Reel Opinions


Sunday, July 29, 2007

No Reservations

What we have here is a good movie that could have been great if it had not been so content to play by the rules. No Reservations is credited as being a remake of a 2001 German film called Mostly Martha. However, it doesn't take a sharp-eyed viewer to tell that it is probably even more inspired by just about every romantic comedy-drama released within the past 10 years. And yet, thanks to some inspired casting and interesting decisions, the movie doesn't come across as bad as it would in lesser hands. I have always stated that a formula movie can still entertain if the talent behind it cares about the material. Director Scott Hicks (Hearts in Atlantis, Shine) cared enough to leave me walking out of the theater mostly satisfied.

Kate (Catherine Zeta-Jones) is a workaholic New York gourmet chef who has devoted her whole life to cooking and nothing else. She's so devoted, she spends most of her sessions with her therapist (Bob Balaban) talking about recipes and having him try her new culinary creations instead of talking about herself. Kate is forced to think about something other than the kitchen when her sister dies in a car accident while she was driving out to visit. Her sister's young daughter, Zoe (Abigail Breslin from Little Miss Sunshine) survived the crash, and since she never had a father or other close relatives, Zoe is going to have to live with Kate from now on. Not only does Kate have to learn how to care for a child, but her boss Paula (Patricia Clarkson) forces her to take time off for the first time in her life. When Kate comes back to work, she is shocked to discover a new chef working there who was supposed to be a temporary replacement while she was away, but has won over the boss and all the other chefs in the kitchen. He is Nick (Aaron Eckhart), and Kate immediately sees him as trespassing in her personal kitchen territory. As Kate struggles to adapt to these new changes in her life, she naturally starts to fall for both of the new people in her life, and will eventually learn to care about something other than herself and cooking.

There's very few surprises to be found in first-time screenwriter Carol Fuchs' script. Everything happens the way we expect it to. There are going to be a couple minor crises (Kate and Nick are afraid to get close to one another, and be honest with each other), some major crises (little Zoe disappears briefly after a short argument with Kate, which sends both Kate and Nick frantically searching the city for her), and a lot of scenes where the major characters bond with each other. As is the rule in the unwritten book of laws when it comes to writing a script for a romantic comedy, there also has to be a lot of music montages, and maybe a pillow fight or two. No Reservations does not let us down. The characters are so likeable, it's sometimes sad to see them in such a contrived, mechanical story. Fortunately, the film does not rely too strongly on its overly worn plot, and just lets us admire the characters. This is what gives the film its charm that ultimately won me over. Kate, Nick, and Zoe may not be the most original characters to hit the screen this year, but they are people I enjoyed watching, and was happy to see them get together. This is key in a movie such as this, since if we don't like the characters, we don't care if they work out their problems or not. I was also grateful that the characters were written as being mostly intelligent, and did not make overly stupid decisions for the sake of the plot.

The plotting may be conventional, but director Scott Hicks throws a couple of interesting twists our way. One is the casting of Catherine Zeta-Jones in the lead role. More well known for sexy or action-heavy characters, it's a switch to see her tackling a character such as this. Jones is up to the challenge, and makes Kate a fiery yet sympathetic woman who comes across as being a little bit more three dimensional than some other actresses would. We may know what's going to happen to her before she does, but we at least enjoy watching her catch up to us. As Nick, Aaron Eckhart has an immediate charm and instant chemistry with all of his scenes with Jones. The characters are opposites, but their performances make us see how they can be right for each other. His character is a bit more loose and free-spirited than Kate, but Eckhart wisely does not overplay this to the point of annoyance. Young Abigail Breslin once again gives another great performance, and only strengthens my notion that she is one of the better child actresses working today. Her character exists mainly to move the plot along, but Breslin still comes across as a natural kid who is just not acting cute for the camera. Another interesting choice outside of the cast is the decision to hire contemporary classical composer Philip Glass to do the music score for the film. His score gives a little more weight to the dramatic scenes, and manages to complement each accompanying scene quite well.
My only wish is that more chances had been taken with the script. The movie goes on too long, with an additional 15 minutes or so of crises and apology scenes when it could have ended a little bit sooner on a much better note. Still, as it stands, No Reservations does at least manage to stay afloat thanks to the charm of its cast. There's been quite a few movies about cooking released this summer with this, Waitress, and Ratatouille all hitting the screen within months of each other. The other two films have been individual highlights of 2007 so far, and while No Reservations doesn't quite reach the heights of the previous two, it still manages to entertain enough.

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Who's Your Caddy?

Sometimes you know what you're getting into just by reading the title of the movie. Something tells me the one other person attending my screening of Who's Your Caddy must have somehow missed it. About halfway through the movie, I heard him shout quite loudly "I've had it with this crap!" through the empty theater. I turned around, and saw him get up out of his seat and walk out the door, never to come back. I wanted to do the same thing, only much sooner than he did. But, dear reader, I decided to soldier on so that you would know better than this man not to spend your money on this movie.

The tagline for Who's Your Caddy proclaims that we're going to see a battle that centers on "the street vs. the elite". Whoever came up with this tagline obviously never saw the movie, because at one point, we learn that the hero was never raised on the streets. It was just a gimmick image for his rap career. So, right off the bat, the movie's poster doesn't even know what its talking about. I imagine when this movie was pitched to the studio, it was sold as a "Caddyshack for black urban audiences". If only this movie had the ability to conjure up memories of that classic comedy. This is more like Caddyshack II for black urban audiences. It even goes so far as to steal a couple plot points from that inferior sequel. If the filmmakers can't even steal from the right movie, you know you're in trouble. This is a movie that I couldn't wait for it to end, and when it was finally over, I had a hard time forcing myself to sit down and sort out my thoughts. But, once again, I will soldier on and do my best to describe what is easily the worst film of the year, knocking down the previous title holder, Norbit.

The hero of our story is a multi-millionaire rapper named C-Note (Antwon "Big Boi" Patton from the group Outkast). C-Note's father was not only a caddy at an exclusive country club, but was also one of the best men to ever play the game. But, because of the color of his skin, he was never accepted. (Funny, that never stopped Tiger Woods.) C-Note wants to live the dream his father never did, so he gathers up his posse of obnoxious and crude friends, and forces his way onto a private country club, demanding that he wants an application for membership. The club is run by a rich snob with the great rich snob name of Mr. Cummings (Jeffrey Jones, who looks like he's longing for his Howard the Duck days throughout the movie). Cummings immediately wants nothing to do with C-Note and his friends, and hires a powerful female lawyer named Shannon (Tamala Jones) to help him get rid of them. (No prizes for guessing that Shannon will eventually fall in love with C-Note.) The plot creaks on, and C-Note buys a big mansion near the country club, so that a small part of the golf course belongs to him. He starts shooting his rap videos right there on the course itself in order to tick off the snobs, and force them to make him a member. Cummings gives in, but is secretly using Shannon to get some dirt on him. Eventually, every member of the club falls in love with the crude antics of the rapper and his friends, there's a big game at the end where C-Note gets to go up against Cummings, and prove to everyone that his father was the greatest player in the history of the sport.

I'm sorry if I'm spoiling the plot, but quite frankly, there's no plot to spoil. Who's Your Caddy is a collection of plot and racial caricature cliches looking for a story to inhabit. Everything that's expected to happen does happen, but the movie never gives any reason for them to happen. They just do. For example, it's only natural that the rich snobs at the golf course would soon turn their favor over to C-Note and his friends. This supposedly happens when we're not looking, because one minute they hate them, and the very next scene, they're cheering them on and rocking out with them to rap music. Even the relationship that builds between C-Note and Cummings' lawyer seems to come without sense or reason. Not only does the movie forget to give a reason for the characters to like the hero, it forgets to give us a reason as well. C-Note frequently comes across as a scheming, obnoxious lout, and his friends come across as being even worse. We're supposed to root for the guy because he's playing for the memory of his father, and wants to expose Cummings as the cheat that he is. But wait, C-Note cheats too! Late in the film, there's a big polo match between C-Note and Cummings, and one of the hero's friends drugs Cummings' horse before the game. This is a movie where everyone is impossible to like. His friends are the kind of people who let loose thunderous farts that rumble on the soundtrack for a good minute or so, and stand naked in the public restroom as they shave. Somehow, these people win the affection of Cummings' 14-year-old son (played by the 31-year-old Andy Milonakis), and in thanks, C-Note and his friends take him to a strip club, and teach him the proper way to slap a woman's behind.

I have become increasingly depressed by movies like this. Movies that wallow in negative black stereotypes, and try to pass them off as being something good. Much like Norbit, this is a movie that revels in racial caricatures to the point that it resembles less a movie and more of a modern day Minstrel Show. You would think that black artists would be the first to be trying to get rid of these cliches, not embracing them and building entire screenplays around them. And yet, I think they do it because they know it sells. After all, Norbit was a hit last February. Do people still find this kind of stuff amusing? Do they firmly believe that movies built to target urban audiences should feature actors (white and black) playing nothing but rappers, street people, pimps, whores, convicts, and gangsters? Did director and head screenwriter Don Michael Paul (Half Past Dead) laugh when he was writing down scenes where C-Note's friends scream at people about being racist, even though the person they're yelling at didn't say anything at all? It boggles my mind that such a dated and offensive screenplay can not only be greenlit by a major studio, but can have some talented people involved behind it too. Queen Latifah is credited as one of the executive producers of this film, meaning she must have seen something in it, and wants to support these kind of images.
Who's Your Caddy is just a depressing experience in itself, and is probably the worst time I've had at a theater in a very long time. It did not make me laugh or even crack anything resembling a smile. It made me angry, it made me annoyed, and it made me try to think of creative ways I could turn back time and prevent myself from seeing it. But it did not make me laugh. Funny that it can accomplish all that I listed previously, but it can't do a simple thing such as eliciting joy from its viewer. When it was over, I didn't even stay around for the bloopers and additional scenes that started to play during the ending credits. I just wanted to join the guy who walked out earlier as soon as possible.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

I Know Who Killed Me

Given the week that troubled actress Lindsay Lohan has had, it almost seems like a cruel joke to release I Know Who Killed Me right at the end of it. I mean, hasn't she suffered and been embarrassed enough? The movie was not screened for critics, and when you see it, you'll know why. This is an empty-headed little thriller that tries to hide its lack of substance with flashy style. Unfortunately, it's not quite stylish enough to take our minds off the fact that nothing's going on. This is a movie that keeps on trying to trick us into thinking something is going on. The ominous music builds in every scene, the dark shadows grow, and Lohan herself tries her best to act frightened whenever she can. It's all for nothing, thanks to the simplistic and uninspired screenplay provided by first-time screenwriter Jeff Hammond.

Lohan plays Aubrey Fleming, a bright college student who writes stories about a sleazy stripper named Dakota Moss. Early in the film, we see her writing class enraptured as she reads out loud the sordid exploits of Dakota, but I couldn't help but think the writing sounded like something out of a trashy grocery store rag. After attending a football game with some friends, Aubrey goes missing. Turns out she's the latest victim of a serial killer that's been stalking young girls and torturing them. Yes, the villain in this piece is another guy who gets his jollies out of taking girls to his vast torture chamber palace that looks like it cost a fortune to build, let alone maintain. I suspect that he and the villain from Captivity exchange tips when it comes to getting blood stains out of their clothes, and how to keep their torture palaces hidden when company drops by. We're treated to a couple scenes where Aubrey is tortured and maimed within an inch of her life. Somehow, she is able to survive the torture, and is found mangled but still alive by the side of a road. One of her legs and arms are in bad shape, and need to be amputated by the hospital staff. When Aubrey's relieved parents (Julia Ormond and Neal McDonough) come racing to be by their daughter's side, she greets them with a blank stare, states she's never met them before, and claims that her name is Dakota Moss.

Is Aubrey's behavior the result of trauma from her recent incident? Does she have amnesia? Is she hiding something? These are all the questions at the center of I Know Who Killed Me, and all of them are eventually answered, though not always in a satisfactory way. The one question it fails to answer is why should we care? This is a movie that builds and builds, but doesn't even seem to know what it's building up to. The issue of Aubrey supposedly forgetting everything about her own life, and assuming the identity of this fictional character from her stories, is never given the amount of drama it deserves. We know that her parents are obviously upset by their daughter's bizarre behavior since being discovered, but the movie never quite digs deep enough. Aside from one scene, we never truly get to see them sit down and talk with her. Most of the time, they stand in the background and look at her with concern. What do they think of all this? What is it like to live with a daughter who supposedly thinks she is someone else? Could we at least get a scene with the parents alone discussing their thoughts on this strange situation they find themselves in? Oddly enough, the parents don't even seem very concerned about the man who did this to her. The police tell them that the man is still at large and could be coming after her again, but he is never even spoken of ever again. The villain is just a plot device in this movie, used so that Aubrey can disappear, and so that there can be a standard horror movie fight scene at the end of the movie. When the identity of the madman is discovered, we meet it with a curious disinterest, because the movie forgets to give us even a clear motive for his actions.

Rather than helping us identify with the characters, the movie seems content to parade some stylish but hollow camera tricks up on the screen. We get some bizarre nightmares and hallucination scenes, and we also get a lot of blue. The color blue is used a lot in this movie, though for reasons never quite explained. The villain dresses entirely in blue, and uses torture devices with blue handles. There are scenes where every color is depicted in black and white, except for objects that are blue. Aubrey's boyfriend keeps on handing her bouquets of blue roses. There are even some scenes that are shot with a blue camera filter, making it look like we're watching the scene through a camera lens that's been doused with toilet bowl cleaner. What all of this means, I couldn't quite tell. I was, however, truly surprised that the filmmakers did not take their obsession one step further and throw in a cameo by the Blue Man Group somewhere. It comes across as being more distracting than necessary. It's almost as if director Chris Sivertson liked the look so much, he kept on doing it, even when it was not needed. When it's not confusing us with color-related symbolism, it falls back on standard cheap thriller standbys, such as ghostly whispers on the soundtrack and mysterious figures lurking in the shadows. The only thing missing is the famous jump scare where a cat leaps out of the dark at the main character for no reason. This is curious, since Aubrey does indeed own a cat. It's one of those hairless ones, kind of like the one Dr. Evil had in the Austin Powers movies. They missed a golden opportunity. Building a jump scare around a hairless cat leaping out of the shadows at the heroine would have been a good twist on an old favorite.

The screenplay that I Know Who Killed Me is built upon is shaky indeed, with characters who come and go as it sees fit, and often disappear without a trace. Aubrey seems to be covered by heavy police presence during the first half of the film, complete with detectives investigating the mystery and a swarm of cops guarding the driveway of her house, and checking the ID of anyone who pulls up. These officers disappear completely about halfway through, so Aubrey can come and go from the house as she pleases without anyone wondering where she is, or if she's putting herself in danger by investigating the mystery herself. Because the supporting cast is treated as a mere afterthought, Lohan is forced to carry nearly every scene by herself. She does a serviceable job, but never quite seems to put as much into her performance as she should. It's a demanding role, since she is pretty much required to play two completely different characters throughout. She's somewhat bland and passionless when she's playing Aubrey, and as Dakota, she lacks the flirtatious energy that the character needs. Of course, this could have a lot to do with the fact that the movie almost seems to be afraid of Dakota. She's a stripper who removes very little clothing during the course of the film, and when she has sex with a man, the movie keeps on cutting back to Aubrey's mother downstairs, listening to the sexual acts going on upstairs, and scrubbing the kitchen sink faster and faster, as if she's trying to scrub the sounds she hears away. The scene comes across as being unintentionally comical, instead of arousing.
I've tried my best to be as vague as possible in talking about this movie, but anyone in the audience who is half awake should not have a hard time figuring this one out. I Know Who Killed Me isn't as deep or perplexing as it seems to think it is. It's a shallow and dull thriller that has fooled itself into thinking that its an interesting one with a winding plot. The plot revelations don't even seem to have much impact on the characters, and we only learn about one of the parent's reaction, since the other one supposedly falls off the face of the earth during the film's final half hour. Everything gets wrapped up in an all-too neat package that seems more like the director ran out of film, rather than wrapped up his story. We're left asking so many questions, and all we get is an ending where the credits start to roll just when we were about to get some real answers.

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Friday, July 27, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

Has any movie this summer been met with more fan pressure than The Simpsons Movie? Aside from Spider-Man 3, I can't think of any. When you consider that viewers have been clamoring for a theatrical film for over 10 years, you certainly have to admire creator Matt Groening's guts for not rushing a movie out into theaters just to make money. I have personally followed the show from the very beginning, and walked into the film with mixed emotions. On one hand, this was a moment I had been waiting for since I was literally 13-years-old. On the other, given the dip in quality on the show during the past few years, I was desperately trying not to set my hopes up too high. Now that I have seen it, I can safely say that the movie combines both the best and worst aspects of the show itself into an uneven, but still highly entertaining, film. Fans are sure to get their money worth, but I can't really see this playing outside of those who have been with the characters since the late 80s.

The Simpson family's beloved town of Springfield is slowly being turned into a hazardous waste dump after years of dumping garbage and sludge into the local lake. After rock group Green Day have an untimely demise sinking into the murky depths of the lake, 8-year-old Simpson daughter Lisa (voice by Yeardley Smith) makes it her mission to wake up the local townspeople to what's happening. Unfortunately, her father Homer (Dan Castellaneta) has never been one to listen to sense or reason. Due to reasons too complicated to summarize here, Homer winds up dumping a silo full of pig feces into the lake, officially turning the town into the most polluted place on Earth. The Government decides to get involved, and President Arnold Schwarzenegger (Harry Shearer) is talked into sealing the entire town within a dome in order to protect the rest of the world by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (Albert Brooks). Along with loving wife Marge (Julie Kavner), hell-raising son Bart (Nancy Cartwright), and baby Maggie, Homer must find a way to escape from the town after the people of Springfield turn against him for dooming them all.

Like many TV-to-film adaptations, The Simpsons Movie struggles to adapt itself to its new format. After a fairly strong opening 40 minutes, the movie slows down quite a bit, and becomes mired in an environmental-themed plot that avoids being too preachy, but still seems somewhat out of place for the characters. I understand that this is a movie, and Groening and his team are trying to not just make a retread of the show. (The writers even poke fun at this fact early in the film by having Homer complaining while watching a movie of the kids' favorite cartoon characters, Itchy and Scratchy, about the scam of expanding a TV show to the feature length format.) And yet, the movie still seems padded. There are numerous subplots to fill in time, but these either have disappointing or no resolution at all (such as Homer becoming obsessed with a pig that starts the whole mess in the first place), or they are good as they currently are, but could have been even better if the film focused on them a little bit more. A good example is the plot concerning son Bart feeling he doesn't get enough attention from his father, and starts seeking solace in overly kind neighbor Ned Flanders (Harry Shearer). What's up there on the screen is good, but watching it, I felt like it had to be cut short in order to fit in the rest of the plots competing for attention and throw away visual gags. It never builds the way it should, and the pay off is pretty much non-existent and overly rushed. The 11 writers credited to this film (many of them past writers from earlier seasons on the show) seem to be trying hard to add more emotion to the characters than normal, and although they're successful for the most part, they seem uncertain when it comes to a conclusion in most cases. Only the plot concerning young Lisa finding her soul mate with a new boy named Colin (Tress MacNeille) seems to hit the right mark when it comes to a close.

For every bit of weakness contained within The Simpsons Movie, there are at least two moments to make up for it at least. I laughed quite a bit throughout the film, and smiled even more, especially during the first half of the film. The film is at its best before the proper "save the town" plot kicks in, and tries to be just as irrelevant as the show can often be. There is a sense of free-spirited anarchy and fun that is curiously missing from the later half of the film. While the plot-driven part of the film does have its moments of brilliance (including an inspired cameo by Tom Hanks), it never quite lives up to everything that came before it. I'm proud to say that the commercials have for once not ruined the best jokes in the film. The much-hyped "naked Bart" scene that has been talked about by fans for months is also far from the comedic highlight, though it definitely earns the laughs it gets. Given the decline in the writing on the TV show the past couple seasons, it seriously felt good to laugh out loud at the characters again. And, as always, the extremely talented cast that have been with the show for 18 years is spot on. To this day, I'm still amazed that the entire cast is made up of only a handful of regular voice actors who portray the entire diverse town of Springfield. Aside from the previously mentioned cameos of Green Day and Tom Hanks, the show's cast must carry the entire film by themselves, and do so beautifully. Though most of the regular characters are there simply for walk-ons to please the fans, the characters the film does focus on each get their individual moment to stand out.
I strongly believe that your reaction to The Simpsons Movie will depend greatly on your reaction to The Simpsons themselves. If you never got into the show, this movie will do absolutely nothing to change your mind. The movie knows its audience, and unless you're a member of the converted, you can give this a pass. But, for those who have literally been waiting years for this movie, it may not be perfect, but you won't be let down overall. Be sure to stick around for the end credits as well, to hear Maggie learn an important "first word" when it comes to Hollywood. The quality of The Simpsons Movie doesn't quite make me long for what she hopes for, but at the same time, I wouldn't mind it.

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

Hairspray

Is Hairspray a great movie? No, but it is a fun one, and that's all it really wants to be. With so many musical films that seem to exist simply for critical raves and Oscar nominations (I remember hearing Oscar buzz for Dreamgirls almost a year before the film actually hit theaters...), this is a pleasant throw back to when musicals just wanted to be joyous and leave its audience walking out of the building happy. Hairspray achieves this simple yet monumental task with its spirit, strong performances, and infectiously catchy songs. No one will ever mistake director Adam Shankman (Cheaper by the Dozen 2, The Pacifier) for making art here, but is that so wrong in the end?

Based on the smash Broadway stage musical, which itself was based on the 1988 cult film classic by John Waters, Hairspray is the simple story of a heavy-set teenage girl named Tracy Turnblad (newcomer Nikki Blonsky) growing up in Baltimore in 1962. Tracy lives with her equally overweight mother, Edna (John Travolta in a fat suit and drag), and her caring father Wilbur (Christopher Walken), who always tells her that she can do anything she wants to. Tracy's dream is to be on the popular American Bandstand-style music program, The Corny Collins Show, and dance with all the other popular kids that she sees on TV everyday. She gets her chance when an open audition is held on the show after one of the girls on the show is forced to take a "9 month leave of absence". Despite ridicule due to her size from some of the regulars on the show, including the popular favorite Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow) and Amber's mother Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), Tracy quickly becomes a favorite on the show and may even get a chance to win the heart of a handsome young dancer named Link (Zac Efron from TV's High School Musical). Tracy's popularity comes during a time when the winds of change are blowing. The show's monthly "Negro Day" is being threatened with removal from the Corny Collins line up. Tracy decides to use her fame to stand up for what she believes in, and supports the black people calling for integration on the program, even if it means she will lose popularity in the eyes of others.

Unlike this weekend's other major release, I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry, Hairspray knows how to handle the serious topic of tolerance without being preachy or without losing sight of what it really is. This movie is fun throughout, and manages to never take itself completely seriously without cheapening the message at the heart of the story. The key to its success is that its wonderfully silly while still managing to keep its feet on the ground so that we can identify with the characters. Tracy is a girl that only the most cynical of viewers could possibly hate, and is so optimistic without being hopelessly so that you almost want to pull her off the screen and hug her. Even when the plot starts dealing with heavier racial issues, Tracy is still at the center of it all, and the movie never lets her get lost in the story. The characters who surround her are wonderfully memorable as well. Tracy's parents, Wilbur and Edna, seem as different as can be (he's a free spirit who runs a joke and novelty shop, she's a somewhat uptight recluse who hasn't left the house in almost 10 years due to her weight problem), but their love for each other is genuine and sweet, which makes them both instantly likeable to us. Other notable characters include Motormouth Mabelle (Queen Latifah), who leads the protest against segregation on the program, and Tracy's best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes), who is afraid to truly live life due to her overly strict Bible-thumping mother. The movie manages to juggle all of these diverse characters, and give them their own chance to shine in the story and with their own personal numbers, so that no one is ever neglected or left standing in the background.

This being a musical, it would be just plain wrong not to mention the songs, especially not songs as memorable as these. The score by Marc Shaiman (South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut) and Scott Wittman is one of the more memorable ones to hit the screen in a while. This is the first time in a while where I can remember almost every song in a musical film being truly memorable, and would probably qualify as being a showstopper in any other musical films. Things get off to a rousing start with the opening number, "Good Morning, Baltimore", where Tracy gives us a guided tour of her neighborhood, and introduces us to everyone, including "the flasher who lives next door" (played by John Waters in a brief cameo). Things only build from there, with other highlights including "The Nicest Kids in Town" (which introduces us to the Corny Collins kids), "Welcome to the Sixties" (where Tracy shows her mother the outside world, and how things have changed), "Timeless to Me" (a sweet love song between Tracy's parents), the stirring rally song of "I Know Where I've Been", and the showstopping finale "You Can't Stop the Beat". The songs are peppy and upbeat, but not without a knowing satirical edge, which makes them as funny as they are fun to listen to. The choreography during the musical numbers, which was provided by director Adam Shankman, is lively and often imaginative. It uses the magic of special effects to make certain musical numbers stand out in ways they couldn't on the stage. (A trio of women on a billboard come to life during one number, and provide back up vocals.) There are a few instances where the songs seem to come literally one after another with no dialogue or lead-in, which is usually a pet peeve of mine. But this time, it didn't bother me so much, because the songs are just that enjoyable.

The energy of the entire film itself is matched only by the energy of its cast. In the lead role, first-time actress Nikki Blonsky is a truly talented find. She is not only able to sell each and every song she has, but she's an immediately likeable presence that grabs your attention from the moment she jumps out of bed in the film's opening scene. I can only hope that Hollywood's fixation on skinny actresses does not sink her career before it has a chance to begin, because she is truly beautiful and earns the support of her audience. In the key supporting roles, John Travolta takes a little bit of getting used to and never quite owns the role as Tracy's mom like Harvey Fierstein did in the original Broadway cast, but he still manages to win us over in the end, especially during the moments he gets to share with Christopher Walken. It's nice that despite the fact the wife is played by a man, the movie treats their relationship seriously, and they are able to pull off a genuinely loving relationship together. Other standouts include Michelle Pfeiffer as the main antagonist, who fears the change that Tracy will bring with her radical views on integration, and Queen Latifah is powerful without being overbearing as Motormouth Mabelle. Elijah Kelley (Take the Lead) also gets a couple choice moments as Seaweed, a black student at the high school who helps Tracy's best friend, Penny, overcome her personal fears brought on by her mother.
It's somewhat of a bold move for New Line Cinema to release Hairspray in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, but in a way, it also fits. The film is as light as cotton candy, and as breezy as a summer afternoon. And yet, it still manages to hold our attention throughout thanks to its infectious energy and sharp sense of humor. Films as fun as this are a true rarity, and I can only hope that this film manages to find an audience. It may not be a movie that you'll remember strongly a year from now, but I can almost guarantee that you'll remember having a good time.

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Friday, July 20, 2007

I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry

So, I'm sitting here, trying to collect my thoughts on I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. And the one thought that keeps on entering my head is how did such talented people get involved in this mess? Say what you will about Adam Sandler, I've always found him likeable, and have often defended some of his dumbest films such as Happy Gilmore and Little Nicky. And two of the writers credited to the screenplay are Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who together have written such wonderful films such as Election, About Schmidt, and Sideways. So what are they, and many other talented people, doing in this movie that sloppily tries to combine crude gay and racial stereotypes with "hit you over the head"-level sentiment? My only guess is some pretty good pay checks were handed out.

New York firefighters and best friends, Chuck Levine (Adam Sandler) and Larry Valentine (Kevin James), are as different as can be. Chuck is a chauvinistic ladies man who often finds himself spending the night with six different women in the same bed. Larry is a struggling single dad who has been trying to raise his two young children on his own since the passing of his wife. When Larry finds out he can't list his kids as sole beneficiaries of his life insurance plan without a spouse or life partner, he finds himself driven to extremes, worried that his kids will have nothing if something should happen to him on the job. This drives him to concoct a scheme where Chuck and him will pose as a gay couple, so that Larry can continue with his pension plan. What starts as a simple lie on paper quickly grows into something bigger when the government gets involved. They're cracking down on people creating fake relationships in order to collect on insurance, and have even sent the slimy inspector Clinton Fitzer (Steve Buscemi) to snoop around and find out if they are a legitimate gay couple. The two friends are forced to legally marry each other, and present themselves as a couple in front of their friends and co-workers, who start treating them differently when the two "come out". It's especially hard for Chuck, who is forced to give up the many women in his life, and must hold back his urges for the lovely young lawyer, Alex McDonough (Jessica Biel), who is defending them when the State gets involved.

With an honest and subtle approach, I could certainly picture the premise of I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry working in a quirky sort of way. However, long-time Sandler filmmaker, Dennis Dugan (Benchwarmers, Big Daddy), aims for broad stereotypes and juvenile humor. This is a movie that doesn't seem to be sure if it wants to make fun of gay people, or support them. Outside of the two lead characters, who are only posing as being gay to begin with, every gay character to walk onto the screen is an overly broad cartoon caricature that don't have the slightest bit of sincerity or subtlety. They're portrayed as cartoonish buffoons, or overly flamboyant to the point of self-parody. This being an Adam Sandler comedy, I wasn't exactly expecting anything exactly engaging or thought-provoking in its characterizations. But, I was still taken aback by the way this movie handles most of its characters. Take one of Larry's two children. He's a young boy who looks to be about 10 or so. He's worried about his son, because he likes to play with Easy Bake Ovens, tap dance, and sing show tunes. Absolutely nothing is done with this character or this idea. When Larry is forced to pretend that he is gay, this does not seem to open his eyes to his son. It's just a throwaway subplot that asks us to laugh at the kid, simply because he shows cliched homosexual tendencies. A good screenplay would have built upon this idea, instead of just tossing it to the wayside and moving on. I haven't even mentioned the most offensive character in the film, who is a gay Japanese man who performs the wedding ceremony for Chuck and Larry. He's played by Sandler's long-time co-star, Rob Schneider, for reasons that completely mystify me. Were there no Asian actors available that could have spared us the sight of Mr. Schneider doing a horrible imitation of one that comes across as an offensive stereotype from a 1960s comedy? My guess is the filmmakers thought it'd be funny to have him playing an Asian. They were wrong.

Outside of the broad and offensive stereotypes that populate this film, the humor is quite frequently forced and lame. The characters talk like people in a bad sitcom, not like actual people. In one scene, Larry is attending a "Career Day" at his kid's school. By this point of the film, the lie about them being gay is out in the open. Apparently, the entire world now knows about it, because one of the kids in the classrooms asks if he has two jobs - one as a firefighter, and the other as a butt-pirate. (ho ho) The movie goes from bad to worse when it stops trying to make fun of gay people, and actually tries to stick up for them. Near the end of the movie, we get a series of lengthy scenes where different members of the cast preach to extras and us in the audience that homophobia is bad, and that gay people have rights. It's not that I don't agree with the message the film wants to leave with us, it's just that it is applied with all the subtlety of lighting a dog on fire. Adam Sandler even gets to stand up in the middle of a courtroom, and give a "stirring" speech that I think was supposed to have me nodding my head in agreement, but only had me shaking my head in embarrassment. The sudden shift in tone from crude stereotype comedy to "gays are people too" message film is so messy and awkward I almost couldn't believe my eyes. Did no one stop and think that a movie that previously featured gays as cartoonish stereotypes should not end with its main characters in a courtroom, telling us we should respect them? If you're trying to be offensive, at least have the guts to go all the way, and don't apologize for yourself with a preachy third act.

Casting is one of the more important aspects of a movie, as it helps us identify with the characters. Who exactly thought Adam Sandler would be able to pull off coming across as a ladies man who has supermodels literally banging down his door? I'm not trying to say that Sandler does not have a certain charm to his appearance, but trying to picture him as a calendar model is kind of like trying to picture Michael Jackson as a heavyweight championship boxer. As for his performance, he's not terrible, but he never seems to have any real chemistry with Kevin James, which ultimately sinks both of their performances. We never believe that these two are friends, much less lovers. Oddly enough, the film spends very little time on Chuck and Larry's fake relationship, and concerns itself more with the relationship that builds between Chuck and their lawyer. Maybe it's because the movie seems to understand that Sandler has a much easier and sweeter chemistry with Jessica Biel, who is a much more winning co-star for him than Kevin James to begin with. In supporting roles, Dan Aykroyd shows up as the chief of the fire station where the guys work. He seems happy to be in the movie, but isn't given anything to do. Steve Buscemi can be a funny actor and is usually always fun to watch, but he's given no material to work with. The movie does a good job at making us hate his character, but supplies no reason for us to be interested in him.
I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry is not beyond help. There are some scattered laughs here and there, and the soundtrack that features a lot of popular music from the 70s and 80s is lively and energetic, often much more so than the scene they're accompanying. This is not likely to join some of Sandler's past unsalvageable disasters, such as his animated Eight Crazy Nights, or his wrong-headed attempt at remaking The Longest Yard. Still, everyone involved deserved better than the material they've been given. This is a movie where you get the sense that although everyone was having fun making this movie, they still wound up giving more effort than they should have.

1 comments

Friday, July 13, 2007

Captivity

How did anyone involved in the making of this movie convince themselves that they were making a worthwhile product? That's the question that kept on popping in my head while watching Captivity. With all the unproduced screenplays that are lying about Hollywood, how did something this banal get the green light? Did something get lost during the transition from the page to the screen? Was it just the wrong director placed with the wrong material? I'll probably never know. All I will ever know for sure is that life is too short for movies like this.

A mysterious serial killer dressed in a black cloak and hood is stalking the streets of New York. One would think that given the fact the guy looks like he takes fashion tips from the villain in the I Know What You Did Last Summer movies, he'd draw a lot more attention walking around in public. The man has a massive underground dungeon and torture palace underneath his house, and looks like it cost a small fortune to build. When we find the identity of the guilty party and discover the job that he does when he's not stalking victims, I started to think to myself that I'm in the wrong business if he can afford all this on his salary. The killer's latest victim is a magazine model and actress named Jennifer (Elisha Cuthbert from TV's 24). While she's partying at a club, her drink is drugged, and when she awakens she finds herself in the madman's vast underground torture chamber. She soon finds that she's not alone, and there's another man captive in a cell next door named Gary (Daniel Gillies). The two try to keep their spirits up while the masked psycho keeps on torturing them in various ways. I'm doing my best to be as vague as possible, but should you see this movie, I'm sure the "surprise" reveal will shock you little, especially considering that this is a scarcely populated movie, with only five or so characters in the entire movie.

Captivity has no time for characters, interesting dialogue, or plot. It's a nearly 90-minute long geek show where we get to watch the actors be splattered with blood and other bodily fluids. This is a one-track minded movie, and after some early promising moments that hint at a psychological approach, quickly derails into an endless cycle that constantly repeats itself for most of its running time. Jennifer and Gary try to find a way out, the masked villain captures them, he tortures them, he throws them back in their cells, and then the cycle repeats itself all over again. The only thing that changes is the means the villain uses to torture them. Sometimes, he traps them in a massive sized room that fills up with sand. Sometimes, he straps them down and appears to pour an acid-like substance over their faces. Sometimes he pulls out their teeth with a pair of pliers. Sometimes he mixes up some body organs in a blender, sticks a funnel in a victim's mouth, and pours the bloody substance into their mouths. At one point, he even forces Jennifer to shoot her beloved pet dog or else the killer will shoot her. Do these moments shock or terrify? No, they're just there to be grotesque. We watch the killer do something to them, then the scene fades out, and they're back in their cells waiting for the villain to pop up again and torture them. This is a fragmented screenplay built solely around how much the filmmakers can get away with under an R-rating. There is no plot, and there are no character motivations, other than subjecting or being subjected to graphic violence.

Now, I'm not a prude. After all, I have pretty much supported the Saw series so far, the franchise that ushered in the current torture horror genre we're currently "enjoying". Those films can be just as gruesome and far fetched as Captivity can be. The difference is, at least the Saw films attempt something that sort of resembles a plot, and has characters who are interesting. Captivity is the closest you can get to having nothing, and still have something to show for your efforts. Jennifer is not a character. We know nothing about her, other than she's a model and she loves her dog. We never get to see her around any people other than the masked psycho and Gary the fellow prisoner, so we don't know what kind of a woman she is. Why are we supposed to be pulling for her to escape from this torment? The movie gives us no reason or explanation. We certainly can't care about her because of her intelligence, as she often shows a disturbing lack of it. If you were in a car that was being filled with poisonous gas, would you put your hand over a single vent, when the gas was billowing in from various other vents all around you? And in another situation where she is once again faced with torture by gas, she for some reason decides to hide behind a pillar, as if that could somehow protect her from the substance rapidly filling the room. I started to wonder if the villain picked her as his victim because he knew she'd be too dumb to escape from his traps in the first place.

Captivity is filled with such a complete lack of direction and coherency, I'm having a hard time believing that human beings were involved in the making of it. Looking up their past credits on the IMDB, I can see that everyone involved has worked in different, better projects than this. Did nobody realize that there's not one single shred of characterization in the entire film? Not one character gets to display any personality or thought other than death. Even the killer's motivation is left completely up to our imaginations. At one point, we get to see an old home movie of the villain as a little boy murdering his mom in her sleep. This is supposed to terrify us, but all I could think of was who was using the camera while the kid was doing this? The camera is not stationary, it moves around and gets the action at different angles, so someone else had to be there. I'm once again doing my best to tiptoe around spoiler territory here, but when we finally see the full video, it seems even more impossible than it did the first time we saw it. Horror movies usually fall apart when logic is applied to them. This is the first time I can remember a thriller falling apart right before my very eyes before I even got a chance to apply logic to it.
Last month, I reviewed Hostel: Part II, and did not give it a very flattering review. And yet now, after seeing Captivity, I have new-found respect for the film. It's still a lousy movie, no doubt about that. But, compared to this, it's damn-near Oscar-worthy. Once we've figured out the film (which is about 45 minutes before the "twist" is revealed), we're left with nothing but non-existent characters doing terrible things to each other. Buy a ticket to Captivity, and you'll feel like a captive yourself as this movie assaults and insults every brain cell. This is a repulsively inept film, and is a strong contender for being one of the worst films of the year.

1 comments

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

With so many film franchises falling into mediocrity as of late (Notice the fall of the once-strong Spider-Man films with May's mediocre Spider-Man 3), it's nice to know that some still manage to hold most of their original charms. The Order of the Phoenix, the fifth installment of the Harry Potter franchise, still manages to entertain and captivate. And yet, I couldn't help but notice that it seemed to be struggling to do so and with more effort than previous entries. That's not to say Order of the Phoenix is a bad film. Judged on its own, it's highly entertaining. But compared to the last two wonderful installments (2004's Prisoner of Azkaban and 2005's Goblet of Fire), the film seems a lot more rushed and not quite as fascinating.

Young wizard Harry Potter (Daniel Radcliffe) has a lot on his mind these days, as well he should. His arch nemesis, Lord Voldemort (Ralph Finnes), has returned and is already starting to assemble an army of dark wizards at his command. Not only this, but Harry is being threatened with expulsion from Hogwarts after he used a magic spell to save the life of his "Muggle" brother from an attacking Dementor. At school, things are not much better. Many do not believe Harry's story of Voldemort's return, due to the fact that the Daily Prophet newspaper is accusing him of being a liar and trying to stir up fear in the magic-user community. The Ministry of Magic is behind the effort to strike down Potter's claim of the villain's return, and are so insistent in silencing any doubt, they slowly start to take over Hogwarts itself in the form of one of its members, the sunny yet sinister Dolores Umbridge (Imelda Staunton). Dolores is hired initially as the new teacher for the Defense Against the Dark Arts class, but she quickly uses her clout with the Ministry to take control of the entire school, and turn it into an oppressive and strict environment. With his two trusted friends, Ron (Rupert Grint) and Hermione (Emma Watson), Harry must figure out some way to convince his fellow students that the danger is real, without alerting the seemingly all-seeing Ministry to his efforts.

Continuing the trend set forth by the previous films, The Order of the Phoenix is perhaps the darkest and most dire story to surround young Harry Potter yet. What started as a fairly whimsical story with dark undertones, seems to be turning into a dark story with whimsical undertones. This is, of course, intentional. The Potter franchise is supposed to mature along with the characters. Harry himself is no longer the wide-eyed innocent we initially met back in 2001. He seems to have the weight of the world on his shoulders as the truth of his family's past is slowly revealed to him, as well as the return of the one he fears the most. Radcliffe is more than willing to meet the acting challenges needed to make Potter a somewhat wiser, yet still naive, young hero who is getting stronger with each installment, but still seems to be overcome at times by doubt and fear. This time around, Harry is forced to become somewhat of a leader to a small group of students who come to him to learn offensive magic spells after the Ministry banishes their physical practice at Hogwarts. The pieces are slowly falling into place for Harry and the young man that he will eventually become. It helps him become much more than a character we are watching on the screen, and he becomes someone that we can identify with in various ways. He is a great everyman character, and the movie is wise to play upon this. For all the broom-flying and wizardry that makes up the series, Harry continues to be the emotional heart at the center of the story, and this is probably the character's finest hour yet. With this film, we feel like although he is starting to come into his own, we still have yet to see what he can really do.

It is beyond Harry where things slide just a little bit. I'm sure it was quite a daunting task for screenwriter Michael Goldenberg (2003's Peter Pan) to turn J.K. Rowling's nearly 900-page epic into a movie that stretches just a little past two hours. For the most part, he succeeds, and seems to know which parts of the story he wants to focus on. But, the story also comes across as disjointed at times and the characters underdeveloped. Major characters in the franchise such as Ron and Hermione seem to be given little to do this time around, other than stand behind Harry and support him. Characters often seem to come and go from the screenplay, and pop up only just long enough to do the bare minimum before they're forced to exit the movie without warning. Most of the veteran characters from the series seem neglected and shuffled into the background or cameos. Most of the attention seems to be fixated on newcomer Dolores Umbridge and her efforts to turn Hogwarts into an almost iron-fisted environment. As played by Imelda Staunton, she comes across as being both comical and malicious, often in the very same scene. She giggles cutely and at the most inappropriate times, as if she is hiding something, is dressed head-to-foot in pink, and her office walls are lined entirely with pictures of mewing kittens. And yet, Staunton is able to bring out the right amount of sinister undertones behind her deceptively sunny demeanor that the character requires. Another new character standout is Harry's bizarre fellow student, Luna Lovegood. In her first screen performance, young actress Evanna Lynch manages to bring a bizarre and off-beat charm to the character without going to extremes.

Aside from Harry, these are the only two characters who do not seem short-changed by the screenplay, which seems to be in a desperate hurry to squeeze as much as it can into a limited amount of time. Other newcomers introduced in the film left some young children in my audience asking out loud "who's that", due to the fact that the movie doesn't give us enough time to truly get to know them. A good example would be an evil wizard who joins Voldemort's army, Bellatrix LeStrange (Helena Bonham Carter). We see her escape from Azkaban Prison, and then she never shows up again until the climax, where she plays a fairly pivotal role. Unless you are familiar with the character or the original novels, you won't really get a good idea of just who she is, other than some background information passed along in the dialogue. Even though most of the actors are mainly stuck in the background this time around, that doesn't mean they don't give it their best effort. The cast has once again been comprised of most of Britain's finest actors, and everyone brings their skills to their characters. It's just a shame that the movie itself gives them so little to do. Still, there are some intriguing elements brewing. Professor Severus Snape (Alan Rickman) gets some choice scenes in his limited appearance, and although it seemed to be cut short, the nervous relationship growing between Harry and student Cho Chang (Katie Leung) kept my interest.
Though not without its flaws, The Order of the Phoenix still should hold the interest of just about any audience member, and make the minds behind the franchise even richer. There are a lot of ideas at play here, and only the film's length holds them back. This is the rare time when I actually wanted a movie to be longer so that they could go deeper into the ones expressed here. But, I guess that's what the original novel is for. As an adaptation, the film falls somewhat short, but still manages to entertain and comes across as a successful summer blockbuster. At the very least, it has me anticipating what's to come next. And isn't that the whole point to begin with?

2 comments

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

License to Wed

I'm going to say something that no one in License to Wed has the guts (or the brains) to say - Reverend Frank belongs behind bars. Frank is supposed to be a goofy and likeable guy who grows on us despite his unorthodox methods toward couples coaching. Unfortunately, the movie goes to such extremes that we are not so much charmed by Frank, rather we are terrified by him. The man is a menace, and the fact that nobody seems to realize it except for one character makes everyone in this movie come across as completely oblivious. License to Wed would be a perfectly mediocre romantic comedy, but because of Reverend Frank, it turns into a creepy, misbegotten film concerned with stupid people.

Young lovers Ben Murphy (John Krasinski from TV's The Office) and Sadie Jones (Mandy Moore) have just made plans to take their relationship to the next level and get married. It's always been Sadie's dream to be married at the family church with Reverend Frank (Robin Williams) doing the ceremony. Before they can get married, however, Frank forces the young lovers into a bizarre program where they will have to pass a series of tests to see if they are right for each other. Frank, along with his young student (Josh Flitter from Nancy Drew), sets up a series of challenges and simulations that are supposed to represent the difficulties that the couple will face in the future together. While it sounds reasonable enough in theory, the Reverend goes so far as to invading their private lives, even bugging Ben and Sadie's apartment with concealed recording equipment, letting him hear everything that happens when he's not around. Ben's patience with Frank's extreme program starts to wear thin, and the young couple start to contemplate if things are as compatible between them as they initially thought.

There's nothing really wrong with License to Wed whenever Reverend Frank is not on the screen. During those times, it's a perfectly ordinary romantic comedy that plays by the rules, and hardly offends. Unfortunately, Frank is a major character, and the movie devotes too much time to him. He's an evil, manipulative man, and we're supposed to laugh at him, because he's played by Robin Williams, and he's constantly shooting off zippy one-liners. Williams has played psychotic or deranged characters before in dramas like Insomnia and One Hour Photo. If he had played this character straight, I have no doubt believing his Reverend Frank would be right up there with those other performances. At one point, he has a 10-year-old kid break into the couple's apartment while they're away at a session, and conceal a wire tap in their home. This is more creepy and off-putting than amusing. Later on in the film, he gives Ben and Sadie a pair of animatronic babies to help them hone their parenting skills. Once again, he has the same kid follow them around, spy on them, and control the babies via a remote control to make the situation as stressful as possible for the couples. The character of Frank comes across as someone who enjoys tormenting young couples who just want to get married, and is not below employing children to do his dirty work so that he remains off the hook. If this sounds like a jovial, comical character to you, I highly suggest counseling.

My question is why does nobody else in this movie but Ben realize just how evil this guy is? And when Ben discovers the wire tap, why doesn't he make a bigger deal about it? His best friend tells him not to tell Sadie about it, because it would cause a problem in their relationship. Uh-huh. I say there's a problem, and that problem is Sadie. She's a clueless idiot who keeps on defending the Reverend throughout the picture. Even when Ben finally does tell her about the hidden recording equipment, Sadie doesn't even react to this revelation, nor does she even act offended. Are we to believe this woman doesn't even care that this man has been violating their privacy? If I seem to be putting too much stock in one character, I can't help it. He is what makes this entire movie go wrong. Without Reverend Frank, or if he had been written in a different way, this would have been a mostly inoffensive and forgettable little film. The character hangs over the movie like a black shadow, and causes everyone to become incredibly stupid, because no one can admit to themselves that this man is wrong. Even Ben, who distrusts him from the moment he lays eyes on Frank, winds up liking the guy before the movie's over. Either he is the most trusting and forgiving soul to ever walk the face of the planet, or he has suddenly become infected with the same disease that inflicts everyone else and makes him terribly oblivious to the obvious.

It's hard to get behind a cast when they're forced to play clueless morons for the sake of the plot. If these people had a fraction of an adult's IQ, they'd solve their problems in about five minutes. Instead, we have to sit through 90 minutes. Singer turned actress, Mandy Moore, once again finds herself playing a woman who refuses to even look at the obvious until the screenplay feels its convenient for her to do so. After Because I Said So and now this, I'm starting to wonder if she has some kind of bizarre fascination with women who make bad decisions for no reason other than to move the plot along. I truly hope this is not the case, as I think with the right role, she could be a good if not great screen presence. She's attractive, she's got a great smile, and she obviously has screen presence. Now she just needs to find a character who is not so vacant. John Krasinski is passable in his first film leading role, but not much more than that. He seems to kind of be playing a Ben Stiller-type character, only without Stiller's enthusiasm. The rest of the cast spend most of the time in the background, not contributing much of anything. That's because Reverend Frank keeps on hijacking the movie at every conceivable opportunity. It gets to the point we start wondering if we're watching a movie, or if we're watching one of Williams' lesser improv performances. Despite the fact that he gets a few on-target jokes here and there, they can't rise above the extreme mishandling of his character.
License to Wed is a movie that goes so extremely off course, and it's all because of one man. If he had just been written a different way, the film could have been salvaged. As it is, he drags the entire movie down with him. Reverend Frank would be more at home in a thriller, not a light-hearted comedy. It's amazing how the wrong lead character can affect everyone and everything around them. This movie is proof of that. When the movie came to its predetermined happy ending, I didn't feel joy. I felt sorry for this couple that this guy was still a part of their lives, and imagined what hell awaited them in the future. I'm sure we'll hear all about it if we're unfortunate enough to get a sequel.

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