CHIPS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Crude Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Pervasive Language, some Violence and Drug Use

Directed by: Dax Shepard

Written by: Dax Shepard

(based on the TV series CHIPS by Rick Rosner)

Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Pena, Vincent D’Onofrio, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adam Brody, Rosa Salazar, Kristen Bell & Jessica McNamee

After both JUMP STREET films banked at the box office, Hollywood seemed to have found an untapped niche: hard R-rated comedy versions of old TV series. After all, Hollywood has been rebooting small shows for the big screen for decades…but they never decided to invigorate these big budget reboots with raunchy material and R-rated sensibilities. However, studios may want to rethink its strategy…because two R-rated comedy remakes of TV shows have hit this year and both have underperformed. Unless BAYWATCH is a total failure from beginning to end, I cannot imagine it being the lesser of 2017’s two TV remakes. By every conceivable measure, CHIPS is woefully lame.

When corrupt cops begin running amok in the California Highway Patrol (a.k.a. CHP), undercover FBI agent Frank Ponch (Michael Pena) is on the case. However, Ponch encounters immediate trouble in being paired with do-gooder rookie Jon Baker (Dax Shepard). Jon is woefully underqualified for his job and frequently reads a bit too deeply into things. Still, the mismatched partners begin to get to the bottom of their case and find a dysfunctional friendship developing between them. Basically, this is a generic buddy-cop comedy that frequently bores the viewer and suffers from abrupt tonal shifts. Also, there are just enough chuckles to build a deceptively funny trailer.

I haven’t seen all of Dax Shepard’s output, but he’s starred in a couple of comedies that I would consider to be woefully underrated (e.g. WITHOUT A PADDLE and LET’S GO TO PRISON). I hoped that I might feel the same way about CHIPS when I rented this film, because this thing has taken a severe beating from critics/audiences and is already being called one of the worst films of 2017 by certain websites. Unfortunately, CHIPS deserves every bit of negative feedback it’s received. The film is inept in delivering laughs or a compelling story. The jokes don’t rise above the levels of occasionally referencing ass-to-mouth (in jokes that seem to rip off CLERKS II from over a decade earlier) and attempt to poorly mimic other better comedies (mostly 21 JUMP STREET and 22 JUMP STREET). CHIPS isn’t very funny, other than a handful of chuckles that have already been revealed in the trailer.

To further complicate the film’s many problems, Shepard’s R-rated CHIPS reboot doesn’t treat itself as pure comedy the whole way through, because things get needlessly dark and the material is frequently played with a mind-bogglingly serious tone. The introduction of the Vincent D’Onofrio’s villain has a cop committing suicide in order to save his hostage boyfriend. Hilarious? This entire scene seems like cheap shock value to make us loathe the villain. However, the usually talented D’Onofrio is phoning it in, so I felt nothing other than sheer boredom when his baddie was on the screen. The finale also sees a showdown that’s mostly uneventful and seems to blatantly copy countless other buddy cop flicks (including a gore gag that’s a toned-down version of 21 JUMP STREET’s most hilariously twisted moment).

As the two mismatched cops, Dax Shepard and Michael Pena are dull. The two have next to no chemistry together in scenes and seem to be woodenly reciting jokes, which weren’t that funny to begin with. Shepard’s Jon has a lame running gag about being prone to vomiting from house smells and it’s just as stupid as it sounds. Also, Michael Pena’s Ponch is a sex addict, so I’m guessing you can imagine from whom most of the film’s graphic nudity and sex humor arrives. Pena’s character’s arc seems like a lesser version of Will Ferrell’s occasionally funny Chazz from BLADES OF GLORY. The rest of the cast members are completely forgettable, with Kristen Bell serving as Jon’s bitchy wife, Rosa Salazar being a half-hearted love interest, and Maya Rudolph and David Koechner popping in for all-too-brief cameos.

CHIPS is a crappy comedy and an even worse buddy-cop mystery. It speaks volumes that half of this film is dedicated to a solving clue that turns out to be a cheap joke. The tone frequently gets too dark and straight-faced for its own good, while the comedy aspect feels dusty and poorly imitates better jokes from far better movies. There are a couple of well-directed motorcycle chases and two minutes worth of chuckles. However, CHIPS remains a woefully unfunny, boring, and audience-insulting piece of non-entertainment.

Grade: D-

THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Rude Humor and Action

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Directed by: Clay Kaytis & Fergal Reilly

Written by: Mikael Hed, Mikko Polla & John Cohen

(based on the video game ANGRY BIRDS by Rovio Entertainment)

Voices of: Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Peter Dinklage, Kate McKinnon, Sean Penn, Tony Hale, Keegan-Michael Key & Blake Shelton

I wasn’t expecting THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE to be great. After all, this film is based on an addicting cell phone app. That’s the current state of the film industry though, where a TETRIS trilogy gets greenlit and an EMOJI MOVIE is currently in production. I watched ANGRY BIRDS with hopes that it might be serviceable family entertainment. Not up to Disney or Pixar standards, but somewhere along the lines of a lesser DreamWorks film. I was horribly mistaken. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is one of the worst animated films I’ve seen in a long time and it’s not like this film doesn’t have good production values behind it either. ANGRY BIRDS features a talented voice cast and has solid animation, but the script is offensively lazy and a large portion of the jokes fall flat.

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On the aptly named Bird Island, easily infuriated Red (Jason Sudeikis) has been sentenced to anger management. In this frustrating program, the red flightless bird reluctantly befriends speedy Chuck (Josh Gad) and explosive Bomb (Danny McBride). Red’s anger management classes encounter unexpected turbulence when a mysterious ship arrives, filled with green pigs. The pigs are led by charismatic leader Leonard (Bill Hader), who quickly becomes popular in the bird community. However, Red becomes suspicious of these pigs and is written off as paranoid by his fellow feathered citizens. Soon enough, the outcast trio of angry birds become the only hope for Bird Island’s unhatched eggs.

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To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t exactly sold on ANGRY BIRDS being a film from the get-go. The marketing was lame, but I heard a few surprisingly positive reviews and the animation looked good. This film was made by Finnish company Rovio Entertainment, the very same company that made the ANGRY BIRDS app to begin with, and currently holds the record for the largest budget in Finnish film history. Apparently those investments paid off for them, because this film banked at the box office and there’s already a sequel in the works. Why am I discussing the production of this film, rather than the qualities of the movie itself? Well, those details seem remarkably more interesting than anything I can really say about this dull slog of wasted animation.

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The film’s story seems to be making itself up as it goes along, with many filler scenes before the all too brief conflict between angry birds and green pigs. This film seems like an origin story for the ANGRY BIRDS universe, but forgets part of why that game was so enjoyable in the first place. You’re launching birds at evil green pigs to retrieve eggs. This movie takes over an hour before it finally reaches that point, not that it necessarily would have been better to watch birds vs. pigs for an hour of screen time. What I’m getting at is that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE runs way too long. This film could have easily been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes and it would have made for a less painful experience.

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The film’s talented voice cast is completely wasted on bottom-of-the-barrel potty humor and pop culture references. Both of those can be well-executed in kid’s films, but ANGRY BIRDS drops the ball numerous times. There’s a forced SHINING reference with two pigs, a Calvin Klein ad with a pig, cholesterol jokes and plenty of substituted profanity (e.g. “Peck my life” and “Shell yes”). Are we laughing yet? Well, if those don’t do it for you, surely you’ll be rolling in the aisle from lame bird puns, a sequence of a snot-nosed bird flying through the air and smearing mucus everywhere, butts being thrown into other birds faces, and an elongated pee joke that’s already been spoiled in the trailer. It’s a wonder that THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE wound up hitting 3,932 theaters, because this thing feels like it should be debuting direct-to-video in Redbox and discount Wal-Mart bins.

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Are there any redeeming qualities to ANGRY BIRDS? Well, two adult-aimed jokes are genuinely clever and the animation is fun to look at. I’m not going to pretend like I’m the target audience for THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE, because I’m clearly not. However, THE LEGO MOVIE also sounded stupid in theory and wound up being one of the best films of 2014. It’s possible to make any idea, regardless of how idiotic and stupid it sounds, into a great or fun film, if there’s enough talent, effort and love thrown into the project. THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE is not that kind of movie. Instead, this lazy cash-grab will probably occupy bored children for 97 minutes, but likely won’t do much for teenage viewers and adults.

Grade: D

POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for some Graphic Nudity, Language throughout, Sexual Content and Drug Use

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Directed by: Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Written by: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone

Starring: Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, Jorma Taccone, Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Imogen Poots, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, Martin Sheen, Snoop Dogg & Will Forte

The Lonely Island is a trio of comedians/writers who made it big on Saturday Night Live and have already visited the big screen with 2007’s so-stupid-it’s-funny HOT ROD. Though they’ve found success separately (on film) and together (in three albums), it’s been nearly a decade since The Lonely Island made their big screen debut…and now they’re back with this spot-on mockumentary! Placing its fingers firmly on the jugular of modern pop culture and the pop music industry, POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is sure to please Lonely Island fans and people with a strange sense of humor (both usually fall under the same demographic).

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Meet Conner4real. Formerly a member of the musical trio known as the Style Boyz, Conner broke off into a worldwide solo sensation and gained an enormous fanbase with his first record. When his hotly anticipated second album ConnQuest receives negative reviews and dwindling sales, Conner resorts to desperate stage gimmicks and press antics to keep himself relevant. We watch as Conner’s career flies off the deep end and his pompous attitude begins to get the better of him. As you might imagine, it’s highly entertaining, surprisingly thirst-quenching, and very funny to behold.

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It should come as no surprise that POPSTAR is essentially spoofing Justin Bieber and I won’t deny that it’s well deserved. The title itself a is direct riff on the musical doc JUSTIN BIEBER: NEVER SAY NEVER and there are plenty of nods to stupid actions that the real-life spoiled star has committed throughout his career. However, Bieber isn’t the only target here, because POPSTAR takes on the pop music industry and petty celebrity culture as a whole. There’s a side character who’s essentially Kanye West, gags about three different reality shows clashing, and a gossip show called CMZ (wonder what that could possibly be making fun of). POPSTAR isn’t exactly subtle in its targets or jokes, because this spoof is devouring easy prey to begin with.

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These gags and characters are all executed by a massive cast of big faces, some of which were complete surprises (I won’t spoil those appearances). Besides The Lonely Island (as Conner4Real, his DJ, and his former bandmate), this film has a ton of colorful side characters played by the likes of Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Bill Hader, Joan Cusack, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Mike Birbiglia, and Will Forte. Celebrity cameos/interview segments feature Simon Cowell, RZA, 50 Cent, Pink, Ringo Starr and many more. There are simply too many to list and they’re all crammed into 86 minutes of fun. Seeing as this ensemble cast of comedic and musical talent is so large, certain roles outshine others. As funny as Bill Hader’s flatlining roadie and Joan Cusack’s cocaine-snorting mother are, their presence is limited to scenes that have already been given away in the marketing. Will Arnett is a huge highlight as the obnoxious CMZ host, so be sure to stay through the credits for an extra scene of him.

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The Lonely Island are a musical group and comedic troupe, so they’ve put together a mighty hilarious soundtrack for POPSTAR. With songs about the Mona Lisa being overrated, an obnoxious number about being humble, and songs that tackle social issues in terribly misguided ways, POPSTAR’s songs are horribly offensive, absolutely hilarious and genuinely well put together. One particular music video had me close to crying from laughing so hard. It’s safe to say that The Lonely Island knew precisely what they were doing when they got behind the camera and in front of it for this feature.

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The documentary-style storytelling greatly benefits POPSTAR as a whole. The film cuts together interviews, Snapchat/Youtube videos, news reports, footage from Conner’s concerts, and his day-to-day life. This results in a structure that’s legitimately interesting to watch, even when the material veers into predictable and sentimental territory towards the ending. In a decade or so, POPSTAR might be looked back on as a painfully funny reminder to how ludicrous both the pop culture and pop music scene were in the 2010’s.

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POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING is a silly, highly entertaining ride that had me giggling like an idiot from beginning to end. The film can be a tad too predictable at times and nearly overstays it’s under 90-minute running time, but I had a blast watching this film and imagine that fans of silly comedy will likely have a similar experience. The soundtrack is great. The laughs range from small visual gags to over-the-top set pieces. The mockumentary style lends itself perfectly to the material. POPSTAR is to music documentaries what 2007’s WALK HARD was to dramatic music biopics!

Grade: B+

INHERENT VICE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Drug Use throughout, Sexual Content, Graphic Nudity, Language and some Violence

InVice poster

Directed by: Paul Thomas Anderson

Written by: Paul Thomas Anderson

(based on the novel INHERENT VICE by Thomas Pynchon)

Starring: Joaquin Phoenix, Josh Brolin, Owen Wilson, Katherine Waterston, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro, Jena Malone, Joanna Newsom, Maya Rudolph & Martin Short

Paul Thomas Anderson is known for making unique films, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted him tackling a stoner noir comedy. Yet, INHERENT VICE (nominated for one Golden Globe and two Academy Awards) is currently in theaters. This movie plays out like CHINATOWN by way of BIG LEBOWSKI. Unfortunately, a damn near incoherent script and lengthy running time kill some of the momentum that this hippie mystery had going for it. I can see it gaining a possible cult following, but INHERENT VICE’s big problems weigh it down. At least, the film is a somewhat entertaining mess.

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The 60’s have come to a close and the 70’s are killing the hippie movement. Doc Sportello is a pothead private investigator who receives a mysterious visit from his ex-girlfriend, Shasta. Doc’s ex, now lover to a powerful businessman, informs the hippie detective that there’s a complicated plan at work and she might be in danger. Before you know it, Shasta has disappeared and Doc is on the case. His search begins with three seemingly unrelated disappearances that lead to a huge conspiracy and much craziness. I must attest to not completely understanding everything in the plot at the end of the day, but dare anyone to explain the whole movie to me in a way that makes any plausible sense without having to pull out a notepad and pen in order to map the whole story out. At one point in the film, Doc does exactly that on his wall and I couldn’t help but feel totally lost with him (in a bad way).

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How does INHERENT VICE function as a comedy? It definitely has its fair share of very funny scenes. The best of which have not been given away in the trailer. However, there is also a semi-serious attempt to lace all of these laughs into a mystery that becomes far more irritating than entertaining. For the first hour, I had a pretty good grasp of the plot as the web of lies, murder, and drugs spun faster and faster. However, with a certain plot twist, the movie completely lost me and never regained my interest in the actual story at hand. Part of this might be entirely blamed upon the source material itself as the 2009 has been said to be polarizing. Some call it a hugely entertaining hippie noir, while others see the whole affair as an aimless bore. I’m somewhere in the middle in my opinion of this film. The biggest detriment to the movie is the overlong running time that drags in quite a few places and ends with a shrug.

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Doc is a totally wooden protagonist. Joaquin Phoenix blends right into the role of a hippie who happens to be a private investigator on the side, but there’s nothing much to this character other than him wandering through a variety of random situations (some of which work, while others fall flat). The other characters wind up serving little to no point, including Reese Witherspoon and Benicio Del Toro popping up for about 5 minutes of screen time. Not to mention that Martin Short’s entertaining role is underused. There is one exception to these shallow cartoon characters played by A-listers. That’s in the performance of Josh Brolin. Brolin plays a cop bearing the nickname of Bigfoot. This character is fuelled by an extreme prejudice against hippies, but also remains a friend (of sorts) to Doc. Brolin steals every scene he’s in and received the biggest laughs out of my theater audience (myself included).

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Even though it bores in places and is ultimately underwhelming, INHERENT VICE does have an air of solid filmmaking around it. It’s very well-shot, has great moments and sports a fantastic soundtrack. There’s a sense that what you’re watching might just be a drug-addled hallucination projected onto the theater screen (in a similar way to FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS). There are definitely positive qualities to be said for that effect. I’d almost recommend seeing the film just for the weird, funny atmosphere it brings (as well as Brolin’s scenes).

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INHERENT VICE is a one-of-a-kind movie in its concept and execution, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There are laughs to be had, but also a running time that limps along. The A-list cast is mostly wasted and Josh Brolin walks away as the best part of the entire movie. I imagine that INHERENT VICE would play a lot better if you were high (not that I’m advocating that at all). As someone who saw the film without drugs, I think it’s just an okay flick.

Grade: C+

BIG HERO 6 (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 48 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action and Peril, some Rude Humor, and Thematic Elements

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Directed by: Don Hall & Chris Williams

Written by: Robert L. Baird, Dan Gerson & Jordan Roberts

(based on the BIG HERO 6 comics)

Voices of: Ryan Potter, Scott Adsit, Daniel Henney, T.J. Miller, Jamie Chung, Damon Wayans Jr., Genesis Rodriguez, James Cromwell, Alan Tudyk & Maya Rudolph

Disney is known for tales of princess, far off lands, and immensely creative retellings of classic stories. Every now and then, Disney tries something new or unusual out for size. Sometimes, this approach comes out with a new classic (WRECK-IT RALPH), but it can also result in a flawed or mixed bag (ATLANTIS: THE LOST EMPIRE, LILO & STITCH).  BIG HERO 6 is Disney’s first adaptation of a Marvel comic into an animated family film and winds up being a decent enough movie with some frustrating problems.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), 2014. ©Walt Disney

In a colorful futuristic city called San Fransokyo, Hiro Hamada (a 14-year-old genius) spends his time hustling at illegal bot fights (think cock-fighting by remote-controlled robots). With Tadashi’s (Hiro’s older brother) guidance, Hiro is interested in attending a high-tech university, but disaster strikes. Hiro teams up with the gentle giant Baymax (Tadashi’s invention: an inflatable nurse-like robot) to stop an evil villain, but he’ll also need the help of four friends to take down the masked baddie. This is pretty basic stuff for a superhero origin story, but it’s executed fairly well for about two-thirds of the movie.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Fred (voice: T.J. Miller), Honey Lemon (voice: Genesis Rodriguez), Hiro

BIG HERO 6 takes place in an awesome world. The visuals are beautiful and there’s a lot of creativity on display. A scene in which Hiro flies on Baymax’s back through the skies of San Fransokyo reminded me of the best scene in HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON because of how gorgeous the animated environment looked around them. There’s also a unique style to the animation itself in that this almost comes off like an anime met up with regular computer animation and had a baby. A few characters look like they’re right out of a manga (Hiro, Tadashi, etc.) and others look like they’re from typical animated designs, but they blends seamlessly into one big world that is very cool to look at. It’s an awesome film in terms of pure animation, but the script itself is where things falter.

BIG HERO 6, Yokai (voice: Charles Adler), 2014. ©Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures/courtesy

The characters in BIG HERO 6 are fun to watch, but pretty standard. With the exception of Hiro and Baymax, everyone else comes off as a one-note joke and don’t receive enough time to develop into actual characters. Hiro is a sympathetic teenager who’s suffering from severe depression and Baymax shows a remarkable amount of emotions for a robot (as well as providing the best comic relief in the whole movie). There’s genuine friendship between them that’s the best aspect of the film, besides the unique animation. However, BIG HERO 6 tries to have it both ways in terms of being a rocking superhero movie and a cutesy kid’s film. This isn’t a great mix and it’s clear that a lot of things were compromised in terms of making this child-friendly (just wiki some of the details about the source material for examples). BIG HERO 6 works very well for the first hour (maybe a little longer) thanks to well-placed humor. It’s a fun and entertaining flick that is almost compromised by a rushed climax.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), 2014. ©Walt Disney

All the momentum and entertainment nearly goes out the window in the final third. We are given the reveal of who the kabuki-masked villain is and I will give BIG HERO 6 praise in it being not completely predictable, but the details surrounding the bad guy are so rushed that beating him almost seemed like a shrug-inducing obligation. The stakes weren’t too high and the final battle is an afterthought. The climax isn’t compelling or very exciting. There are even a couple of plot holes introduced by the rushed showdown. It’s almost like you’re on a really fun rollercoaster ride and the cars stop for the final third, so you’re forced to get out and walk the rest of the track. That’s the exact same effect of watching BIG HERO 6.

BIG HERO 6, from left: Baymax (voice: Scott Adsit), Hiro (voice Ryan Potter), 2014. ©Walt Disney

Depending on how well it performs at the box office, BIG HERO 6 is likely to become a new franchise for Disney. I liked the world of this story enough to watch a sequel, but this film is just okay overall. It’s a decent enough origin story that doesn’t develop the colorful characters enough to make me care about anyone other than the two leads and nearly falls apart completely in the last third (opening up a big plot hole and cliché that you can see coming from a mile away). BIG HERO 6 is satisfying family entertainment, but you’d expect more from both Marvel and Disney (let alone a combination of the two).

Grade: B-

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