Archive for the ‘Movies I Wasn’t So Nice About’ Category

Lady In The Water (2006)

M. Night Shyamalan, the kinda-sorta auteurist filmmaker who rocketed to above-the-title fame with a couple movies only to struggle critically over the tail end of the past decade, has a new movie coming out this summer.  It’s called AFTER EARTH and it stars Will Smith, one of the last dependable movie stars, and his son Jaden.  The movie is a sci-fi epic about a father and son who return to Earth in the deep future, long after the planet has been abandoned by humanity.  I included AFTER EARTH on my list of 2013’s potentially strangest movies, which is totally a dick move on my part.  I mean, how much have I done with MY life to be sitting here taking cheap shots?  At least this guy is out there making movies, and making them with some of the world’s hugest stars.  In my heart, I’m really not a so-called hater.

Quite the contrary in this case, in fact.  I think there’s a particular angst for movie lovers when we start following a talented filmmaker who then makes a severe right turn down the off-roads of unfulfilled or squandered promise.  It happened to me with Kevin Smith, for example, a witty, bold, and perceptive writer who I always hoped would take an interest in learning what to do with a camera, but it turned out he’d rather pursue other interests besides visual storytelling.  By contrast, Shyamalan never had a problem being cinematic, but he certainly grew overly enamored of certain tics that precluded concise and coherent films.  I would have liked to remain a fan, but at a certain point I had to decide that I didn’t want to follow these guys up their own asses.

So here’s a chronicle of me falling in love with another man’s talent, and then rapidly falling out of it.  I wrote most of this piece back in 2008 but unfortunately my mind hasn’t much changed since then.

NOTE: This will not include anything Shyamalan did before THE SIXTH SENSE, because I haven’t seen any of that stuff. I’m most interested in the Shyamalan of self-created myth & legend, the Shyamalan we have come to know in the past decade, the one who – like a young Bruce Wayne in his study who looked up at a bat and gained an instant career direction – looked up at the RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK poster in his office and asked himself why he wasn’t making those kind of movies. That is the filmography I will be talking about here.

I also won’t be talking about anything after THE HAPPENING, for reasons that may soon enough become apparent.

The Sixth Sense (1999)

THE SIXTH SENSE (1999) – This one came out of nowhere in the summer of 1999 and blew most people’s minds.  It was a ghost story with the emphasis on story.  The dramatic twist near the end actually deepens the experience, and it doesn’t hurt that it makes you want to re-watch the movie with the twist now in mind.  This is an extremely solid movie about faith and the after-life and how those intersect and overlap. Is it maybe even good enough to one day sit on a shelf alongside another one of the director’s inspirations, THE EXORCIST? That may be going a little far. But it does serve as an answer to the most vehement haters, the ones who, burned by his later films, have rechristened him F. Night Shyamalan:

Anybody wondering why they still allow this guy to make movies should re-watch THE SIXTH SENSE. It was a massive financial success achieved with an actually good movie. The people who make the decisions are no doubt optimistic that one day, this guy will do that again. (So am I, for the record.)

But the movie itself does indeed hold up to revisiting. To prospective screenwriters like myself, I also recommend reading it in script form, if you can track that down, because it’s still just as affecting on the page. This movie is so solid that it has a good performance by Donnie Wahlberg.  That’s directing, son.

The truth is that Shyamalan’s filmmaking talent is very real. Every movie he has made since THE SIXTH SENSE has contained varying degrees of that copious cinematic talent. Key word: “varying.” It’s why his filmography is so frustrating. He wouldn’t be so widely discussed if he wasn’t so capable.

UNBREAKABLE (2000)

UNBREAKABLE (2000) – I loved this one when it was first released. Saw it twice theatrically and a couple more times on DVD. So I hope that earns me enough leeway to suggest that it does not really hold up viscerally eight years later. It’s slow as a turtle attempting to moonwalk. Okay, hang on–

Here’s a rule: You can’t make a movie that’s more boring than real life. You just can’t. It’s why — to take a random and unrelated example — BROKEN FLOWERS was so disappointing to me. No matter how much Bill Murray you pour into a movie, you can’t slow a story down so much that you leave out the space for narrative.

Anyway, that’s why Shyamalan’s “deliberate” pacing falls so often flat. It also plays into the cardinal mistake Shyamalan likes to make of turning lighthearted subject matter — in this case superheroes — into a somber and ponderous suite of melancholy. It’s true that comic books themselves have been doing this for years, and now comic book movies are doing it too, so Shyamalan can’t be entirely faulted there.  In a way, he was ahead of the curve.

On an intellectual level, UNBREAKABLE still works. It’s an interesting approach to the standard superhero/supervillain origin story. I just don’t want to rewatch it ever again. Unless…

You know what would solve all its problems? If the once-rumored sequel were to actually happen. Because as it stands now, UNBREAKABLE feels like the longest first act ever.  I would definitely be curious as to what happens in the second UNBREAKABLE movie if it ever happened, especially since the second act is traditionally where the majority of the actual story takes place.  UNBREAKABLE doesn’t add up to much without its MR. GLASS STRIKES BACK.

Signs (2002)

SIGNS (2002) – Forget the fact that it’s kind of impossible to look at Mel Gibson anymore without off-the-screen baggage.  He’s fine in the movie, really.  It’s the movie itself that’s the problem.  This is where the storytelling problems infecting Shyamalan’s arsenal start to rear up violently. Shyamalan’s technical skill is still crazy-impressive – every scene where those aliens appear (or don’t) is freaky and great.

It’s the other stuff that just plain doesn’t add up in a coherent way — first and foremost that ending — and there’s been enough cyber-ink spilled on the subject for me to not bother to add to it. But the movie still made tons of money, and enough people still inexplicably say they like it, which is no doubt precisely how the first out-and-out blunder came to pass.

The Village (2004)

THE VILLAGE (2004) – Or as I call it affectionately: Cinematic blue-balls.

There’s nothing wrong with the original premise – colonial village is surrounded on all sides by a thick forest and maintaining an uneasy truce with the horrible monsters who live there – in fact that’s a great goddamn premise! And the way those red-cloaked spiny creatures are set up is chilling. Even knowing how things turned out, I still get chills thinking of their first couple appearances in the movie, and trust me, I don’t scare easy at movies. The first half of THE VILLAGE does the tough part and brings the fear.

So why completely subvert it for a corny twist ending? I’ll tell you how I figured out the twist after the first five minutes of the movie: “Okay, colonial village, bunch of musty old white people, how are they going to work in a role for the director, a modern-sounding East Indian guy, AHA! – it’s actually set in the present day!” And sure enough, there he was, and so it was. Sorry to ruin the movie, but you’d be a lot happier if you turned it off at the hour-mark anyway.

Lady in the Water (2006)

LADY IN THE WATER (2006) – Even worse, somehow.  Massive folly. Near-unbelievable, but I didn’t see it alone, so I know for a fact it really happened.

Reading Shyamalan print interviews is one of my guilty pleasures. I’m just fascinated by how someone so smart and talented can so often be so misguided. I may risk sounding like an asshole to say so, but I truly find it illuminating. For a while there, Shyamalan was fond of defending his work by questioning why so many people criticize him and not his movies. Seems to me that one way to avoid that is to take a break from casting yourself in your movies. Right? Kind of hard to separate the two when, in this case, you’re playing the pivotal role of the man who will write the book that will change the world, even though it will mean he will die a martyr. And you can’t be so naive as to think that notebook-toting, detail-oriented professional film critics won’t pick up on the fact that the only character to meet a gruesome death, in an entire movie about the act of storytelling itself, is the cranky film critic.

The same way that you can’t complain about the way that people are always trying to figure out the twist endings of your movies when you keep putting twist endings in your movies. Right?

I particularly liked how the title character spent very close to the entire running time curled up in the shower. That was exciting.

And Paul Giamatti had the speech impediment coming and going, and that Latino dude with the fucked-up arm… (Now I’m getting confused again.) The wolf made of grass was pretty cool though. (Was I high?)  Wikipedia tells me there was in fact a grass-wolf. It was called a “scrunt,” which really isn’t a great word to have in what was intended as a children’s movie.

The Happening (2008)

THE HAPPENING (2008) – Okay. Okay.

It’s starting to become apparent that the director may no longer be interested in suspenseful stories about the supernatural, and has in fact now evolved into the maker of really, really weird comedies.

If you go into THE HAPPENING in this spirit, you will not be disappointed. If you are looking for a creepy edge-of-the-seater, you surely will. Without giving anything important away (I want to leave the half-hearted yet still insane ultimate revelation to the bravest among you), here are some reasons why I enjoyed THE HAPPENING:

  • “Filbert.”  Let me explain: The main characters are fleeing Philadelphia on a railroad train, which inexplicably stops. Someone ducks their head away from the window, and the name of the town in which they are now stranded is revealed: Filbert. FILBERT! Duh-duh-duhhhhh! No, God, please, no, not…      Filbert! Filbert! Dooooom! I don’t even care whether or not I’m the only one who laughed at that, because it’s still funny to me. Fucking Filbert, man.
  • I was NOT, however, the only one who laughed when the construction workers started walking off the building. Everyone in my theater laughed at that.  It’s mostly because the plummeting crazies are played by dummies. And if we learned anything from The Three Stooges and Saturday Night Live, it’s that dummies are the greatest of all comedy props.
  • I don’t know who in all of Hollywood I would cast as a science teacher and a math teacher, respectively, but Mark Wahlberg and John Leguizamo are not they. Likable and down-to-earth actors both, but far better casting for, say, the cranky gym coach and the wisecracking AV teacher. They do their best, but the dialogue they are given does them no favors.
  • I swear a couple times Shyamalan cuts away from the action to a reaction shot of Zooey Deschanel and it looks like she’s trying to suppress a crack-up. Shyamalan may not have noticed, but I’m sure I did.
  • Intentional laughs are in the movie for sure, to the point where it’s almost confusing when it happens – stay tuned for the scene where Wahlberg tries to relate on a personal level to a plastic plant. Expertly written and played, and I’m not being sarcastic at all.
  • Far and away Shyamalan’s best and most hilarious cameo in all of his movies to date happens in THE HAPPENING. If you end up going, please stay for the credits to see what role he played. It’s just got to be a joke. But one of those jokes that only the one making it gets; you know that kind.
  • The Lion Scene! Oh man, the lion scene. The lion scene is a horror-comedy classic of which an EVIL DEAD 2-era Sam Raimi would be chainsaw-wieldingly envious. Soon to be a YouTube staple, guaranteed.

So if you’re looking for scary, this is not your territory. Watch the news instead. But if you’re a certain kind of moviegoer in a certain kind of mood, grab a couple like-minded buddies and Mystery-Science-Theater away.

Now, I skipped Shyamalan’s 2010 movie, THE LAST AIRBENDER, because I didn’t think my brain could handle all the fart jokes I was destined to make about that title.  By every last account (except probably Shyamalan’s), I made the correct decision.  But I’m curious about AFTER EARTH.  Did the nasty thrashing he got over his last couple flicks make Shyamalan reconsider some of his more over-used quirks?  Does the presence of Will Smith, one of the most infallible choosers of successful projects of the last decade-and-a-half, suggest that Shammy has reclaimed his earlier mojo?  The AFTER EARTH trailer does not look overtly comical.  It’s somewhat well paced, and more importantly, it has hordes of monkeys in it.  That’s not any guarantee I’ll be able to stay away.

@jonnyabomb

MANKEY

X-Men Origins: Wolverine (2009)

Sometimes movies like X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE make me sad, because they give me time to reflect on how all the money going into these huge-budget movies could have been spent on important and worthwhile things like medical research, or wildlife conservation, or food for the needy, or reimbursing me for the allotment of my meager salary I used to purchase a ticket.

Let me back up:

X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE (which I am now going to refer to only as WOLVERINE, in order to keep my word count down), is the supposed origin story of the previously-mysterious, eternally-popular mutton-chopped mutant from the Marvel comic books and the three previous X-MEN feature films.  It’s meant as a prequel to that trio of movies, explaining how Wolverine got to the point in which we initially meet him at the beginning of 2000’s X-MEN.  As usual, Wolverine is played by Hugh Jackman, in a performance that has very little to do with the source material, but with an Eastwood-esque charisma that, for a while at least, had effectively anchored this increasingly unwieldy film series.

I had some hopes going into this movie because its initial screenplay credit goes to David Benioff, the novelist who wrote the books The 25th Hour andCity of Thieves, and the short story collection When The Nines Roll Over (all highly recommended).  On the other side of seeing this thing, I can’t believe that a single word of Benioff’s draft was used.  Or maybe he did write it after all, but only after being hit in the brain with one of those ‘amnesia bullets’ that wipes Wolverine’s mind clean in the penultimate scene.  (Sorry, I ruined the ending.)  Wolverine is lucky to have the amnesia though.  If this was my origin, I wouldn’t want to remember it either.

Look, I’m not by nature a negative guy; I know from first-hand experience how much effort goes into making any movie, no matter how it turns out, and I have no interest in denigrating the hard work of anyone involved.  However, in the interest of honesty, and in the hopes that something can be learned from the experience, here are some quick [amnesia] bullet points to explain why X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is – an understatement here – no classic:

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn't work.

Will Ferrell proved that this doesn’t work.

*  Shockingly clichéd dialogue.  If the humor was intentional, they would have called it AIRPLANE.

“You look like a man fixin’ to do a bad thing.”

“Colonel, this is turning into a disaster.”

“All of their strengths, none of their weaknesses.”

(Actually, I know exactly where they took that last line from – an earlier Marvel movie called BLADE!)

Blade

*  Incoherent action geography and by-the-numbers plotting.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

But toothy yelling? We got that on lock.

*  A charismatic performance from Ryan Reynolds, who dominates every early scene and, naturally, is punished for it by being removed from the movie for an hour, only to return at the end with his mouth sewn shut.

Ryan Reynolds

*  Dominick Monaghan and Kevin Durand, both so good on Lost, also unnecessarily wasted.

"I've got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!"

“I’ve got a bright idea: Get me the fuck out of this movie ASAP!”

*  An atrocious debut performance from Will.I.Am, who also has an atrocious number-one hit right now.  He’s a double-threat!

"Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!"

“Look on my silly cowboy hat, ye mighty, and despair!”

*  A complete lack of continuity with the X-MEN movies goes without saying, but I was still hoping that they’d at least TRY to explain how the great actor Liev Schreiber would one day become a pro-wrestler.

Sabretooths

*  Unintentional laughter abounds in this movie.  I listed the times when I laughed out loud:

1.  Opening credits freeze-frame on Liev Schrieber as Sabretooth, bounding like a bunny rabbit though a SAVING PRIVATE RYAN homage/ D-Day flashback.  Really, any time he jumps around the movie is almost worth the cost.  Hysterical.  Not meant to be.  But hysterical.

Sabertooth

2.  Naked CGI Wolverine jumping into a waterfall.  (Hard to explain and we don’t have the time. None of us here are immortal.)

Nuditay

3.  Aunt May and Uncle Ben, from the SPIDER-MAN movies, cameo as the kindly old couple who take Wolverine into their home.

(Not actually them.)

(But maybe.)

(If not, it’s Ma & Pa Kent for sure.)

Old Folks

4.  Adamantium bullets, Wolverine’s only weakness.  He’s a werewolf now.

Wolferineman

5.  The Blob gets his name from mis-hearing Wolverine when he addresses him as “Bub.”

(So how come Wolverine calls Gambit “Blob”?)

Blob

6.  Ryan Reynolds’ sad eyes when he reappears as Deadpool with his mouth sewn shut.

Sad Eyes

7.  Patrick Stewart cameos as a weird old guy who invites a group of kids into his helicopter.  Creepy!  (Imagine if I hadn’t seen the other movies yet and I didn’t know why this was happening, seeing as how the movie doesn’t really explain it.)

Patrick Stewart

Again, apologies for the spoilers, but not really.  If you’re an emotionally mature adult and you haven’t yet seen this movie, I’m actually helping you.  I’m saving you time and money.  This is a bad movie, not that it brings me any joy to say so.

I recognize that this movie wasn’t made for me.  Clearly.  It was made to swallow up the allowances of thirteen-year-old boys and to sell overseas to foreign audiences that will hopefully get better dialogue on their subtitles.  A movie like WOLVERINE only has to be just good enough to meet those standards, and not any better than that – that’s just how business works.  It also should be acknowledged that the movie isn’t made for girls either (let alone women) – the only female character in the entire movie exists solely to get killed (twice!) so that the title character has his excuse to wreak bloody vengeance all over the place (but not too bloody, since it has to come in under a PG-13 rating so all the kids can get in.)  The movie’s not sophisticated.

Still, it could’ve been.  I’m a comic book guy.  At least, I was, for my formative years.  I appreciate the artistry and energy of superhero comics, and for some time I was wrapped up in the compulsive appeal of them also.  I read all the X-Men comics throughout the 1990s, although that wasn’t necessarily a golden era for comic books.  That decade was dominated by flashy yet hollow characters such as Gambit and Deadpool, who coincidentally have been crammed into this WOLVERINE movie.  Comic book fans know what I mean when I say that X-MEN ORIGINS: WOLVERINE is like a shoddily-drawn issue of a spinoff X-Men comic – it has some of the characters you like in it, and it’s got explosions, so you’re gonna get your fix.  But you will not remember it as fondly as you do the better issues.

It would be a copout, though, to suggest that this is the best we can expect.  Look at SPIDER-MAN 2.  Look at THE DARK KNIGHT.  Look at the LORD OF THE RINGS movies.  There is a precedent for huge-budget movies of this sort that still manage to engage a large audience emotionally and tell a coherent story cinematically.  It takes a monumental amount of hard work and good luck, but it can be done.

In fact, one just opened.

Star Trek (2009)

Given the choice, absolutely go see the new STAR TREK movie.  You don’t need to be a fan of the series from before.  I’m not, never was.  Although I guess I am now!  JJ Abrams’ STAR TREK is that good.  I have a minor conflict of interest here, in that I know, have met, and very much like some people behind the scenes, but that will only hinder me so far as to stop me from writing a full-length rave review.  I admit that I want to see this movie storm the box office so that nice people get paid and the rest of us frequent a quality movie, but if I didn’t truly think it was good enough to recommend, I wouldn’t.  It’s a really fun time at the movies, and a much better way to forget your troubles than an amnesia bullet.

@jonnyabomb

AGE OF THE DRAGONS (2011)

I can’t speak for every dude who writes about movies on the internet, but as for me, it’s not like I don’t have any options at all as to how to spend my free time. Sure, I fit the stereotype of single and brainy, but I also bring plenty to the dating pool. I’m generally considered to be sweet, thoughtful, loyal, and giving. Most people find me funny. I’m certainly presentable, even considered outright attractive from some angles. I’m currently regularly-employed and employable. I’m terrific with kids and I’ll make a great father one day. Animals also love me (though not always cats). The ladies reading this may be asking, What’s the downside?

Well ladies, the answer may be that I’m addicted to movies. Addicted. Big-time. I don’t know why, but I can’t go more than a day without one. And there’s only so many times you can watch GOODFELLAS or PULP FICTION or BOOGIE NIGHTS or whatever finite number of acceptable classics that normal guys my age watch, before you start sniffing around the outskirts of what’s out there in the great beyond, movie-wise. Sometimes that search can result in a great discovery, and most other times it doesn’t.

When I saw a preview somewhere for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, I knew I was in trouble. Somebody made a version of MOBY DICK starring PREDATOR 2‘s Danny Glover as Melville’s Captain Ahab, in the relentless and dangerous pursuit, not of a great white whale, no, but instead, of a great white dragon.

Aw hell.

I’m gonna have to watch that.

RIGGS!

MOBY DICK is often cited as The Great American Novel. Every author is out there trying to write one, but Herman Melville did it almost two hundred years ago. The book is its own Great White Whale. It has influenced countless writers and their works, been adapted to film multiple times, and has many obvious and less obvious descendents in movies such as JAWS and ALIENS. MOBY DICK is so many things — a historical document detailing the whaling industry of its era, a lierary allegory, a character study of obsession and madness, a rousing adventure tale… It’s really good! You should read it.

For a book of more than six hundred pages, the main plot of MOBY DICK is perfectly simple: A young sailor named Ishmael and his friend Queequeg, an intimidating foreigner, get a job on a whaling ship called the Pequod. They meet the first, second, and third mates on the ship — Starbuck, Stubb, and Flask, respectively — but it’s a while before they meet the ship’s captain. When he arrives, he basically takes over the book. Ahab is a vengeful Quaker (which is an oxymoron, for the record) out to destroy the white whale who, in an earlier encounter, scarred him and took his leg. The only question is how many of the crew members will survive his deranged quest.

I love this story — it kind of has an elemental appeal to me at my center. It’s based on a true story! I love stories about sea monsters. As a kid my family took summer vacations to some of the areas described in the book. I grew up obsessed with the whale at the Museum Of Natural History in New York. And technically I’m half Quaker, so I even get that part of it. All of this is a run-up to say that I have more than a passing familiarity with the source material for AGE OF THE DRAGONS, which is why I found it to be even more of a bizarre anomaly than I figured it was going to be.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is so remarkably bizarre precisely because of its fidelity to MOBY DICK. There is no question that the people who made AGE OF THE DRAGONS have read MOBY DICK, which is both what makes it strangely admirable and what makes it so weird. Let’s look at some of the similarities and the differences.

Well, besides, the obvious.

MOBY DICK.

MOBY DICK is about a large angry whale.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS.

AGE OF THE DRAGONS is about a fire-breathing dragon.

In AGE OF THE DRAGONS, the action is shifted from sea to land. The dragons can fly, but the men who hunt for them travel on land. (Sky-boats would have been a little too crazy. Duh.) Still, their choice of vehicle is in fact a boat.

Boat.

The boat does have wheels, so I guess that makes sense, and the terrain they cover is generally coated with blankets of snow, so technically the boat is travelling over expanses of water, but again, let’s not mince words here: This is fucking weird. I mean, if you want to get all film school on it, you could possibly attribute the snow boat to being an extended reference both obliquely and literally to Werner Herzog’s FITZCARRALDO, another story of mad obsession, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a fucking snow boat in a dragon-hunting movie.

Not only that, but the winter is apparently one of the utmost extremes, so you know what that means….

Ahab Snow Ninja

!!!SNOW NINJAS!!!

Snow Ninjas.

At every moment where I got anywhere near taking this movie seriously, somebody would show up dressed like a snow ninja and I’d have to chuckle. Which is totally fine. There isn’t anything at all wrong, from where I’m sitting, with a movie about dragon-fighting snow ninjas. But if you’re going to make a movie like that, you ought to have a sense of humor, and AGE OF THE DRAGONS is played for straights. It’s pretty dour and grim, missing the fact that Herman Melville had a satirical eye, having penned lines for MOBY DICK like “Better to sleep with a sober cannibal than a drunk Christian.”

But I guess the makers of AGE OF THE DRAGONS figured, if they were going to take the sense of humor out of MOBY DICK, they’d better put something else in, and what they settled on was — you guessed it — a pretty girl. Her name is Rachel, which, despite there being no character like her in MOBY DICK, actually does mean something in reference to the novel. (I think the Rachel is the name of one of the boats.) Here the character is Ahab’s daughter, who he took in after her family was killed by dragons. Ishmael takes a shine to her, I guess because she’s a better bunkmate than Queequeg, which Ahab doesn’t like but what did he think was gonna happen, really. The actress doesn’t resemble Danny Glover much, which I guess is a virtue because let’s face it, she’s only really in the movie for stuff like this:

Girl.

Outside of Danny Glover, there’s no one in this movie you’ve heard of before, except for Vinnie Jones. My British friends know Vinnie Jones from his soccer — sorry: football — career, and my American friends know him from SMOKIN’ ACES 2, X-MEN 3, and GARFIELD: A TALE OF TWO KITTIES. He plays Stubb in this movie, but not for long. A dragon breathes on him and he turns into a pile of dust. Sorry if that’s a spoiler. I don’t think anything like that happened in the Melville text, but I guess they only had Vinnie Jones budgeted for a couple days on this shoot. It doesn’t feel like an organic storytelling decision, is what I’m implying.

Vinnie.

Anyway the main reason I wanted to see this movie was to see Danny Glover acting weird and talking a lot about dragons, and in this respect I did not walk away disappointed. Basically Danny Glover hates dragons because when he was a young Danny Glover, he and his sister were walking through the woods and a dragon showed up. The dragon turned his sister into a pile of ashes like it did to Vinnie Jones, and it also burned Danny Glover up pretty bad, to the point where he can’t go out in direct sunlight. On one hand that’s a bummer, but on the other hand….

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

Danny Glover in Snow Ninja outfit.

As I was watching this movie, which has a lot of dull parts — really too many, for a movie that has dragons and Danny Glover dressed like a G.I. Joe character — I gave a lot of thought to Danny Glover, who is an actor I have a ton of affection for, but who has been really under-served by the movies, I think. He’s definitely a guy who has “important actor” status, but who hasn’t been in as many great things as he should or maybe could be.

Danny Glover High Points:

ESCAPE FROM ALCATRAZ (Clint)

WITNESS (a rare villainous turn)

THE COLOR PURPLE (probably, I haven’t seen it)

LETHAL WEAPON (obviously)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN (Bill Duke version)

LONESOME DOVE

TO SLEEP WITH ANGER

THE ROYAL TENNENBAUMS (funniest part of the movie)

DREAMGIRLS

Personally, I liked SILVERADO, PREDATOR 2, PURE LUCK, and BE KIND REWIND also, but I don’t know if those roles necessarily go on the highlight reel. (PURE LUCK is pretty bad, actually, but it’s a Martin Short movie, so.)

I guess the point I’m making is, for such a prestigious actor, there sure are a ton of movies like OPERATION DUMBO DROP, GONE FISHIN’, LETHAL WEAPON 4, and SAW, on that resume, which also includes an unfair amount of shitty TV shows. Of course Danny Glover has been in some great stuff, but not enough. He needs some Fincher or Mann or Spike or Spielberg in his future. I mean, of course I enjoyed seeing him like this —

Riggs!

— but there aren’t too many of me. I’m a guy who will spend this much time thinking about a version of MOBY DICK that has dragons: Through me does not necessarily pass the road towards Oscars and widespread critical acclaim. And even with that said, I’d probably rather see a sincere version of MOBY DICK than a silly one which I can only watch in the middle of the night when there’s no female presence around to stop me. There’s no reason why Danny Glover couldn’t be given a movie where he can play Captain Ahab for real. He shouldn’t be stuck playing some weird groaning Gollum-esque character lurching around in a cave in Utah at computer-animated dragons.

Seriously, you should see the part when he fights the great white dragon at the end and gets his leg caught in the harpoon — if only for a textbook definition of anti-climax. I mean, I haven’t said much about the effects of the movie: The production value is actually rather good — I liked the sets and the costumes and even a couple of the scenes of the dragons. The actors all take it as seriously as they’re asked to, and the music by J Bateman (either Jason or Justine, I’m not sure which) is better than average for a movie of this type.

But the movie’s pace is slack and all the good dragon bits all happen early on — it’s like the production blew their dragon wad early, and like a bad lover with no follow-through, skimped on the effects in the final scenes. Even Danny Glover turns into computer animation, a cluster of pixels being dragged away on the tail of a fake monster. If it wasn’t enough that he was asked to overact through the entire movie, he doesn’t even get to leave it with any dignity.

So AGE OF THE DRAGONS, sadly, probably not a thing I can recommend. But at least I learned a thing or two about myself.

I learned that all you have to do is say the word “dragons” and I will watch your movie. It’s a foolproof method of advertising. Everyone and their grandma use more common sales pitches such as “boobs” “monkeys” and “explosions” to lure me in, but not everyone promises “dragons” and that brings my eyes over, every time.

The other thing I learned is that if I had any brains at all, I would have just watched JAWS for the 57th time. So maybe strike “brainy” from that list of datable qualities I listed up top in reference to myself.

@jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find.  But I could be wrong.  (See?)  It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating:  Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is.  I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience.  I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly.  Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself.  I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face.  On top of all of that, I grew up with movies.  I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more.  It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind.  I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice.  It’s certainly harder to be funny that way.  And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

_______________________________________________________

If the new sci-fi horror flick Legion is to be believed, God is a woman.  We get a brief glimpse into Heaven late in the film, and it looks like a Calvin Klein perfume ad, complete with blue-eyed, white-winged angel men who speak in soft British accents.  Not only is that the kind of scene She seems to be into, but God is also as prone to decisions based on rash emotional reactions as any mortal woman can be, only to [spoiler alert!] ultimately change her mind and be willing to make up after the outburst.
See, Legion is about God losing faith in humanity, and sending an army of angels to wipe us off the face of the planet.  You wouldn’t think God could be so flighty as to make such a momentous decision and then take it back, but this isn’t a movie for the literal-minded.  The guy sitting behind me leaned over to his companion and whispered, “God wouldn’t do that,” and I guess he’d know, so if you’re super-religious you may want to skip this movie.  It’s not based in reality.

What it is largely based on, instead, is other movies.  In particular, Legion writer/director Scott Stewart should look out for James Cameron, because they’re both out on the promotional trail right now and Legion borrows very heavily from the Terminator movies (among many, many others).  Dude, if Cameron finds you, you better hope he’s flattered.  When renegade angel Michael touches down in an alleyway, it’s not wrong to expect that he’s a T-800 or T-1000.  He’s not though, as we learn when he hacks off his wings.  (Think those might have come in handy later on, bud?)  Michael is not played by John Travolta, as fans of garbage ‘90s comedies might fairly expect – instead, he’s played by Paul Bettany, who’s always reminded me of Neil Patrick Harris if he loved girls more than showtunes, or the guy from Coldplay if if he loved girls more than showtunes (ha ha!).  Bettany is by far the best thing about the movie; he’s a convincingly unsentimental and competent action lead.

Legion also sports a fairly impressive supporting cast, all of them saddled with thankless roles that are thoroughly standard for the many genres that Legion encapsulates – horror, action, disaster movie, etc.  There’s the spiritually adrift young waitress whose pregnancy may be the key to the whole future of humankind (played by Adrianne Palicki with an accent that disappears during her first scene and only occasionally returns.)  There’s the meek young mechanic (Lucas Black) who loves her without getting any return on that investment, who unsurprisingly will be called on to prove himself before story’s end.  That character’s name is Jeep, which sounds like something Sarah Palin would come up with.  But no, Jeep’s dad is none other than Dennis Quaid, who’s way too good to have to be playing this many stereotypes at the same time – he’s a grouchy diner owner who’s developed a problem with booze after a ruined relationship and a troubled business.  He’s lost his faith: can he regain it in time?  Can I write movie tag lines?

There’s also the God-fearing dishwasher who recognizes the spiritual implications of what’s happened right away – and says he knew it was coming!  If that wasn’t standard enough, this guy even has a hook where his left arm should be.  Did you guess that he’s a black guy?  Of course he is!  Welcome to the Cliché Diner, hope you survive the visit!  This character is played by Charles S. Dutton, another strong actor who I would have thought was beyond roles like this, but I guess since he’s done it a hundred times now, there’s no one better qualified to play them.  Also, because a movie with this much going on can’t have just one black guy to kill off before all the other white characters (spoiler!), Tyrese Gibson is in the movie too.  He plays a mysterious young brother who is involved in a custody battle and who keeps a gun on him at all times.  In a stroke of inspiration, this character is from Vegas, not South Central.  See, don’t think you can predict this movie.

Finally, there’s an uptight family of white people who are stranded at Quaid’s diner in the middle of nowhere because something went wrong with their Mercedes.  These people are played by Jon Tenney (a well-known stage actor who I didn’t even realize was in this movie until I checked IMDB just now to write this article), Kate Walsh (that great-looking red-headed broad from Grey’s Anatomy who I would have thought was too big a TV star to have such a waste of a role in a genre movie), and some girl named Willa Holland as their teenage daughter.  Don’t worry about that character; the screenwriters didn’t.  (It’s been a while since I’ve seen a movie character written out of a movie off-screen.)

On the side of the bad guys, there’s Kevin Durand, a great character actor (from Lost, among other things), who is thoroughly wasted as the “evil” angel leading the extermination effort.  Durand deserves better roles, although at least here all he has to deal with are giant wings and a fruity accent – at least they didn’t stick him in an unconvincing fat suit like that abominable Wolverine movie did.  There’s also Doug Jones (Abe Sapien!) as an evil ice cream man, whose evil power is to make his jaw get really, really low, like Jim Carrey in The Mask.  Look out!  It’s Giantjaw!  Don’t let him…. breathe on you, I guess.  (There’s not much to be afraid of here, there’s not a single supernatural heaven-sent villain in this flick who can’t be easily mowed down with tons of bullets.)  There’s also that potty-mouthed old lady from the trailers.  She’s probably the most fun part of the movie, and definitely the first and last point where you feel like the main characters are in danger from anything other than their own clumsiness and stupidity.

Legion plays pretty much how you’d expect, right down to the letter.  The best part is the way that the bad guys attack the diner where the good guys are holed up, and then after being shot at for a while, retreat so that the good guys have enough time to talk amongst themselves.  I’m glad I don’t play drinking games, because if I had to drink every time one character solemnly recounts their backstory to another in over-dramatic exposition… well then I’d be Dennis Quaid’s character.  (Maybe that’s what Quaid was doing on set to keep it fun!)  My single favorite getting-to-know-you moment belongs to Tyrese and it begins like so:  “When I was a shorty…”

I’m hitting Legion pretty hard with the sarcasm hammer, but I actually had a great time watching it.  With a packed theater, it was not at all a waste of time.  The crowd I was with hollered at all the expected moments and at a lot more of the unexpected ones.  It’s always fun when an audience takes a movie in the spirit it deserves, and just goes with it.  (Except for the aforementioned guy who thought the Lord was acting out of character.)  Nobody expected this to be a serious drama with important ideas, nobody expected artistry or poetry, and nobody expected it to even be as good as the movies it awkwardly imitates (Terminator, Terminator 2, Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight).  When faced with such mediocrity, you can either whoop it up or get pissed off, and that second option is better left to JC.  That’s James Cameron, not… you know.

Or maybe I’m just in a good mood because Taimak was in the theater with us at my screening.  You know, Taimak = the man who played Leroy Green, a.k.a. Bruce Leroy, in Berry Gordy’s The Last Dragon.  If you’ve been paying occasional attention to anything I’ve said ever, you may have picked up on my overwhelming love for The Last Dragon.  It’s no lost classic but it’s an energetic, entirely unpretentious movie with a good heart and a better soundtrack.  When Legion got too formulaic and predictable to bear, I had a great time trying to imagine what thoughts were running through Taimak’s head as he watched the same movie.  Was he, too, comparing it to the anything-goes bizarre excellence of The Last Dragon?  Was he, too, imagining how he would play the Bettany role, or even imagining how the movie would be improved by the literal return of Bruce Leroy?  (It sure couldn’t have hurt!)  Was he, too, wondering how Bruce Leroy would fare in battle against the armies of Heaven?

A far, far better movie Legion could have been were it to have answered any of those questions.  For me, anyway.

Get right with me on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

This happened on October 15th, 2009.  There’s still no joy in it for me.

Trick ‘R Treat is a movie that has developed a large internet and word-of-mouth following among a certain kind of film fan, the kind that loves to find a little-known movie worthy of attention in order to champion its merits to the world.  Trick ‘R Treat was originally slated for a 2007 release and was never released widely; it finally made it to DVD last week.  Having heard scattered but rapturous praise in advance, and always on the lookout for an original horror film that could use a defender, I made watching it a priority.

The verdict:  Disappointing.

It’s not good.  It’s not.  In fact, a half an hour into the movie I realized that it was actually bad, and it wasn’t going to stop being that way.  And sure enough, it didn’t.  It’s twice as disappointing because I know that there are plenty of smart people that love this movie, and good for them, but they’re not right on this one.  There’s some nice cinematography in Trick ‘R Treat, and some occasionally inspired imagery, but a new and original Halloween classic?  No.  Really, it isn’t.  Not hardly.

Trick ‘R Treat is an anthology horror movie, meant in the spirit of Creepshow (George A. Romero & Stephen King) or Twilight Zone: The Movie (John Landis & Joe Dante & Steven Spielberg & George Miller), and the five individual stories are meant to overlap seamlessly in the spirit of Pulp Fiction.  (Stepping into big shoes can make it real easy to trip up…)  The five stories – or four with an introductory sequence – all take place on the same Halloween night, and all are haunted by a scarecrow-mask-wearing trick-or-treater in orange pajamas, kind of a silent Crypt-Keeper figure.   That character is by far the most memorable thing about the movie, and he features into the final and most straightforward story, the only one that is ultimately worth watching in the least.

Here’s the lead-off problem:  Trick ‘R Treat is operating on the premise that Halloween has a series of traditions, and that bad things can happen if you violate those traditions.  The movie mistakenly assumes that every viewer is acquainted with the traditions featured in each story.  It certainly does not lay out the traditions clearly at the outset, and even after watching all of the stories, I wasn’t clear what principle they were referring to.

Let’s look at each segment in these general terms:

The prologue features a young couple returning from a Halloween parade.  The young woman (Talladega Nights’ Leslie Bibb) snuffs out all the jack-o’-lantern candles in the yard, against her boyfriend’s warning.  In an extended “homage” to the opening sequence of John Carpenter’s Halloween, she is stalked and killed.  The tradition broken here:  Don’t take down the Halloween decorations until the night is over?  Okay, this one I get, although it hardly seems like the punishment fits the crime.  (After all, how else can she make room for the Christmas lights?)

The first full story features a school principal (Spider-Man’s Dylan Baker), a single parent with a young son, who confronts a sloppy brute of a child (Bad Santa’s Brett Kelly) who has been smashing pumpkins and stealing candy.  The principal calmly poisons the kid, then spends the rest of the episode trying to nervously hide the body from the neighbors and his son.  The tradition broken here is:  Always check your candy.  That one I get, because it’s the only time in the movie that a tradition is clearly stated.  The crippling problem with this story is character-based:  Why does this guy kill a kid on his front steps, totally out in the open, and then all of the sudden get shy about it?

In the second story, a group of adolescents plays a scary prank on an autistic girl, but in doing so, they invoke an old supernatural menace.  Tradition broken:  Don’t play pranks lest they happen for real? I’m not sure.  This was a pretty convoluted segment, with plenty of character and plot inconsistencies.  My more empathetic tendencies also lead me to take issue with the concept of the mentally-challenged undead.  If you are the type of person who is excited by the prospect of retarded zombies, go ahead with it I guess.

In the next story, a virginal college student (True Blood’s Anna Paquin) is stalked by a cloaked, fanged man, but she and her mega-hot friends turn the tables on him.  Tradition broken:  Don’t take anyone’s Halloween costume too literally?  I really can’t say.  This segment is an utter mess, and it pains me to say it because it culminates in the appearance of my favorite movie monster.  But the story makes no sense, it is confusingly intercut with the previous stories, it features the abrupt and not-well-explained reintroduction of a character from an earlier story, and it features the worst acting of the entire film.  You can distract me with amazing cleavage, but only temporarily.

In the last story, a wheezing old bastard (awesomeness’s Brian Cox) is besieged by that scarecrow kid who’s been appearing throughout the movie.  Tradition broken: Be kind to trick-or-treaters lest they be unkind to you. I guess.  This isn’t fully clear, but it almost doesn’t matter this time around.  I called this one the best segment earlier because it has the most interesting filmmaking – it has the movie’s best actor playing against a legitimately decent monster design, and it’s just an extended chase sequence that doesn’t waste time on poor dialogue or cute twists.  The pumpkinbaby’s motivations are still mighty unclear, but at least I wrung some entertainment out of the movie’s final moments.

The one thing that fans of Trick ‘R Treat and I can agree on is the mystery behind its delayed and unceremonious release.  Not that I believe that this movie is good enough for anyone but the most optimistic and desperate horror fans, because it’s not; but because I literally see a worse movie than this dumped into theaters every single week.  Trick ‘R Treat doesn’t hang together right, but it’s less ugly and sadistic than the Saw movies, more energetic than (for example) Surrogates, and more ambitious than just about any Sandra Bullock movie.  Trick ‘R Treat fails, but at least it tried.  It’s sad that I consider that praise, but I’d rather give a chance to a movie that wants to be original than a movie that is cynical and lazy.

But yeah, probably skip this one anyway.

Am I wrong?  All I know for sure is that I’m on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

_______________________________________

This is from April 12th, 2010:

The reason to see Date Night is exactly the reason you expect it will be.  Actually, it’s two reasons – Tina Fey and Steve Carell – two very, very good reasons.  These are quite possibly the two most lovable comedy stars in America at the moment, blending a broad audience appeal with the sharpest of comic sensibilities.  Seriously, if you can come up with a single reason to dislike either Fey or Carell, it’s time for you to get hit with the defibrillator.  They were both bred in the fabled Second City comedy troupe in Chicago, hit big with Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show (respectively), then moved onto movies and 30 Rock and The Office (respectively) — these are people with the highest caliber of expertise at their craft, but both possessed of the kind of innate likability that just can’t be taught.

It’s interesting to watch these two in Date Night, because while Fey has found great success in playing smart, and Carell has found great success in playing dumb, here they are both playing people who are resolutely normal – neither astoundingly smart but not hardly dumb, just plain average.  They play Claire and Phil Foster, a nice couple of suburban parents from New Jersey, who on an increasingly rare date night in New York City get wrapped up in a scandalous whirlwind of corrupt politicians, corrupt cops, hustlers, gangsters, and strippers.  The cast is stacked with small roles from old pros and recognizable faces: William Fichtner as a district attorney, Ray Liotta as a crime boss, Common as a glowering bad guy, Taraji Henson as a tough cop, Kristin Wiig and Mark Ruffalo as a neighbor couple headed for a split, James Franco and Mila Kunis as a couple of blackmailers, and Mark Wahlberg as a constantly shirtless James Bond type, an old acquaintance of Fey’s character.  It really is a parade of extended cameos, but everyone is well-cast and everyone comes off well.

The less you know about the movie going in, the better.  There’s not much here you haven’t seen before in many different ways, but the jokes and the set-pieces are occasionally innovative – or at least original and ingratiating enough to be entertaining.  I’ve seen some reviews coming in on Date Night that slam the script, which is credited to Josh Klausner – that’s not really fair.  This movie worked great on an audience – obviously when you have tremendous talents at hand like Tina Fey and Steve Carell, both terrific writers as well as practiced and meticulous comedians, you’re working at an advantage.  But one of the movie’s signature scenes, where a fender-bender with a cab turns into a high-speed chase through the streets of New York with the two cars still attached, really blew up the audience and that’s a credit to the writing.  Also to the script’s credit, it moves fairly quickly from the opening domestic scenes right into the main thrust of the story.  (Not enough mainstream movies seem willing to do that.)

It’s more the direction of the film that leaves something to be desired.  Shawn Levy is a director who takes a lot of criticism from the kind of movie fanatics who keep track of the names in the credits.  He’s a guy who makes middle-of-the-road entertainments with huge stars, most recently the two Night At The Museum movies.  I don’t have the same problem with the guy that many people of similar taste to me do – I think Shawn Levy makes effective enough movies that do the job they set out to do by obviously hitting a lot of demographics at once.  He’s not an artist or a risk-taker but he’s not offensively, oppressively bad (compare this movie to Cop Out, for example) and Date Night is definitely his best movie so far… however much that says (or doesn’t) as a compliment.

I think where I agree with Shawn Levy’s critics is that his movies make me long for the days when true cinematic anarchists were holding the reins on huge-budget, huge-star comedies.  Twenty or thirty years ago, guys like John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers) and Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters) were working these kinds of movies.  Nowadays, the really ballsy helmers are either working mostly in TV or animation, such as Trey Parker (Team America), or they’re being unfairly ignored by the majority of moviegoers, such as Jody Hill (Observe & Report).  This may say more about the changing culture of big-budget moviemaking and marketing than it does about Shawn Levy’s personal taste or interests, but as one of the most successful yet somewhat anonymous filmmakers working today, he is somewhat representative of the change, fairly or not.

When you see Date Night (and I’m clearly not recommending strongly for or against it), just keep an eye out for the subplot with the DA and you’ll understand what I mean.  Without giving much away, I’ll say that William Fichtner’s character is clearly inspired in part by former governor Elliot Spitzer’s shenanigans.  Instead of going for the satire with teeth bared, the movie uses the character as a plot device and generally side-steps any assertive or resonant comedy that could have been.  (You could argue that Date Night is a fairly soft PG-13 and so it shouldn’t be going for such adult material, but then again there are guns fired throughout the movie and one particularly lengthy scene takes place in a strip club, so there goes that argument.)  Also, the pacing is noticeably more slack and muted than the great comedies tend to be – the feel of Date Night is very much watered-down and sanded edges.  That begins and ends with the director.

But again, it’s Steve Carell and Tina Fey who are front and center, and they are predictably polished, energetic, and hilarious.  They’re also a really great match onscreen, each one sympathetic and compelling and well-complemented by the other.  They make you care about these somewhat underwritten characters, they make you believe the rare tender moments, and they make you want to see them stay together as a couple.  I certainly wouldn’t care to see a sequel to this movie, but the pairing of these two stars almost demands a rematch, preferably in material that is somewhat more biting.

Ask me out on Twitter:  @jonnyabomb

In the realm of faceless people writing about movies from the safety of the internet, I like to think I’m one of the more reasonable you’ll find. But I could be wrong. (See?) It’s a point that’s come up before, but it bears repeating: Unlike most people who write about movies online, I’ve spent A LOT of time working in all corners of the film and television industries in virtually every position there is. I know well how hard people work, around the clock, to bring every show to an audience. I try not to take that hard-earned knowledge lightly. Besides, I have friends who still work in film and TV, and I’m not even all the way out myself. I try mighty hard not to put anything on a computer screen that I don’t feel ready to say to someone’s face. On top of all of that, I grew up with movies. I love this stuff as much now as I did when I was young — if not more. It doesn’t make me happy to be unkind. I’m in this to share my enthusiasm, plain and simple.

All of that said, and try as I might, it’s way harder to find new ways to be nice. It’s certainly harder to be funny that way. And sometimes, a movie is put in front of me about which I just can’t find much nice to say and still remain honest.

These are the movies that forced me to be unkind.

_______________________________________

This is from August 5th, 2010:

It’s true.  I’ve seen Cats & Dogs: The Revenge Of Kitty Galore.  It really happened.  I was on a pretty good streak of seeing really solid movies there for a while, and such streaks are inevitably made to be broken.  The real reason why this occurred is that I am uncle to an adorable niece and I am bound by my will to honor her every request, within reason.  Hopefully the rest of you love the children in your lives significantly less.  Just this once, love is not the answer.

This Cats & Dogs movie is nominally a sequel to the previous movie called Cats & Dogs, but I’m not sure that there’s any kind of story to follow.  The first movie came out in 2001, which makes the gap between movies comparable to the time James Cameron took between Titanic and Avatar.  But whereas Cameron spent all that time working on new technologies and designing a movie that would appeal to the widest audience possible, Cats & Dogs does the opposite.  If anything, it seems like the makers of Cats & Dogs spent nine years accumulating all the crappy dog and cat puns in the world.  Seriously, I haven’t seen a movie with this many crappy puns since Batman & Robin, and we all know how that one went.

I’m not even going to bother recapping the plot for you, because… who cares?  The dogs and the cats are in some secret war, where this one police dog (voice of James Marsden) gets recruited by the dog side to stop this one evil cat (voice of Bette Midler), but it’s really all just an endless, crappy, James Bond riff.  Now there’s an original fount of comedy; no one’s ever spoofed James Bond before.  (Besides only Our Man Flint, In Like Flint, Fathom, the original Casino Royale, The Pink Panther, Get Smart, For Your Height Only, The Cannonball Run, Austin Powers, just about every cartoon ever made, and probably every third episode of Family Guy… just for starts.)  Can you possibly feel good about yourself as a creative person if you’re doing sustained James Bond spoofs in the year 2010?  Do you realize that kids, your target audience, don’t get the joke?  Do you realize that kids don’t actually find animal puns all that funny?  No, they don’t!  But more on that in a second.

Some of the voice cast is done by actors who I actually like (usually), such as Christina Applegate, Nick Nolte, Neil Patrick Harris, Michael Clarke Duncan, and comedian Katt Williams, but let’s face it, they’re all just cashing paychecks here.  And those people who complain about cartoons being aimed too much towards adults these days might be reassured by this movie.  There was nothing for me here.  There is nothing here for any fan of these performers.  Having Christina Applegate in a movie doesn’t do any good if I can’t look at her.  Having Nick Nolte in a movie doesn’t do any good if he doesn’t growl, “Damnit Reggie!” every once in a while.  Having Katt Williams in a movie will surely disappoint his many fans if he’s not allowed to use the N-word.  I mean, you see the name Katt Williams in the credits, and it’s fair to expect that the N-Word is going to happen.  I’m not saying that it’s right, or that anyone should feel good about it, but devil’s advocate:  Would this movie be any better if the pigeon voiced by Katt Williams was running around saying the N-word?  Well no, but it couldn’t have been any worse either.

So grown-ups will be miserable; that’s a given.  Then again, this movie isn’t not really for kids either.  It leans heavily on butt-sniffing humor, which seems to be leaning dangerously close to gay-panic humor at moments.  (The Bette Midler fans in the audience won’t dig it.)  The movie comes close to insinuating an interspecies romance. There’s a scene with stoner cats.  Good luck explaining that one to your kids.  The human performances are wincingly bad, particularly Jack McBrayer, who really better hope, employment-wise, that 30 Rock stays on the air for as long as possible.  But I’d rather cringe at human behavior than have to ponder the questionable morality of putting words in animals’ mouths.  It’s one thing if we humans decide to act like dickheads – at least that’s a choice – but these dogs and cats are not being given the option over how they’re portrayed.  I know it’s a big-philosophy question, but if this movie doesn’t have a brain in its head, that doesn’t mean I have to turn mine off.

Besides all that, here’s the only review you need.  On the way into the theater, my niece tugged at my hand and smiled, “This is going to be the greatest movie I ever seened!”

After twenty minutes or so, the fidgeting started.  Then it turned into full-blown roaming.  Somehow we made it through the whole thing.  But.

On the way out, she turned to me and said, “I don’t want to see Cats & Dogs again!”

This is a kid who can tolerate more hours of Dora The Explorer than even the toughest guy in the county (her uncle) can handle, and this one she couldn’t stand.  I think I just inadvertently told you that we’d both rather watch Dora The Explorer.  There can be no more dire condemnation of a supposed kids’ movie than that.

Happier news, usually, at: @jonnyabomb