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

THE SKELETON TWINS (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 33 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language, some Sexuality and Drug Use

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Directed by: Craig Johnson

Written by: Craig Johnson & Mark Heyman

Starring: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, Luke Wilson, Ty Burrell, Boyd Holbrook & Joanna Gleason

SKELETON TWINS is a dramedy that leans more on drama than comedy. This emotionally honest slice of depressing life tackles dark material with sometimes quirky dialogue. Driven by a sincere honesty that’s rarely captured this well on film, SKELETON TWINS might turn off anyone expecting a light-hearted romp or even a full-blown dark comedy. The film is much more of a family drama with dashes of witty banter. Though its been marketed as something totally different from what it actually is, SKELETON TWINS is a mostly fantastic indie drama for those seeking something out of the ordinary and challenging.

THE SKELETON TWINS, from left: Bill Hader, Kristen Wiig, 2014. ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett

Milo and Maggie are twins who haven’t spoken to each other in 10 years. After two coincidences botch subsequent suicide attempts (Milo slicing his wrists, Maggie almost swallowing a handful of pills), Maggie is tasked with taking care of Milo after his hospital stay. The two bond over their lives not turning out quite the way they imagined and both deal with their own unique set of baggage in very different (not healthy) ways. There’s not a full-on story per se, but rather a severely dysfunctional sibling relationship being repaired in odd circumstances. Interactions between Milo, Maggie, Lance (Maggie’s naïve nice-guy husband) and Rich (a mysterious figure from Milo’s past) make up the structure of the movie. As a result, the story plays through a natural series of encounters that take their toll (both negative and positive) on the twins.

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Besides a very well-written script, the driving force of SKELETON TWINS lies within the performances of the twin characters themselves. Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader (both known for raunchy comedies) take far more somber and melancholy turns as emotionally damaged Milo and Maggie. Fantastic performances are where the actor or actress inhabit their character. After a while, you don’t see that performer, you see that character. This is exactly what happens watching Wiig and Hader interact with each other. Their strained sibling relationship is entirely believable. Though he may be slightly underused, Luke Wilson is unusually great as Maggie’s innocent and lovable husband, Lance. Ty Burrell plays the film’s wild card character as Rich, who is a complete mystery until puzzle pieces reveal the complex (and uncomfortable) connection he had/has with Milo.

THE SKELETON TWINS, l-r: Bill Hader, Ty Burrell, 2014. ©Roadside Attractions/courtesy Everett

SKELETON TWINS a sad real-world aspect in a believable manner that I haven’t seen executed this well on film for a long time. Though Milo and Maggie make their share of bad decisions, they can admit to their faults. The characters might not gain your sympathy during certain actions and revelations, but they’re so believable that you can understand why they might feel the need to confront each other or dig a bigger hole for themselves within their problems. There is a steady handful of laughs to be had, but they aren’t necessarily at the expense of the misguided characters. These funny moments are derived from enjoying the little things in life to make circumstances seem less harsh.

THE SKELETON TWINS, from left: Kristen Wiig, Bill Hader, 2014. ©Lionsgate/Courtesy Everett

Though its overall depressing overtones might turn those wanting an outright comedy (or even plain dark comedy) away, SKELETON TWINS feels remarkably honest and bittersweet. The performances from Hader and Wiig need to be seen to be believed as they come off as completely different people and show serious action chops they haven’t received many opportunities to flex. The only flaw comes in a small stretch of film that does feel like its dragging its feet, but everything else is so fantastic that it overshadows that minor problem. SKELETON TWINS is a wonderful film that feels completely natural in everything it does and comes highly recommended!

Grade: A-

IDIOCRACY (2006)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 24 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language and Sex-related Humor

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Directed by: Mike Judge

Written by: Mike Judge, Etan Cohen

Starring: Luke Wilson, Maya Rudolph, Dax Shepard, Terry Crews, Anthony Campos, David Herman, Justin Long, Thomas Haden Church, Stephen Root

Idiots. The world is full of them. Turn on the news, read a blog, or (God forbid) do a search on YouTube if you want some recent examples of stupidity that pops up in our society again and again. IDIOCRACY (Mike Judge’s third feature film) was promptly shelved and then dumped into an extremely limited theatrical release by the studio that financed it (Fox). This is a pity on so many levels. One of which being that this sci-fi comedy has some startling, funny, and depressing points to make about the future of mankind. It’s not without faults, but I guarantee you haven’t seen anything quite like this film before and you probably won’t see anything like it again.

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In the present day, Joe Bauers has been selected for a top-secret army experiment. The reason he’s been chosen isn’t that Joe is a genius, but he’s the most average man in every category and doesn’t have any pesky living relatives to ask questions. He’s frozen in cryogenic sleep and through human error, wakes up 500 years in the future. Joe makes the shocking discovery that everything has been dumbed down to ridiculous levels. Joe is now the smartest man in the world and must deal with this whole new stupid society.

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The depiction of why humanity’s IQ suddenly dropped is terrifying, because it’s so true. Smart people think things through before they decide to have kids, dumb people don’t. How many huge white trash families do you see with tons of kids running wild around the supermarket? It’s altogether depressing to think about and director/writer Mike Judge knows this. He tends to keep things as upbeat and wacky as possible, despite the arguable accuracy of his vision of the future. A whole lot of creativity permeates through every frame. Careful attention has been paid to small details that bring this world to life. Shameless product placement has been turned into a punchline, rather than obvious marketing towards certain companies. I can’t imagine that you’ll want to visit Costco, Starbucks, or Carl’s Jr. after watching IDIOCRACY, because of how the movie portrays each of these chains. Also, I doubt you’ll want to chug an energy drink (which is preferable to water in this future) either.

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With all of the scathing satire taken into account, IDIOCRACY comes dangerously close to wearing out its welcome. Some of the characters and humor are a little too obnoxious. Luke Wilson is a decent enough leading man here. I always seem to get the impression that he’s the less talented or charismatic Wilson brother. His performance didn’t do much to change my mind. However, seeing as his character is a perfectly average guy, it seemed like ideal casting (no major disrespect to Luke Wilson). Dax Shepherd also overplayed his role of an idiotic lawyer to the point of teetering on the annoying side, rather than a lovable doofus that the script tries to make him out to be. Maya Rudolph is the worst character here and the less said about her performance, the better. A few big name actors do pop up in short roles as the future morons, these include Justin Long, Stephen Root, and Thomas Haden Church. Finally, there’s Terry Crews and he’s without a doubt hilarious to watch. As a wrestler-elected-president, Crews is having a blast and it’s infectious to the viewer as well.

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The finale also falls into a predictable territory, where the viewer is pretty much just waiting for things to follow the exact manner that they do wind up playing out in. With all of this being said, Mike Judge does hit the nail on the head very well in little details and lots of scenes are scathingly funny. We’ve all met people who resemble some traits of this future folk and it’s horrifying accurate to think that the planet might some day wind up in an idiotic dystopian world. Again, I did like how fleshed out this world was. Tone wise, the film feels like a 70’s sci-fi film that’s been injected with a good dose of humor alongside the relevant social commentary.

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IDIOCRACY is far from Mike Judge’s best work (OFFICE SPACE and KING OF THE HILL), but it’s also earned the cult status surrounding it. What’s even more telling is that the studio dumped this film in a terrible manner and yet movies like TRANSFORMERS still get huge releases. This move could be viewed as another step closer to IDIOCRACY’s predicted future of people paying to see a 90-minute movie titled Ass or watching “Ow, My Balls!” on TV every evening. As playful as it is satirical, IDIOCRACY is recommended for those wanting out of the ordinary laughs or are curious about taking a look into a possible terrifying future where smart people are an endangered species.

Grade: B

MIDDLE MEN (2010)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Sexual Content, Nudity, Language, Drug Use and Violence

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Directed by: George Gallo

Written by: George Gallo & Andy Weiss

Starring: Luke Wilson, Giovanni Ribisi, Gabriel Macht, James Caan, Laura Ramsey, Jacinda Barrett, Kelsey Grammer, Terry Crews, Kevin Pollak & Robert Forster

MIDDLE MEN plays out like the gooey mess of someone throwing THE SOCIAL NETWORK, BOOGIE NIGHTS, and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET in a blender. That description should tell you if this film is in your wheelhouse or not. Based on the real-life experiences of Christopher Mallick (a morally questionable businessman in internet history), the film seems to jumble a bunch of different events into a coherent storyline that begins with a fast-pace and a lot of dark humor. Somewhere along the line, things get fumbled as the film significantly deviates into more familiar (probably entirely fictional) territory and ultimately becomes far less interesting.

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Jumping from 1980’s to 1990’s and ultimately to the mid-2000’s, the plot revolves around (fictional character) Jack Harris who proves to have a talent for fixing difficult problems and being an equally skilled businessman. After turning a friend’s night club into a goldmine in the short period of a few months, Jack is called in to help two morons (Wayne and Buck) responsible for creating a revolutionary internet program. This program allows for anyone living anywhere in the world to enter their credit card information for a monthly subscription to online pornography. What else would be so popular on the worldwide web? Unfortunately, Wayne and Buck have gotten themselves in bed with the Russian mob and a crooked lawyer. Jack fixes their problems in the best way in can, but also finds himself immersed in the glamorous lifestyle centered around perversion, sex, and drugs. This puts his personal life in danger of falling apart, whilst also building tension between him and his long-distance family. The Jack’s (along with his two partner’s) problems only steadily increase into bigger issues…

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MIDDLE MEN sounds like a recipe for success on many different levels. For the first half of the film, it delivers. The story is equipped with a rip-roaring fast face that jumps all over the place with ease. Frequent dark humor litters every scene and provides some much-needed comic relief that totally works. The use of the soundtrack is absolutely fantastic too. The whole film really does reek of a Scorsese-inspired filmmaker (in this case, George Gallo) and unlike most others who wind up ripping off the man’s style, Gallo works this all to his advantage. I absolutely loved the first 50 minutes of this film. It nailed everything one would hope for from a movie like this. Then things quickly turn in the opposite direction.

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Everything that worked so well in the introduction and set up is slowed to a crawl for the remainder of the film and sometimes even forgotten. It seemed as if the filmmaker and co-screenwriter weren’t content with the already complicated story they were telling. The resulting solution being to throw in a bunch of unnecessary (most likely entirely made up) plot points that have been seen in plenty of crime thrillers. Every single one of these felt completely out-of-place in this would-be drama about the complicated inception of internet pornography. The tone also dives into decidedly darker territory and loses the likable sense of humor in the process. The laughs were so frequent in the first half that the rest of the film (again) seems to have forgotten what worked so well in the beginning. The tone jumps all over the place and things ultimately conclude in an ending that left me unsatisfied.

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As far as the big name cast goes, nearly everyone delivers good performances across the board with one exception. That stick in the mud would be Luke Wilson. He’s enjoyable enough in comedies, but his dramatic side seems to be a mixed bag (e.g. VACANCY). In MIDDLE MEN, he’s taking center stage as the Ray Liotta role in GOODFELLAS. His voice-over narration lacks the charisma that Liotta delivered in Scorsese’s masterpiece. I didn’t mind this at the beginning due to how fascinating and entertaining everything else was, but Wilson winds up being an almost nobody of a leading man. His performance comes off as wooden. I was more interested in seeing everyone else around him.

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Kelsey Grammer has a brief one-scene role. Kevin Pollak and Terry Crews show up as seldom seen side characters. As Wayne and Buck, Giovanni Ribsi and Gabriel Macht are a blast to watch. Their screen time seems to be significantly cut in the latter half, which adds yet another reason for the film to take a dip in quality halfway through. Their characters also make some far-fetched decisions that I didn’t buy, even seeing how dumb they had shown themselves to be in their actions leading up the final 30 minutes. A welcome James Caan is the best presence on-screen as a loathsome lawyer that has a shady side to say the least.

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I really wanted to love MIDDLE MEN and I thought this might be an underrated gem from just how awesome the first half was. The humor was very funny. The pace was quick and flying by. The soundtrack was awesome and appropriate for each given time period. Then the movie takes a huge switch flip and things go downhill. A jumbled tone, overly familiar twists and some final notes that didn’t satisfy me in the slightest make MIDDLE MEN into an overall disappointment. It’s far from a terrible film. Everyone, except Luke Wilson, gives a solid performance. The film is competently shot and directed. Sadly, the end result is a mixed bag. If I saw this playing on cable and nothing else was on, then I’d switch it over to kill some time. I just don’t see myself going out of my way to watch this film again.

Grade: C+

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