Welcome to The Mundane Adventures of a Fangirl

I consider myself a Fangirl. What does that mean, you ask? A "fanboy" in the most common understanding is a hardcore fan of 'genre' based entertainment in particular. In my case - science-fiction and comic book based movies and television. Because I'm a chick - it's fangirl, not fanboy. There you have it! I am a big movie fan, however, not necessarily a 'film' fan. And now - I have the forum to present my opinions to the public! These will mainly be movie reviews -that will always be my opinion - repeat OPINION. Just what I think, and in no way do I present my opinion as fact. I hope you enjoy and maybe it will help you decide what to see at the movie theater this weekend!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Movie Review: Ex Machina (R – 108 minutes)

You’ve definitely heard the latin phrase deus ex machina before.  It’s been the title of an anime movie, an effects company, and a comic.  It translates to “god from the machine”.  The phrase itself has come to mean a plot device used to suddenly resolve an unsolvable problem with a contrived and unexpected intervention of something (we’re trapped underground, and we just found a shovel!).   It originated in ancient Greece, when a machine – a crane or a riser – brought actors into a scene and was often used to resolve conflict.

In this case, deus ex machina can be taken literally.  Caleb is a programmer working at a Google-like company called BlueBook.  He wins an employee competition to spend a week with his boss, Nathan - the owner/creator of the company, in his reclusive mountain home.  When Caleb arrives to spend the week with Nathan – he finds him to be personable, and a bit eccentric.  I found him to be exceptionally creepy – but Caleb didn’t seem to notice that.  He is also immediately asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement.  

Nathan gives Caleb a passcard and lets him know that it opens some doors, but not others, and those are the ones Caleb is not allowed to enter.  The house is pretty great, except for some not-so-random power surges here and there.  He learns that Nathan lives alone, with only his butler/maid/cook/lover Kyoko as company.  Nathan seems to spend all his time researching, drinking, work, and dancing with Kyoko.  Seriously, there’s a part where Kyoko and Nathan have a choreographed dance number…and if you didn’t think there was something off about Kyoko before that, you sure do after it. 

Caleb also quickly learns that the competition he won was mostly a farce, and that he was in fact chosen to come up to the research facility to participate in a Turing Test (if you saw the Imitation Game earlier this year, here’s where that pays off).  Basically – Nathan has created an AI (an Artificial Intelligence) and he wants Caleb to run the Turing Test on it, to determine whether it comes off as computer, or human.  Nathan introduces Caleb to Ava, a robot, and Caleb spends 6 days speaking with her, to determine how accurate the AI is.  He also hikes with Nathan up a glacier (this seems to be an excuse to use the shooting location to the best of its potential, because it’s stunning, but unnecessary).  During that time, Caleb begins to question several things – yes, Ava is amazing, but is she flirting with him, or using him?  And for that matter, what exactly is Nathan up to?
Ex Machina is written and directed by Alex Garland – who wrote 28 Days Later (which is exceptional, and has the same tone), Dredd (which is also exceptional and well done) and Sunshine (which is terrifying and weird).  This is his directorial debut, and he knocked it out of the park.  The movie is very quiet and small – basically the whole thing takes place in this amazing, isolated house in the mountains.  It really only has the three people in it, and for a sci-fi movie, it really relies just on the performances of the actors – which were fantastic.

  • Domhnall Gleeson (the son of Brendon Gleeson, who was in 28 Days Later – see how that came back around?) plays Caleb, and you can’t tell he’s Irish at all.  He does a very convincing American accent, which I’m not sure was necessary, there’s no reason the programmer couldn’t be Irish.  In any case, Gleeson plays the wide-eyed Caleb perfectly.  He’s very smart, well-aware he’s a good programmer, but is still surprised when he gets to meet Nathan.  As he slowly starts to realize some of the twisted nature of his surroundings, his performance goes from timid, to amazed, to confident, to disgusted, to panicked, to determined, and finally to terrified.  He was fantastic.  Also – he’s listed on the cast list for Star Wars, Episode VII – but he wasn’t pictured in the latest teaser trailer, so who could he be playing?

  • Oscar Isaac (who is very clearly in the new Episode VII trailer) plays Nathan, and aside from all the drinking and working out – he seems like your average run-of-the-mill isolationist-genius type.  He seems genuinely happy to have Caleb come visit him.  Thanks to the mistake I made of watching the movie SuckerPunch, I no longer trust Isaac in anything, so I knew he was up to no good the moment he appeared on screen.  The unique thing is that he never really seems to be hiding it.  Once Caleb confronts him about being a little nefarious, he very quickly owns up to it.  It’s a creepy performance, but really excellent (that seems to be his wheelhouse). 

  • Alicia Vikander (who is not at all in Episode VII, but was just in Seventh Son) plays Ava, and what a performance it is.  She’s completely robotic, but also completely empathic.  The effects are amazing, and really, all you see is her face and her hands, everything else has been adapted to just be robotic pieces.  She quickly learns why Caleb is there, but then quickly grows to trust him and confide in him (or does she?).  She gives a smooth, emotionless performance that makes me really interested to see what she does next.

  • Sonoya Mizuno plays Kyoko – and she has no lines, basically she just stands around in the background of shots, but it’s her eyes that portray what she is thinking.  She is really interesting, and because of the way Garland shoots her in some shots, she quickly becomes the audience link to the story.  I was really impressed by her.

I always wonder about characters in movies who create AI or self-aware robots.  Haven’t they ever seen any other movie where someone does that?  It always goes wrong, always!  You should definitely go see this – it’s so creepy and unsettling, but so well done.  Each of the three lead actors are amazing, and it’s such a quiet, tight little movie.  At just over an hour and a half, it won’t take you any time, so go check it out!

8 out of 10 – Gained points for the effects, Ava looks amazing.  Lost points for the reveal of what Nathan keeps in his closet.  Gained points for Ava’s end result.  Will there be a sequel?  There shouldn’t be, but I’m also a little interested in what would happen next.

Bonus Video 1 – The Terminator - I favor the first one, because it is incredible, but in T2, Joe Morton plays the guy who would create Skynet.   We create machines, they determine the best way to serve us is to eliminate us – and send a killer back in time to take out the mother of the resistance leader before he is born.

Bonus Video 2 – the Matrix – again, we create machines, they determine the best way to serve us is to eliminate us - and the resulting war leads to Neo being ‘chosen’ as a savior of the human race.

Go see Avengers 2 this weekend – Ultron has the same motive.  He’s created to save/protect us, but determines the best way to do that is to eliminate us.  Hey everybody – don’t create self-aware computers, okay?

Bonus Video 3:  Cast Interviews.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Movie Review: Furious 7 (PG13 – 137 minutes)

I will apologize up front for the length of this review.  I love this franchise and frequently use it as an example of a franchise that is doing it right.  “It” being summer popcorn action flicks.  This is the best movie of the year so far (Avengers has not yet come out).  The Fast and Furious Saga is a worldwide super-hit.  Inevitably you are friends with some “film snob” who loves the award festival-films and is befuddled as to why these movies keep getting made. 

The answer is exceptionally simple, feel free to state this to your snooty and close-minded friend.  These movies are fun, silly, over-the-top action movies that do not take themselves too seriously, have an amazingly multi-ethnic cast, pass the Bechdel test, and always hammer home the central theme that nothing is as important as family - whether that’s your family by blood, or your family by choice.  That’s it – nothing too complicated; just a really effective formula for popcorn entertainment.

The original movie in this series, The Fast and the Furious, was released in 2001, and was directed by Rob Cohen.  It featured the simple tale of Brian O’Conner, an undercover cop in the Los Angles underground street racing scene tasked with finding group of thieves who were committing highway robbery – literally – they were robbing trucks on the highway.  During the process, he meets Dominic Toretto, his sister Mia, and their extended ‘family’ of racers, including Vince and Letty.  O’Connor gets in too deep, falls for Mia, and decides to help Dom escape capture.

In 2 Fast 2 Furious from 2003, O’Conner heads to Miami, still working undercover, and meets up with his high-school buddy, Roman, to bust a Cuban drug lord who is using cars to smuggle his drugs.  Here he meets Monica, another undercover agent, and Tej – a tech wizard.

In the Fast and the Furious; Tokyo Drift from 2006, director Justin Lin took over, and we head to Tokyo, in the future (that will make sense later).  We meet Sean, who is suddenly going to school in Tokyo, and gets involved in the street racing scene there with his buddies Twinkie, and Han – who does get killed at the end (which is why this is the future).

Tokyo Drift was not well received (because no one can understand Lucas Black?  Because no one was ready for BowWow as a movie star?  Because no one knows what 'drifting' is?), mainly because none of the original cast was in it – except for a Vin Diesel cameo at the end.  Justin Lin then realized perhaps it was time to head back to the drawing board, and released Fast & Furious in 2009.  In this one, we reconnect with Brian O’Conner, who is now working with the FBI in LA trying to bring down Mexican drug smugglers.  In the process, Letty (who was working for Brian) gets killed, and Dom sets out for revenge since someone killed part of his family, once again teaming up with Brian – who gives up law enforcement for good by the end of this movie.  In this one we meet Gisele, Han shows up to help (not dead, because Tokyo Drift is the future), and funny guys Tego and Don Omar are introduced.

The fourth one was incredibly well received, and Justin Lin immediately moved forward with Fast Five in 2011.  In this one, we find Dom, Mia and Brian working in Brazil – where they run into Vince, who they haven’t seen since the first movie, and come up with a plot to steal the money from the biggest drug lord in Rio to permanently get out of the game.  Brian and Mia are expecting, and because nothing is as important as family – they need to settle down.  But to do that, they need help, so they call in almost everyone from the previous films.  Roman, Tej, Han, Gisele, and Tego and Don Omar all come back.  We also meet Hobbs, and his partner Elena – two big time cops trying to bring them down.  The gang gets away with the money, but not before winning over Hobbs and Elena – then disappearing.  In this one, we get a post credits sequence in which we learn that Letty is still alive and helping out a European thieving team.

In Fast & Furious 6 from 2013 – which Justin Lin declared would be his last entry into the series, Hobbs recruits the crew to go after Shaw, a high class criminal who uses street racing skill to steal weapons pieces, so of course, our street racing crew is the only plan Hobbs can come up with to get him. Also – he has Letty on his team, so Dom is in to get back Letty, because she is his family, and nothing is more important that family. The team succeeds, but Letty has amnesia – and Gisele is sadly killed during the final fight, finally giving Han the motivation to head to Tokyo, where he is killed (hey – we finally caught up to the future of Tokyo Drift!).  Here the post credits sequence lets us know that Han was killed by Shaw’s older brother, and he’s after the rest of our team.

Director James Wan (Saw, Insidious, the Conjuring) has stepped in to direct Furious Seven.  This one started shooting immediately after the previous entry was released and became a huge hit, but tragically, when Paul Walker died suddenly in a car crash in December of 2013, production shut down temporarily to allow the cast to grieve.  This was an impressive move by Universal, who proved to actually care enough about their cast and crew, who had grown into the family they portrayed, and many were unsure how to continue without him.  After waiting, Wan and the crew used Walker’s two brothers Cody and Caleb as body doubles as well as some CGI to finish the film.  The ending was changed to give him the sendoff that was appropriate, and the film was released this past weekend.   

Plot-wise, we catch up on Owen Shaw from the previous film, and see that his brother Deckard is there with him in the hospital.  The pull back as the elder Shaw leaves the hospital so that you see what he did to get in to it is outstanding, and sets the tone for the whole story.  Our ‘family’ has basically retired from crime, and is enjoying the hard-earned pardons and money from the previous film.  Mia and Brian are raising their son Jack, and Mia is expecting their second baby, but is afraid to let Brian know, since he’s still craving the adrenaline of past exploits.   Dom takes Letty out to Race Wars in the desert in an attempt to bring back her memory, which fails terribly and in fact results in Iggy Azaela giving her a panic attack.  She heads to her tombstone, and tells Dom she needs time to figure out who she is, or was, or whatever.   Meanwhile, Shaw heads to Hobb’s headquarters to get the names of the team that brought down his brother.  Hobbs battles him, and barely escapes out a window while saving Elsa, who is still working with him – despite the fact that he is still calling her “woman”.  Of course, he calls every woman, “Woman”.  Maybe he’s just terrible at remembering names. 

Dom gets a package from Tokyo, and assumes Han has sent him some Japanese engine parts as he gets a phone call from Shaw.  Shaw reveals that he has killed Han, and is coming after the rest of them.  The package blows up, destroying the house (not the house!?!  Where will the family have their barbeques?) Dom decides to go on the offensive, visiting Hobbs in the hospital for information, where he meets Hobbs’s daughter (what?).  He then heads to Tokyo, where we get the post-credits cameo from Tokyo Drift as he asks Sean for details about Han.  Sean gives him Han’s personal effects, and Dom heads back home, where Shaw shows up at Han’s funeral.  They race, and then crash headlong into one another, but their standoff is interrupted by Mr. Nobody, a government spook with a government team.  Shaw takes off, but Mr. Nobody needs Dom’s help.  He wants Dom and his team to track down the “God’s Eye”, a program created by a hacker named Ramsey that uses every cell phone/camera/listening device on the planet to find someone.  Nobody promises that Dom can use it once he gets it to find Shaw (nevermind that he just had Shaw right there a minute ago). 
Dom assembles his crew, and they rescue Ramsey from an international bad guy named Jakande and his band of mercenaries, led by Kiet, in an incredible mountain-pass car chase.  

Shaw magically shows up during this chase to make it more incredible.  You’ve seen parts of it in the trailers and it is still a mind-blowing stunt sequence.  Once rescued, Ramsey lets them know she hid the God’s Eye on a drive and sent it to her friend Safar who is in Abu Dhabi (of course).  

He sold the drive to a Jordanian Prince, who put it in a car, which is in his penthouse at the top of the Etihad towers in Abu Dhabi.  And not just any car, the Lebanese made Lykan Hypersport (which really does cost $3.4 million, and there were only 7 made).  Shaw magically shows up at the tower (why do they need the God’s Eye to locate him if he just keeps showing up where they are?).  The crew gets the drive, and hands it over to Nobody, then uses it to find Shaw.  

They all go on the offensive to attack him in the automated factory he’s hiding in; however, he has partnered up with Jakande and Kiet, and was waiting for them.   He gets away, Jakande gets the God’s Eye, and Dom and crew head back to LA to prep for the final fight.  Spoiler Alert – they win, mostly.  They hatch an elaborate plan that incorporates them switching Ramsey from car to car as Jakande hunts them with a drone as Brian battles Kiet trying to get to the top of a cell tower, and Dom fights Shaw on a parking garage.  Just as everything seems to be heading downhill, Hobbs shows up to help eliminate Jakande, and our heroes prevail. 

The last five minutes of this movie (no spoiler here, you have already heard about this) is a tribute to Paul Walker.  Essentially, all the characters are sitting on a beach watching Brian play with Jack and Mia.  Each actor is given their own moment to mourn, and then Dom drives away, giving us a voice over about family – and the bonds of friendship while they play clips of Walker from the other movies.  Brian drives up next to Dom, chastising him for trying to leave without saying good bye, and the last scene is the two cars from above, as Walker’s car splits off, and drives off alone.  It’s beautiful, and simple, and the perfect send off for his character.  The theater I saw the movie in was filled, and just about everyone was crying at this point.  All credit to the cast and crew for creating the perfect tribute for a man they all loved and respected.

The direction on this one is just as good as the three previous (4, 5, and 6 were better than the first three).  I was a little worried because really James Wan has only done horror movies previous to this, but he really kept in the vein of the originals, and managed to yet again up the action sequences.  The point of these movies is the insane over-the-top action, and this one really delivers.  The chase through the mountains was amazing, beginning with the parachuting cars (sure, why not?) and including that run-up-the-bus-on-the-edge-of-the-cliff bit by Walker that you see in the trailer.  The sountrack drops out at just the right moment, so you can hear the gasps in the audience as he just makes it to the back of Letty’s car.  The action sequence in the Etihad Towers is spectacular from the fight scene to the Hypersport jumping between buildings (again, sure – why not?).  The final sequence, with the multi-action fronts in LA was fantastic.  The movie is pure fun, and really delivered exactly what it promised. 

  • Vin Diesel is absolutely the lead, and this is hilariously pointed out by Ramsey when she meets the crew, and refers to him as the ‘alpha’.   Vin continues to growl his way through his portrayal of Dom Toretto, going after anything and everything that would threaten his family.
  • Paul Walker is wonderful in these movies – he was pretty good in everything, but in these, especially the last few, you can really see the friendship between the actors on-screen, which is always a good thing.  There are a couple of tough scenes with him because you know that he’s gone.  The conversation he was with Mia to say goodbye before the last big fight is tough to watch, as well as the scene where Roman begs Brian to ensure that there will be ‘no more funerals’.  And yes – there are times you can see that it is clearly not him, but a CGI conglomeration of one of his brother’s and his face – but honestly, that works, and it’s never enough to take you out of the movie.  The tribute at the end was incredible, and I cried all the way through it.
  • Jason Statham was the perfect addition to this franchise as the new big bad.  In the previous movie, Luke Evans’s Owen Shaw was a rather bland bad guy with a whole team of baddies.  In this one, Statham employs his vicious charisma to make a way more interesting villain.  The fight between he and the Rock was incredible and the fight between he and Diesel was really entertaining.

  • Michelle Rodriguez plays Letty, still struggling to get her memory back.  She has an amazing fight sequence in this movie against Ronda Rousey, but I think I prefer her fight in the previous movie with Gina Carano.  Either way, Rodriguez is pretty amazing.  She also had some really good scenes with Diesel as she struggles to remember herself the way he sees her.  Also – I really loved that she encounters Iggy Azaela at Race Wars, and promptly gets a panic attack.  Hey – we’ve all felt that way about Iggy Azaela at one point or antoher.

  • Jordana Brewster has been getting progressively less and less to do in each of these movies as they go on.  Remember, in the first one, she was also a street racer.  In this one, she mainly does some big time hiding out in the Dominican Republic, but to be fair, she was shooting Dallas at the time.  She’s just fine, and I would imagine it was a bit harder for her to do romantic conversations with Walker’s character when he wasn’t there. 

  • Tyrese Gibson plays Roman again, and this time gets to use his skill of ‘talking’ to interrupt the party at the top of the tower, to hilarious effect.  The comedy back and forth between he and Ludacris was fabulous, although I did miss him constantly looking for snacks in this one.  Maybe because Han wasn’t around to steal them from?

  • Chris “Ludacris” Bridges plays tech wizard Tej, and I particularly loved that he got his own little fight sequence in this movie.  He and Roman work together to come up with the mountain car-parachuting plan, and the execution is just fantastic.

  • Dwayne Johnson seems to be getting even larger, and dominates the screen when he is on it as Hobbs.  The fight with Statham was incredible, but even better was when he determined that Dom and crew needed his help, so he simply flexed his way out of his arm cast.  Seriously.  Flexed right out of it.  Because he’s the Rock.  The addition of a daughter was a little confusing, we had heard nothing about that in any of the previous movies, but hey – it humanized him.

  • Lucas Black shows up briefly as Sean Boswell again – and it was extremely noticeable that his first scene was a clip from Tokyo Drift, but then there is a newly shot scene where he and Dom have a conversation, and he is clearly 10 years older than he was in the previous scene, 5 minutes ago.  It’s jarring, but it was nice to see him back.

  • Kurt Russel joins the crew as Mr. Nobody (which was originally offered to Denzel Washington – but scheduling conflicts).  I would assume if there is another one, we’ll see him again.   He was great, so nonchalant, and very winky with Dom and crew.  Although, really, not sure why he needed Dom and crew, or why they needed him.  Shaw literally just kept turning up everywhere, they did not need help locating him.

  • Nathalie Emmanuel – who you recognize from Game of Thrones (she’s The Mother of Dragons’s Bib Fortuna) plays Ramsey, and she does just fine being astounded by the crew she has suddenly joined, but especially loved the quick identification of the roles of the group when she first meets them.

  • Elsa Pataky (Mrs. Thor) is back as the “only-clean-cop-in-Rio” who is now working international cases with Hobbs.  She gets a little action sequence at the beginning before jumping out a window with Hobbs.
  • Djimon Hounsou plays mercenary Jakande who is very serious about getting and keeping Ramsey and the God’s Eye.  He is a fantastic bad guy, and very menacing.  I particularly love the scene of him just looking over the edge of a cliff in surprise after losing Dom after having him clearly pinned down.

  • If you have never seen Tony Jaa in action, look him up.  He’s incredible, and known for his speed.  He gets two major fight sequences with Paul Walker in this movie, and while Walker holds his own, there is no chance he could really take Jaa, but the fight sequences are amazing!  And yes, there is a sequence where Jaa quickly moves through some small spaces – which is his speciality.

  • Bollywood superstar Ali Fazar joins the cast in a small role as Ramsey’s friend Safar.  He basically gets them invited to the super-fancy part at the top of the Etihad towers, then provides a quick scene of comedy relief.  He was hilarious and charming, and I hope to see more of him.

  • Ronda Rousey plays Kara – the prince’s bodyguard, and she has two lines – and in a movie not known for its acting talents, her bad acting really stands out.  That’s fine, she doesn’t need to be a great actor, she’s there to kick some ass.  And that is something she does really really well.
  • Noel Gugliemi is back at Race Wars as Hector from the first movie.  If he’s back, why wasn’t Rick Yune back?

Again – it’s fantastic.  It’s the only major movie franchise to have a cast this multi-ethnic, which is wonderful.  If only other filmmakers would realize that the world loves to see someone who looks like themselves on screen.  That multi-ethnicity is one of the main reasons for the success of these movies.  Also – what are the odds that this is a franchise that repeatedly passes the Bechdel test?  That’s the test of whether or not a movie has decent female characters – Are there at least 2, do they have a conversation, about something other than a man?  In this movie, yes, yes, and yes – although two of them have a major fist fight.  And yes, there is still the gratuitous plethora of shots of hot chicks dancing next to hot cars.  In this one it is at Race Wars, and tons of girls writhe in tiny shorts and bikinis next to fancy cars.  That’s a pre-requisite in these movies, it’s annoying, but I will let it go.  Go see it – and see it in a full theater so that you can experience it with a big group, and go with your family.  Because, seriously, nothing is more important than family.

9 out of 10 – taking away one point for the gratuitous ass-shaking scenes during Race Wars.  I know they are part of the franchise and have been there from the beginning, but still.  Gained points for everything else – the cast, the action, the fights, the cars (so fancy!), the over-the-top crazy, and the amazing tribute at the end.  I loved it!

Bonus Video 1:  Takers – Paul Walker was really good in this.

Bonus Video 2:  Pitch Black – the first thing that really introduced us to Vin Diesel.

Bonus Video 3: The Transporter - why Statham only drives cars in movies now.
Bonus Video 4: Cast Interviews:

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Movie Review: Get Hard (R – 100 minutes)

A comedy that is all wasted potential is really frustrating.  This was a really frustrating movie.  

I did get the vibe that would be the case when the marketing for this movie was suddenly out of control.  I feel like for the last couple of weeks, Ferrell and Hart have been everywhere together.  They were even on SportsCenter the other day.  To be honest, the ‘lip sync’ battle they had on the Tonight Show may have been more entertaining than this movie.

Kevin Hart and Will Ferrell are easily two of the funniest guys on the planet.  I am definitely more of a Kevin Hart fan than a Ferrell fan, and I’m still a Kevin Hart fan, but this movie was really a struggle.

James is a hedge fund trader who is living the high life.  His boss is thrilled with his performance and has suddenly just made him partner at his firm - either because he's doing a great job - or because James is about to marry his daughter.  In either case, he's really fond of James...suspiciously fond of James.  So, things are going great for James, he lives in a huge house, drives a great car, and (this part gets a little lost, which is strange, because it is key) is good at his job.  Darnell is a hardworking manager of a car washing company that has been washing James’s car for years.  Darnell is looking to get $30,000 to get a loan on a new house in a better area to send his daughter to a better school.  When James is suddenly indicted for funds mismanagement, he cannot believe it, and maintains his innocence.  Usually crimes of that nature are punished in a white collar facility; however, the judge is tired of his ilk and decides to send him to San Quentin for 10 years.  He has 30 days to get his things in order.  James panics, and asks Darnell for assistance in prepping to survive in prison – as Darnell did (he bases this assumption on the “statistical fact that 1 in 3 African-American men have been incarcerated”).  The catch is that Darnell has never been to prison, and has no advice to give – but charges $30,000 for his guidance services anyway.  Darnell calls his cousin (who has been to prison) for advice, and begins training James over the next 30 days to survive.  Essentially the entire movie is based around the joke (I’m sorry, I meant “joke”) that James does not want to be sexually assaulted in prison - or, you know, prison-rape jokes.  As Darnell gets to know James more, he realizes that he really is innocent, and so they attempt to find out who framed him – which they solve in record time (honestly, you've probably figured it out from the last two paragraphs), then hatch a scheme to find evidence against the true perpetrator – which they find in record time.  James helps Darnell set up a huge car wash business which makes him enough money to move to a better area and send his daughter to a better school.  Sorry – spoiler alert – happy ending.

This movie is directed by Etan Cohen (who is not Ethan Coen).  This is his feature directing debut, and he had previously just written smarter comedies than this – Tropic Thunder, Idiocracy, and MIB3.  It’s not that he’s a bad director, there’s not a ton of directing to do with a movie with two power stars.  In fact, the movie probably could have used less directing, just let them go a bit more.  The problem with the movie is that while the premise could have been hilarious, and the movie could have been a really smart comedy about stereotypes (prison, race, job, etc.), it just keeps beating the same dead jokes over and over again.  Darnell states all he has to do is "play on every stereotype that James thinks he is”.  That would have been a far smarter and more interesting movie.  Both the leads try, but it just falls a bit flat.  Honestly, I wanted them to start working on who had framed him a bit more, and have that be more of the story - and cut some of the prison-rape jokes.  As it is – after a 5 minute discussion, they figure out who framed him, and after a 6 minute breaking-into-his-office scene, they find evidence that will clear James.  I mean – really?  Stretch that out for smarter and more interesting comedy!  But no, they had to get right back into “fear-of-dick-sucking” jokes.  Sorry – but three-fourths of the movie is “fear-of-dick-sucking” jokes.  I have no problem with lowest common denominator jokes, hell – Shakespeare pioneered that, but when the potential is there for so much more, it’s really disappointing.  The cast did try their best –

  • I am not really a big Will Ferrell fan.  He is best when playing a character – this is why Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Blades of Glory are funnier, and why he was so good on SNL – he’s a sketch comedy artist more than a stand-up type comedian.  In this movie, he’s given slightly less of a character to play and a little more of a real human.  He can be effective in that if it’s committed one hundred percent (if you haven’t seen Stranger Than Fiction – rent it now, “I brought you flours!”).  But here, since it’s low-brow without committing to low-brow, it just doesn’t work. 

  • Kevin Hart continues to be the hardest working man in Hollywood as he churns out movie after movie.  And he is really funny whenever he can in this movie, but continuing to push the same jokes over and over is just tedious.  Again – I wonder what the movie would have been if Hart and Ferrell had been let go a little more.  Hart needs the right role in order to show what he really can do – and honestly, I thought the About Last Night remake was the closest he had come.  Maybe he needs an action-comedy type role…a little more Eddie Murphy/Beverly Hills Cop-ish?  But – also, Netflix the Real Husbands of Hollywood if you haven’t seen that yet, and watch Hart play himself but with the volume turned way up.

  • Craig T. Nelson plays James’s boss and future father-to-be.  He plays essentially the same type of character he played in The Proposal, but with less depth.  Rent The Proposal if you haven’t seen that.  

  • Alison Brie plays Alissa – James’s fiancĂ©e, and you can already guess that she is just there for the money, and as soon as that disappears, she does too.  Also - I have a problem with the fact that Alison Brie is far more hilarious than this movie allows her to be.

  • Edwina Findley Dickerson plays Rita – Darnell’s wife, and she gets very little to do, which is a shame, because I thought she was pretty good when she was on screen.  I also enjoyed the scenes with their daughter – she was pretty funny too!

  • Erick Chavarria plays Cecelio – who is every movie stereotype of the Hispanic gardener rolled into one.  He works for James, and then helps Darnell “train” him for prison.
  • T.I. plays Darnell’s cousin Russell, who is in a gang, and has been to prison.  He is not all that fond of Darnell, but agrees to help with Darnell’s plan.

  • Paul Ben-Victor plays Gayle – Craig T. Nelson’s right hand man.
  • John Mayer plays John Mayer – and yes, John Mayer is in this movie.  That really should give you an idea of the quality right there.

  • Hilarious stand-up comedian Ron Funches plays JoJo, a member of Russell’s gang.   He’s currently on Undateable on NBC, which I have found to be almost Unwatchable – but who knows, maybe it will improve.  You’re better off watching @Midnight on Comedy Central to catch Funches at his best.

Overall the movie had an interesting idea that could have been turned into a smart comedy, but unfortunately it started in the gutter and stayed there.  There are some funny scenes, but the problem is there are a lot of unfunny scenes surrounding those.  The other problem is that the supporting cast was made up of really funny people who were given nothing to do.  I have no doubt it will do well box-office wise, the charm of the two stars is almost enough to outweigh the lame-ness of the story - almost..

4 out of 10.  Gained points for Darnell using the plot of Boyz in the Hood as his own backstory.  Lost points for the constant use of one joke over and over again (prison-rape, hilarious!), lost points for the white supremacist biker gang (oh, by the way, this movie has a white supremacist biker gang in it – and one of the female members of said gang is topless – for no reason whatsoever); lost points for the interesting part of the plot being almost no time on screen.  Gained points for James helping the gang invest their money, because it gave Ron Funches some lines...but then lost points because it never allowed him to giggle, and he has the best giggle of all time.

Bonus Video 1:   Trading Places – one of the smartest comedies ever – which does take stereotypes and work comedy into them, with Dan Akroyd and Eddie Murphy at their very best.  If you haven’t seen it – or haven’t seen it in a while, go watch it now.

Bonus Video 2:  Stranger Than Fiction – Will Ferrell proving he can be better than you think.

Bonus Video 3:  About Last Night – Kevin Hart proving he can be better than you think – also, more Michael Ealy is always better.

Bonus Video 4:  Cast Interviews