Sunday, September 03, 2006

New (Hateful) Reviews: Basic Instinct 2, Another Gay Movie, John Tucker Must Die and More

Oh, dear readers. I am so far behind in my movie reviewing. So with that said, I thought I'd get a bunch of the year's biggest suckage out of the way first before I move on to other capsules and full reviews.

Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction & John Tucker Must Die
The names probably sound odd strung together. I could've titled this article "Basic Instinct 2: John Tucker Addiction" but that would have been pushing the forced conjoinment too far I think. And maybe it would've sent out the wrong message implying that some people actually want the personality-free John Tucker. Certainly Sharon Stone didn't ask to be bedding down with Jessie Metcalfe. She'd break him in half. Or kick him outta bed for asking too many questions about her personal eyebrow threader. This article could have also been titled "John Tucker Must Risk Addiction"… but that's a title for a far more interesting movie, don't you think?

If it sounds like I'm avoiding talking about the actual movies, I am. Strange bedfellows though these movie may appear, I had the same exact reaction to both.  They were so inept that I could barely acknowledge their presence while I was watching them. I had only vague recollections afterwards. Was it all a bad but non-frightening dream? Did these movies exist at all?

What was the point of Basic Instinct 2: Risk Addiction? I ask this in all seriousness. If the point was moneymaking surely they knew this plodding too-late retread couldn't ignite audience interest? If the point was a reignition of Sharon Stone's career shouldn't somehow have stopped the stylist from that strange straw horse tail look that's so distracting. They could have at least given Ms. Stone campier dialogue to chew on and spit out suggestively. If the point was titillation than the movie definitely failed. It's no secret to anyone but the sexphobic "religious right"' that mainstream movies have become a much tamer PG-13 realm in the 14 years that have passed since the original Instinct's release. There's nothing in this long-gestating sequel that's half as lurid as the opening murder sequence in the first film. There's nothing as nude as the original's interrogation sequence. There's not even any faux sapphic energy to bait the audience as there was all throughout the 1992 trashfest (but most particularly in the dance club / ladies bathroom sequences).

So, if you're going to lose the lurid, the flesh, and the homophobic lesbo hokiness, you plan to replace it with something, right? Like maybe a more gonzo plot? No, this is pretty much a retread: Catherine writes a book (fictional) about what she's doing (reality) while the audience is meant to think she's guilty and then... perhaps not?... towards the end. Ooh, sneaky!

More than anything I was bored watching Basic Instinct 2 so I latched on desperately to the only enjoyable thing: counting the number of times the writers manage to shoehorn "risk addiction" into the dialogue. I revelled in how awkward all the actors seem to be saying it. It's as if they all know that the phrase in context is hilarious. Perhaps the director underlined each use of the phrase in their scripts and threw in markered exclamation points after each usage. Then, unfortunately, he must have beat them into submission if they dared try any clever line readings that might recognize the movies camp value. Sharon Stone, Charlotte Rampling and David Thewliss have all had their moments in other pictures. Unfortunately they're all trapped in a cold unmoving machine this time. Risk Addiction has no naughty joy or sense of humor about itself.

John Tucker Must Die has even less of a soul. In this case there's no ghost of a superior film floating around to lend it any instant audience rapport or love. Oh no wait –there is. It was called Mean Girls. Since the two films are unrelated, the comparison serves more as anvil than crutch.  Mean Girls is superior in every way you can think of and then some. Basic Instinct 2 can and does bank on audience interest in a shared central character. John Tucker... apparently hopes to coast on the plot of Mean Girls alone. But plots don't have soul. They're just mechanics. If John Tucker... had actors with real spark it might have survived its egregious theft of plot. But not one of the actors employed comes with any real verve so the awful paint-by-numbers screenplay and unspecified stock characters can't be rescued with comedic timing or artful character spins.

I did have one happy takeaway from watching John Tucker Must Die. It reminded me to cherish that most rare and precious jewel of the cinema: a good comedy with charismatic actors. So, Mean Girls and Lindsay Lohan, take yet another bow. The class of John Tucker... is dismissed.

Both Movies: D-

My Super Ex-Girlfriend and Not Another Gay Movie
Here we have another odd combination. They're grouped for this reason: I really wanted to love both of them but found them highly annoying and completely lacking in redeemable virtues. In concept, both seemed promising. But in execution... oh, ouch.

My Super Ex-Girlfriend has a clever enough hook. It's a romantic comedy about a mild mannered guy (Luke Wilson) who finds out that he's dating a superhero (Uma Thurman). Unfortunately, the cleverness ends with this high concept gimmick. There are many ways in which this film could have been a silly slapstick romp but it's badly misjudged on any number of levels. I'll focus on only two: director and star.

The director Ivan Reitman still seems to be finding comedy work on the basis of his strong 70s/80s comedic partnership with Bill Murray (Meatballs, Stripes, Ghostbusters). In the 90s he became the guy who did high concept comedies with Schwarzenneger (Kindergarten Cop, Junior, Twins). It's undoubtedly tempting for moviemakers to return to the genre that housed their greatest hit but Ghostbusters seems to have done Reitman more harm than good. Both of his recent pictures, Evolution (2001, review) and My Super Ex-Girlfriend suggest that he should have quit this genre after directing its biggest success. For Ghostbusters aside, his f/x heavy action comedies don't generate laughs. They're too lazily assembled and they don't have Bill Murray in them. Good comedy requires precision and inspiration. This film trusts that the audience will find wacky CGI hilarious and that the premise itself is funny enough to sustain laughs for ninety minutes: they don't and it isn't.

The other problem is Uma Thurman. As a dedicated Umaphile I say this through gritted teeth. Reitman's choice of star in both of his last two pictures is suspect. Like the star of Evolution (Julianne Moore), he has selected for his female lead a fine dramatic actress who is nearly always several shades too fussy while playing comedy. More than any type of acting, comedy requires a light touch. Apologists may claim that both Moore and Thurman were playing fussy characters who were ill at ease with themselves but that doesn't excuse fussy ill-at-ease performances. Take the work of Diane Keaton for a counter example. She often plays highly neurotic fussy overly analytical women but her performances never feel forced or neurotically "funny" in the process. She's just funny. Even if a comedic performance is, in actuality, carefully calibrated and rehearsed performance art, it needs to feel at ease and spontaneous in order to generate the big laughs. Replacing the star would not have saved My Super Ex-Girlfriend from its overall incompetence, but replacing her with a Cameron Diaz or an Anna Faris (miscast here in a secondary mostly non-comedic part) would've made it a little funnier.

Speaking of forced humor...

Another Gay Movie is an equal opportunity offender. It tells the oft-told tale of graduating high schoolers who want to lose their virginity. This time they're gay. Another Gay Movie wants a place at the table with such bawdy teen hetero sex-comedies like American Pie or Porky's. No question it should have that place. But isn't that a particularly unappetizing table to be sitting at, what with all the toilet humor and crass behavior? I suppose a great deal of my disappointment with it comes from my affection for its writer/director Todd Stephens. His first two films, Edge of Seventeen (screenplay only) and Gypsy 83 (my capsule review), were both tiny slice of life films but they had real heart and charm. Their lapses seem to stem from microscopic budgeting as opposed to any lack of talent or taste. If Another Gay Movie is any indication, Stephens should stick to warmer dramedies.

Another Gay Movie has one slighty affecting romance between friends and has (or at least aspires to have) some of the sexual anarchy of classic John Waters, it's all depressing shoddy and slight. It doesn't help that all the jokes, already impossible to miss since the movie is just one gag after another, are oversold by the hyper actors. Even if you find a particular scene funny you'll probably want them to stop begging for your laugh-track. At times it reminded me of an R-rated feature length version of one recurring joke on Will & Grace. When very fey Jack would get upset, his voice would raise to a super high pitch and speed. If you thought that joke was funny every single time it was used on W&G you should probably see this movie. If not I'd suggest renting one or both of Mr. Stephens infinitely superior previous features.

Ex-Girlfriend: D- Gay Movie: D

I'll try to write about something I like soon --yes, I do actually love the cinema. Perhaps the fall movies will restore warm fuzzies to movie reviewing.


Anonymous said...

Hee. Enjoyed your reviews more than the 2 movies therein that I've seen (BI2 and Super-ex).

Though I did think Stone was the only person in Instinct 2 who knew what they were doing (in front of or behind the camera), I did regret the failure to fully ignite the camp possibilities. Consequently instead of being a "so-bad-it's-good" joy, it ended up just being "so-bad".

Super-ex was just too mediocre in every department to remember the moment I stepped out of the screen.

My surpise of the season? Break Up. Oh, it wasn't great by any means, but I was surprised to find it 'good', and even thought Vince Vaughn channeled his character in a few moments. It's been a decade since I've seen that happen.


adam k. said...

Not Another Gay Movie is by the guy who wrote Edge of Seventeen??? My god. I guess he should still to writing. Cause actually, the directing in that movie was fab. A real sense of mood and atmosphere.

adam k. said...

*stick* to writing

Jason Adams said...

I started watching BI2, made it about twenty minutes in and realized I couldn't even keep my eyes on the screen or listen to another word these characters were speaking, and watched the rest of the movie in fast-forward, and would stop if a scene looked like some scenery were being chewed. And it never was. Just some light nibbling. So boring.

Anonymous said...

crappy movies suck.

or sucky movies crap.

You choose, it's all the s(h)ame.

**a tear**

Anonymous said...

Please see Half Nelson or Little Miss Sunshine to restore your faith in American films.

Why is most gay film making worthless? Argghhh! Why do I keep going back??

Glenn Dunks said...

The shame is that BI2 isn't even so-bad-it's-good. I suppose any given year can only have one true title like that and this year it's obviously Snakes on a Plane (and don't y'all deny it, okay!)


i saw both of those films as well. :)

Glenn Dunks said...

BTW, I'm glad you didn't completely hate Miami Vice! It's really strange reading people completely pound it into the ground. I gave it a B- also though. There was definitely some good stuff going on there, it just didn't all work.

Would be interested to know what you thought of Gong Li. The comments about her are vitriolic. As if it's her fault english isn't Li's or her character's first language.

Glenn Dunks said...

Fur trailer. Online. Now.


adam k. said...

I didn't care much for the Fur trailer.

Was that an American accent Nicole was supposed to be doing?

Anonymous said...

The last fifteen minutes of Little Miss Sunshine was some of the funniest footage I've seen on film in years.

And that 'one sound' ... wow, I never I thought I would laugh so hard ...

Anonymous said...

I'd give LMS a strong B+.

OhMyTrill said...

aww...I thought John Tucker was fun...although I did feel a little bit guilty about thinking and my friend were the only people laughing in the theater...hmmmm

adam k. said...

I loved LMS. I guess maybe it was too contrived or too "slight" for an A, but a strong B+ sounds about right.

I think that ensemble is and will remain the best ensemble cast this year.