THE RIDICULOUS 6 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Directed by: Frank Coraci

Written by: Tim Herlihy & Adam Sandler

Starring: Adam Sandler, Terry Crews, Jorge Garcia, Taylor Lautner, Rob Schneider, Luke Wilson, Nick Nolte, Will Forte, Nick Swardson, Steve Zahn, Julia Jones, Danny Trejo, Harvey Keitel, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Jon Lovitz & John Turturro

Adam Sandler is a polarizing comedian. He was hugely successful in the 90s with recurring sketches on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE and this was followed by a series of hit comedies (the best of which is easily HAPPY GILMORE). Somewhere around the mid-2000’s, the quality of Sandler’s output went downhill and he’s progressively gotten lazier and more unfunny as the years have rolled on. We’ve gotten to a point where studios have passed on Sandler’s ideas and he’s signed an eight-film(!) deal with Netflix. 2015’s THE RIDICULOUS 6 is the first of these eight straight-to-Netflix Sandler films, earning a whopping 0% on Rotten Tomatoes and breaking Netflix records as their most-watched film. While RIDICULOUS 6 isn’t Sandler’s worst movie, it’s definitely on the low end of his filmography.

Set in the Old West, the story follows Tom “White Knife” Stockburn (Adam Sandler). Tom never knew his father and was raised by a Native American tribe. One day, Tom’s deadbeat dad (Nick Nolte) inexplicably walks back into his life and is promptly kidnapped by an outlaw gang, led by fearsome murderer Cicero (Danny Trejo). In order to rescue his father, Tom begins robbing banks…only to realize that his dad had five other children with five other women. The gang of six misfit brothers sets off on an adventure that sees them stealing from various jerks, encountering historical figures, and ending up in (what else) an Old West gun fight. Meanwhile, about 1/4th of the jokes get laughs and 3/4ths fall flat.

Adam Sandler phones in his performance as White Knife. He seems to be trying to do a gruff Clint Eastwood impression, but lacks any charisma and the faintest bit of effort in this part. Sandler as a straight-man never should have been attempted in the first place, because he doesn’t seem fit for this part in comedy. I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I might have preferred a more over-the-top, silly-voiced Sandler as the lead. Even more surprising is that Rob Schneider isn’t half-bad as the stereotypical Mexican brother and actually got a few chuckles out of me.

Delivering the worst performance in the film, Taylor Lautner is godawful as a high-pitched hillbilly. Nearly every moment he’s on screen is insufferable. Almost as bad as Lautner is Jorge Garcia (a.k.a. Hurley from LOST) who plays an incomprehensible mountain man. Luke Wilson and Terry Crews are also in this movie as the two other brothers and they don’t contribute much to the proceedings or laughs. Danny Trejo and Nick Nolte also show up, but are clearly phoning it in.

To its credit, THE RIDICULOUS 6 looks like it had a budget behind it. There’s only one scene of cheap CGI and that comes early on. The sets and cinematography are rather well done for a western comedy spoof, though I still much prefer Seth MacFarlane’s serviceable A MILLION WAYS TO DIE IN THE WEST over this. Two of RIDICULOUS 6’s main problem comes from its long running time and messy pacing. This film almost feels like an endurance test, because the story frequently meanders and there are many dull moments. If it ran at 90 minutes, this might have been far better. The first hour is dedicated to the brothers running into each other, following a predictable pattern of: the characters going to a location, meeting another brother, and then going to another location.

Three-quarters of the jokes in RIDICULOUS 6 are lame. This isn’t because they’re offensive and gross, but rather because they’re just plain lazy. The juvenile bits include: a donkey with explosive diarrhea, bestiality, farting, a fly getting castrated, charades for sex, and crude-sounding Native American names. Are we having fun yet? No, but what about a long musical number around a campfire that comes out of nowhere and lasts for nearly 5 minutes. Still not laughing, but what about half-assed cameo appearances from Vanilla Ice (as Mark Twain), David Spade (as Colonel Muster), Chris Kattan (as John Wilkes Booth), and Jon Lovitz (as a snobby rich poker player)? I wanted to laugh at Vanilla Ice playing one of America’s most celebrated writers, but they do nothing with it. The joke is simply him appearing as that character and nothing else.

Though I’m railing on this film’s flaccid excuses for humor, there are a handful of genuine laughs to be had. These are few and far between, but they do exist. Early cracks about the racism of the time made me giggle, while cross-eyed Steve Zahn gets a few good moments as a gun-toting hick. Steve Buscemi makes the most of his time as the small-town doctor/barber. Meanwhile, Harvey Keitel gets the darkest laugh of the entire movie and John Turturro is fantastic as the inventor of baseball (who makes up rules to avoid being beaten at his own game).

THE RIDICULOUS 6 is not Adam Sandler’s worst film because there are a few good laughs in this mess of a movie. That’s more than I can say about the likes of GROWN UPS and JACK AND JILL. A bloated running time and monotonous story take an unfixable toll on the proceedings, one that’s further hindered by a majority of the would-be jokes falling flat. I really hope that THE RIDICULOUS 6 winds up being the worst Adam Sandler straight-to-Netflix film, because this lazy and that in itself seems a little insulting to the Sandman’s fanbase.

Grade: D

FARCE OF THE PENGUINS (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 20 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Crude Sexual Content and Language

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Directed by: Bob Saget

Written by: Bob Saget

Voices of: Bob Saget, Lewis Black, Samuel L. Jackson, Christina Applegate, Jamie Kennedy, David Koechner, Whoopi Goldberg, Mo’Nique, Tracy Morgan, Carlos Mencia, Dane Cook, Jason Alexander, Jason Biggs, Norm Macdonald, Brie Larson, James Belushi, Dave Coulier, John Stamos, Jon Lovitz, Gilbert Gottfried, Damon Wayans & Abe Vigoda

If you’ve only seen Bob Saget in the long-running sitcom FULL HOUSE or hosting AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS, you might think he’s a family friendly comedian who constantly indulges in funny voices. You would be dead wrong though, because this man is a very adult-oriented, filthy comedian. Besides pulling a lot of dirty pranks behind the scenes of FULL HOUSE (which have been detailed in entertaining stories from former cast and crew members), Saget also had a penchant for producing disgusting stand-up comedy. He constantly swore up a storm on the stage and though I don’t find him to be hysterically funny, I can see the appeal in his profanity-laden brand of humor.

FARCE OF THE PENGUINS is Saget’s spoof of acclaimed documentary MARCH OF THE PENGUINS. Saget stated that he merely wanted to redub that original documentary, but wasn’t able to get permission from the filmmakers (gee, I wonder why). Instead, this X-rated real life counterpart to Danny Tanner compiled a mountain of stock footage and painstakingly edited it together. FARCE’s story revolves around penguins Carl (Bob Saget) and Jimmy (Lewis Black). Carl is a neurotic mess looking for love and Jimmy is a horny jerk starved for sex. Along with hundreds of other penguins, the two pals trek across the Antarctic for their annual mating season. Elsewhere, penguin Melissa (Christina Applegate) is waiting for “the one.” There are also subplots about a crazy loner (Carlos Mencia), a band of flightless birds that get lost in a barren landscape caused by global warming, and Samuel L. Jackson narrates with gratuitous “fucks” thrown every which way.

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FARCE seems like one of those animal clips from AMERICA’S FUNNIEST HOME VIDEOS with a larger voice cast, a feature-length running time, and more profanity/sex jokes than you would ever see on network television. Saget was clearly having a good time in making this movie and called out a lot of favors, as demonstrated by a large cast of big comedians (most of whom only pop in for a quick vocal cameo, before taking off running). Sadly, FARCE is an all-around failure that might have been funny if it were fifteen minutes long or if Saget found a way to keep things interesting beyond the one joke premise. Neither of those things happen though, turning FARCE into an all-out endurance test. This movie drags to a point where an 80 minute running time feels over two hours long. By the time the third act arrives (complete with extra scenes throughout the end credits), anyone drunk or high enough to get legitimate joy out of this film will likely be passed out or comatose in their boredom.

Even Saget seems to get bored with his main narrative, because he frequently finds reasons to cut away to other stock footage of different animals through FAMILY GUY-like throwaway lines. These include moments like Jimmy saying “Have you ever seen a walrus scratch it’s balls?” and then we cut away to thirty seconds of various walruses scratching themselves. Does that sound funny? What about the bit where they reference the writer of this movie and cut to an adorable monkey with a typewriter? That actually may have been a funny joke, but then Saget milks that primate footage for two more minutes of screen time. The only two moments that could have elicited chuckles out of me were already revealed in the 90-second-long trailer, Norm Macdonald asking to join in a threesome and Gilbert Gottfried screaming about “freezing his nuts off.”

In terms of lame spoofs, FARCE OF THE PENGUINS is marginally lower than reference-heavy garbage like MEET THE SPARTANS, DISASTER MOVIE, and EPIC MOVIE. Though those big-budget spoofs are abhorrently unfunny, mistake pop culture references for humor, and seem like pimples on the ass of the cinematic landscape, at least they have the decency to keep viewers rolling their eyes in frustration. FARCE OF THE PENGUINS is a struggle to get through and makes it seem like an insurmountable task to keep yourself awake for 80 straight minutes. If you have the desire to see comedians dub over penguins, then you’d be better off watching the FARCE trailer on YouTube and leaving it at that.

Grade: F

HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 29 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some Scary Images, Action and Rude Humor

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Directed by: Genndy Tartakovsky

Written by: Robert Smigel & Adam Sandler

Voices of: Adam Sandler, Andy Samberg, Selena Gomez, Asher Blinkoff, Kevin James, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Keegan-Michael Key, Mel Brooks, Molly Shannon, Nick Offerman, Rob Riggle & Jon Lovitz

I enjoy the original HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA. Though it had nothing on other kid-friendly horror flicks like PARANORMAN and FRANKENWEENIE of the same year (2012), HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA served as a colorful, innocent and funny take on classic monsters. It wasn’t nearly as bad as one might expect an Adam Sandler animated comedy to be either. I had fun watching it, even though it didn’t quite know how to end. I wasn’t exactly opposed to the idea of a sequel and the trailer for this second installment had me intrigued. The advertising for HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 make it seem as if this second film goes in a different direction than the first and for the most part, it does. However, this sequel carries over some of the exact same problems that the original movie suffered from as well.

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Since the events of the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, Mavis (Dracula’s daughter) and Johnny (her human boyfriend) have tied the knot. A short while later, the two have a kid. It’s up in the air as to whether their son, Dennis, is a human or a vampire. If he’s a monster, the kid will sprout fangs within his first five years. Dracula becomes concerned that his grandson isn’t the bloodsucking fiend that he hoped he would be and does his best to bring out the monster inside of Dennis, all while Johnny introduces Mavis to the human world in California. There’s only a few days until Dennis’s fifth birthday. Is Dennis actually a vampire? If he’s only human, will Dracula (his vampa, short for vampire grandpa) be willing to accept him for who he is? I guess you’ll have to watch the movie to find out.

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I’ll address the positives first. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is very well animated. There’s a good atmosphere hovering over the whole film that feels like a kid-friendly version of something like THE ADDAMS FAMILY. The characters are all creative and creepily cute in their designs. I especially liked the inclusion of Dracula’s grandpa, Vlad, who appears to be an almost Nosferatu-like presence. The voice cast all fit their roles, with my favorite still being Steve Buscemi as a worn-out werewolf with over 300 kids. The subplot involving Mavis and Johnny in California is more enjoyable for the adults than it really is for children. What’s especially funny are the misguided lengths that Johnny’s parents will go to in order to make Mavis feel accepted in their mortal home. These moments did get some solid laughs out of me.

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The main plot at hand focuses on Dracula and his monstrous crew trying to get Dennis to sprout his potentially nonexistent fangs. While the film gets off to a slow, episodic start, it really finds its stride when Dracula hits the road with Dennis. During this middle section, the film moves from creative set-piece to creative set-piece as the monsters try to showcase their old-school abilities (e.g. the mummy conjuring a sand storm, the werewolf killing an innocent animal, etc.) and ultimately finding that they’re not as young as they used to be. This middle section is also chock full of big laughs for both children and adults. As well-paced as the momentum is, HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 doesn’t stick the landing at all. This movie has a really stupid ending. The film seemed as if it was building towards a potentially powerful message that could be taken to heart by both kids and adults, ultimately something you wouldn’t expect at all from a sequel to an animated Adam Sandler comedy. The screenplay botches this by introducing a last-minute baddie for no apparent reason other than to have an obvious villain and also includes a repetitive, cheap fight sequence. This doesn’t exactly sink this entire film up to that point, especially considering that the first movie suffered from the exact same problem, but it is disappointing.

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HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 should definitely keep kids entertained for just under 90 minutes with its colorful animation, obvious jokes and whatnot. There are pieces of adult humor that will go right over children’s heads and the middle is definitely the strongest part of the whole film. Ultimately, if you liked the first HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA, then you’ll enjoy this second installment. I consider them on the same playing field. Both films have strong animation, a good premise, and solid laughs throughout. However, they both drag a little too long and don’t quite stick the landing due to tacked-on, dumb endings. HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2 is cute, harmless fun and that’s all it was ever meant to be.

Grade: B-

SOUTHLAND TALES (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, Violence, Sexual Material and some Drug Content

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Directed by: Richard Kelly

Written by: Richard Kelly

Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Seann William Scott, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Mandy Moore, Justin Timberlake, Miranda Richardson, Wallace Shawn, Bai Ling, Nora Dunn, Kevin Smith, Jon Lovitz & Amy Poehler

Richard Kelly has become a low-rent M. Night Shyamalan. He blew a lot of people away with DONNIE DARKO (similar to how Shyamalan blew everyone away with SIXTH SENSE) and was hailed as an interesting new filmmaker. However, he quickly squandered this reputation away by making crappy overblown movies (that looked good) and not realizing when his stories were in drastic need of a rewrite. The difference between Kelly and Shyamalan is that Shayamalan made three good films before disappointing audiences and Kelly let them down with his second feature. SOUTHLAND TALES premiered at Cannes 2006 to horrible reviews and booing (which isn’t necessarily out of the ordinary as even Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION was heckled at the festival). It took a year for the studio to release this film afterwards to which I can only imagine their discussions were something along the line of “Just do it quickly…like a Band-Aid and then this pain will be over.” SOUTHLAND TALES is a colossal, mind-boggling failure of a film on every conceivable level. This isn’t so bad it’s good, this is so bad it will make you question what anybody on the set was thinking.

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Set in an alternative history, the United States has been forever changed since 2005 nuclear attacks on Texas. This led to a military regime taking over America, states being treated like individual countries, and harmful alternative fuels being created. It is now 2008 and the USA is on the brink of chaos. Boxer Santaros is an actor, suffering from memory loss, who has been sucked into a group of neo-Marxist extremists. Alongside another neo-Marxist (impersonating a police officer), Boxer finds himself in a confusing tangled web of conspiracy, power struggles, and all sorts of craziness. Oh, he’s also aided by a psychic ex-porn star and there are other sub-plots weaving in and out of Boxer’s journey. That’s the condensed version of this plot, because I really think Richard Kelly didn’t know what the hell he was doing while writing/filming this epic-length mess of a movie.

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I should have known that I was in trouble from the get-go as the story begins with a 10-minute-long prologue that spews exposition like it’s going out of style. Usually science-fiction films will introduce the world in a few short minutes and then incorporate the crazy technology and profound concepts into the story in an effective (sometimes, subtle) manner. That’s not the case in SOUTHLAND TALES as the lengthy prologue is just the tip of the iceberg. Justin Timberlake (who was fairly new to the acting scene at the time of this film) pops in and out to guide us through the story as best he can. His efforts are all in vain as this is entirely nonsensical and confusing. Some may argue that there’s a deeper meaning to everything in the film (right down the repeated phrase of “pimps don’t commit suicide”), but I’d argue that Richard Kelly didn’t have anyone to reign in his ambition on this project. He tried to cram way too many concepts, ideas, and plots into the space of one film. It backfired and the result is somehow simultaneously chaotic, stupid, and boring.

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Arguably, the plot isn’t even the strangest thing about SOUTHLAND TALES. That would come in one of the weirdest mismatched ensemble casts to ever hit the screen. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson tries to deliver his lines in a semi-convincing manner, but he doesn’t really seem to understand who his character is (I can’t blame him either). Seann William Scott attempts to take a semi-dramatic role as twin brothers (one’s an undercover neo-Marxist and the other is a racist cop) and seems confused (again, I’m not blaming him for the faulty characters). Sarah Michelle Gellar is playing a typical ditz as the psychic porn star. Meanwhile, lots of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE alumni show up for no discernible reason (including Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, etc.). Shawn Wallace is hamming it up as an oddball villain. Meanwhile, Justin Timberlake serves as a narrator who occasionally pops in for a pointless scene (including one baffling drug-addled musical number).

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SOUTHLAND TALES is also supposed to be a satire. Though I can see it trying to make political points and mock the state of our country, it doesn’t do either of these things well. In fact, every ounce of humor (including one brief joke from Timberlake about a Proposition 69) feels forced or just confused. The futuristic setting could have made for a neat world being brought to life, but it’s not fully explored as Kelly seems to focused on linking together bland characters and uninteresting plot threads. I can’t even call SOUTHLAND TALES an interesting failure, because it’s far too long for its own good and feels even longer than that. This movie drags to an unbearable degree.

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There are strange movies. There are weird failures of a film. There are also “WTF” moments strewn throughout many movies (just look at any David Lynch story). However, I think SOUTHLAND TALES takes the cake in being the ultimate WTF movie…and I don’t mean that in a good way. This movie is godawful and really makes you question how it got past the pre-production with a script this horrible and unfocused. This has made its way in my list of bottom three worst films that I’ve ever suffered through (right next to BRANDED and THE BLACK DAHLIA). The only possible way I could even recommend SOUTHLAND TALES on the tiniest merit is so people who sit through this epic-length failure will appreciate everything else they watch that much more.

Grade: F

HAPPINESS (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 14 minutes

MPAA Rating: NC-17

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Directed by: Todd Solondz

Written by: Todd Solondz

Starring: Jane Adams, Elizabeth Ashley, Dylan Baker, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ben Gazzara, Jared Harris, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Louise Lasser, Jon Lovitz & Molly Shannon

After burning myself on a lot of horror reviews for the month of Halloween, I’m craving covering other genres again. So I decided to throw in this dark comedy to give myself some sick laughs. For those who have seen HAPPINESS before, you might be snickering at this choice because this flick is way more depressing and emotional than light-hearted and funny. Directed by Todd Solondz (WELCOME TO THE DOLLHOUSE), HAPPINESS blends the lives of various strangers and relatives together into one deranged montage of evil, abuse, and joy gained from suffering. This being said, the movie isn’t without a sense of humor. It’s not at all a laugh riot and treats its controversial subject matter with real emotion, but brilliant realistic comedy is present. Despite the laughs that come in the flick, some viewers may find themselves close to tears in the final scenes.

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Three sisters (Trish, Helen, Joy) and their parents (Mona, Lenny) encounter struggles that upend their carefully constructed existence. Mona and Lenny have fallen out of love and are going through an unofficial divorce. Joy is the constant target of ridicule from her family and finds potential love in a Russian immigrant (Vlad). Meanwhile, Helen is a writer suffering from creativity blockage that might be cured by her perverted neighbor (Allen). While Trish seems to have everything she could possibly want in life, her psychiatrist husband (Bill) is secretly a pedophile. These plot threads criss and cross through each other until everything comes to a fruition that can only end in some sort of tragedy for everyone involved. There’s no spoiler in saying that HAPPINESS is the exact opposite of its title and there’s a lot of controversy around this film for completely understandable reasons.

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Despite the film never once delving into outright on-screen scenes of graphic evil, these topics are present in many conversations that make up the overall plot. This is a movie that thrives on relationships between its characters who all know each other or are vicariously related in some way. This being said, those interweaving storylines can be a bit of a mess during a couple of stretches. Certain plot threads are far more interesting than others. The strongest and most disturbing of which is Dylan Baker’s Bill doing awful things. Every scene with him is purposefully hard to watch, especially discussions with his son about the birds and the bees. Besides Baker’s outstanding performance, Philip Seymour Hoffman also steals the show as Allen. We’re thrown into the depressing world of this unhappy man who’s obsessed with rape fantasies and takes no interest in the obvious neighbor with a crush on him. One plot thread feels like it could have been edited out entirely for a tighter final cut and that’s the separation between Mona and Lenny. Joy’s overall journey isn’t the most compelling either, but I really liked her story arc.

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Seeing as the film relies so much upon its characters for a plot, the performances are all rock solid. Besides the aforementioned Baker and Hoffman, a young Jared Harris has a memorable role as Vlad. Other familiar faces include Jon Lovitz and Molly Shannon in a couple of brief scenes, the former supplying one of the funniest openings to a movie that immediately sets the somber feeling of everything to come. The actresses playing the sisters (Jane Adams, Lara Flynn Boyle, Cynthia Stevenson) haven’t gone on to become anything huge, but they do a great job of playing these women with their own individual flaws (willful deception, gullibility, power complex). Director/writer Todd Solondz masterfully mixes drama with the comedy. HAPPINESS can be darkly hilarious, but it never loses the sense that these are real fleshed-out characters and their suffering is painful to watch. There’s a whole vibe of being uncomfortable that never disappears or lightens up for a single second and stayed with me a while after the film had ended.

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The title of HAPPINESS itself slapped on a film like this gives you the immediate impression of how the humor will play out here. There’s a nasty sense of irony around every scene and the film basically comes to a close with all of these characters broken, emotionally damaged beyond repair or just plain weeping with no positive end in sight to their sad existence. The narrative can be a bit jumbled at times and I’d attribute this to one plot thread too many. The scenes with the parents were unneeded and the film could have easily thrived much better if it were just focused on the sisters along with those around them. This being said, HAPPINESS is a really fucked up slice of life that will be permanently engraved into your memory.

Grade: B+

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