The end of summer is upon us as indicated by the fact that HBO’s “Hard Knocks” has premiered (Rex Ryan is my new favorite NFL coach and as much as I want to hate Mark Sanchez he won me over with his dry humor and his one-handed catches), back to school commercials are airing ad nauseum, season six of “Weeds” premieres Monday (as well as “The Big C,” which I’m looking forward to), and the fact that its time for Comedy Central is airing a roast (this year is David Hassellhoff which should be hilarious). This carries over on to movies as well.
As I alluded to last week, this weekend marks the end of the summer season. Starting next week, there are no more high profile movies and Hollywood begins to settle down and prepare for fall’s blockbusters as well as the movies that will be vying for Oscar gold. To commemorate this occasion, I figured I’d review the summer’s last three marquee films at once because while all three are essentially action movies they could not be any more different, one is an action buddy comedy, one a more traditional action movie, and the other is an entirely different breed all its own.
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“The Other Guys”: The Only Guys Capable of Delivering Summer Laughs
I’ve been complaining all summer that the comedy has been lacking and my comedy fix has come from TV shows such as “Warren the Ape”, “Louie”, and “Futurama”. I liked “Grown Ups” a lot but it still didn’t feel like it was as funny as it could’ve been (by the way we’ll cover this issue later, hint hint), and I was disappointed by “Dinner for Schmucks” (I’m embarrassed that I kept calling it “Dinner with Schmucks” my bad I should know these things they only run ads for it every fifteen seconds). Basically I was pessimistic until I saw “The Other Guys”, a movie that manages to kill several birds with one stone. It’s quotable, it parodies the buddy cop movie while at the same time not falling into its clichés, we relearned that Mark Wahlberg can be funny, Michael Keaton gets a chance to shine, and it also manages to be somewhat topical.
“The Other Guys” (narrated by Ice-T) tells the story of Allen Gamble (Will Ferrell) who takes pleasure in doing the menial paper work for the NYPD and doesn’t care that the real cops consider him a joke, and his partner Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg), a rising star in homicide until he accidentally shot Derek Jeter leading the Yankees losing to the Marlins in the 2003 World Series. He is chained to a desk and is itching for his chance to rejoin the ranks and he is constantly jealous of homicide’s A-Team of Highsmith (the always hilarious Samuel L. Jackson) and Danson (played by Dewayne Johnson). They are the typical reckless “Lethal Weapon” type buddy team that causes more property damage then their arrest would warrant. When the A team are no longer on the job (I won’t spoil how because it is amazing), Hoitz sees this as his chance to return to prominence. Gamble doesn’t really want to do anything high profile but he gets progressively interested in financial investor David Ershon (played by “Tropic Thunder’s” Steve Coogan) who may be trying to bilk New York City out of a lot of money.
Ferrell and Wahlberg are great together and while they don’t bounce off each other as well as Ferrell and John C. Reilly do, I loved seeing these two as partners. I loved moments when Hoitz is ripping Gamble for driving a Prius (which gets all kinds of abuse, getting shot, crashed into, or being the victim of multiple soup kitchens), questioning Gamble about his hot wife Dr. Sheila Gamble (Eva Mendes) who Gamble considers a typical nagging wife. Their best moment is when Hoitz takes Gamble out drinking, leading to a great montage. Mark Wahlberg has played many a cop in his day but this is the closest he’s come to mastering the tour de force that was his Brock Landers character from “Boogie Nights” (remember when Dirk Diggler created action hero Brock Landers and John C. Reilly’s Reed Rothchild played his partner Chest Rockwell?)
What also works is that Ferrell’s Gamble is his most restrained character. Gamble is repressed (though not with Sheila or when he’s his alter ego named Gator) which leads to a lot of great moments that will leave you in stitches. One of my favorite parts however is getting to see Michael Keaton be funny again. I love the guy and have always wondered why his career didn’t turn out like Tom Hanks’s (as Bill Simmons said, they were both the funny hip guy that could bring it in a drama but Hanks ended up winning Oscars and being bankable). His Capt. Gene Mauch, who also works at Bed Bath and Beyond, is hysterical and reminds us how funny Keaton is.
This movie saves summer comedies while providing some great action. Cars are crashed, there are gun fights (and in Gamble’s case, desk pops), and a helicopter blows up. What more could one want from an action comedy? My only complaint is that Eva Mendes didn’t get enough time to riff with Ferrell and Wahlberg but it’s all good as that is only a minor complaint. I highly recommend this film and am glad Sony let their peacock fly. Switching gears, let’s take a look at a more old-school style action movie.
“The Expendables”: The Action Movie Hall of Fame Game
Every time my friend Andrew and I watch an action movie we always ended up talking about who would comprise the greatest action movie cast ever. Essentially I came up with the action movie Hall of Fame which includes posthumous entries Bruce Lee and Steve McQueen, first ballot Hall of Famers Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Willis, Harrison Ford, and Jackie Chan.
There are some second ballot members Van Damme, Seagal, Keanu Reeves, Mel Gibson, and Jet Li. We discussed Dolph Lundgren, Danny Trejo, Kurt Russell, and Matt Damon but ultimately they don’t make it in. Also, we’ve debated who takes the action movie thrown this decade which Statham and The Rock are the only quality suitors as Tony Jaa movies don’t get enough exposure in America. As much as we’ve talked about this idea, Stallone made it happen or at least got as close as we’ll ever see. He managed to put together a movie that features himself, current action star Jason Statham, Jet Li, Lungren, Willis, Mickey Rourke, the Governator, and some current action actors to create what adds up to be the action movie’s all star game and just like the best of all star games it has some great highlights it ultimately has you wishing for more.
Not that it matters, but the plot of “The Expendables” goes something like this: Barney Ross (Stallone), Leo Christmas (Statham), Hail Ceasar (Terry Crews of “Everybody Hates Chris” and “The Longest Yard”), Ying Yang (Li), Toll Road (UFC fighter Randy Couture), and Gunner Jensen (Lundgren) are the “Expendables.” a mercenaries-for-hire group.
They are given a task to take down Gen. Garza who is a dictator and his former U.S. Navy Seal James Munroe (an over-the-top Eric Roberts) who uses Garza as a puppet to fund his drug cartel with his bodyguard Paine played by my childhood idol and Texas Rattlesnake Stone Cold Steve Austin. That in a nutshell is what the movie is about and ultimately what it should have been. While I loved seeing Rocky Balboa reunite with Ivan Drago, Stone Cold take on Couture in a WWE (or F depending on your age) v.s. UFC bout, and buildings and people blow up in improbable fashion, the movie occasionally tries to hard to be more then it is.
Rourke plays ex-mercenary, current tattoo artist Tool (and he’s amazingly funny) is used to show Ross what he could or not become if he keeps up his line of work and Stallone tries to have a sort of love interest with Garza’s daughter (which eerily harkened back to “Rambo First Blood Part II’s cringeworthy love story). Also, there is the other unnecessary sub plot involving Leo Christmas’s (sorry I love typing that name as it makes Lloyd Christmas of “Dumb and Dumber” that much funnier to me for some reason) struggle to win back his girlfriend. Stallone won back fans with his double whammy of “Rocky Balboa” and “Rambo” the latter of which was one of the coolest action movies I’ve ever seen as we see Stallone get to unleash everything in this arsenal and that’s what disappointed me a little bit with this movie. When it’s involved in heavy action sequences it totally works, but when it goes away from the action and tries to humanize these guys, it fails.
Plus Crews and Li disappear for most of the movie and we spend most of our time just listening to Stallone and Statham riff on each other. Also the villains were never as threatening as the dictators in “Rambo”. The crown jewel of the movie (aside from the half hour long climax) is the scene in the church featuring Stallone, Willis, and the Governator because not only does it fulfill a big geek moment for many people, but it is also downright hysterical.
I remain conflicted on this movie as I loved it but I also felt that it should’ve reached for the moon a little more. Oh well, it is a one-of-a-kind action movie that I highly recommend to anyone looking for an adrenaline fix.
Now on to an action movie that you will either love or hate.
“Scott Pilgrim V.S. The World”: Summer’s Last K.O.
Aside from “Tron: Legacy” the one panel I really regret not getting to see at ComicCon was the panel for “Scott Pilgrim vs. the World”, because since I saw the trailer in March I’ve been infatuated with the world that this movie exists in as life is essentially a video game. In this movie when Scott Pilgrim (played by the polarizing Michael Cera) defeats one of Ramona’s (played by Mary Elizabeth Winstead) seven evil ex-boyfriends, they burst into coins and Scott gets points. They battle with weapons that they pull from nowhere and when they get hit there are “pow” and “blam” signs that appear behind them. While the movie appears sporadic and at times can cause seizures it packs plenty of heart as well. This more then any other movie this summer (minus “Inception” of course) will be more polarizing. You will either dig this movie or you will curse nerds and hipsters for months on end.
Scott Pilgrim (the story is based on the graphic novel by Bryan Lee O’Malley) is a layabout bass player of the Toronto band Sex Bob-Omb and a total immature jerk when it comes to dating women. He is dating 17-year-old Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) even though he’s 22 and while his bandmates – mainly his drummer Kim Pine (Allison Pill), his younger sister Stacey (Anna Kendrick), and his gay roommate Wallace Wells (played by the scene stealing Kieran Culkin) – scold him for being an immature jerk, Scott doesn’t care.
He doesn’t care until one night at a party held by Julie Powers (Aubrey Plaza of “Funny People” and “Parks and Recreation”) who hates Scott, he meets the elusive Ramona Flowers. She at first doesn’t like Scott but begins to like him and that is where Scott meets her baggage in terms of the League of Evil Ex Boyfriends. Scott must defeat all of Ramona’s evil exes which include the hipster Bollywood Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabba), the self-absorbed action star Lucas Lee (Chris Evans), Roxie Richter (Mae Whitman), super Vegan Todd Ingram (Brandon Routh), and the leader and Ramona’s last boyfriend the evil jerk Gideon Gordon Graves (Jason Schwartzman). Scott is frustrated with having to fight all of the exes but is so crazy about Ramona so he does it.
I loved this movie as it is downright hysterical and features a lot of great visual humor. The visuals are dazzling and I wish I could describe them in a way that could do them justice. The cast is absolutely terrific, especially Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Kieran Culkin, and Anna Kendrick.
This movie doesn’t work, however, without the following things working for the audience. 1. We have to care about Scott. 2. We have to see what Scott sees in Ramona. 3. We need to buy into the universe in which this movie exists because if you don’t buy into the sporadic video game/comic book nature of the movie, then you might as well leave. All three worked with me and the more the movie went on and the more reviews I read on it, I realized the other part that works for me.
Of any movie that this is compared to, the most common one I read is “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” which I considered one of the best movies of the last decade and the parallels are very similar. Ramona’s hair changes colors as often as Clementine’s does, the movie can be just as trippy, the soundtrack features a lot of Beck (no complaint, by the way), and they both use these incredible visuals to demonstrate a simple painful fact of life, that finding and ultimately dealing with love is one of the most arduous thing one will have to deal with.
Scott’s duels with the seven evil exes is essentially him coming to terms with Ramona’s past and, towards the end, dealing with his own baggage. Ramona who, again like Clementine, cuts and runs when she gets bored or things get too heavy, sees Scott who is actually like Joel as the only nice guy she’s ever dated, much to everyone’s dismay. At the end of both movies we see how, even when things are appear to be happily ever after, we will never know how well the relationships continue and that is something I appreciated. Edgar Wright, who gave us “Shaun of the Dead” and “Hot Fuzz,” delivers one of the most visually ambitious movies of the summer and I highly recommend you see this.
If none of the aforementioned movies seem appealing, there is a treasure trove of options. There is the Julia Roberts movie “Eat, Pray, Love,” Rob Reiner’s return to prominence, “Flipped,” the dance movie “Step Up:3D,” Luke Wilsons’s indie about the reinvention of the internet, “Middle Men” and the Australian indie crime thriller “Animal Kingdom.”
Thank you for reading and stay tuned as next week I make “The Switch” with Jason Bateman and Jennifer Aniston or I see “Piranha 3D,” I’m actually not sure yet. As always you can see these and other fine films at your local Edwards.