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Posts Tagged ‘Jim Carrey’

Well, civilisation continued and the weather was sort of nice, so off I went to see Kick-Ass 2, written and directed by Jeff Wadlow (director of… well… nothing you’ve ever heard of, probably), taking over the reins from Matthew Vaughn. Now, just to recap, I thought the 2010 original was enjoyable on some levels but not without some problematic elements: a well-made film, but I couldn’t shake the sense that this was ultimately quite a cynical exercise.

News that Kick-Ass 2 was coming along at all was a bit of a surprise to me, the further revelation that Jim Carrey was attempting to distance himself from the project (having apparently had a Damascine moment as far as the violence was concerned) somehow less so. As you may recall, I even made a few predictions as to exactly what the sequel would be like: a built-up role for Chloe Grace Moretz as Hit-Girl, even more OTT  violence and other ‘shocking’ content, and underneath it all a much more straightforward superhero story than the makers would be prepared to admit to. So what kind of shape were my precognitive powers in?

kick_ass_2_poster

Well. Two years on from the events of the first film (I suspect this is the minimum gap the makers can get away, given they have to acknowledge the fact that Moretz visibly looks older), Dave Lizewski (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) resumes his activities as barely-competent masked crimefighter Kick-Ass, mainly out of boredom. He hopes to team up with the much more lethal Hit-Girl (Moretz), but she is struggling to honour a promise to her deceased father that she will try to live a normal life.

As Hit-Girl tries to fit in amongst the lip-gloss and boy-band obsessed harpies at the local high school, Kick-Ass is forced to look elsewhere for support, finding it in the form of Justice Forever, a low-budget superhero team led by Colonel Stars and Stripes (Carrey), an unhinged born-again Christian, and incorporating such legendary heroes as Insect-Man, Doctor Gravity and Night-Bitch. However, where there are superheroes there are bound to be supervillains, and – still smarting from the death of his own father – Dave’s old associate Chris (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) has abandoned his heroic identity as the Red Mist and adopted the villainous guise of… actually, his supervillain name is much too rude for me to include in a civic-minded review. Check Wikipedia if you must.

As you may have been able to tell, I went into Kick-Ass 2 fully-braced for the kind of sequel which slimes the memory of the original film: you know, the RoboCop 2 or Predator 2 kind of sequel. Given what a ticklish balancing act the first film largely succeeded at, the fact that Kick-Ass 2 isn’t a complete train-wreck must qualify as some sort of an achievement.

If I say that this is a film that is wildly variable in terms of its tone and contains some really problematic material, well, you could say all that about the first one, too. It initially looks like the movie is going to be about messed-up kids looking for a father figure (portraits of the two dead fathers from the first film feature prominently), but this never completely materialises. Then for a while it looks like the film is instead going to take as its theme the need for belonging and companionship – Hit-Girl tries to find it amongst the ‘normal’, if obnoxious, cool girls at her school, while Kick-Ass achieves it (for a while) amongst a group of fellow aspiring superheroes. This is quite interesting, but the pay-off is awkward (I’ll come back to this).

In the end, though, the film boils down to the same uneasy mixture of knowing jokes about comics conventions (Chris’s tendency to give his underlings spectacularly non-PC supervillain codenames is particularly droll), gross-out slapstick comedy, sentimental drama and graphic violence, often in unsettling proximity to each other. One minute there’s a fairly repugnant punchline about projectile vomiting and diarrhea, the next it seems to be trying to be Watchmen – it’s all very disconcerting. And, as I expected, everything seems to have been turned up a few notches. Particularly problematic, I think, is a scene in the second half of the film, which begins as an attack on one of Kick-Ass’s female friends, played straight. It concludes with an attempted rape, which is played for laughs. Yup, you read that right: an attempted rape, which is played for laughs.

I must confess the film lost me at that point and never quite got me back. I’m not saying sexual violence can’t be the subject of fiction, but incorporating it into what’s ultimately a knockabout superhero comedy-drama really leaves a bad taste in the mouth. Because that’s what Kick-Ass 2 is – by its conclusion it looks much more like a ‘straight’ superhero film than its predecessor ever did. But it also seems to be having its cake and eating it, based mainly on whether or not a given character is supposed to be cool or not: most of the superheroes and villains in this film are vaguely ludicrous sociopaths and inadequates (and Jim Carrey, by the way, gives one of his better performances, whatever his misgivings about the movie). They are ridiculous and no sane person would want to imitate them. Yet, at the climax of the film, Hit-Girl’s decision to revive her costumed identity is presented as an affirmatory moment, an epiphany: this is who she is supposed to be!

As I say, if you take it seriously, Kick-Ass 2 is a tonally and thematically inconsistent and frequently difficult film. In terms of my predictions, I was pleasantly surprised that Hit-Girl didn’t completely dominate the story, but it is more extreme than the first one, presumably to cover the fact that it’s arguably more conventional, too. Wadlow’s direction is decent, if not up to Vaughn’s standard, most of the performances are fine, and the drama and action are actually well-mounted and engaging. However, while the door is left the tiniest bit ajar for a further installment, I would really think hard before attempting it. There’s a limit to how far you can successfully push a concept like Kick-Ass, and this film looks like it’s hard up against that limit already. Thanks, but enough.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published  May 6th 2004:

A couple of years ago, there was nearly a strike in Hollywood about – amongst other things – the possessive credit. This is when a film opens with the legend ‘A Film By Reuben Claxheim’ or something similar. Where the same person writes and directs the film, this seems fair enough, but it’s the instances when the director appears to ignore the writer’s creative contribution that caused the dispute.

But it does seem to be the case that films are defined by their star or director, rather than their writer. Everyone thinks in terms of Hitchcock films, barely aware of the army of scribes the great man employed. It’s just one of those things. Well, except in the case of Charlie Kaufman, arguably the only star screenwriter currently working. Kaufman is the man responsible for the acclaimed Being John Malkovich, Adaptation., and Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, and now he’s written Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, directed by Michel Gondry.

This is the rather Phildickian tale of Joel (Jim Carrey), a New York cartoonist coming off the back of an ugly break-up with his girlfriend Clementine (Kate Winslet). Already distraught, he is very nearly traumatised to learn that she has had all memories of him erased by Dr Howard Mierzwiak (Tom Wilkinson) and his rather shabby team of assistants. Understandably, Joel decides to wipe Clementine from his own memory, not realising that once begun, there’s no way of halting the process…

This being a Kaufman script the plot is inevitably much less straightforward than that precis makes it sound. This is certainly a much denser and stranger film than the cast list (which includes Kirsten Dunst and Elijah Wood) would suggest, and anyone turning up for some knockabout laughs with Jim Carrey acting like a gimp is in for a rude awakening. (I suspect this film may generate some rather poisonous word-of-mouth because of this – two people quite separately stumped past me muttering ‘Boring crap’ at the end of the screening I went to.) Eternal Sunshine is essentially more of the neurotic surrealism that Kaufman is famous for, grounded by some naturalistic cinematography and some affecting performances.

Truth be told (and as anyone who read last summer’s review of Bruce Almighty will know) I’m not a particular fan of either Carrey or Winslet in normal circumstances – but here they are both likeable and touching, particularly in the film’s opening sequence (some films have a twist ending – this probably qualifies, but goes one better and also has what’s arguably a twist beginning!). That said, many of their scenes together are set in Joel’s rapidly-dwindling memory, and – despite some visual pyrotechnics from Gondry – things do get a tiny bit samey. It’s probably just as well that there’s another major strand revolving around the messed-up relationships of Mierzwiak’s employees, who have a convincing and amusingly shambolic attitude to their work. Dunst is good, but then she can do sweet-and-vulnerable-but-troubled in her sleep. Rather more interesting is the way that Elijah Wood has opted to play a rather less than wholly sympathetic character in his first post-Baggins outing – he makes an impressive job of it, too.

But I can’t help feeling that, overall, Kaufman is writing himself into a Shyamalan-esque corner – Eternal Sunshine doesn’t have anything like the novelty value of his earlier films. It’s not actually a bad film, but it’s neither as clever or as funny as the best of his work. The fact that there’s already been one film about memory erasure already this year (and I feel certain there have been more, but I can’t remember what they were) isn’t exactly a help.

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind is essentially an arthouse movie that’s somehow lucked into getting an A-list cast and a major release. It’s a well-played, intelligently written and directed piece of work – even if the conclusion feels like the film is straining too hard to surprise the audience. I liked it, but even so, I don’t think it’s nearly as original or witty as it thinks it is. And Kaufman’s reputation as a ‘name’ should stay intact: this is one for his fans more than those of Carrey or Winslet.

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From the Hootoo archive. Originally published July 3rd 2003:

It’s an intriguing question, isn’t it, for all that it’s been done to death by pub philosophers and lazy celebrity interviews in the media – what would you do if, for just a few days, you had all the powers and wisdom of Jim Carrey? Almost certainly something more worthwhile than what Carrey himself manages would be the uncharitable view, but it’s one that’s well and truly supported by Carrey’s latest vehicle, Bruce Almighty, directed by Tom Shadyac.

This is essentially a really loose adaptation of HG Wells’ The Man Who Could Work Miracles, though of course all the great man’s wit and intelligence is slathered beneath a thick coating of Hollywood sentimentality. Carrey plays Bruce Nolan, a local TV reporter who yearns to be a serious journalist but instead gets lumbered with feel good stories and the ‘local eccentric’ spot that older British researchers will remember from Nationwide. (This might be a not-very-subtle comment on the state of Carrey’s own career – the man clearly longs for critical recognition for his serious roles – The Truman Show, Man in the Moon, etc – but seems resigned to the fact that his audience is only really interested in Carrey the goofy, living ‘toon – but this isn’t explored.)

Bruce is certain that God is out to get him, because, hey, he gets to go on TV a lot, he has a fairly nice apartment, he drives a sports car, and his girlfriend (Jennifer Aniston) looks like Jennifer Aniston. Yeah, life can be a bitch sometimes, can’t it. But after a particularly protracted bout of blasphemy provoked by somebody else getting the news reading job Bruce wants, God gets sick of all the whinging and decides to do something about it. Not, as you might expect (or indeed wish), by introducing Carrey to a well-placed thunderbolt, but by appearing in the guise of Morgan Freeman and bestowing omnipotence upon our hero, so that he (or perhaps now He) may learn that being God isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And, yea, Carrey learns that while it’s nice to be important, it’s more important to be nice. And that not everyone can get everything they want. And that every deed has consequences both good and bad. And that – oh, I can’t go on. It’s a load of predictable schmaltzy crap, as you can probably tell.

However it would be remiss of me if I were to give the impression that this is a film utterly without merit, because it isn’t – quite. Morgan Freeman seems quite incapable of giving a bad performance, and he invests God with warmth and wisdom and decency without making Him too irritating. Inevitably, of course, he’s not in the film nearly enough – I would much rather have had the film follow what God gets up to on His holiday while Bruce is in charge, even if this would just be seventy-five minutes of Freeman watching roller-hockey. Jennifer Aniston is sweet and rather touching as Bruce’s long-suffering girlfriend and does get some very funny scenes. Because, yes, there are some funny bits in this film – clever ideas, witty lines, unexpected sight gags.

But for most of the rest of the time the film abandons any attempt at subtlety or wit, Shadyac opting instead to favour big special-effects sight gags and the undulating anomaly that is Jim Carrey’s face. Carrey spends most of the film gurning and thrashing about like a man with a severe neurological condition. We are clearly supposed to find this loveably off-the-wall, but I suspect the urge to have at him with an axe will be the response of most right-minded individuals. He does get some laughs – a pre-omnipotence scene with him imploding during a live TV broadcast is actually very funny, while the scenes of him revelling in his new powers have a manic exuberance that’s rather winning (pity they just reminded me of The Mask, but never mind…).

And to be totally fair to Carrey, overacting aside, most of the problems are in the script. Bruce seems like such a totally self-centred ingrate at the start of the film that he’s almost impossible to like. The completely trivial and selfish way he uses his powers don’t help allay this impression much, either, and his eventual conversion to being a good and caring person just doesn’t ring true (watching Carrey trying to portray a man overcome with remorse, despair, and resignation is, in this particular instance, rather like watching Bruce Forsyth have a crack at King Lear).

In the end this is just a very lazy and uneven film, trying to vault nimbly from broad physical slapstick to touching romantic comedy to a fuzzy, feel good conclusion. It fails completely, and the different styles don’t mesh at all. The final act isn’t much more than a tidal wave of syrup which eventually sweeps away everyone concerned (yes, not even Morgan Freeman can stem the flow). I physically felt quite queasy leaving the theatre, and wouldn’t recommend this film to anyone (unless they were equipped with a blindfold and earplugs, and felt in desperate need of a nap). Bruce Almighty = bag of sh*tey. If I were God, I’d sue.

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