It’s been barely a week since Halloween, so for the sake of commercialism that means the time has come to start celebrating Christmas. I’m not saying it’s right, but it’s happening, dammit, and Hollywood is ushering in the festive season this week with A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas.
In theory, this is where I should rant about what a mistake it is to launch a Christmas movie this early and how no family will even remember the film exists by the holiday season. The thing is, that’s kind of irrelevant with this movie. The target audience will be too high to care and no family will be signing up for a stoner comedy come December. Nope, it’s a good call. The film will make money now and then get a boost over Christmas from irony-loving drug takers before being a go-to DVD Christmas present for medical marijuana advocates from now until the end of time.
If you’re not up for an early X-mas this weekend, then you can also check out the deeply mediocre Tower Heist for 30 minutes of fun from Eddie Murphy or live out your justified U2-hating fantasies with Killing Bono. Not a bad round-up of choices, but only one movie is good and it is
The Good: A Very Harold And Kumar Christmas
If there’s one thing to be said about the Harold And Kumar franchise, it’s that it’s much better than it has any right to be. The ethnically diverse stoner comedies come from the writing team of Jon Hurwitz and Harden Schlossberg, a talented team who seem to be overflowing with ideas to make even their sober audiences keel over in hysterics. The first film was merely irreverent fun with an infamous Neil Patrick Harris cameo that revived his career.
The second film, Harold And Kumer Escape From Guantanamo Bay, added a splash of social commentary to the cocktail without ever getting too heady. This time the titular duo return for another, far more simple quest to chase down a Christmas tree to replace the one they lost; however, that setup is little more than an excuse to put the characters in another series of linked sketches and surreal comedy diversions, only this time with a festive theme like shooting Santa or hearing Neil Patrick Harris discuss his troubled experience with Jesus.
If the last sentence didn’t make you laugh, the movie just isn’t for you. However if the idea of seeing a toddler develop a taste for cocaine or a stop motion Harold and Kumar Christmas special goof make you giggle just in theory, the film will make you laugh damn hard. It’s little more than a series of surrealistic gags with great guest stars, some hilariously self-conscious 3-D jokes from director Todd Strauss-Schulson, and a linking plot about two longtime friends slowly growing away from each other as they hit 30.
The film features nothing that requires much thought and certainly isn’t an anti-Christmas classic along the lines of Bad Santa or The Ref, but there’s nothing wrong with a dumb comedy when it delivers this many laughs. Considering the number of insultingly dumb comedies that turn into hits every year without making their audiences giggle this much, the Harold And Kumar series should be considered a minor triumph. Never has a series with such an insubstantial premise succeeded this well through three movies. Hell, I’d be happy to sign up for a Harold And Kumar 4, and I never would have dreamed that would be possible back when the guys first meandered their way to White Castle back in 2004.
The Bad: Tower Heist
Seriously, can somebody tell me how it is that Brett Ratner’s movies continue to be hits? The guy practically ruined both the Hannibal Lecter and X-Men franchises and made three Rush Hour movies, yet all of them were huge, inexplicable successes. He seems to specialize in bland, derivative blockbusters that are hits simply because they take no risks and cater to the lowest common denominator.
His latest effort Tower Heist is no exception. It stars Ben Stiller as the building manager of a very Trump Tower-esque building run by a very Donald Trump-esque man played by Alan Alda. One day, Alda is arrested by the FBI for fraud and Stiller learns the pensions of everyone working in the building were lost, so he does the only thing any sensible person would do in that situation: he plans a heist to rob Alda’s apartment. Along the way he picks up a team of ethnic stereotypes from his staff, a math genius played by Matthew Broderick, and for some reason hires a local thief he barely knows played by Eddie Murphy. Guess where things go from there?
Now, it’s worth noting that Murphy is funnier in this film than he’s been in at least a decade. Playing an older version of the fast talking hustlers that launched his career in films like Trading Places, Murphy improvises up a storm and makes you wonder where he’s been hiding his talents for so long. Unfortunately, despite his prominent place in all of the marketing material, Murphy is only in about 30 minutes of the movie. For the most part, the running time is dedicated to Stiller and his one-note band of not-so-funny heist partners or the elaborate heist climax.
The film is neither funny enough to be a successful comedy, nor exciting enough to work as a thriller. However, it’s so inoffensive and star-packed that it will be a hit. Unfortunately this is the type of bland entertainment that will excite the masses despite a complete lack of ambition or originality. Admittedly, it’s nice to finally see Eddie Murphy be funny again, but it’s a damn shame that this limp noodle of a movie is the one he decided to put a little effort into.
The Bono: Killing Bono
Finally, a movie has come along that allows everyone who despises Bono to see their darkest fantasies played out on the big screen. Well at least it should have been that way.
This occasionally amusing, mostly disappointing comedy is about Neil McCormick’s struggles and failures in the '80s music industry, made all the more painful by the fact that he was an old school buddy with the boys from U2. McCormick’s story has already spawned a memoir and now gets the movie treatment. In theory, it should be an inspired twist on the musical bio-pic, but truthfully the film goes nowhere.
As irritating as Bono can be, McCormick doesn’t come off much better in the film and it’s hard to feel sorry for the narcissistic fame whore after a while. There are a few amusing performances from British comedy veterans like Peter Serafinowicz, but in the end this isn’t funny enough to work as a comedy and too insubstantial to carry much dramatic weight. Killing Bono isn’t worth much thought or attention. Its North American release has been endlessly delayed for a reason.
Also opening this week: Honestly, nothing worthwhile.