Land of the Hangover (Weekly Links)


Anna Friel, Danny McBride, Will Ferrell: Land of the Lost

My reviews from the Herald this week.

Land of the Lost. (Dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

Movie comedy usually benefits from a certain confidence, even swagger; it means someone knows where the jokes are and how to tell them.

One of the first noticeable things about “Land of the Lost” is its uncertainty. A Will Ferrell comedy based on a 1970s TV show, this movie is defined by its rating: PG-13. It’s not geared for children, despite the subject matter, but it’s too tame for Ferrell’s R-rated following. “Land of the Lost” casts Ferrell as Rick Marshall, a fatuous scientist whose “time warp” theory is ridiculed by everybody in his profession, except a doctoral student, Holly (British actress Anna Friel). They trek to a tourist trap in the desert that might just be a portal in time. Sure enough, when Marshall flips the switch on his homemade gizmo, a crack opens up. Also, a tune from “A Chorus Line” plays, because of a loose wire in the gizmo.

Which is how Marshall and Holly travel to a desert locale, along with the cheeseball owner of the tourist trap, Will (Danny McBride). Here there are dinosaurs, and monkey people who apparently represent a missing evolutionary link, and random cultural garbage. The main preoccupation is the dinosaurs–or not being eaten by them, to be precise. (Although even the rules about this are vague: sometimes the humans flee for their lives, sometimes they calmly walk around the T-Rex.) This almost disguises the fact that there is no storyline to speak of.

This is yet another comedy for which the studio seems to have taken it on faith that if you plunk Will Ferrell in front of the camera, amusing things will happen, even if the jokes aren’t written on the page. Ferrell is a very funny human being, but even he needs a script. You can hear the unmistakable sound of him trying to summon up the comedy gods in improvised lines or goofy line readings, but even the good ones vanish into the airless, computer-generated special-effects world of the movie. Same with Danny McBride, that sometimes explosively funny guy from “Pineapple Express” and “The Foot Fist Way.” He and Ferrell only hit a groove a couple of times.

Director Brad Silberling, whose previous work has tended toward the weepy, is clearly miscast as the director of a dino-sized comedy. This movie is stuck in idle from the earliest moments, and nothing, not even “A Chorus Line,” can save it.

The Hangover. (Dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

Recent Hollywood comedies have added an edge of, well, edginess to their fare. The thinking seems to be that the harsher you make the funny, the more chance you have of getting audiences to drop their popcorn.

The newest example of this hardcore approach is “The Hangover,” a movie that crosses “Bachelor Party” with something close to “Deliverance.” It’s funny and appalling in equal doses. The storytelling set-up in the script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore is pretty good: three guys wake up from an all-night bachelor party in Las Vegas, but can’t remember what they did the night before.

They also can’t find the groom.

Which means the bleary trio must re-trace their steps, based on a pocketful of receipts and valet tickets from the night before. How this is going to explain the live tiger in their hotel-suite bathroom, to say nothing of an equally live baby (thankfully, in a different room from the tiger), is part of the cleverness of the premise. The three searchers are cool guy Phil (Bradley Cooper), henpecked dentist Stu (Ed Helms of “The Office”), and the groom’s new brother-in-law, Alan (Zach Galifianakis), who’s kind of “special.” The burly and bearded Galifianakis, a stand-up comedian with a devoted following, is the breakout star of the movie. He looks like John Goodman’s little brother and comes on like the reincarnation of John Belushi, a half-zonked slob in his own little groove.

These guys are frequently subject to bodily trauma, some of which comes at the hands of Mike Tyson (playing himself). Slapstick is not dead: it still gets laughs when a man is clocked in the head by a car door or hit with a crowbar by a naked dude. And taser humor? Forget about it. The loose-limbed, improv nature of “The Hangover” is a trademark of director Todd Phillips, who also did “Old School” and “Starsky and Hutch.” He’ll let a performer waltz into a scene and just rip, as supporting players Ken Jeong and Rob Riggle do here.

The only unusual ingredient is the harshness. The characters aren’t especially likable and some of the gags are crass even by 2009 Apatow standards (especially in the photo montage that runs during the end credits). The movie still gets its laughs, even if it’s a mess. But I had the vague feeling of needing a shower afterwards.

My Life in Ruins. (Dead link; review below)

by Robert Horton

Whatever happened to Nia Vardalos? Her sleeper triumph “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” came out in 2002, and nothing the actress has tried since then has really stuck to the wall.

That’s an eternity in showbiz years. But after doing some TV and a little-seen comedy called “Connie and Carla,” Vardalos is back this summer with two starring vehicles. Coming in July is “I Hate Valentine’s Day,” which she also wrote and directed. Opening this weekend is “My Life is Ruins,” which picks up the Greek connection from her best known movie.

Meet Georgia (Vardalos), a Greek-American working for a second-rate tour company in the old country. As a tour guide, she’s unpopular, since she emphasizes history lessons over encouraging her charges to buy cheap knick-knacks. As we follow her on what she insists will be her final bus tour, we see what she’s been putting up with all this time: the tourists. She’s got them typed: Australians are party animals, Germans are loud, Americans are obnoxious, Canadians are nice. Unfortunately for Georgia, the other tour guide always gets the Canadians.

As the movie rambles its way through the sites of ancient Greece, it isn’t hard to spot its ultimate destination—especially when the hairy yet hunky bus driver (Alexis Georgoulis) seems available for our love-starved heroine. The Cupid role goes to Richard Dreyfuss, as a joke-cracking widower who professes magical powers. A little bit of Dreyfuss goes a long way, but director Donald Petrie (“Miss Congeniality”) doesn’t seem inclined to rein him in. Other travelers include comedians Rachel Dratch and Harland Williams; if you know these two, you can guess they’re the obnoxious Americans.

It’s all TV-level and predictable, but oddly agreeable if you like Nia Vardalos and her swell-gal persona. The scenery is pleasant, the stereotypes are broad and recognizable, the romance is inevitable. It’s a movie for the “Mamma Mia!” crowd, right down to the Greek setting. And when most summer films are aimed at teenage boys, Vardalos might find her fans starved for an alternative to sci-fi and fantasy…even if this is a different kind of fantasy.

Departures. “A certain amount of quirk.”

Picks for this week’s Seattle International Film Festival.