by Aaron Peck
'Kung Fu Panda 2' comes to Blu-ray this week. Besides the easily relatable characters and their soft plush look, which is perfect for merchandising, much of the success of the 'Kung Fu Panda' franchise can be laid at the feet of its star voice: Mr. Jack Black.
Black has been in his share of stinkers over the years. Most of the time he seems like an actor who will simply do whatever script is thrown at him as long as he can make fake guitar noises and say things like "Skiddly-whompit!" every so often. He's also been in some very good, memorable movies.
So let's take a look back at Jack Black's acting career and see if we can define his best and worst movies.
I know that some people hate 'King Kong' and that's fine. For me, however, Peter Jackson's 'King Kong' film was a surprise. Not only was I gobstruck by the action and special effects, I was also amazed that Black was able to pull off this somewhat dramatic role. No "Skilddley-deeshes" or anything like that. He plays his part straight forward and nails it. It was one of those casting decisions that beforehand I was really apprehensive about it. "Jack Black is going to be in an action movie as a dramatic character? Nonsense!" Somehow it worked though, and 'King Kong' turned into a great, underrated epic of a movie.
The first 'Kung Fu Panda' movie was a delight. Usually famous voices in animated movies don't really do much for me (be honest, how many people really remember that they're listening to Angelina Jolie whenever Tigress speaks?). However, the character of Po is completely built around Black's manic nature. Not too many cartoon characters really take on the characteristics of the people voicing them, but Po certainly does.
Yes Black has a bit-part in the movie and, yes, he does just play himself, but 'The Muppets' is too good a movie to have on your resume to not list it here. This was one of the best movies of the year, really. Black's role in it is funny too. Kidnapped by the Muppets he's forced to host their telethon for them while tied to a chair. Oh, and let's not forget that he's in a Drummers Anonymous group with Animal. Great, great movie all around. If you haven't seen it you're surely missing out.
'School of Rock'
'School of Rock' follows the tried and true comedy formula. Throw an outsider into an unusual situation. Watch him connect with people he wouldn't normally connect with. A rift in the second act thrusts them apart, only for everyone involved to find their way back and live happily ever after. If it's so generic on paper then why is 'School of Rock' even on this list? Well, it's because of Black's interaction with the child actors in the movie. He's over the top, but he's allowed to be because he's teaching a classroom full of kids. It's simply the perfect setting for Black to be his audacious self without looking like a tool. Now where's our Blu-ray edition?!
This movie made me laugh. A lot. Besides Robert Downey, Jr. pulling off one of the bravest performances of recent memory (he put on blackface and people thought it was funny, if you can get laughs and you're not offending entire groups of people, you know you're doing something right) My favorite part of this movie was Black's character. The way they introduce him is genius. Showing him in an Eddie Murphy-like role playing a dozen characters in the same movie, all obese and all with flatulence problems. 'Tropic Thunder' really is a fantastic comedy.
This one was simply unbearable. They took many of the scenes from the book but forgot the underlying theme of social satire. So, when Jack Black pees on a community of tiny people to put out a fire it's nothing more than Jack Black peeing on a community of tiny people to put out a fire. There's no commentary there other than, "Hardy har har, he just peed on a bunch of tiny people." Without the social commentary this movie is juvenile at best. It's made all the worse because it actually has a great cast including Emily Blunt and Jason Segel. It's still a miserable movie experience though.
I'll always count 'The Jackal' as one of my guilty pleasures, but I'm willing to admit that it's not a great movie all the same. I always get a chuckle of Jack Black early on in his career getting his arm blown off by a maniacal Bruce Willis wielding a remote control giant gun of death.
I live in Utah where Jared Hess and his style of bland, weirdo comedy really go over well with the townsfolk. Conversely, with me Hess' brand of filmmaking is the cinematic equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. You have to be a certain kind of person to find what he does funny and I just don't. I remember sitting in 'Nacho Libre' bored out of my mind wishing it would end so I didn't have to endure any more. Jack Black gets to make up his own songs, but that's about the extent of this movie's comedy.
The premise is utterly disgusting and repulsive. It would like you to think that it's message is a good one: Beauty is only skin deep, but by the fourth or fifth fat joke you realize that this was simply a misguided way for the Farrelly brothers to make fun of obese people. It doesn't help that the movie is so obvious about its motives that there's no imagination required. This is actually getting a Blu-ray release in January.
Did anyone see this unfunny travesty. Let's keep this short and sweet. Watch 'History of the World, Part 1' again. That should keep you from ever wanting to experience this one.
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