Disney’s Descendants plays like an extended 2-hour pop music meditation, updating the classic Disney Princess Magic Kingdom with Deadmau5 dubstep and Sia Fuller hyperpop, that is ultimately utterly likable.
Descendants is a made-for-TV feature length film, debuting on July 31, 2015 to an audience of 6.6 million, despite underground murmurings and protestations leading up to the pop spectacle. Descendants tells the story of the offspring of four of the main Disney Villains – the Evil Queen (Kathy Najimy), Cruella De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson), Jafar (Maz Jobrani), and Maleficent (Kristin Chenoweth). The kids – Evie (Sofia Carson), Carlos (Cameron Boyce), Jay (Booboo Stewart), and Mal (Dove Cameron) – have grown up in the Isle Of The Lost, cut off from magic. Read More
Ugly, rapey stalker thriller The Boy Next Doordoesn’t get the first thing right about stalking, nor does it care to. Starring the curve of J Lo‘s booty and an Oedipal whelp of man meat, Rob Cohen‘s delightfully crummy feature probes madcap, self-deprecating territory but squarely settles for a damning self-serious tone. Had Cohen (he of Fast and Furious, XXX, The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor and Alex Cross acclaim) just gone for intentionally laughable bombast, we could have been howling with him, not at him.
Wasting no time revealing how laughably bad it is, The Boy Next Dooropens with exposition as information dump. J Lo’s husband cheated on her, divorce papers appeared but were never signed, forgiveness is on the horizon. All of this narrative hooey is communicated in a 30 second flashback/montage clip, making for one of the worst openings this side of Blackhat‘s “inside the computer” start. The only foil to J Lo’s marital reconciliation is the fact that hubby (John Corbett) is scheduled for a trip to San Francisco, hometown to his partner in infidelity.
Enter Noah Sandborn (Ryan Guzman), your garage-fixing, alternator-switching boy of the next door persuasion. The guy’s got an enviable six pack – which inexplicably occupies more camera minutes than J Lo’s most prized ASSets – and J Lo’s Claire Peterson isn’t afraid to peep at them from across the way. Spinning from dating woes and palpably seduced by Noah’s youthful magnetism, Claire winds up bedded by her high school neighbor in a scene that alternates between being sketchy, funny and sexy and is downright useless to the film. (Also: it shows zero boobs.)
In amazingly little time, Noah begins an unhealthy obsession with his hot pepperoncini of a neighbor, even after she tries to put the kibosh to things. Bing, bang, boom, Noah starts showing his bad side as his whole rape fanta…I mean stalking escalate at neck-break speeds.
Pointing out all the little narrative infidelities of The Boy Next Door is like trying to pin down exactly how many men a porn star has slept with. It’s a film that features a race against the clock to discard ribbons on ribbons of smutty photocopies; that features a bully-target of a son with an allergy to…being nervous?; a film where you know the breaks are cut minutes before the car starts swerving. Apparently, it exists in a vacuum of cell communication as well, because aside from one or two instances, we never see our characters disclose critical details to one another. You have to count the instances in which near death experiences occur and then are never spoke of again.
Step Up‘s Guzman is awful in the leading man’s shoes, all kinds of ham and cheese in a role that might have even thrived in the hands of a Dan Stevens type. The parallels to Adam Winguard’s infinitely superior The Guest are so many and so obvious that a fellow film critic turned to me at the end, postulating that it might end in the exact same fashion. For what it’s worth, Jennifer Lopez is the best part of the film – managing to skimp her way through BarbaraCurry‘s hackneyed script mostly unscathed – but she’s also the only one trying. Kristen Chenoweth playing a low-rent Cameron Diaz offers up miffed comedic relief while relative newcomer Ian Nelson is more breakfast cereal goody-two-shoes than Walt Jr.
The effort just isn’t there and the product shows it. There’s a late scene sequence – all engulfed in flames and shot to shit – in which Cohen seems to fully abandon the serious tone and go for broke, making for some absurdist, genuinely funny material. It’s not entirely clear if this is his throwing in the cards moment or a side-glancing wink at the audience but it’s exactly the kind of bonkers “what the hell is this crap?” moment that the movie needed much, much more of. Or could have done without entirely.