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Posts Tagged ‘Jason Bateman’

I imagine that life is not currently as easy as it might be, if you’re involved in the creation of cinema trailers. If a trailer isn’t criticised for being wildly misleading and inaccurate, and giving a wholly false impression of the film in question, then the chances are that it’s going to be given a hard time for giving away far too much information and basically spoiling the entire film. It seems like they just can’t win: unless of course it’s a film which people are already excited about, in which case most of the pressure is already off as far as the trailer is concerned. Do you trust a trailer for a film you really know nothing else about? It’s a fair question. As with most things, I try to keep an open mind.

Long-standing readers of this here blog (hello, masochists) will be aware that two of the mainstream genres you are least likely to find me settling down to watch are modern horror movies and contemporary American comedy films. And yet I found myself trundling off to watch John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein’s new comedy Game Night, mainly on the strength of the trailer. What can I say, it made me laugh. I have no other excuse. Finding enough funny material for a three minute trailer, of course, is considerably easier than populating a 100-minute movie with adequate jokes. So… was the trailer lying to me?

This is another one of those films about affluent and aspirational American folks bumbling into areas of society they are ill-equipped to deal with, hopefully for comic effect. Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams play Max and Annie, two ferociously competitive games-loving people who cute-meet at the very start of the film, are married by the end of the opening credits, and as things get properly underway are contemplating starting a family. However, Max has, not to put too fine a point on things, motility issues, which may be a psychosomatic result of his inferiority complex when it comes to his richer and more successful older brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler).

Sure enough, Brooks rolls into town and joins their weekly game night, along with their other friends, soon insisting on hosting a session himself. Intent as ever on belittling his sibling, Brooks announces they will be taking part in a kind of real-life role-playing game, a bit like the one in that Michael Douglas film called, um, The Game: there will be a phoney kidnapping, various clues, and the first person to solve the ‘crime’ will win a fabulous prize. However, not all goes to plan, for just as the game is about to begin, a couple of genuine criminals burst in and actually kidnap Brooks – helped by the fact that everyone else is watching, eating tortilla chips, and making admiring comments about how realistic it all looks.

(A couple of other trailer-related observations here: firstly, most of the trailers preceding Game Night were absolutely dire. Secondly, while the trailer for Game Night makes the premise of the film absolutely clear – slightly clueless couples get mixed up in underworld escapades in the mistaken belief they’re playing a game – the film itself seems to assume you already know what’s going on. Although  this may just be the movie actually crediting the audience with some intelligence, which I suppose is possible, it’s just incredibly rare in a modern Hollywood comedy film.)

Well, anyway, Bateman and McAdams and the two other couples spring into action, all determined to win the ‘game’ by fair means or foul, whether this means actually trying to follow the trail of clues, engaging in bribery and corruption of the game-planning company, or just doing some sneaky Googling (the bane of so many quiz nights)…

I think you will agree that what we have here is a pretty good premise for a film about smug members of the affluent strata of American society (I should mention that the Irish actress and writer Sharon Horgan makes her Hollywood debut in this film, too) blundering unwittingly into danger, with hilarious results. However, it quickly becomes very obvious that sustaining this conceit for the full duration of the movie – even after a reasonably lengthy section setting everything up – is a monumentally difficult prospect and one which Mark Perez’s script rapidly begins to struggle with. There is actually something rather heroic about how hard the script works to keep the story (and, more importantly, jokes) going. In the end, though, one has to say that things have got extremely contrived and implausible by the time of the closing credits, and most of the funniest scenes are in the middle of the movie.

They are extremely funny, though: I am not a person who is especially easily moved to mirth, but there are a couple of scenes in particular in Game Night which left me weeping and breathless with laughter. The rest of it is consistently funny, too. It is all knowingly ridiculous, of course, but still very winning. A lot of this is down to the script, which is smartly and solidly constructed, squarely hitting every beat of the plot, and the rest of the credit must go to the performances. Jason Bateman is an extremely capable deadpan comic actor and he is on top form here, very nearly matched by Rachel McAdams. The rest of the cast are also very good, regardless of whether they are playing a comic role or a more serious one.

There is something tonally quite peculiar about Game Night, in that while much of the interplay between the protagonists, and indeed many of the plot developments, are totally absurd and very tongue in cheek, the comedy-thriller aspect of the story is played absolutely straight. There is some quite dark stuff going on here: that very fine actor Michael C Hall turns up as a bad guy and is absolutely terrifying, for he plays it exactly as if he was the villain in a genuine thriller. Playing it straight in a black comedy is often a reliable route to success – the example I always give is that of Herbert Lom in The Ladykillers – but off the top of my head I can’t think of another film which intentionally combines such very different styles of performance with such success.

That said, this is still a film which you’d better not think about too rigorously; for all that it is clearly the work of very bright people, and aimed at an intelligent audience, it is still deeply silly and the plot does not stand up to too much analysis. But, as I say, it is consistently entertaining, and it is a real pleasure to come across a modern comedy film which doesn’t simply devolve into people talking about their sex lives in an attempt to seem edgy and shocking.

Pop-culture references to Liam Neeson and Marvel movies probably means that Game Night is likely to confuse members of future generations who come across it, but may also mean it has a certain value as a social document of how a tiny sliver of American society entertained itself for a while in the early 21st century. In the end it is still a modern comedy film, after all, but a superior example of the type. One can only hope it does well enough for other film-makers to take a chance on following its lead and making comedy movies which are clever rather than crass, and which work hard to be funny.

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So, I found myself once again in the position of having seen virtually everything on at the sweetshop and coffeeshop, and with the Phoenix shut for refurbishment again, the situation demanded I look into reaches of the schedule I am not usually wont to visit. This left me with the options of Nativity 3: Dude, Where’s My Donkey?, Paddington Bear: The Movie, and Horrible Bosses 2. I’ll admit that the final decision was not entirely mine alone, but you don’t want to read about a lot of wrangling over what to see. You want to read a review of Horrible Bosses 2. At least, I hope you do. If not, you may as well be on your way, for that is the business of the day.

Horrible_Bosses_2

Now, I must confess that I did consider going to see the original Horrible Bosses in 2011, but some sixth sense told me my time might be better spent elsewhere (which may explain the rash of golden-oldie Planet of the Apes reviews around the time the first film came out). However, I was assured that – if this one was anything like its predecessor – a knowledge of the plot would not be required for full appreciation of its nuances.

Anyway, as Sean Anders’ film opens, we are introduced to Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis), and Dale (Charlie Dale), three guys who are trying to make it as entrepreneurs and appearing on TV to promote their latest idea for a shower fitting. (It eventually transpires that Kurt is a softly-spoken moron, Charlie is a very noisy moron, and Nick, though not a moron, inevitably seems to find himself dragged along in the wake of the other two.) The opening sequence of the film does a pretty good job of establishing the tone of proceedings, in that its comic credentials are based on some infelicitious camera angles appearing to show Dale giving manual relief to and fellating Kurt, and the fact that their company name, when spoken too quickly, sounds like a racial slur.

While I was coming to the conclusion that this was not exactly going to be Bringing Up Baby, the plot progressed, with the trio going into business with the wealthy and ruthless Hanson family, personified by Burt (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine). It comes as no surprise when the Hansons make the the most of the fact the main characters are, well, morons, viciously exploiting them and leaving them horribly in debt, with only a short time to raise $500,000 or lose their company.

So what are a trio of morons going to do in such dire straits? Are they going to seek legal advice? No, of course not. Are they going to try and find a new business partner or backer to help them with their financial woes? No. Are they going to engage in a frankly stupid scheme to kidnap Rex Hanson and ransom him back to his father for the money they need? Well, obviously. There are a few scenes where Jennifer Aniston turns up as a sex-addicted dentist, but, you know, they’re not exactly central.

Anyway, the other day I was reading an article where a bunch of professional writers chose the expressions they would like to see deleted from the lexicon – one chose ‘Mary Sue’, another went for ‘info dump’, and so on, on the grounds they had become debased or lost any essential meaning. (I couldn’t help smelling a rat – I suspect some of them might have wanted to get rid of the expression ‘this is a bad book’, to stop that from appearing in reviews as well.) One of the choices was the term ‘idiot plot’, which is shorthand for any story which only works if all the main characters behave like unreasonable idiots.

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, whatever you think of Mary Sue or info dump, I am absolutely certain that idiot plot retains some critical value, and the proof of that is the existence of a film like Horrible Bosses 2. If any of the main characters acted remotely like an actual human being the story would never take place. But the story has to happen and so they blunder and bumble on in a wholly incredible way.

I have to say, however, that I’m not entirely averse to a bit of absurd slapstick, provided it’s genuinely funny, and my problems with Horrible Bosses 2 don’t really arise from the fact that the story is so silly. ‘Silly’ isn’t entirely fair, to be honest: the plot itself is actually fairly inventive in some ways, and not quite as simplistic as you might expect. My main problem is that the tone of the thing is so – and how do I put this without coming over all Mary Whitehouse? – adolescent.

The kind of jokes featuring in the opening scene continue throughout the film, which also features wall-to-wall profanity, various glib jokes about rape, a little mild racial abuse, the objectification of women, and so on. None of this is really my thing, I will admit, and it may just be that I’m a failing old man who’s lost his sense of humour. However, from various reviews I’ve read of other modern American comedy films, I get the impression that this has become de rigeur for the form: there seems to be the belief that audiences just aren’t interested in going to see a funny film unless half the jokes are explicitly sexual and it has a three-figure F-bomb count.

Is this really the case? I’m not sure. Certainly, in the case of Horrible Bosses 2, I thought I could discern a fast, slick, and very silly comedy-thriller choking to death under the onslaught of ‘adult’ humour. I did eventually laugh at this film, despite attempting not to on principle: it was at a joke about someone using an indelible marker on a whiteboard, something I can empathise with myself (hey, that’s my kind of humour). Also, Jason Bateman does give a genuinely funny deadpan performance as someone who knows that he should know better.

I did still find this a rather baffling experience, however, partly because – despite everything – I cannot find it in my heart to come out and say that Horrible Bosses 2 is an outright bad movie. The makers clearly had a specific objective in mind – a very crude, very silly comedy, with its profile raised by the presence of some big name actors – and this is indeed what they’ve ended up with. (Kevin Spacey amiably chews the scenery in his tiny cameo, but it rather seems to me that Jamie Foxx’s gangster is essentially a one-joke character.) I’m just not sure why they would choose to make this particular film, when there is plenty of evidence on display that they are capable of making something cleverer and much more accessible to a less juvenile audience.

In the end, however, I have to stick to talking about the film they made, not the ones they could have made. And the film that they made is more dismaying than anything approaching hilarious, not least because everyone involved is clearly capable of so much better.

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