MONSTER TRUCKS (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

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

Directed by: Chris Wedge

Written by: Derek Connolly

Starring: Lucas Till, Jane Levy, Amy Ryan, Rob Lowe, Danny Glover, Barry Pepper, Holt McCallany, Frank Whaley & Thomas Lennon

To be completely honest, I walked into MONSTER TRUCKS with low expectations. The trailer made this film look like the 2017 equivalent of NINE LIVES. This film had been juggling release dates since 2015, before finally landing in January (a dumping ground for movies). To boot, Paramount took a 115-million tax writedown on this film because they knew it was doomed to fail at the box office and the former studio president was fired for letting his 4-year-old son come up with the idea for this movie. This film also boasts an astonishingly high budget of 125 million dollars. With all of these warning signs, I was surprised that MONSTER TRUCKS wasn’t as bad as I was expecting it to be. It’s certainly not a good film, but it’s not necessarily bad either.

Tripp (Lucas Till) is a high school student working at a junkyard. His latest project is a beat-up truck and his everyday life is quite dull, but this changes when a monster escapes from a nearby fracking operation. This monster is the tentacled, butt-ugly Creech (short for Creature) and feeds on gasoline as a food source. Tripp and his nerdy love-interest Meredith (Jane Levy) take a liking to Creech and discover that the monster can actually hide/function as the inside of Lucas’s in-progress truck. With Creech serving as his vehicle, Tripp tries to save this friendly monster from the evil oil company that wants to kill its entire species.

MONSTER TRUCKS has a simple stupid idea at its core. What if monsters lived inside of trucks? Hence, the title of the film. It’s very evident that this idea came from the studio president’s 4-year-old child. Surprisingly though, the film gets a few solid points for having unexpectedly redeemable qualities. To me, the biggest standout of the cast is easily Frank Whaley as Tripp’s deadbeat dad. In most family films, there would likely be a heartwarming resolution as the neglectful father comes back into his son’s life. In MONSTER TRUCKS, Whaley’s deadbeat dad character remains a deadbeat dad and the son is heartbroken about that. There’s no fixing certain terrible parents and I feel that this is a valuable lesson for kids to learn. I certainly didn’t expect that message to come from MONSTER TRUCKS (of all movies), but I’ll take it.

This film also has some rather good effects during its scenes of vehicular destruction. There are a couple of legitimately good chase scenes as Tripp, Meredith and Creech have to “drive” fast and furiously away from the evil oil company employees on their tail. The final race against the clock is very fun to watch and sticks out as the film’s best sequence. Surprisingly, some of the script’s humor that earns a few legitimate laughs too. A punchline to a joke that is laid down far in advance is easily the most unexpectedly clever chuckle in the movie, while the wholesale destruction of a scummy car dealership is quite entertaining.

MONSTER TRUCKS’s momentum sputters in being a by-the-numbers E.T. knock-off. This is definitely better than other E.T. rip-offs (e.g. MAC AND ME), but it’s still not very good in deviating from that formula. There’s nary an unpredictable scene in this film, save for the refreshing deadbeat dad story arc and a heavy-handed environmental message. Another problem comes in Lucas Till and Jane Levy both being easily identifiable 20-somethings at a high school. I get that 20-something actors play teenagers all the time, but these two stick out more than you’d want in a kids movie. It’s especially noticeable when a dorky admirer of Till’s character is in the same scene and looks like he could almost be Till’s son.

While I didn’t have a major problem with the butt-ugly monsters in the trucks, it’s worth noting that these monsters aren’t cute in any way, shape or form. I know that Nickelodeon was likely planning on selling toys of these creatures, but they simply do not look visually pleasing. Creech and the two other main tentacled creatures appear to be dumb, gas-guzzling versions of Lovecraft monsters.

The evil oil company trying to capture/kill these monsters aren’t very established. Rob Lowe is supposedly the main big wig villain, but only appears on-screen for about five minutes of screen time. Lowe likely wanted quick cash and agreed to do one day of shooting. The proper antagonist is Holt McCallany as Lowe’s main henchman, who almost seems too menacing for a children’s film (e.g. threatening torture with a cattle prod and then later trying to straight-up murder a teenager). Also, Danny Glover and Thomas Lennon are in this movie…just because they felt like it?

MONSTER TRUCKS is far better than I ever imagined it would be. After seeing the laughably bad trailers and every conceivable red flag being raised, I went into this film with expectations of tearing it apart and walked out with a fairly middle-of-the-road experience. This film has surprisingly good qualities alongside the expectedly bad ones. There’s a refreshing message about sometimes not being able to fix the problem of a crappy parent, which I never expected to see from the likes of this film. The chase scenes are fun and some of the humor works. However, the film is a formulaic rip-off of E.T. (with trucks and tentacles) and most of the performances aren’t good. Overall, MONSTER TRUCKS is an okay film to stick on in front of young children to shut them up for almost two hours of quiet time. Nothing more, nothing less.

Grade: C

THE INTERVIEW (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

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

Interview poster

Directed by: Seth Rogen & Evan Goldberg

Written by: Dan Sterling

Starring: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Lizzy Caplan, Randall Park, Diana Bang, Timothy Simons, Charles Rahi Chun & Rob Lowe

It has become impossible to bring up THE INTERVIEW without mentioning the unnecessary controversy around it. I would be silly to summarize the ridiculous situation that erupted before this film’s release (you already all know about it), but will say that all the news surrounding THE INTERVIEW was hyping me up to see this movie. In all honesty, I was pretty stoked. Instead of going the VOD route, luck would have it that a movie theater within reasonable distance was showing this film (complete with extra security and all). If North Korea hadn’t issued threats and Sony wasn’t hacked, then THE INTERVIEW would have come and gone as a good comedy that might be mentioned from time to time. Instead, this movie has now become an unintentional event film and seeing it in a sold out theater definitely contributed to my overall enjoyment. The film isn’t going to be as funny or entertaining if watched directly from YouTube or by yourself in a living room. If at all possible, go see THE INTERVIEW in a theater.

Interview 1

Dave Skylark is the popular host of a trashy talk show that covers insignificant celebrity stories masquerading as serious news. His producer, Aaron, is sick of having created 1,000 episodes of cheap excuses for journalism and encourages Skylark to aim higher. This results in an interview being set up with feared dictator Kim Jong-Un in the far recesses of North Korea. Before Skylark and Aaron can catch their flight to Korea, the CIA recruits the pair into an assassination plot to take down Kim. Things don’t go as simply as planned due to Dave’s stupidity, Aaron hitting on one of Kim’s officials, and Kim seeming like a nice guy. Wacky hijinks and political poop jokes ensue, as well as a lot of unnecessary controversy in the real world.

Seth Rogen;James Franco;Lizzy Caplan

If you’re not a fan of Seth Rogen comedies, you’re probably not going to like THE INTERVIEW. However, I think Rogen is very funny and has far more hits than misfires. Flaunting a creative and ingenious (in bad taste) premise, the film is as juvenile and raunchy as to be expected. Rogen and Franco still have good chemistry as believable best friends. Rogen is a more serious straight-man than usual and Franco is the biggest dumbass he’s ever played. Some might find Franco to be the funniest part of the film (I’ll get more into that later on), but I found that mostly unknown Randall Park stole the show as Kim Jong-Un. Besides capturing the evil that lies beneath a good guy persona he puts on for Skylark, Park manages to get a majority of the big laughs from his nuances and goofiness as the shy dictator with a horrible hair style.

Interview 3

THE INTERVIEW was filmed in Vancouver, but you could have fooled me as this looks convincingly like North Korea (not that I’ve ever been there or plan on visiting there). Lots of digital trickery was employed to sell this film as appearing to take place in one of the most dangerous countries on the planet and I fell for every bit of it. The sense of humor is riskier this time around compared to Rogen’s previous work. You’d imagine that it would have to be given that this comedy revolves around the potential assassination of a world leader, but it gets graphically gory and far darker than I was initially expecting. It’s very R-rated (tons of profanity, wacky violence, and over-the-top sex) and should entertain fans of this kind of comedy. I was cracking up through multiple points in the film, a highlight of which being Rogen’s night-time encounter with a Siberian Tiger.

James Franco;Seth Rogen

THE INTERVIEW is not high-brow filmmaking by any stretch of the imagination and can get too juvenile. Though some have praised Franco’s moronic Skylark, I actually found him to be the most trying character in the film. Rogen and Park got far more laughs out of me. Lizzy Caplan (who was awesome in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE) is underused as the CIA agent recruiting the pair of would-be assassins. The film compromises an otherwise hilarious crucial moment with a poop joke that felt distracting. There were also five running jokes that are used throughout the movie (right down until the end) that really aren’t amusing the first time around and become eye-rolling by the fourth time we get a certain piece of dialogue. Besides these flat jokes and two so-so characters, THE INTERVIEW is a lot of fun!

Interview 5

Despite how you feel about it, THE INTERVIEW has left a brief spot in cinematic history and will be discussed for absurd controversy in future years (potentially decades) to come. I can see how others might not enjoy it as much as I did, but I had a great time watching this movie. Maybe, I was partially built up to like it because of the controversy and watching it in a large sold out movie theater probably hoisted this film’s grade for me as well. If you haven’t watched THE INTERVIEW and plan on doing so, go see it with a packed audience or invite some friends over and make a party of it. Either of those would make for an ideal viewing experience. Thanks to all the craziness, hacking, and international threats, THE INTERVIEW 2 won’t happen, but I wouldn’t mind seeing a sequel. Do Putin next!

Grade: B+

PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

CAnthony poster

Directed by: Peter Werner

Written by: Allison Cross & Jeff Ashton

Starring: Rob Lowe, Elizabeth Mitchell, Oscar Nunez, Marisa Ramirez, Kevin Dunn & Virginia Welch

In 2011, a notorious trial took place in Florida surrounding an unspeakable crime. Two-year-old Caylee Anthony was killed and the prime suspect was her mother Casey. 400 pieces of evidence pointed toward Casey as a murderer and over 90 witnesses in the space of 33 days furthered that belief. The most suspicious and obvious detail about this case was that Casey Anthony did not report her daughter missing for 31 days and was seen living it up in her new child-free life. No doubt crosses my mind, and the minds of many others, that Casey Anthony is a monster, but her trial was arguably one of the biggest screw-ups in the history of screw-ups. This courtroom fiasco resulted in her being let go with a “Not Guilty” verdict. When Lifetime announced they were making a movie out of the case in late 2012, I was interested and skeptical at the same time. Finally catching this made-for-TV flick airing on the small screen, I can say that it’s a mixed bag.

CAnthony 1

After being indicted for multiple crimes (murder, child abuse, and lying to the police), Casey Anthony is finally on trial. Jeff Ashton is a member of the prosecution team and feels that the case is rather open and shut. The fact that Casey didn’t report her daughter as missing for 31 days and was seen partying speaks volumes, but other pieces of evidence (including suspicious Google searches) and key witnesses (Casey’s father) are also used. This is all in an effort to pack a compelling argument that Casey Anthony should receive the death penalty. However, the process doesn’t exactly go as planned for a variety of reasons. PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY is basically a reenactment of the court case that rocked nation.

CAnthony 2

The obvious stigma of being a Lifetime Channel original movie takes its toll on PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY in an unusual way. There have been rare exceptions (BIG DRIVER), but most Lifetime films are ridiculously melodramatic and focus too much on the feelings of a single character instead of moving a plot forward. CASEY ANTHONY has the opposite problem. This film plays out like dramatic reenactment snippets on a true crime documentary somehow got glued together in order to fill a feature-length amount of time. This is a case where focusing on a single character, Jeff Ashton, would have benefitted this film. The cast isn’t necessarily a strong suit of the film either as none of the actors, save for one, look anything like the real life people they’re portraying. This is most noticeable in Jose Baez played by Oscar Nunez and Jeff Ashton being played by Rob Lowe. The latter of these performers is a solid actor with talent behind his name, but he’s not made up to even look slightly like Ashton and that’s distracting. The only person who bears resemblance to their real life counterpart is Virginia Welch as Casey Anthony. Though she doesn’t have too many scenes or much dialogue, Welch is scary as the manipulative monster.

CAnthony 3

This film focuses far too much on being just a so-so TV reenactment of the trial (complete with freeze frames detailing what exactly the following scene will focus on). PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY remains interesting if only to see how the court case was botched in plenty of ways. The prosecution did not excel at their job and defense lawyer Jose Baez was running an easily led jury around in circles. The court room scenes are informative for those who might not know every detail of how this supposedly open-and-shut case got screwed up by many different factors. Fake news clips interjected between scenes show how the media made a circus out of the whole courtroom drama (arguably near the OJ Simpson level of absurdity). Nancy Grace also shows up way too often in these clips. I sort of wish they had varied them up a tad more as every news group was covering it in some way, not just Nancy Grace ranting and raving.

CAnthony 4

PROSECUTING CASEY ANTHONY might not be a great look inside a man who tried to convict an obvious child killer, but it is a decent and informative TV reenactment of the notorious trial that is sure to go down in history. Though Casey was found not guilty on accounts of serious crime, the public has given her a deserved life sentence of infamy. Jeff Ashton remarked about the botched trial, Casey Anthony was the best liar he had ever seen, but karma has a way of balancing the scales.

Grade: C+

AUSTIN POWERS: THE SPY WHO SHAGGED ME (1999)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 35 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sexual Innuendo and Crude Humor

APowers2 poster

Directed by: Jay Roach

Written by: Mike Myers & Michael McCullers

Starring: Mike Myers, Heather Graham, Michael York, Robert Wagner, Rob Lowe, Mindy Sterling, Seth Green, Verne Troyer, Elizabeth Hurley & Will Ferrell

Seeing as AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY gained a huge amount of success on home video, an unexpected sequel was announced as a summer blockbuster in 1999. Whereas the first film was definitely a product of its times and has held substantial ground upon rewatch, I can safely say this sequel nails everything the first one did with a little higher quality. Mike Myers was not flying solo in writing this script and the addition of a co-writer may have helped hone his creativity into something slightly funnier this time around. SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is a good time for fans of the first film and may even bring in a crowd that didn’t care too much for the original. This is a goofy James Bond spoof that gets even wilder and crazier the second time around.

MCDAUPO EC060

It has been two years since the events of the first film. Austin Powers and Vanessa’s marriage has come to an explosive end. Dr. Evil has returned to Earth with a brand spanking new invention: a time machine. Using this time machine, Evil travels back into 1969 and steals Austin’s mojo from his cryogenically frozen body, thus depleting the sex drive from the present Powers. Austin must travel back in time to stop a sinister plan involving a moon, a laser, and a clone about one-eighth Dr. Evil’s size (named Mini-Me). He also befriends fellow agent Felicity Shagwell and tries to retrieve his mojo.

MCDAUPO EC058

One of the main differences in quality this time around is that Austin Powers has been made into a far funnier character than he was in the original. I find the first POWERS film to be almost strictly Dr. Evil’s show. In this sequel, Austin Powers far outshines Dr. Evil. The Mini-Me storyline is one of the funniest things in the film (a fight scene near the end is hysterical), but Evil has also delivers plenty of lame jokes that fall flat. Speaking of jokes, some of the same set-ups are used from the first film and have much better punch lines upon being repeated. This is also stacking on top of lots of good funny and just as raunchy material (a scene involving suggestive shadows, comments on a spaceship that looks like a certain body part, etc.). It isn’t high art or the pinnacle of comedic genius, but it’s exactly what AUSTIN POWERS fans expect and want from a sequel that’s bigger and better.

MCDAUPO EC065

There is also more creativity. Specific 007 flicks are targeted (one sticking out is the ludicrous MOONRAKER) and Mike Myers is pulling triple duty as three separate characters. He’s doing Austin and Evil again, but also appears as a morbidly obese Scottish thug appropriately named Fat Bastard. Another detriment that needs to be mentioned is Scotty (Dr. Evil’s son and part of the funniest plot thread from the first film) taking backseat to Mini-Me. Though I don’t want to compare both plot threads, I feel the movie might have benefitted from the two being in equal balance or Scott having a more significant screen presence in this second installment. Also Rob Lowe is great as a young Number 2 (originally played by Robert Wagner)

MSDAUPO EC058

The problems with SPY WHO SHAGGED ME are the same problems in INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY. It’s definitely still a product of its times with plenty of 90’s references and other pop culture hints that have aged. Some jokes fall flat (especially a few scenes with Dr. Evil). However, SPY WHO SHAGGED ME is a hugely entertaining, purposely juvenile take on more ridiculous 007 flicks. It’s also a sequel that manages to be slightly better than the original in many ways, but the same faults keep it to the same pillar of amusing crude comedy that the first film was. If you liked the first AUSTIN POWERS, you’re bound to like this one.

Grade: B+

SEX TAPE (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 34 minutes

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

SexTape poster

Directed by: Jake Kasdan

Written by: Kate Angelo, Jason Segel, Nicholas Stoller

Starring: Cameron Diaz, Jason Segel, Rob Corddry, Ellie Kemper, Rob Lowe, Jack Black

In Summer 2011, director Jake Kasdan delivered BAD TEACHER. That R-rated comedy was a decent flick and struck a nice balance between crude and sweet. Two years have passed and Kasdan has returned with SEX TAPE. The title alone gives the impression that this will be a more relentlessly raunchy effort this time around. I was actually pretty excited to see this film given the promising premise and a solid trailer. Unfortunately, I can count the number of funny moments on one hand. This is especially disappointing given that Kasdan has done hilarious work in the past (WALK HARD), as have stars Cameron Diaz (THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY) and Jason Segel (FORGETTING SARAH MARSHALL). SEX TAPE is bad for a whole lot of the reasons, but most of them all lead back to a lazy script.

1138130 - SEX TAPE

Jay and Annie are a married couple who were once passionate lovers and now have fallen into the monotonous trap of a sex-free marriage. Trying to rekindle a spark in their life in-between the sheets, Annie suggests that they record themselves having sex in every position imaginable. The couple have a steamy, awesome night. Their video winds up being an epic length of three hours long and Jay is tasked with deleting the footage. However, Jay makes the horrifying discovery that their sex tape has been synched to the cloud and is now available on all the iPads they handed out as gifts to their friends and family. In a race against time and the possibility of their sex going viral, Annie and Jay try to recover all the iPads and delete the footage. This is easier said than done.

SexTape 2

Despite having a believable relationship together in BAD TEACHER, there’s a whole lot of forced chemistry between Cameron Diaz and Jason Segel this time around. One of the biggest problems with SEX TAPE is that the movie is a jumbled mess with different tones that change from scene to scene. Sometimes, it’s tries to go profane, but it mostly takes an oddly out-of-place romantic-comedy angle. In a movie called SEX TAPE that revolves around an outlandishly crude premise, a rom-com view feels like an odd way to approach this material. It’s not even as if anybody’s trying either. Jason Segel is running around doing slapstick. Cameron Diaz says a couple of swear words. Finally, even some of the score from BAD TEACHER was recycled here and stuck out like a sore thumb.

SEX TAPE, from left: Rob Lowe, Cameron Diaz, 2014. ph: Claire Folger/©Columbia Pictures/Courtesy Eve

The movie is completely predictable in a whole lot of areas. Some obvious foreshadowing at the beginning gives the viewer an idea of how a scene will play out in the final 10 minutes of the film. The R-rating goes nearly wasted here. There are swear words and some quick comedic sex scenes, but nothing to write home about. The script is also crammed with repetitive jokes. One scene involving a group of people listing off dirty websites might have earned a chuckle, if it had been summed up in a single sentence. Instead, the one joke keeps running for about three full minutes. I was actually getting aggravated and wanted to yell at the screen “Get on with it, already!” Though we never see the actual sex tape (which might have easily earned an NC-17 for pornographic content), there are pieces shown at the tail-end of the film. Instead of serving as a payoff to any of the dusty jokes and frantic situation that we watched play out over this three-hour-long video, these bits only serve to pad out the already desperate running time. At least, SEX TAPE passed by quick!

SexTape 4

I can say a couple of nice things about SEX TAPE though. There is one really funny sequence (briefly glimpsed in the trailers) that involves Cameron Diaz’s character trying to retrieve an iPad from her new boss (Rob Lowe). It lasts about 10 minutes and I was laughing quite a bit. The scene escalates in so many ways and a running gag involving Disney paintings through the house was cracking me up. If the rest of the film had been as funny as that 10 minute stretch, then this would have been a worthwhile comedy. Rob Corddry isn’t up to his usual hilarious standards, but manages to outshine every person on-screen. Some of his moments also got a few chuckles out of me.

SexTape 5

SEX TAPE is bland, boring, and lazy. The screenplay (written by three people including Jason Segel) doesn’t take advantage of a raunchy premise. A few half-hearted moments aim for sweetness rather than outrageous laughs. It’s a tonal mess and feels like nobody is putting any effort into this film. I laughed for Rob Lowe’s memorable scene and a few moments featuring Rob Corddry in a supporting role, but those are the only times I even cracked a smile. It’s a disappointing lackluster comedy all around. The trailer was like foreplay and the actual movie left me with a case of comedic blue-balls.

Grade: D

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑