I know what you’re saying… “What, you didn’t see ‘Marmaduke‘?”
Nope. Sorry. Move along, nothing to see here. No, wait – I have other stuff to talk about!
Yes, it’s another miserable week at the North American box office, but there is a bright spot, even if it is covered in slime.
The weekend’s biggest movie (besides ‘Marmaduke,’ based on the 56-year-old, one-joke cartoon of the same name, obviously) is ‘Get Him to the Greek.’ That’s a slapdash spin-off of 2008’s forgettable rom-com ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall.’ One of the more memorable aspects of that earlier movie was Aldous Snow, a self-obsessed rock star played by oddball British comedian Russell Brand. ‘Greek’ is all about that character, who has fallen back into his hedonistic lifestyle after releasing an abominable album called ‘African Child.’ A low-level music world goon played by Jonah Hill (who also stars in the superb dark comedy ‘Cyrus’ in a few weeks) is dispatched by his boss (P. Diddy) to retrieve Aldous from London and get him to the Greek Theater in Los Angeles so that he can perform an anniversary concert. It’s the classic buddy comedy set up: Hill is an uptight dweeb, Snow is a walking train wreck, hijinks ensue.
Except – do they?
‘Get Him to the Greek’ is an oddly shapeless blob of a movie. Instead of following the tried-and-true narrative (and emotional) beats of a typical buddy comedy – i.e., mutual dislike followed by hardened respect followed by another fall-out – the two leads are just friends from the beginning, without any of the hard work of showing us why they are friends and how they came to that relationship. (This was a huge issue with the latter ‘Star Wars’ prequels, as George Lucas tried to con us into thinking that Obi-Wan and Anakin had a great relationship without ever showing us that relationship.) What we have, instead, is a fairly repetitive collection of “crazy” party sequences followed by about a dozen climaxes in the last act of the film, many of which don’t make any sense and feel cluttered and unfunny. Like last year’s ‘Zombieland,’ it’s fun while you watch it, but if you take a moment to pause afterwards, you realize that the movie is more or less complete shit. Because it is.
It’s not a complete trainwreck, though. It’s anchored by three superb comedic performances by Hill, Brand, and, er, Diddy. Rose Byrne does an unexpectedly wonderful turn as Brand’s pop tart ex-wife. Also, the Aldous Snow performance at the Greek (spoiler alert: he gets there) at the end elevates the movie in all the ways that the Dracula puppet musical at the end of ‘Forgetting Sarah Marshall’ fell flat. If you watch this thing on video, you might get a mild buzz out of it – especially when Brand, being chased down a seemingly endless hotel hallway, screams “It’s Kubrickian!” But on the big screen, it’s just a big, loud, dumb comedy. You’ll forget it as soon as you leave the theater.
The Ashton Kutcher/Katherine Heigel (has there ever been a more lackluster cinematic duo?) action comedy ‘Killers‘ also opens this week. The studio didn’t screen it for critics, not that I would have gone. I think I’ll have plenty to say about this movie… when recapping the weekend box office. (It’s going to bomb. Big time.)
But there is a genuinely great movie opening this weekend! And no, you won’t have to climb into some dingy dive in Manhattan’s Lower East Side to see it. It’s opening on more than 2,500 screens! I speak of the gloriously whacked-out sci-fi shocker ‘Splice.’
Directed by Vincenzo Natali (‘Cube’) and rescued from obscurity by uber-producer Joel Silver, the movie was finished two years ago and made a splash at this year’s Sundance. ‘Splice’ is a hard-hitting look at genetic tampering while also being a genuinely affecting familial drama. Hot shot genetic engineers Adrien Brody and Sarah Polley are monkeying around with gene splicing in order to create hybrid beasts that can be used to harvest enzymes to cure disease. But, like that famous scientist who screamed “It’s alive!,” these two couldn’t leave well enough alone. So they’ve introduced some new DNA into the mix: human. The result in Dren (played by French model Delphine Chaneac), a slick, steely monster with a barbed tail, gossamer wings, and lungs that can allow her to breathe underwater.
‘Splice’ brings to mind the “body horror” efforts of David Cronenberg, and certainly isn’t for everyone. Natali is definitely a provocateur. Telling you how, exactly, would ruin some of the fun, but it’s a wonderful surprise. You never know what’s around the corner. Instead of trading in buckets of blood, there are subtle, emotional undercurrents to the movie that make it wholly engrossing. It’s a great genre yarn and if you don’t go see it, then you’ve lost your right to bitch about how Hollywood doesn’t release “smart, complex genre pictures.” Because that’s what ‘Splice’ is. Oh, and it’s really funny too!
On the independent movie front, Neil Jordan’s mermaid tale ‘Ondine‘ opens. I didn’t get a chance to see it. (Somehow I missed all my press screenings and the Tribeca screenings; I’m an idiot.) But I have heard from others that it is a charming little flick. Can’t wait to see it.
Also, it appears that ‘Cropsey‘ is opening, at least in New York. I saw this at Tribeca last year (never a good sign) and must say that it more or less sucks. It’s a documentary about a long-abandoned New England mental institution and a worker there who may or may not have been a serial killer (later immortalized as a bogeyman to the neighborhood children). While this could have been a gripping little doc, the filmmakers spend way too much time on camera and come off less like filmmakers than as overeager grad students working on their thesis film. Just because it’s an indie doc doesn’t mean it’s, you know, good.