Category: Action Comedies


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Oh Quentin Tarantino, why do you tease me so? When was your last truly consistent film? Jackie Brown? Kill Bill Vol. 2 and Inglourious Basterds (especially Basterds) are overflowing with brilliant moments, but they are either flawed in some structural way (Basterds) are simply, intentionally not serious (Kill Bill and Basterds). I honestly believe that he hasn’t been able to put together a consistently perfect film from beginning to end since his Jackie Brown/Pulp Fiction heyday. His penchant for excess and for cartoonish genre caricatures have taken over his rock solid characterizations and peerless ear for quotable dialogue. As a long-time fan of the Western genre and Quentin Tarantino, I’ve long awaited Django Unchained, and while the film is literally perfect for an hour and fifteen minutes (possibly the best work Tarantino has ever done for that time frame of the film), Tarantino’s juvenile sensibilities and lack of an internal editor turned Django into a bloated, imperfect “what could have been.”

That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy the film. Django Unchained is an unquestionably great film. The missteps it takes generally remain in the shadow of the moments of true inspiration in the film although they are just glaring enough to consistently draw you out of the picture. The stretch of the film where Tarantino nails the themes he’s trying to capture (more on that later) are dark, complex, morally ambiguous, and consistently subversive in a way that only Tarantino seems to be able to achieve. But because the film decides it has something to serious to say, it’s general inability to see through on those grand statements and it’s constant devolvement into slapstick-levels of comedic violence creates a frustrating and ultimately immature emotional dichotomy for the movie that begins to tear itself apart from the inside as Django progresses.

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Two years before the beginning of the Civil War (which lends a dark fatalism to the timing of most of the film), German bounty hunter/retired dentist King Schultz (two time Oscar-winner Christoph Schultz) makes a living killing criminals for the U.S. Government. They may be wanted “dead or alive,” but dead is easier to transport. As the film begins, Dr. Schultz is hunting the Brittle brothers, three former foreman on a large slave plantation. Schultz’s only lead is Django (Horrible Bosses‘ Jamie Foxx), a slave from that same plantation who has been separated from his wife, Broomhilda (Kerry Washington). Schultz buys Django (in a classic Tarantino cold-open) with the promise that if he can help him find the Brittle Brothers, Schultz will give Django his freedom and $75. And the hunt for the Brittle brothers is only the first act of the film.

After Django and Schultz score the Brittle Brothers Bounty (I can’t possibly imagine that being a spoiler), the real meat of the film begins when Django joins Schultz to become a bounty hunter in his own right so that he can buy the freedom of his wife. And after a winter of hunting criminals, Django and Schultz track down Broomhilda’s new owner, a Francophile slave master and slave fighting ring baron, Calvin Candie (The Departed‘s Leonardo DiCaprio). Understanding that Candie won’t sell Broomhilda at a reasonable price willingly, Django and Schultz concoct a plan to infiltrate Candie’s plantation, “Candieland” (I shit you not), to free Django’s beloved. And if that means that Django will have to go undercover as a black slaver (the lowest of the low in the 19th century black community), so be it, although the real threat may not be Candie but Candie’s scheming head house slave Stephen (The Avengers‘ Samuel L. Jackson) who immediately loathes the free Django.

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Like every Tarantino film before it, Django Unchained‘s greatest strength in addition to its stellar dialogue is the absurd depth of its cast. Jamie Foxx’s performance is probably the slightest out of the primary characters (well, Kerry Washington’s performance is fairly forgettable but she’s rarely on screen and her characterization is intentionally paper-thin), but even he finds the steel and anger that transforms Django into the force of pure revenge he becomes by film’s end. Christoph Waltz won an Oscar for playing King Schultz (his second for a Tarantino film) and while Schultz isn’t nearly as compelling or complex as Basterd‘s Hans Landa, but Christoph Waltz is one of the best foreign actors to grace American screens in decades so I’ll forgive Tarantino if he couldn’t make this role quite as great as the past one (though Philip Seymour Hoffman should have won for The Master. Him or Tommy Lee Jones in Lincoln).

Funnily enough, I don’t even think that Christoph Waltz gave the best performance in the film. That was either Leonardo DiCaprio’s Candie or Sam Jackson’s Stephen. I know that’s an unpopular opinion but both characters were far more complex and better written, and they required more talent to play, and both actors seemingly totally lost themselves in the part. I might even go as far to say that Candie is possibly the best performance of DiCaprio’s career. He took to the bad guy so much better than I could have ever expected. Candie has a slick, charming side, but DiCaprio also displays the fierce evil and anger rooting in his heart. And Sam Jackson… just Jesus. In the entire Tarantino canon, Stephen makes a strong case as the most despicable/brilliant villain yet (only behind Hans), and Sam Jackson’s devotion to brutalizing every classic Uncle Tom stereotype ever is insane. DiCaprio and Jackson were robbed of Oscar nominations.

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And, as I’ve said, the film’s second act is perfect. Literally. It’s probably the best hour or so any Tarantino film ever made. And that’s saying something since I worship the man. It has something serious to say about slavery, revenge, and the moral inequities we are willing to commit in the name of something good. Unlike a lot of films about slavery, it is not watered down in this movie whatsoever. In fact, its portrayal of slavery is so dark (and accurate) that it may come as a shock to many modern audiences. And Django nearly loses himself in the character he has to portray in order to enter Candie’s farm. He allows slaves to die and be beaten and he is as awful to them as the whites just to rescue his wife. It’s moral ambiguity at it’s finest, and up to a climactic dinner where Django and Schultz are on the cusp of freeing Broomhilda.

Which makes the rest of the film such a frustrating affair. Don’t get me wrong, I could watch the film’s final forty minutes over and over again. I could watch Jamie Foxx kill slave-owners in an orgiastic display of blood lust all day, but what makes that explosion of violence different from Basterds is the lack of a metatextual subtext shaming the audience for enjoying the gore so much (i.e. Inglourious Basterds eventually became a satire of overly nationalistic war films). Django is simply a revenge fantasy played brutally straight. Except not because it’s a cartoon in live-action for gore-chasing grown-ups. I understand that something can be both serious and juvenile, but Tarantino doesn’t toe that line as well in Django as say Woody Allen or even Chasing Amy-era Kevin Smith. And because of the movie’s constant mood whiplash, you can never tell when you’re supposed to be taking a scene seriously and when you’re supposed to be laughing at the silliness of it all.

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I loved Django Unchained. When it was done, my dad and I talked about how much I enjoyed it but I also had to immediately temper it with the various criticisms that I laid down before. I would have loved to see a version of this film that Tarantino plays more seriously. I think that could have been the best movie Tarantino had ever made. As it is, Django Unchained has all of the hallmarks of a great Quentin Tarantino film. Sharply realized characters, quotable dialogue, a distinct visual style, and a never-ending supply of fun. But it also falls prey to all of the curses facing his most recent crop of films, mostly an excess of violence removed from a serious context. It’s not enough to make me not love this movie and I’m sure I’ll watch the hell out of it like I have every Tarantino film, but it fails to reach the apex of Tarantino greatness because it doesn’t seem to know exactly what movie it wants to be.

Final Score: A-

P.S.: It may however have the best Tarantino soundtrack ever for what that’s worth.

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Just because you prefer the films of Federico Fellini or Terrence Malick doesn’t mean you can’t just sit back and enjoy a good, old fashioned hyper-violent action movie every now and then. They’ve got to be ultra-stylistic or a glorious celebration of action cliche excess (Shoot ‘Em Up), but it’s great to have a movie that’s a purely visceral experience (as opposed to cerebral or emotional). These films almost never qualify as “great” movies, but for fans of film technique, stylistic action movies can give your mind a break while simultaneously stimulating your love of visually exciting film-making. 2007’s Smokin’ Aces is one of those films. And although it starts tripping over its own feet with its unnecessarily serious ending (which clashes with the mood of the rest of the film), if you can look past that failing, it’s remain a high-octane thrill ride ever since it was released.

In the realm of the Guy Ritchie films such as Snatch or Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels (though with only half of Ritchie’s wit), Smokin’ Aces is a crime action thriller where the only thing higher than the body count is the number of players and schemes along for the ride. After Mafioso Primo Sparazza puts a hit on mob informant and Vegas showman Buddy “Aces” Israel (Jeremy Piven), just about every assassin worth his weight comes out to take him down. FBI Agents Richard Messner (Ryan Reynolds) and Donald Carruthers (Ray Liotta) race to the Lake Tahoe penthouse suite where Israel is holed up, hoping to catch up with him before the army of hit men bears down on him. On the opposite side of the law are heavy hitters including three psychotic nazi brothers, two African American female assassins (including the sultry Alicia Keys), and a man notorious for changing his face to make the perfect kill.

The film’s almost absurdly star-studded cast has to be the biggest selling point behind the clever and visceral visual style of the film. Like the disaster movies of the 1970s, it’s almost a question of “who isn’t” in this movie. You have Ryan Reynolds, Andy Garcia, and Ray Liotta as FBI Agents. Jeremy Piven is the target and rapper Common is his primary bodyguard. There are three cast members from Lost in major or minor roles. That’s Matthew Fox as hotel security guard. Nestor Carbonell as one of the primary hit men and Kevin Durand as one of the inbred psycho assassins. Alicia Keys and Taraji P. Henson are the female assassins. Ben Affleck is a bail bondsman hoping to capture Israel alive before the hit men smoke him. And none other than Captain Kirk himself, Chris Pine, plays another one of the psycho brothers. Just to round things out, Jason Bateman is a cross-dressing lawyer hoping to not lose the bail he put down on Israel.

In the cast, a few stars obviously push their way to the front. Jeremy Piven is a wonder as always. Although he starts the film out in what can be kindly called “Full Ari Gold” mode, he generally finds himself beaten down over the course of the movie by the possibility of his impending doom and the fact that he is likely about to sell out all of his closest friends. Inhabiting the coked out, arrogant, regretful, and, ultimately, terrified Buddy Israel is simply further proof that Jeremy Piven is a talented actor who got his big breaks far too late in life. Common proves that he is a capable actor in his flirtatious scenes with Alicia Keys as well as the moments where he confronts Israel about his portrayal. Ryan Reynolds also admirably acquits himself as the FBI Agent who regularly learns that there are more and more layers to this seemingly simple case.

The film’s influences are fairly obvious. Trying to pair the quick and snappy dialogue of a Tarantino film with the gambit pileups of a Guy Ritchie movie, writer/director Joe Carnahan’s actual achievements are more of a mixed bag. When the film hits its marks, it’s a wonderful thing. Whether it’s the darkly comic (but inexplicably hilarious) moment where Chris Pine’s Tremor brother forces a corpse to mime out his apology for killing him or Taraji P. Henson’s assassin opening fire on a room full of feds with a 50. sniper rifle, the movie finds the magic balance between dark humor and a wee bit of the old ultra violence. However, when the film tries to be remotely serious, it simultaneously snaps the comically violent tone of the film while also simply failing to actually be dramatic. The awful twist ending is the ultimate example of this flaw in the film’s system.

The film isn’t going to please the art-house crowd (although I consider myself to be a part of that crowd. I can just also appreciate more broadly appealing films), but if you like smart and witty action films, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Smokin’ Aces. Sometimes all that matters for a movie is whether or not it’s fun. And if you can’t find anything fun about Smokin’ Aces, you need your testosterone levels checked (unless you’re a chick and just naturally don’t have any. Still think women can find the film appealing though). It may not be as good as stylistic thrillers like La Femme Nikita or Leon: The Professional, but not everybody can be a Luc Besson. If you need your fix of hyper-kinetic, over-the-top action, you can start here.

Final Score: B

With my love of Ingmar Bergman, Federico Fellini, and Terrence Malick (yes I consider him worth of putting in the same conversation as the first two legendary directors), it may come as a surprise that I was a big fan of Robert Rodriguez’s and Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse double feature when it first came out several years ago. Planet Terror was a pitch-perfect recreation of the “classic” B-horror film (though it dripped with more style and humor than those films could ever hope to attain), and Death Proof… well my feelings about Death Proof are a little more complicated. I hated it the first time I saw it and I still think it’s Tarantino’s least memorable film, but it contains some of his most memorable dialogue and if you watch it apart from Planet Terror, it’s much more enjoyable. It’s just too slow-paced and “talky” to be watched immediately after Planet Terror. I consider the blaxploitation parody Black Dynamite to be a spiritual successor to the Grindhouse films, and once again, I’m a huge fan of that film. However, there have now been two films made from the fake trailers shown in Grindhouse. Robert Rodriguez himself directed the less than impressive Machete (though I have to cheer a movie where illegal immigrants massacre racist rednecks). I’m unfamiliar with the maker of the outrageously violent Hobo With a Shotgun (other than knowing he wasn’t involved with Grindhouse and is from Canada), but it certainly puts the grindhouse in Grindhouse. However, unlike the three films I mentioned enjoying, Hobo With a Shotgun plays the ultra-violence straight and without an ounce of the wit, humor, and style that made Grindhouse such a fun ode to the B-movies. Hobo With a Shotgun is just a B-movie.

Rutger Hauer plays the nameless Hobo who has arrived in the misnomer known as Hope Town, a lawless hellhole ruled over by the barbaric and indescribably evil “The Drake” (Brian Downey). The Hobo tries to mind his own business amidst the filth and depravity of Hope Town until he witnesses the near rape and kidnapping of young prostitute Abby (Molly Dunsworth) by the Drake’s son, Slick (The Patriot‘s Gregory Smith). When the Hobo intervenes and beats the holy hell out of Slick, he drops Slick off to the police only to find that the police are as dirty as the criminals. They mutilate his chest and throw him in the garbage. As the Hobo tries once again to ignore what’s happening around him, a robbery of the pawn shop (where he’s trying to buy a lawn mower to start his own business) finally pushes him over the edge. He grabs a shotgun off the wall, kills the robbers (who were threatening to shoot a baby), and goes off on a gore-filled revenge-fueled quest to clean up the streets of Hope Town. And to quote the film, he’s going to do it one shell at a time.

This is going to be a short review because… Jesus Christ this movie… I stand corrected about something I said earlier in this post. Jason Eisener actually made the original Hobo With a Shotgun fake trailer from Grindhouse. Sorry about that misstep. But, back to the review. It’s a fine line between being an exploitation film parody and being an actual exploitation film. The only movie I can think of that tread the line in a finer way (without directly winking at the audience with visible boom mics or other nodding jabs at the cheapness of old films) was Shoot ‘Em Up (which I love). That movie made me laugh out loud on multiple occasions and contained a thinly veiled allegory about the danger of the arms industry. It was smart and stylish. Hobo With a Shotgun is just an exploitation film that happens to have been made in an era where (outside of the torture porn horror subniche) exploitation films stopped being made a long time ago. There’s nothing ironic or witty about the violence. The violence simply is. And boy is it. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more grotesquely violent film. I don’t have a weak stomach and I giggle with glee in video games when I commit heinous acts of violence, but Hobo With a Shotgun didn’t just cross the line once, or twice. It crossed the line several dozen times. There was nothing deeper or visually striking about the film (except for the buckets of blood). Actually, the film left me so cold (and disgusted) that it retroactively makes me question why I like Planet Terror. If it ruins Grindhouse for me in reverse, I’ll be very pissed.

However, I can’t fall the film for being exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a movie about a Hobo With a Shotgun, and it’s my fault for expecting anything better from that. The only reason Planet Terror, Death Proof, and Black Dynamite are watchable is because they were made by very capable and intelligent film makers who chose to work in a silly and ridiculous genre. Jason Eisener is no Quentin Tarantino. The only good thing I can say about the film is that Rutger Hauer is surprisingly good in this part. It’s easy to miss because of all of the ridiculous shit he does (and all of the ridiculous shit happening around him), but his performance was actually kind of subtle and nuanced. Nothing else in the film was.

Final Score: C-

Every generation has its signature comedy pairings. You’ve got Laurel and Hardy, Abbott and Costello, the Marx brothers, Harold and Kumar, Cheech & Chong, the Wayans bros, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Chris Farley and David Spade, etc. One of the comedy pairs that kids from my generation may not be as familiar with is Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder. Everyone knows the two apart, whether it’s Gene Wilder as Willy Wonka or Richard Pryor for his stand-up (as well as his film career), but unless you were alive in the 70’s and 80’s and old enough to remember the series of films that Richard Pryor and Gene Wilder made together, you’re likely not familiar with their long partnership simply because few of these films have really stood the test of time. I’m a cinephile so I’ve always known about these movies (there was a stretch where at least one of their buddy films was on at least one of the HBO/Cinemax channels at any given time), but I had never actually watched one before. Lo and behold, my master list for this blog puts their very first movie together, 1976’s Silver Streak, as the next film on my instant queue for Netflix, and while it wasn’t a great buddy action comedy film (and went long stretches of time without ever making me laugh), it was still an entertaining ride into the beginning of one of Hollywood’s most unorthodox pairings.

On a routine two night train ride to his sister’s wedding, George Caldwell (Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory‘s Gene Wilder), a mild-mannered editor for a book publisher, meets the beautiful Hilly (Jill Clayburn), a secretary for a reclusive author on his way to Chicago to give a presentation on the artist Rembrandt. George and Hilly hit it off and when the pair return to George’s compartment to close out the evening, their romantic rendezvous is interrupted when George sees a corpse fall off the train through the compartment’s windows. He convinces himself that he is just seeing things, but the next morning when he looks at the dust jacket of Hilly’s boss’s book, George realizes that was the man who was murdered. Before George knows it, he finds himself drawn into a dangerous investigation of a gangster art dealer, and when an undercover federal agent on the train is murdered trying to help George, George must enlist the help of smooth thief Grover (Richard Pryor) to save his new girlfriend and bring justice to this murderer.

This movie is billed as an action comedy though it is mostly light on either for healthy portions of the film. It ends with such a ridiculously over-the-top shoot-out and explosive set piece that the ending almost seems out of place in this otherwise lighthearted film. Similarly, the laughs don’t come nearly often enough to make up for it not being especially fast moving. The film is nearly 2 hours long and I counted only one moment in the entire film where I legitimately began to laugh out loud. I had some light chuckles here and there, but only one moment where I felt as if the film was really tickling my funny bone. It wasn’t that the film was boring. It certainly always kept my attention. Gene Wilder’s Cheshire cat grin and everyman charm kept me invested in his character (it’s always weird seeing him in grown-up roles and cursing because it permanently ruins Willy Wonka forever). Similarly, Richard Pryor doesn’t show up until nearly half-way through the film but his comedic chemistry with Gene Wilder is magic. The jokes and gags they have scripted don’t always work in this particular film but you can see just how easily and smoothly they come together as a team and the film instantly picks up when Pryor’s effervescent energy enters the equation.

I’ll keep this review short because this wasn’t exactly the most substantive movie I’ve watched. If you liked buddy cop films like Lethal Weapon, you’ll get lesser kicks out of Silver Streak. I’ve certainly watched less engaging films for this blog, but I always wonder how exactly films like this end up on my list here. I want to know what was so award-worthy about them (in this case Gene Wilder was nominated for a Golden Globe). Regardless, if you’re a fan of either of these actors, this was the beginning of a beautiful friendship (to paraphrase Casablanca).

Final Score: B-

One of the first things I was forced to learn as a film critic was that I had to distance the quality of any single performance in a movie from the over all quality of the film. A show-stopping Daniel Day Lewis caliber role has to be seen as only one of many parts in the total value of a picture. David Lynch’s direction in Inland Empire was inspiring and Laura Dern inhabited her character in terrifying ways, but there’s almost no denying that the script itself was fairly outrageous and practically impossible to follow (though that was also Lynch’s intention). Take away Will Smith’s Oscar-nominated performance in The Pursuit of Happyness and you are left with a terribly conventional Horatio Alger tale of rags to riches. Shirley MacLaine and Jack Nicholson’s incendiary comic (and eventually for MacLaine, heart-wrenchingly dramatic) performances saved Terms of Endearment from being complete and utter melodramatic drivel. I recently finished the 1956 film, The Court Jester, and while Danny Kaye’s comedic and musical chops are unquestionable, the actual  film faltered on a basic inability to decide what kind of film it wished to be and delivered the promised laughs far too rarely.

A spoof of Errol Flynn swashbuckling hero films (most specifically Flynn’s The Adventures of Robin Hood), the movie spins the tale of a fictional king in medieval England and the band of outlaws trying to restore justice. King Roderick (Cecil Parker) usurped the throne from the true heir, an infant with a purple pimpernel birthmark on his behind. Ferried away from the castle by loyalists to the true royal family, the heir is now in the protection of an outlaw band led by the Robin Hood stand-in, the Black Fox (Edward Ashley). Employed by the outlaws as both the heir’s nanny as well as entertainment for the band, Hubert Hawkins (Danny Kaye) is a bumbling carnival performer who quickly finds himself swept up in the final plot to dethrone the pretender King Roderick. Along with the help of the beautiful but deadly Maid Jean (Glynis Johns, Mary Poppins), the Black Fox’s chief lieutenant, Hawkins infiltrates the castle posing as the new Court Jester, Giacomo the Incomparable, and gets caught up in assassination conspiracies, the hypnotic schemings of a witch, and more medieval action scenarios than you can shake a stick at.

Danny Kaye is possibly the very definition of comic energy. Able to quickly morph from a riveting musical number with a troupe of dwarves to Gilbert & Sullivan style tongue twisters to a variety of distinct characters all with their own unique humor and identity to a pitch perfect parody of the Errol Flynn and Douglas Fairbanks heroes of old, he is an absolute marvel to watch. With a beautiful voice and a natural charisma and humor, Danny Kaye was the film’s distinct (though not necessarily sole) saving grace. Basil Rathbone was deliciously villainous as the duplicitous Sir Ravenhurst, and his fencing scenes with Danny Kaye towards the film’s climax were among the only highlights of the action oriented moments of the film. Glynis Johns (who I instantly recognized as the mother from Mary Poppins) was a surprisingly tough and action oriented heroine for a movie from the 1950’s, and it was a refreshing sight from an age where most female characters were more akin to Angela Lansbury’s (Beauty and the Beast) Princess Gwendolyn.

The film’s Achilles heel however is its basic inability to determine what tone and style it wants to project. At one moment, it’s a children’s musical with Danny Kaye periodically breaking out into song even when it isn’t necessarily appropriate to the story. The next scene it could be a nearly perfect satire of the swashbuckler subgenre. Later, it will want to be a more wordplay and rapid-fire pun style of comedy. Then to top it all off, there are moments where it just wants to be the kind of movies it’s nominally parodying without actually attempting any humor. The writing for the film wasn’t nearly sharp enough to afford them this lack of focus, and I found myself going vast periods of time without laughing at a single gag (when the film took the effort to even make any). Similarly, the ending seems to drag towards eternity, at least until its riotous final moments. While not every comedy needs to be chock full of laugh out loud moments (Sideways or The Savages show that a comedy can be extremely dramatic), when the drama is as uninteresting and stale as what’s presented in The Court Jester, the lack of laughs is potentially unforgivable.

For movie fans who yearn for a more innocent day and simpler storytelling, you may find more mileage from this cult classic than myself, but for everyone else, it may seem to quaint and antiquated to remain truly entertaining 55 years later. It certainly had its moments; the “vessel with the pestle” scene as well as the first musical number involving the dwarves were quite original and energetic, but mostly the film teased you with a potential for hysterical parody of the swashbuckling epics of yesteryear but chose intsead to simply make a less entertaining version of those very films. Danny Kaye deserves every bit of praise that has been lavished on him over the years, but even he is unable to save this film from its weakest elements.

Final Score: B-

During one of my earlier posts, I pondered on the reasons for why I was able to enjoy comedies from all eras but I couldn’t find myself appreciating dramas from before 1960 (with some exceptions here and there obviously). I decided that the basic reason was comedy is essentially timeless. Barring heavily era-centric referential humor, funny is funny no matter what time period you’re from. With dramas however, things that may seem poignant and fresh for their time really don’t age well and they seem hopelessly naive and idealistic sometimes as short as ten to twenty years down the road. Hence, there’s a reason why, on the whole, comedies have a much better median score on this site than dramas. Less of them get the elusive score of “A” or “A+” (only one comedy thus far has received an A+, The Big Lebowski), but with the exception of the train-wreck that was Gentlemen Broncos, they are also less likely to get terribly low scores. I bring all of this up because I just finished a so-called “classic” comedy, 1947’s Road to Rio, and I feel that it aged terribly. What may have worked for audiences back in the 1940’s instead delivers a film for modern audiences that seemed terribly slow and unclever and survived on the angelic voice of Bing Crosby alone.

In Road to Rio, the fifth of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby’s Road to… films, Crosby plays Scat Sweeney to Hope’s Hot Lips Barton (I was forgiven for picturing Loretta Swit every time someone said his name), a pair of vaudeville performers and musicians who flee onto a steam liner headed for Rio de Janeiro after they accidentally burn down the circus at which they were performing. Perpetually penniless (because of Scat’s inability to turn down a beautiful woman), the two board the ship as stow-aways. They quickly meet the beautiful Lucia (Dorothy Lamour) who is about to commit suicide because he evil aunt is forcing her to marry against her will. Scat is quickly smitten with Lucia, and the two hit it off soon after Scat saves her life. However, we soon learn that Lucia’s aunt is capable of using hypnotism to control Lucia’s actions. This leads to a series of screwball adventures in which Scat and Hot Lips have to hide from the ship’s crew and even get the hypnotism turned on themselves.

I could probably count on one hand the number of times this film made me laugh out loud (and it wouldn’t require the rest of my other digits to count the light chuckles). Despite the fact that he was probably the least valuable member of the team, almost all of the big laughs came from Bob Hope whose delivery was so deadpan it often took me a second or two to realize he had even made a joke in the first place, and his slapstick chemistry with Crosby was fantastic. However, the real star of the show (just like in Going My Way) was Crosby. He has an absolutely gorgeous singing voice, and it’s put to full use in several different musical numbers here though perhaps the best were his duet with the Andrews Sisters and the first time that he sings to Lucia. I don’t actually know the names of these songs or whether they were original numbers or standards (and a lot of that has to do with the fact that the film is 54 years old). He was also able to elicit a laugh or two and that relates to the fact that his comedic style was even dryer than Hope’s.

I’m going to keep this review short because I honestly don’t have a lot to say about the film. At only a little over an hour and a half, this film seemed to drag to eternity and that’s pretty unforgivable for such a short running time. While there was certainly a fantastic comedic chemistry between Hope and Crosby, that unfortunately didn’t result in the film actually being all that funny. When it finally was funny, it just served to remind you of how boring the rest of the film was. Outside of hardcore movie buffs who understand the historic value that this film has or for those of you who are big fans of Bob Hope or Bing Crosby, I simply can’t find it in me to recommend this movie.

Final Score: C+

 

Well, after one month and one day of no movie reviews, I am happy to say that movies have returned to a blog where movies were originally the only thing I even reviewed. After reviewing Lawrence of Arabia on August 17th, a combination of school and my new job have conspired to keep me from reaching the same levels of blogging productivity that I was reaching during the  summer (for obvious reasons). I actually watched a movie in my Film Studies class about a week ago but for stupid reasons, I chose not to review it (but I’m going to write that review as soon as I finish this one). Anyways, I’m tired of having paid for an entire month’s worth of Netflix without actually using the things they sent me so I’m back to watching movies. Last night, I was home in Philippi for the evening with my family and I watched a film considered to be a classic of 1960’s comedy, The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming which I found to be a rather trite and forced political satire that only elicited the slightest of chuckles throughout the entire production.

The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming is a political comedy from Norman Jewison, the same creative mind behind the far superior In the Heat of the Night. In the film, a Russian submarine led by a captain (whose name I never caught) played by an extremely young Alan Arkin (Oscar winner for Little Miss Sunshine) is grounded off the coast of a small New England island. The Russians are very concerned about getting back in the ocean undetected because they know that their presence on American soil could potentially spark World War III. They attempt to contact in cognito (although their disguise is paper thin) a household in a remote part of the island led by patriach Walt Whittaker (Carl Reiner) in order to procure a boat to pull the submarine off the sandbar. Before long, their plans to disguise themselves fall completely apart and one blunder after another has the entire island believing that there is a full-fledged Russian invasion of the island far removed from the reality of a couple stranded sailors.

The film is basically the anti-Dr. Strangelove. Where Dr. Strangelove was Stanley Kubrick’s darkly comic and satirical look at the Red Scare and mutually assured destruction where neither side came out looking good, The Russians Are Coming is what happens when you try to make a feel-good, everybody gets a happy ending satire out of material that begs for darker interpretation. While I’m sure the overall message of the film which is that Russians are just as much human and fallible as us Americans was radical and revolutionary when the film was first released during the height of the Cold War, it just falls completely flat today. This just goes to prove my opinion that films with political messages often age incredibly poorly for future audiences. That’s the inherent danger of making a “topical” film. Your outlook might end up seemingly naively antiquated in 50 years. Also, the film just wasn’t very funny. Certain moments had me chuckling (especially when Alan Arkin tried to pretend to be American) but mostly the laughs were few and far between.

I wish I had chosen a better film to restart the movie review process for this blog, but unfortunately, I got The Russians Are Coming. The film isn’t totally without value, but it’s so far removed from the age and era of its creation that it has aged beyond repair to the world of campy cheesiness. If you liked Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine, it would be worth checking him out in this role in which he was nominated for an Oscar, but don’t expect it be nearly as funny as that all-time classic. I watched this with my father and neither of us enjoyed it very much so I’m not sure that I can honestly recommend it to anyone. Here’s a Best Picture nominee that I can easily tell you to steer clear from.

Final Score: C