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

HotelTr2 poster

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.

HotelTr2 1

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.

HotelTr2 2

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.

HotelTr2 3

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.

HotelTr2 4

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-

PIXELS (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some Language and Suggestive Comments

Pixels poster

Directed by: Chris Columbus

Written by: Tim Herlihy & Timothy Dowling

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, Michelle Monaghan, Matt Lintz, Brian Cox & Ashley Benson

PIXELS is based on a 2010 French short film. That goofy little short was entertaining and cool, even if little time was put into an actual story. It was a quick excuse to watch pixelated video game characters wreak havoc on the real world. A full-length feature with this premise might be fun in the right hands, but that potential drops a bit when Adam Sandler’s Happy Madison (a company that doesn’t exactly have a reputation for making good movies) produces said film. PIXELS is a movie fighting with itself over becoming one of two things. One of these possibilities is a goofy nostalgia-filled adventure and the other is your typical low-bar Adam Sandler comedy. Guess which one wins.

Pixels 1

In 1982, NASA launched a time capsule (with footage of TV shows, commercials, presidential speeches, and video games) in hope of making contact with extraterrestrial life. Aliens misinterpreted our message as a declaration of war and have sent real-life versions of video games to our planet for a dangerous “competition.” The loser of the competition gets their planet annihilated. Our only hope lies in Sam Brenner (a washed-up loser and 2nd place video game pro), Will Cooper (Brenner’s best friend and President of the United States), Ludlow (another video game champ and conspiracy theorist), and Eddie Plant (an ex-con and Brenner’s former video game rival). This small band of heroes must work together through real life “games” if they hope to save our planet from certain doom.

Pixels 2

Now, that premise actually sounds like it could be fun. In fact, the script practically writes itself. I was one of the people who saw the trailer for PIXELS and got genuinely excited. For the record, the film is not a total failure (despite the verbal thrashing it’s receiving from most critics). There are a couple of enjoyable scenes. Not surprisingly, these come in parts of the movie with video game characters. A real life game of Centipede is enjoyable for what it is and a Pac-Man chase through the streets of New York stands out as the film’s biggest highlight. I’d be lying if I said that the effects in this movie didn’t look good either. There was clearly a big budget and it was used. However, everything between the video game scenes and a lackluster finale cause this film to fall flat on its face.

Pixels 3

This is because PIXELS winds up being a Sandler comedy through and through. It might not be scraping the bottom of the barrel like JACK AND JILL or THAT’S MY BOY, but the film is significantly weighed down by unlikable characters and (very) cheap jokes. Aside from a few chuckles, I can’t recall any big laughs in this whole movie. Sandler doesn’t even seem to be trying in his washed-up loser role (that feels so much like his other washed-up loser roles) and Josh Gad mistakes shouting for being funny. Though that’s not entirely on his shoulders as the script doesn’t provide him with much material to begin with. Kevin James seems to be playing himself and just so happens to be the President of the United States. That could have made for some laughs, but feels like a missed opportunity. Sean Bean and Brian Cox show up for a quick paycheck, while Peter Dinklage delivers the only semi-decent performance of the cast as an overly obnoxious jerk.

Pixels 4

At one point in the film, Sandler’s character is watching a preteen boy play a FALLOUT-style video game and points out that the game doesn’t have a pattern and simply chugs along with “no rhyme or reason.” That one comment can sum up the entire screenplay. There doesn’t really seem to be a reason for why things happen during parts of this story and the movie doesn’t seem to care. That wouldn’t necessarily be all bad if we were given cool-looking scenes to satiate our appetite for video game characters terrorizing the real world, but instead we’re handed a half-assed romantic subplot (because I guess this movie needed one of those) and a huge plot hole that’s simply taken as part of the story. The huge gap in movie logic is simply accepted as an excuse for a finale that feels too forced and jumbled.

Pixels 5

There’s probably a good movie lying somewhere inside of PIXELS. However, the cool premise loses out to becoming just another lame Adam Sandler comedy. You can feel potential radiating off the screen and not much of it was used. Why is Q*Bert a prominent side character featured for a few quick and easy jokes, but Mario is only seen once hopping around in the background? What about other gems like Dig Dug or Asteroids (which we see a character playing, but never comes to fruition)? The biggest question of all comes in why was so much time and money poured into what essentially amounts to yet another bad Adam Sandler comedy that has more spectacle than the rest of his filmography? If you want a great throwback to old-school video games, stick to WRECK-IT RALPH. If you want a good Sandler movie, stick to HAPPY GILMORE, ANGER MANAGEMENT or BIG DADDY. I simply can’t see PIXELS satisfying anyone. What a waste.

Grade: D+

GROWN UPS (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude Material including Suggestive References, Language and some Male Rear Nudity

GU poster

Directed by: Dennis Dugan

Written by: Adam Sandler & Fred Wolf

Starring: Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade, Rob Schneider, Salma Hayek, Maria Bello, Maya Rudolph, Blake Clark & Steve Buscemi

Adam Sandler has easily become one of the most picked-on figures in Hollywood. It seems like I’m jumping on the band wagon by turning Sandler into a punching bag, but I originally liked this comedian. HAPPY GILMORE, BIG DADDY, and ANGER MANAGEMENT are probably my favorite films that Sandler has been involved in as a comedic actor, but the man can also really act in serious roles too (see PUNCH-DRUNK LOVE). It’s absolutely infuriating to see Sandler rely on lowest common denominator humor and phone in damn near every movie he’s been involved with in the last decade. Who thought JACK & JILL (ranked one of the worst movies of all time) was a good idea? How about THAT’S MY BOY (also ranked one of the worst movies of all time) or BUCKY LARSON: BORN TO BE A STAR (which Adam co-wrote)? GROWN UPS is no exception. It’s not that the film is out-and-out unwatchable, but rather that it’s bland beyond belief and plays out more like a horrible feature-length episode of a bad sitcom.

MCDGRUP EC060

The so-called story of GROWN UPS revolves around a group of childhood friends reuniting for a weekend of fun after their old basketball coach dies. That’s the whole plot in a nutshell. Each friend has their own separate issues, some more than others, and the tone can’t seem to make up its mind about either being sappy family friendly film or a gross-out affair. The really awful thing about either one of these is that they both feel forced. It’s all been-there done-that humor. Plenty of jokes involving bad hair (courtesy of Rob Schneider), sex with old women (also courtesy of Schneider), farts, breast milk being drunken by a four-year-old child, and somebody getting hurt with no real repercussions. Comedy is a subjective art form, but everything here has been done to death in previous films or is at the level of a Junior High kid’s sense of humor.

MCDGRUP EC051

One thing I kept thinking while watching GROWN UPS was about the lack of continuity in the story. It played out more like a series of SNL skits that were all thrown together in a single movie. A webisode format on the official Happy Madison website would have been a more effective way of getting these scenes out (although the material would still be just as lame). What’s even more insulting to the viewer is that everything feels half-assed as far as this being a full-length movie. Some inherent conflicts are set up between a couple of characters and then resolved about two minutes later. A skillfully crafted film might exploit these potential sub-plots for all they were worth and make a coherent plot around it of sorts. Not GROWN UPS and not Adam Sandler, he’s far more concerned about getting back to slow-motion scenes of David Spade falling face-first into a cow turd (not only seen once, but twice).

MCDGRUP EC011

The cardinal sin with GROWN UPS is that it doesn’t seem like anybody’s putting any real effort into being funny. It’s a comedy without laughs or a story to speak of. I have a theory that this was all a ruse set up as an excuse for the Happy Madison crew to hang out. The viewer is paying the price for to watch some of these admittedly funny (in the right roles) actors just phone it in. This includes everybody, even an underused Maya Rudolph (seen in a brief part in MACGRUBER with far more laughs than this film) and even more underused Steve Buscemi (appearing for three scenes total). When the movie tries to be sentimental is when it really goes down, because it showed a brief promise that there could have been a decent story inside of GROWN UPS. It all seems like a rushed, phoned in, forced, and false comedy on every affront.

MCDGRUP EC052

GROWN UPS wasn’t funny in the slightest. It would have been right at home as a bad TV movie on NBC complete with a laugh track, because everything is just so tame and lame. Some of the crude material gives it the PG-13 rating (mainly due to the disgusting breast milk scenes), but it’s just not anything new or remotely entertaining. Most of the devoted followers of Adam Sandler claim that the hatred for him is unneeded, but Sandler used to be funny and he isn’t anymore. I didn’t think some of his earlier work was good (e.g. BILLY MADISON), but things like HAPPY GILMORE and BIG DADDY entertained me. As he’s progressed in his (unfortunately) successful career, Sandler has become content with playing it easy.

MCDGRUP EC039

The jokes in GROWN UPS are obvious, forced, or just plain lame. There’s no story to the film and nobody’s trying with this material. It’s one of the worst comedies I’ve seen in the past five years and the hatred for Sandler is very much warranted if this is the kind of crap he’ll keep pumping out. GROWN UPS is a waste of everybody’s time with the possible exception of the all-star cast. They probably got paid handsomely for their farts.

Grade: D-

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑