This Week In Film: The Kinda Good, The Bad, And The Quirky

By , Columnist

This week at the movies can be summed up by one word, “meh.” Presumably the studios assumed that the world would be so enamored with Prometheus this weekend that they couldn’t possibly be courted by a new blockbuster release. Big mistake. So instead of some ludicrously expensive action spectacle, we have a choice between a raunchy Adam Sandler comedy (That’s My Boy), an 80s jukebox musical (Rock Of Ages), and the latest indie quirk off for the Sundance crowd (Safety Not Guaranteed). So…yeah…not a great week of new releases. Ah well, there’s always next week, right? Sigh…


The Kinda Good: That's My Boy

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This week the “good” is a relative term. Adam Sandler has returned with a movie that is idiotic, disgusting, and offensive. But it’s also his funniest movie in years. The thing is far from a masterpiece or even close to the comedies that made his name in the 90s, but at least it’s not family friendly dreck like Grown Ups.

Nope, this is a movie that opens with a heroic tale of statutory rape that manages to get more disgusting from there. Sandler stars as a guy who knocked up one of his junior high teachers, became a brief trash celebrity, and ruined the boy’s life while his teen-tapping mom was in prison. Flash forward 28 years and now Sandler is a burn out who faces prison time if he can’t pay off the IRS to the tune of $50,000. He manages to talk a trash TV show into forking over the cash if they can film a prison family reunion and sets out to find his son and trick him into joining. Of course, his boy (Andy Samberg) hasn’t spoken to him in a decade and is about to be married. So Sandler crashes the party for some debauchery and an inevitable round of father/son bonding.

It’s all pretty simple Sandler comedy stuff, the difference is that the movie is a hard R reveling in nudity and bodily fluids. Getting all dirty seems to have actually sparked some comedic energy in Sandler that he hasn’t shown in years. It’s one of his performances defined entirely by a goofy voice (in this case a hearty Boston accent), but there’s an anarchistic free-for-all feel that is closer to Sandler’s earliest movies than say Click and is a welcome surprise. Sure, Nick Swardson makes an unwanted appearance, the plot is paint-by-numbers, it’s overlong, and all the female characters are either evil or sex objects, but that sort of thing is a given in one of Sandler’s Happy Madison productions at this point.

The good news is that the movie is actually funny and takes risks in a way that the comedian hasn’t done in about a decade. Granted those risks were taken for what ultimately a dumb comedy with no redeeming values beyond shock laughs. Yet, given how far Sandler has lowered the bar in recent years, at least that’s something.


The Bad: Rock Of Ages 

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You gotta give the folks behind the original Rock Of Ages stage show credit for one thing, they definitely stumbled into a winning formula for success. I mean, why be bothered with taking the time to write a musical when you can just bust out an 80s playlist instead? That certainly makes things way easier, right? The play also had a tongue-in-cheek tone gently mocking the innocent clichés of musical theater plotting and a combination of that and 80s hair metal classics in a time when mocking 80s nostalgia was in it’s peak was enough for this thing to be a success.

A movie was inevitable and when gussied up with movie stars and production values, well the joke just isn’t as funny. It’s a mildly amusing jukebox musical with a couple decent performances, but certainly nothing particularly memorable or necessary. It’s the kind of breezy light entertainment that passes by fairly painlessly without coming close to making much of an impact. I suppose if you love the music or Tom Cruise, there’s enjoyment to be had. But at that point, why not just bust out your old mix tapes and listen to them while watching Cocktail on VHS? You’ll get way more campy laughs and at least the experience might feel somewhat genuine and not cynically mass produced.

The film is about a small town girl (living in a lonely world) who meets up with a city boy on the sunset strip where they set out to pursue their rock star dreams. They end up waiting tables at a sleazy club that’s hosting the farewell show of hairspay rock god Stacey Jaxx (Cruise). It’s sure to be a huge, which is why a churchgoing conservative lady (Catherine Zeta Jones) decides it must be protested, much to the chagrin of the club owner (Alec Baldwin) and his silly assistant (Russell Brand). You can probably guess where the story will go from here and you’d be right.

Along the way plenty of semi-appropriate rock anthems are belted out in a way the waters down their appeal and all the cast give performances that are at least appear to have the cadence and timing of being humorous. The whole thing is very bland and dull in a way that will sadly appeal to the target audience. Nothing I can say will sway those seduced by the idea or those already disgusted by it. You already know whether or not you’re going and whether or not you’ll like it. I will say that the movie and show isn’t offensively bad, it’s just very dull, bland, and predictable. A musical custom made for bad high school drama class reenactments and a movie that in a few years time will only be watched by those pimply cast members preparing for the performance. Save the money and go to karaoke instead. At least you can drink there and the bad covers will seem increasingly appealing as the night goes on. 


The Quirky: Safety Not Guaranteed  

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Safety Not Guaranteed is the latest quirk-fest to emerge from America’s indie comedy scene. Like so many similar movies to proceed it, the film is about a depressed loner who learns to love life thanks to the affections and acceptance of a manic goofball. Thankfully there are enough wrenches in the formula to keep this thing from being Garden State 2: Adorkable Boogaloo. Thanks to a lead role from Aubrey Plaza (the closest living representation to Beavis And Butthead’s Daria) there’s a gender reversal and given that the requisite manic love interest is an insane Mark Duplass convinced he’s solved the mysteries of time travel, there’s a vaguely sci-fi underpinning to the whole endeavor. That ain’t much to separate it from the grating indie comedy pack, but it’s just enough.

 Plaza stars as a depressed 20something (obviously) interning at a magazine who is assigned to follow Jake Johnson’s sleazy writer on a weeklong trip to try and track down the nutball who wrote an odd classified ad looking for someone to join him on a time traveling mission, requiring weapons experiencing, and promising “safety not guaranteed” (based on an actual ad that made the viral rounds a few years back). They discover the man responsible is a sad grocery store clerk still rocking the semi-mullet and jean coat style he founded in the 80s (Mark Duplass).

It’s decided that Plaza would be the best person to approach the jittery Duplass given that he probably hasn’t received any female attention in a while. So, they begin time traveling training and the more time Plaza spends with the lost and pained man, she starts to fall for him. At the same time Johnson’s character embarks on a mission to track down his old junior high spit swapping partner with hopes of rekindling their love affair. It barely has anything to do with the main storyline beyond a loose thematic link of not being able to let go of the past and learning to embrace the present. That’s kind of the main problem with the film as a whole, as director Colin Trevorrow and writer Derek Connolly (both working on their first feature) don’t seem entirely sure of what they want to do.

The movie never comfortably decides if it’s a goofball comedy mocking Duplass’ character or an earnest film about a lost soul. It’s also not clear if it’s all supposed to be real or a fantasy, if all the subplots actually connect, or what genre the whole thing is supposed to fall into. That slingshot approach to the tone is part of what makes the movie so compelling and unpredictable, yet at the same time it also turns the whole thang into a bit of a mess. Still, the performances are engaging enough to make it all worth while.

Duplass is fantastic as the possibly insane time traveler, finding just the right balance between broad comic strokes and empathetic emotions. Johnson is absolutely hysterical as a image obsessed writer melancholic for his wasted youth (in fact the only reason it’s not irritating that his distracting subplot is in the movie is because he’s so damn entertaining). Plaza does her rolling eyes sarchastic thing well, although the movie proves that she might be best in supporting roles as she’s not as good at pulling off the transition into a caring person. She’s talented, but within a certain character type and fortunately for her, that’s all you need to find mild success as a comedic performer at her talent level.

Overall, the movie certainly isn’t a classic, but it’s enjoyable enough. If you like quirky indies you’ll enjoy it. If you hate em, guess what? Your moving going safety isn’t guaranteed (see what I did there, ain’t that clever?).

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Phil Brown was born years ago. He then grew up, went to university, and now reviews movies, interviews people and writes comedy. He writes for a number of websites and publications including the one you are currently reading. Phil can be found haunting movie theatres around Toronto. He isn't dangerous,…

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