Out in Theaters: GET HARD

Written and directed by Etan Coen – no, not he of the Coen Bros ilk – Get Hard left me questioning whether a mainstream comedy could deal with – and more importantly make fun of – race relationships and prison yard homosexuality without being intrinsically racist or homophobic. The answer is trickier than you might think. The liberal in me got tense around Get Hard‘s stereotypical depictions of “black people doing black people things” – hanging on stoops, twerkin’ – and “gay people doing gay people things” – the ever-delightful pairing of brunch and BJs. Read More



The five second pitch to The Wedding Ringer is eerily like another black-guy-teaches-fat-white-guy-to-be-cool. I’m talking of course of Tracy Morgan’s Totally Awesome. And yes, fine, the wide released, box office champion Hitch as well. The final products couldn’t look any different though. The mandatory bromance angle may be as far fetched as Kevin James and Will Smith BFFing, or James and Sandler shackin’ up for that matter – and there are two too many wincingly cheesy portions that highlight said narrative cheapness –  but on the whole, Jeremy Garelick‘s film is all about the laughs, and features a good many of them. At times, a surprising amount.

In The Wedding Ringer, Kevin Hart owns and operates an underground Best Man Rental agency. Just as one might rent a tux or a town car, Hart’s Jimmy Callahan rents out his easy charm and A+ best man speeches to guys with an unfortunate amount of friends (read none). With his wedding just ten days away, young money-bagger Doug Harris (Josh Gadd) seeks out the help of seasoned pro Jimmy to pull of the illusive “Golden Tux”, in which he must employ and train a slew of groomsmen as well as attend various family events, all while trying to fit into his terribly off-colored assigned role of “military priest.”

The Wedding Ringer may not find its groove early – and its first scene is absolutely horrendous – but when it does, there are a string of embarrassingly rich potty-level-laughs. Kevin Hart moves a mile a minute, spinning his face into a number of comical screw-ups – adapting 1990s Jim Carrey’s rubber-faced, visage contortionism – and spouting off glib one-liners as quickly as he can think of them. While the script from Garelick, Will Packer and Jay Lavender revisits old territory, the film shines when Hart ad-libs his way to preposterous comic heights.


The raunch can be found ratcheted up to tasteless levels and those with a distaste for the underbelly of humor will certainly find themselves fully disgusted. With scenes that involve dogs biting peanut butter-smothered nether regions, displays of oddly number testicles, a mulleted adult berating a child before throwing a beer can at him and other nut shots of a similar breed, The Wedding Ringer is no display of fine-tuned highbrow comedy. But for how low some of the blows can stoop, the train of beefy laughs still steams forth.

Striking at the potent middle ground where sentiment and humor meet, The Wedding Ringer caps off with an emotionally-rending third act that, although predictable, features some of Hart’s most genuine moments on screen to date. And though Josh Gad has trouble keeping up with the Tasmanian whirlwind that is Hart, he gets him moments in, infrequent as they are. The product is a dumb, paint-by-numbers comedy that’ll surprise you with its amount of laughs. And though it’s a hard one to recommend without a big asterisk, I found myself occasionally rapt with its overtly immature humor. Oh and to whomever decided to end the entire film on an out-of-nowhere Lost joke, I applaud you.


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Out in Theaters: TOP FIVE

Of Top Five, comedian all-star Chris Rock notes that he wanted to make a movie that felt like his stand up routine. Rather than divvy up the goods – this joke for the movies, this one for a live show – as he had done in the past, Rock melts all the goods down, like an aging alchemist performing a do-or-die swan song. He stirs a fair share of heavy drama amongst the renown comedic fare, throwing flashbacks to hitting rock bottom amongst games of jump rope, providing narration to stories that end in semen-stained bedsheets and rectal tampons while illustrating a battle with a wicked case of the alchies.

Back in 2003, Rock released his directorial debut Head of State – in which an inner-city politician (Rock) becomes president, pre-Obama era – to middling reviews. The bombastic, leather-jacketed motherf*cker from the stage had turned his style on its head, offering watery gags over ripe satire in a politically doltish comedy that stank of his Grown Ups‘ compatriots fare. 2007 wasn’t much kinder to his directorial work as I Think I Love My Wife was met with even less enthusiasm. It seemed the world had given up on Chris Rock the actor.

Since then, Rock has been seen lending his visage to the vacation-bait Grown Ups “franchise”, borrowing out his voice for Marty the Lion in the popular-with-kids Madagascar series and offering an unexpectedly potent dramatic turn in Julie Delpy‘s adroit 2 Days in New York. His return to the director’s chair could not have seemed less warranted and yet could not have been more inspired. With Top Five, he’s finally hit his groove.

Debuting at this year’s Toronto Film Festival, Rock’s latest inspired a bidding war for the distributions right for his film, raising eyebrows across the nation as to just what Rock the director, the writer and the actor had in store.

The anticipation was warranted as Top Five arrives a bombastically hilarious, meaningfully introspective assault on the funny bone. Rock plays a shade of himself; a quasi-washed-up comedic actor famed as the title role in the critically flattened Hammy the Bear buddy cop films. Alfie Allen (Rock) has more recently turned his eye to dramatic roles, starring in a serious – and seriously awful – Haitian revolutionary film he keeps referring to as “the Haitian Django.” With a televised Bravo wedding on the uptick and a make-or-break interview with a noted NYT reporter, played by a half-shaved Rosario Dawson, Allen’s losing it.


Featuring a Who’s-Who of comedy cameos (Jerry Seinfeld, Kevin Hart, Tracy Morgan, Whoopie Goldberg, Adam Sandler, J.B. Smoove, Romany Malco, Cedric the Entertainer), Rock’s struggle is one of finding his voice. In the comedy cellars where he earned his bread and butter and became a fast rising star, he feels lost. As parallel, Rock hasn’t done a comedy special in half a decade. We’re well beyond the shouting, Chris is bearing his soul.

For a three-time Emmy winner who’s performed more sold out shows than The Beatles, Rock bears emotional welts – the scars of easy money; the busted ego of a sell-out. Here, he’s repenting for his comedic sins. Here, he proves he’s worth sticking around with.

As news of the Sony inner circle and their utter distain for Adam Sandler films makes the unfortunate internet rounds, there couldn’t be a better time for Chris Rock to split off and reassert himself as the proud, angry, shrewd, tender comedian that he can be. Top Five is a must – for Rock’s career and comedy fans both.


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Worst Case Scenario Casting for STAR WARS VII

“The horror…the horror.

According to recent reports, Zac Efron has (maybe-potentially-hopefully-not) been in discussions with Director J.J. Abrams regarding potential casting in Star Wars: Episode VII. This, following earlier news this week that Adam Driver is set to portray a Sith Lord in the newest Disney-sponsored saga. For anyone who’s seen Efron’s work—most recently That Awkward Moment, quite possibly the year’s worst film to date—this could spell disaster for the film, which already seems like it’s on a galactic crash course. At least this isn’t the worst possible casting, as it certainly could be worse. Here are some actors we definitely don’t want to see anywhere near this trilogy.


1. Kevin Hart

Kevin Hart Yoda

With Abrams’ reboot, there certainly will be creatures of all shapes and sizes floating through hyperspace. Let’s hope Kevin Hart, nuisance personified, isn’t one of them. He’s everywhere these days. He’s like the force, a constant presence you don’t see but definitely feel; you couldn’t escape him if you tried. Whether it’s terrible movies (recent examples: Ride Along, Grudge Match, and Think Like a Man), the NBA All-Star Celebrities’ Game, or all over BET, KHart has burned himself into the intergalactic rolodex. Though it would be funny to see him bouncing around with a lightsaber, this shouldn’t happen in any dimension.

2. Adam Sandler

Adam Solo

Adam Sandler hasn’t made anything worthwile since 2002, and pretty much everything he touches turns to space junk. It would help if he were still funny, but that Sandler is in a galaxy far far way. Just imagine Sandler trying to fly the Millenium Falcon. And really, how many roles would he play? It’d be great to see him play Chewbacca, Han Solo, Leia and Luke simultaneously. We beg you, Adam Solo, stay away.

3. John Travolta

Chancellor Travlotine

Is it wrong that I think it would be aweseome if John Travolta was brought into the Star Wars galaxy? How many names would he mispronounce? So much intentional comedy would ensue with Travolta trying to pronounce “midichlorians” (mardiacloritis) and “Dagobah” (Deborawr). Okay, maybe this one should happen. Get on it Abrams, you’re our only hope!

It remains to be seen how the rest of the cast will be filled out as production starts in April. With Star Wars: The Clone Wars Season 6 set to release Friday, and all the castings sure to come out in the next month, this is sure to be a force-filled March. As Travolta would say: Mary the frost be wart yew.

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Out in Theaters: GRUDGE MATCH

“Grudge Match”
Directed by Peter Segal
Starring Sylvester Stallone, Robert De Niro, Alan Arkin, Kevin Hart, Kim Basinger
113 Mins


If Grudge Match could stand on its own, the casting of Robert De Niro and Sylvester Stallone would be a mistake, since it would never be able to shake itself of Rocky and Raging Bull’s iconicism. Grudge Match doesn’t want to stand alone, though. It rests itself on the assumption that, because they have boxing in them, Raging Bull and Rocky are alike, which is falsified by anything but the most shallow reading of the films. For Rocky, this may be acceptable, because the series long ago devolved into steroid-addled workout porn and ridiculously silly fights, the excellent Rocky Balboa excepted. But for Scorsese’s classic, the winks and nods are a sin. Jake LaMotta is not a Marvel superhero. And this crossover is something that was best left in the minds of late night, drug-fueled conversations – conversations that, like this film, don’t survive a dose of sobriety.


Opening to audience groans, with a CG fight between Stallone’s Henry ‘Razor’ Sharp and De Niro’s Billy ‘The Kid’ McDonnen. (Note that this was not supposed to be some kind of simulation. Peter Segal actually thought using CG to make them younger would be a better choice than leaving the fight off screen.) We learn that they are two undefeated fighters who have only ever lost to each other. ‘The Kid’ wanted a rematch, claiming he was not in shape for their second fight, but ‘Razor’ left boxing in his prime, for personal reasons. After an altercation in their old age, Kevin Hart’s character seizes the opportunity to put them in the ring again, for a sum of money that Stallone can’t turn down due to losing his job.


Any good sports film is not so much about the sport as it is about the turmoil of those who play. Grudge Match follows this model, but the stories it brings in are so trite that you will find yourself rolling your eyes again and again. De Niro must reconnect with his son, who he had after a one night stand with Stallone’s ex-wife, while Stallone must reconnect with said ex-wife (and they somehow neglected to stick in a referential “You fucked my wife?”). Their stories operate in parallel, not leaving enough time for either to really shine. While the ex-wife serves as the intersection of the stories, the plot structures don’t really interact. Instead, they opt to have two mini-movies, side by side, even going as far as having the predictable early third act struggles happen back-to-back, leaving no impact. We watch something bad happen to Stallone, right before we watch some other, entirely different, bad thing happen to De Niro. The consequences of these “bad things” last about five minutes. Tear jerking stuff.

In these parallel stories, however, it is De Niro’s that is far and away the most entertaining, as he doesn’t take himself too seriously and has an ability to make the clichéd material fun. As a result, the Stallone story is a chore. His character’s similarities with Rocky stop at egg drinking and meat punching. Gone is the light-hearted sense of humor and optimism that make Rocky such a beloved character. We are left with a brooding old man and a flat performance.

Obviously, these are new characters and we should not expect them to conform to the exact same traits of their previous ones. But when they are so clearly trying to draw from the classics, why not draw enough to make the film watchable? This becomes a problem, because Grudge Match relies on us liking the actors and their former characters, rather than building its own. We don’t have anything invested, but the movie wants us to. Any investment stems from our fandom of Rocky and Raging Bull, but the similarities are only skin deep, like everything else in this farce.


Without spoilers, that is about as much plot as I can say. Second chances are given, people once thought bad turn out to be not so bad, character growth occurs, Alan Arkin delivers crotchety one-liners, and Kevin Hart is stoked to be in a movie. There are some laughs, but they aren’t worth it.

This may sound like the ramblings of a film snob, which it is. But I have to plead that no one spends money on this. Every ticket purchase for this film sends a message to the chumps in charge of this poop feast, saying, “This is acceptable.” It cheapens Rocky. It cheapens Raging Bull. It cheapens film. And it cheapens its audience. Exploitation, exploitation, exploitation. Attending the theaters on Christmas day takes far more effort than it did to conceptualize, write, plan, and shoot Grudge Match. Since this is being marketed as a movie to see on Christmas, here are some better choices: The Wolf of Wall Street, American Hustle, Inside Llewyn Davis, Anchorman 2, staring at a wall, Rocky, and Party at Kitty and Stud’s (the Stallone porno). If you are a fan of these two, you may find the premise of this pseudo-crossover enticing. Resist.


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