, judging by its opening weekend gross, won't be around by the end of September. And that question is how the hell is director Les Mayfield still working in Hollywood? Mayfield, after all, is the guy who gave Pauly Shore his big movie break with 1992's Encino Man. Surely with that kind of skeleton in his closet (and the fact that the man's only true semi-successful movie besides that was the annoying Flubber movie with Robin Williams), studio execs must kind of roll their eyes when his name is mentioned.
Thanks to a very cushy deal with the Prince of Darkness (at least, that's what I'm assuming), Mr. Mayfield is back with yet another flop. Apparently the makers of this film were too busy doing something else when they noticed audiences staying away in droves when the Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah action comedy, Taxi, came and left theaters right about this same time last year. If they had been paying attention, they'd know they had basically made almost the exact same kind of movie, and the exact same kind of mistakes. The Man reeks of corporate despiration ("We need a movie to fill in this month, 'cause we've got nothing, so how about a buddy movie with a mismatched couple?") and also reeks of old age. The fact that at one point one of the characters makes a reference to the Spice Girls sets up a red alert that this script has been sitting on somebody's shelf since about 1998 or so. Like a lot of movies I've been forcing myself to sit through lately, this film has no place being on the big screen.
Okay, so our comically mismatched couple this time around is Derrick Vann (Samuel L. Jackson) and Andy Fiddler (Eugene Levy). Derrick is a tough, edgy big city Federal Agent who swears a lot, hates everybody, and likes to physically and verbally abuse everyone he comes in contact with. Andy is a mousey, nerdy dental supply salesman from the Wisconsin suburbs who's in town for a dental convention. Oh, the wackiness this combination could create! The mind simply races with the various ways that a sadistically violent enforcer of the law and a meek salesman could create a recipee for zaniness!!
Unfortunately, the film is not interested in its characters, simply in its overstuffed plot that it keeps on forcing upon us, instead of making us like the characters we're supposed to be rooting for. Vann's partner was killed recently by a group of gun-runners that have just stollen a load of illegal weapons, and are looking for buyers. Vann tries to go undercover as a buyer, but his efforts are foiled when the clueless Andy takes the seat at the local cafe where Vann was supposed to be sitting to pick up the gun and make the deal. The villain (played by Luke Goss from Blade II) mistakes Andy as the potential buyer for the weapons, and drops off a gun and a cell phone. Andy is forced to get involved in the case, as everyone believes him to be a master criminal, because he has a warrant unfulfilled due to an accident that happened when he visited Turkey on his vacation with his family. It's non-stop pointless action sequences, yelling, screaming, and obnoxious one-liners from then on as Mr. Mayfield desperately tries to fill his brief 80-minute running time, pretending that there's a point to all of this.
In order for a film like The Man to work, we need to like the mismatched couple, and want them to put aside their differences. After all, it was the chemistry between Mel Gibson and Danny Glover in the original Lethal Weapon film that made it the modern day blueprint for the genre. Unfortunately, both of our heroes in this movie are so unlikable that you really just want to see them kill each other in a bloody Battle Royale. And by bloody Battle Royale, I mean I want to see these characters end their lives both impaled on a bed of spikes, while their eyes are torn out by escaped mental patients, who then proceed to peel off their skin like wrapping paper, and make confetti out of their insides. I'm not a man prone to violence, but believe me, if it meant having to spend less time with Jackson and Levy, I'd stage a damn genocide.
Jackson is supposedly portraying Vann as a tough cop on the edge who doesn't take crap from anybody. To me, however, he came across as a sadistic, foul-mouthed creep who enjoyed torturing the people he questioned a bit too much. He chases a suspect down with his car, then drives alongside the person, holding onto the back of the suspect's shirt, and forces them to run face first into a telephone pole. Later in the movie, he questions the same suspect by ramming the guy up against a fence with his car, and forcefully grinding his body up and down the fence, laughing. He also repeatedly beats his suspects viciously with anything handy, going so far as to knock out teeth and induce bleeding. The fact that the filmmakers expected me to laugh at Jackson brutally torturing his suspects, and even locking Levy's character in the trunk of his car when he pisses him off, made me wonder just what kind of psychos wrote this script. What's even more appalling is that the movie tries to soften him by giving him an ex-wife and a daughter that he still loves. In fact, one plot point of the movie is that Jackson's character has to make it to his little girl's ballet recital on time!! Of course, his former family is so underdeveloped and disappear as soon as the recital is over that this seems to be more of a last minute desperate attempt to make Vann more likable. In truth, it only made him more disturbing. Given his violent mood swings portrayed throughout the film, I say his ex-wife had the right idea leaving him.
Levy's character isn't anywhere near as detestable, but is still about as pleasant as being forced to watch a production of Hamlet starring David Hasselhoff and Bob Goldthwait. Levy plays up the obnoxious aspects of his character, and expects to get laughs out of it. Unfortunately, he lays on the annoyance level too thick, and just simply comes across as unlikable. His motor mouth delivery gets old in about 5 minutes, and he's so mind-bogglingly stupid that you just want to perform a mercy killing. Oh, and did I mention that he has a running gag about a flatulance problem? That's right, this movie's got a psycho Federal Agent with violent mood swings teamed up with an obnoxious twerp whose sole running gag is that he farts violently and repeatedly after eating! Why oh why are people staying away from this movie with a star combination like that??
Jackson and Levy are the core of the film's problem, but far from the the least of the worries for anyone who buys a ticket for this clunker. How about an uninspired screenplay that throws in so many plots that its almost hard to keep track of them all, not the least because they're so underdeveloped to the point of non-existence. Not enough? Throw in some lame one-liners and physical humor that ranges from flat to downright abusive to your brain. But wait, buy your ticket to The Man, and you'll get all of this, plus supporting characters who merely seem to be an afterthought on the part of the writers. 'Cause, you know, with lead characters as likable as Vann and Andy, you don't want your audience to forget about them.
What's saddest of all about The Man is that I actually think they were making an effort with this movie. Judging by inverviews with both Levy and Jackson, they concentrated on their relationships, and talked about how they should play off on each other. ("Okay, I'll swear a lot and shoot people, and you fart". "Brilliant"!) If this is true, zero of that chemistry or research shows up in the final product. And since The Man is all about these characters, it falls flat on its face almost from the moment these characters are introduced. The Man is far from the worst movie I've seen this year, but it is easily one of the more unlikable ones. And when your competition concerns a woman with a male sexual organ attached to her face, that's really saying something.
Although it may seem simple on the surface, vulgar or crude humor is an artform. The true masters only make it look easy. If you can shock and offend, while still making your audience laugh in spite of it all, you've succeeded. Fail, and you wind up getting booed off the stage, or are met with a resounding sound of silence from your audience. The Aristrocrats, a new documentary from director Paul Provenza, is a film that celebrates the art of vulgar humor - namely one joke in particular which many have deemed the dirtiest joke ever told, as it can be anything the teller wants it to be.
The joke in question is as old as the hills. No one knows how or where it originated, or who told it first. But, it is a joke that has been passed down by just about every comic, past and present. What has made the joke endear for so long is that it relies completely on improvisation. The only rules is that it must open with someone walking into the office of a talent agent, and trying to sell said agent on an act, and the punchline must be the agent asking what the act is called, with the response "The Aristrocrats"! The entire middle portion of the joke is devoted to describing the act in question. There are no rules in this part of the joke. You are simply to describe the most vulgar, disgusting, putrid thing you could ever imagine. More popular variations of the joke involve a family (usually a mother, father, and young children) deficating or urinating on each other, having sex, or other such unspeakable attrocities. Many comics will also throw in grandparents, the family pet, or other family members into the act as they perform unspeakable acts of incest or the spraying of bodily fluids upon each other or the audience watching the act in the most graphic of detail.
The film does not attempt to explain how or why the joke originated, it merely wants to explain why this joke has endeared for so long, and just what makes it work. You may not understand it the first time you hear it. That's why you hear it many times throughout the course of the film. The documentary has rounded up a large number of comedians, past and present, who either tell their own version of the joke, or talk about the joke itself, and their beliefs as to why it has stuck around for so long. It is a joke that few comics have ever dared to tell on the stage, except for Gilbert Gottfried who gave a very memorable rendition during the New York Friar's Club Roast of Hugh Heffner that was held just weeks after September 11th, 2001.
Now, you may think that the idea of sitting through various comedians telling the same joke would not be enough to fill a movie, but you have to remember, the joke is anything you want it to be. The beginning and the ending are the only things set in stone, besides that, there's no right or wrong way to tell it. This movie is almost like an 85 minute long lecture on the art of crude comedy, and we get many examples of the right and wrong way to do it. Some of the best examples featured in the film include...
-George Carlin, who gives the very first version of the joke we hear early in the film. It's not so much the joke itself, but rather the amount of detail he goes into that describes this act that this family is performing, right down to what can be found in the fecal matter that is dropped on the stage. His almost deadpan delivery makes it all the more funnier.
-The previously mentioned Gilbert Gottfried, whose rendition literally had the comedians in attendence falling on the floor in laughter. Half because of Gottfried's delivery, and half because of his balls to actually do the joke on live television. (I never saw the Roast that was aired on the Comedy Channel, but I'm certain the censors got a workout bleeping out numerous words.) He also gives a hilariously crude explanation of the joke in a different interview, where he explains why blood would be flowing during the course of the act.
-Billy the Mime, a street mime who gives a shockingly hilarious physical rendition of the joke that proves that it works even without words. The look on the faces of people passing by on the street in the background during his performance (including small children) is what makes it even funnier, and is one of the most laugh-inducing moments of the film.
-A short original South Park cartoon where Cartman tries to explain the joke to his friends, and even finds a way to tie it into September 11th.
-Bob Saget, whose rendition of the joke is probably going to make any fan he gained from his Full House and America's Funniest Home Videos days die of a heart attack.
Unfortunately, not every comedian is as skillful as the ones mentioned above, and this is what ultimately makes The Aristocrats an uneven experience. Some renditions will leave you gasping for breath, while others crash and burn faster than a Rob Schneider movie marathon. But, in a way, I also found this fascinating. There is a certain art to vulgar humor that I've never put much thought into before. As I mentioned before, it's not as easy as it looks. You can't just be crude, it's also in the delivery - the mastery of the art of vulgarity. That is what I took away from this film. It gave me a new respect for the form of humor that I've never had before.
Is The Aristocrats a movie worth seeing at the theater? Well, I certainly thought it was $5.25 well spent, but I don't think it will lose anything on DVD, since the movie is entirely shot on handheld cameras, with comedians sitting or standing around, talking to the camera. The film does not have an official MPAA rating, but if it did, it would most certainly be NC-17 thanks to the seemingly endless stream of obscenities and descriptions of rape, incest, animal sexuality, and other forms of sexuality that you probably have never thought of. Just a word of warning. If you are not offended easily, I can recommend this film. The masters know how to gross out without going too far. The lessers just can't make it work. If anything, it proves those who belong in the business, and those who do not.
One looks at Jodie Foster, and just has to wonder what the heck she saw in this project. Here is an enormously talented actress who appears in movies once in a blue moon, and whose return to the big screen usually is reason enough alone to plant my butt in a cineplex seat. What this script had to offer that the hundreds of others she probably rejects every year I have no idea, as Flightplan is a slow-paced, silly, and just plain boring thriller. It attempts to use its claustophobic setting of a luxury airliner to suspenseful effect, but shoots itself in the foot by filling that plane with a colorful and hateful cast of passengers and crew that are simply there to throw the audience off. As the film went on, I began to wonder if it was a prerequisite that you had to be shifty, annoying, or suspicious to be on this plane. From first frame to last, Flightplan is dead on arrival.
Jodie Foster takes the role of Kyle Pratt, a moody woman living in Berlin who is coping with the sudden death of her husband after he fell off the roof of their home building. The film is intentionally vague about whether his death was suicidal, accidental, or planned, so right there is a tip off that something's going on right from the beginning. With her six-year old daughter, Julia (Marlene Lawston), Kyle is preparing to fly to New York where her husband's body will be put to rest. And what a plane it is! Not only does it have two stories, but its got a bar and lounge area that looks like something out of a Las Vegas hotel. Throw in flight attendants that give dirty looks at Foster's character even when there's no reason to, and a passenger list that reads like it came out of some hack writer's "obnoxious passenger character handbook", and you're in for a movie experience that's akin to sitting on an airplane next to some smelly guy who makes rude noises the entire flight.
Kyle falls asleep mid-flight, and when she awakens, she discovers that Julia is gone. The strange thing is, no one remembers seeing the child, nor does anyone even remember her being with Kyle when she boarded the plane. Julia's luggage is mysteriously gone, her boarding pass has disappeared, and there are no records of the child ever even being a passenger on the flight. Julia becomes increasingly paranoid and frightened for the life of her daughter, while the Captain (Sean Bean), the air marshal (Peter Sarsgaard), and the entire staff become increasingly frustrated with the woman, believing her to be crazy, especially after they receive word from the Berlin morgue that her daughter supposedly died along with the husband. Is Kyle imagining things? Does someone on the plane know something that they're not telling? Is this all some sort of elaborate cover up that someone is pulling? Will you actually care when the climax is revealed?
Flightplan wants to be tense and layers on the suspense thick with each passing scene. Unfortunately, we don't believe it for a second, as the characters are so over the top and cartoonish that I was almost laughing at certain scenes. Jodie Foster plays her descent into panic a little bit too well to the point that she became shrill and annoying. She screams almost every line of dialogue she has during the entire middle portion of the movie, and acts over the top simply so that the audience will suspect that she really is crazy, even though we know that she is not. (It'd be a cop out if the ending turned out to be she really did imagine her daughter being on the plane with her.) I mean, okay, I can understand getting crazy if your child disappeared, and everyone tried to convince you she doesn't exist, but Foster plays it like she just escaped from a nut house. She's supposed to be a strong and determined woman that we can root for, but it only made me want to see her get sucked out of the airplane, and fall 30,000 feet to her demise. At one point, one of the characters tells her "I can understand why your husband jumped. A few more hours of putting up with you, and I'll want to do the same". Hearing this, I said to myself, "Amen, brother..."
As if Foster isn't enough, we've got a whole plane full of crazies. We've got obnoxious kids, we've got ornery people who constantly complain, we've got more red herrings than a fresh fish market, we've even got people who literally start fist fights in the aisles. I wouldn't want to be stuck on a plane with these people, let alone watch a movie about being stuck on a plane with them. The characters are so thinly developed as to be non-existent, especially the flight crew. When one of the flight attendents is revealed to play a role in the film's plot, it's not so much a surprise as it is a "what the" moment, as the movie has gone to no effort whatsoever to develop her as a character, and had mainly kept her in the background most of the time. That the movie suddenly asks us to pay attention to her seems cheap, like the filmmakers needed someone, ANYONE surprising to play a role in the climax, and just picked her. Indeed, when the movie finally plays all of its cards during the climax and reveals all it feels more anticlimactic than the thrills it strives for.
Director Robert Schwentke tries his best to make the most out of his limited environment and hold our interest, but it's really in vain, as the movie is so shallow and dull that he's fighting a losing battle. He even tries a few camera tricks, like slow motion, that do nothing to enhance the film, as they serve no purpose whatsoever. Jodie Foster will be running down the hall to speak to the Captain, film switches to slow motion. She recognizes someone on the plane, and runs over to confront him? Slow motion. It doesn't quite get excissive, but I did have to fight back my laughter the 3rd time they did it in less than an hour. The film even features a surprisingly bland music score by composer James Horner, whose mind seems to have been somewhere else when he was writing the score.
It's been 2 hours since my screening got out, and I'm still trying to figure out what could have driven Foster to this project other than a quick pay day. She's much too good for this film, as is most of the cast. This movie is a stark contrast to the other film I saw today, Tim Burton's Corpse Bride. Whereas Bride was lively, darkly jovial and fun, Flightplan is just a big load of wasted effort that probably shouldn't have been in the first place.
I am a rabid movie fan since 1984 who calls them as he sees them. Sometimes harsh, but always honest, I offer my 'reel opinions' on today's films. I don't get money for my reviews, and I have to pay to get into every movie I see (even the really awful ones), so what you will see here is the true reaction of a man who is passionate about film. - Ryan Cullen