ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 25 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language including Sexual References, and brief Nudity

Directed by: Terry Jones

Written by: Terry Jones & Gavin Scott

Starring: Simon Pegg, Kate Beckinsale, Sanjeev Bhaskar, Rob Riggle, Eddie Izzard, Joanna Lumley, Robin Williams, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones & Michael Palin

Simon Pegg was funny in the Cornetto trilogy (SHAUN OF THE DEAD, HOT FUZZ, and THE WORLD’S END). Rob Riggle delivered some of the biggest laughs in both JUMP STREET films. Eddie Izzard’s stand-up comedy is hysterical, while Robin Williams is arguably one of the funniest men who ever lived. Also, the Monty Python troupe were groundbreaking for their irreverent humor and uniquely British sensibilities. With all of these funny and talented people crammed into one film, you’d think that ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING would, at the very least, be fun to watch. That’s what I thought and it turns out that I was sadly mistaken. Learn from my error and avoid this disappointing excuse for a comedy.

After a group of hyper-intelligent aliens (voiced by Monty Python) stumble across a space probe, the extraterrestrials begin a test to decide whether or not Earth needs to be destroyed. This test selects a random human and gives them god-like powers. Unluckily for us, that test subject is amateur writer/teacher Neil (Simon Pegg) and he begins using his amazing abilities to do absolutely anything (see what I did there?). Before you can say BRUCE ALMIGHTY, Neil’s powers start landing him in hot water as he tries to win over the affection of his neighbor Catherine (Kate Beckinsale).

One of ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING’s biggest problems stems from it feeling like a Monty Python sketch that was extended 75 minutes past the point of being funny. There are a couple of chuckles to be had here and there, but the script doesn’t have much compelling flow. The repeating joke is that Neil keeps wording his wishes incorrectly and hijinks ensue. Some of these bits run for almost all of the film (with one co-worker’s crush taking a cult-like turn), and others are over in a matter of minutes (wishing people back to life and winding up with a bunch of decaying zombies).

The film’s characters aren’t worth much either. Simon Pegg is playing a bland nobody and that might be part of the joke, but you’ve seen this type of boring protagonist a million times before. There’s nothing to this person. He’s boring and his biggest story arc is the clichéd motivation of trying to win his neighbor’s love. Kate Beckinsale attempts to make her love-interest/supporting character worth something and winds up with mixed results. She definitely delivers the biggest “life lesson” in a scene where she explains how god-like powers might not be the best thing ever. Also, Robin Williams’s final role was the voice of Neil’s dog Dennis. Much like the rest of the film’s attempts at humor, Williams’s sentient pooch gets a few chuckles at first and then becomes boring.

The biggest conflict comes from Rob Riggle as Catherine’s headstrong, cocky ex-boyfriend Grant. He only plays a tiny part in the film and brings a plot point that exists for a total of 10 minutes, coming off as lame and needlessly dark in the process. A pretty huge plot hole also rears its head during Riggle’s final minutes of screen time. It’s sad when the viewer can figure out how to get out of a dilemma before the main character can, but this protagonist is so much of an idiot that he doesn’t take advantage of an obvious flaw in the villain’s half-assed plan. Also, the Monty Python cast seem like they reunited purely as a favor for director/co-writer Terry Jones (one of the members of Monty Python). Eddie Izzard also shows up for about five minutes a strict head teacher, so there’s that.

ABSOLUTELY ANYTHING is a bland excuse for a comedy that wastes an unbelievable amount of talent. The premise might have made for a fun ten-minute skit, but it simply repeats its one-note beats for 85 minutes that drag out in a manner that feels like three hours. The film is a missed opportunity all around, but I don’t know if it ever had much of a chance with its flimsy concept. Pegg, Riggle, Williams, Izzard, Beckinsale, and the entire Monty Python troupe deserved better than this.

Grade: D

HELL AND BACK (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 26 minutes

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

HellBack poster

Directed by: Tom Gianas & Ross Shuman

Written by: Tom Gianas, Hugh Sterbakov & Zeb Wells

Voices of: Nick Swardson, Mila Kunis, Bob Odenkirk, T.J. Miller, Rob Riggle, Susan Sarandon, Danny McBride, David Koechner, Michael Pena, Brian Posehn, Paul Scheer & H. Jon Benjamin

I’m a big fan of ROBOT CHICKEN, so I was interested in seeing HELL AND BACK last October…but it never hit a single theater near me. Cut to almost an entire year later, a co-worker brings up this film in casual conversation and I immediately remember its existence along with my excitement to see it. Seeing that adult-oriented animation is something that’s all too rare, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to check out this hellish comedy. Unfortunately, the laughs never match the film’s high quality of animation, which makes HELL AND BACK a disappointingly middle-of-the-road experience.

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Remy (Nick Swardson), Augie (T.J. Miller) and Curt (Rob Riggle) work at a rundown pier carnival. Unfortunately their workplace/childhood hang-out has hit bankruptcy, which means the three friends will soon be out of a job. When Remy discovers an ancient satanic book, he decides it might be the great money-making attraction that the carnival needs. A petty blood oath ends with Curt being sucked into an otherworldly vortex. In order to rescue their friend, Remy and Augie venture into Hell. The two idiots must band together with an adventurous female demon (Mila Kunis) and a mythological figure (Danny McBride) to save Curt from the clutches of Satan (Bob Odenkirk) and his sadistic underlings.

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The film’s best quality is easily its animation. Stop motion is one of the most painstaking, time-consuming forms of animation and seeing it executed well is a treat by itself. The human characters looked a bit like CELEBRITY DEATHMATCH with a bigger budget. Satan had a mostly musclebound appearance, while his demons look less impressive…but the damned souls are nothing more than green silhouettes. I guess the budget had to run out somewhere. If it weren’t already obvious enough, this film is eye-candy…but the script never provides enough laughs to live up to the high production values.

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HELL AND BACK relies on two different types of humor: stupid and crude. I can laugh at stupid jokes. I can laugh at crude jokes. I might laugh even harder at a stupid, crude jokes. Still, this screenplay gets stupid to a point where it’s lazy…something the animation wouldn’t indicate at all. I wouldn’t say the movie is laugh-free wasteland of a comedy, because there are a couple of solid moments. A five-second punchline stood out as borderline hilarious, but the rest of the movie never reaches that level of ridiculousness again. Another noteworthy running joke features a demon inventing rather mundane tortures, which is kind of clever. There’s even an EVIL DEAD reference, which made me chuckle the first time before it was pummeled into the ground as a tiresome running gag.

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The characters and momentum also struggle. In all honesty, I didn’t care about any of these people. They’re all unlikable douchebags, which may appeal to certain viewers. It doesn’t help that the film squanders a talented cast. Okay, Nick Swardson doesn’t exactly have a great filmography, but the rest of these performers have careers to care about. Lines like “my dick would shoot off its dick” or “I think my shit shit itself” probably didn’t provide them with much motivation either. HELL AND BACK frequently drags in places, despite running at slightly over 80 minutes (counting the credits).

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There might be folks who really have a blast with HELL AND BACK and good on them, but the film didn’t work for me on any level other the animation. I laughed about five or six times, but the rest of the movie felt dull, boring and lazy. When you have a running joke about Devil’s Brew (an extreme hell-brand of beer), a grotesque creature with big flapping breasts, and use profanity to the point where it becomes tiresome, it sort of feels like the writers gave up before they even got started. I wish that this animation had a better script to work with, but alas, that was not the case. HELL AND BACK left me feeling apathetic. Great animation, but not much else to praise.

Grade: C

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-

DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 49 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Humor, partial Nudity, Language and some Drug References

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, US advance poster art, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ©Universal

Directed by: Bobby Farrelly & Peter Farrelly

Written by: Peter Farrelly, Bobby Farrelly, Sean Anders, John Morris, Bennett Yellin & Mike Cerrone

Starring: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, Laurie Holden, Kathleen Turner, Brady Bluhm, Steve Tom, Rachel Melvin & Rob Riggle

Two decades is a long time to wait for a sequel. Many might argue that it’s too long, especially since the original DUMB AND DUMBER walked a fine line between being stupid and clever. For those not in the know, that 1994 comedy followed the road trip of two innocent idiots caught up in the deadly antics of a kidnapping. The film launched the careers of the Farrelly brothers (whose best film is still THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY in my book) and catapulted Jim Carrey into being an A-list star. In DUMB AND DUMBER TO, the Farrellys and the two leads (Carrey and Jeff Daniels) return in an attempt to recapture lighting in a bottle. It doesn’t work out so well this time around.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jeff Daniels, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

Lloyd Christmas and Harry Dunne are back on another adventure after discovering that Harry has an illegitimate daughter. This unexpected news couldn’t come at a more convenient time, especially since Harry is suffering from kidney problems and needs a donor to give up a vital organ for him. Unwilling to part with his own body part and willing to drive him across country, Lloyd takes Harry out on the road to track down his now-grown kid. Unfortunately, the bumbling morons wind up in the sights of more criminals and wacky mayhem ensues.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Rachel Melvin, Jim Carrey, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

The biggest problem with DUMB AND DUMBER TO is that with six(!) screenwriters, the film packs in less than half of the jokes and chuckle-worthy dialogue of the original film. It would be quite a task to perfectly nail that 90’s comedy nostalgic vibe that was exclusive to the time period, but the Farrellys are trying way too hard. They’re literally throwing everything at the wall and seeing what sticks. The same can be said of rehashed basic plot points (many scenes play off as a weaker semi-remade moments from the first film) and other jokes are just plain recycled (though they don’t work nearly as well on the second time). This can especially be shown in end credits that showcase clips from both films side-to-side in almost a meta way of saying “See, we did it again!”

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Jim Carrey, Jeff Daniels, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

One big positive is that Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels slip right back into the roles of Lloyd and Harry with little to no effort. These actors disappear into the beloved characters, even if the writing isn’t quite up to snuff of giving them many interesting things to do in the overall story. However, it felt like Lloyd and Harry were too stupid during certain scenes. They were idiots in the first movie, but they weren’t as obnoxious and annoying as they are here. It’s almost like the 20 years have further drained IQ points out of their characters to an even more far-fetched level. The predecessor never got too over-the-top in a way that seemed Seth Macfarlane-like, but this second installment mainly focuses on making a more outlandish repeat of the first movie…resulting in a handful of solid laughs and a lot of awkward unfunny silence. Rob Riggle is the only welcomed addition to the cast of characters. He’s sort of wasted in a side part, but not nearly as much as Laurie Holden as the main baddie.

DUMB AND DUMBER TO, from left: Laurie Holden, Rob Riggle, 2014. ph: Hopper Stone/©Universal

To add insult to injury, DUMB AND DUMBER TO goes out on a huge anti-climax. The ending felt like it was shrug-inducing and not nearly as exciting or funny as it was intended to be. This being said, the last third is where some of the really nifty twists that I didn’t see coming pop up. I also laughed at some funny scenes in the second half, but the first hour was almost a struggle to get through. I shouldn’t have to look for things to laugh at in a comedy like this as the film’s primary goal should be giving me things to laugh at right away. That’s a problem.

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DUMB AND DUMBER TO was never going to be high art or the best comedy of the year, but it’s disappointing nonetheless. While I can praise Carrey and Daniels’s chemistry together after all these years and there are funny scenes, the movie suffers from a so-so script and overly familiar jokes (some downright recycled from the first movie). It’s not nearly as bad as the godawful prequel DUMB AND DUMBERER, but that’s not exactly praise you want to aiming for in a sequel to a beloved cult classic that’s two decades old. Some people may outright love this sequel, but I was let down. It’s a middle-of-the-road experience as a whole.

Grade: C

22 JUMP STREET (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

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

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Directed by: Phil Lord & Chris Miller

Written by: Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel & Rodney Rothman

(based on the TV series 21 JUMP STREET)

Starring: Jonah Hill, Channing Tatum, Peter Stormare, Ice Cube, Dave Franco, Amber Stevens, Nick Offerman & Rob Riggle

If anybody claims that they knew 2012’s 21 JUMP STREET reboot would be as good as it was, then they’re lying to your face. That movie should have stank to high heavens and the concept sounded like the worst idea in theory. Then Chris Miller and Phil Lord entered and churned out a pretty decent action-comedy. 21 JUMP STREET, though fairly predictable and almost wearing out its welcome, was a big success. The last thing anyone expected was a sequel, but 22 JUMP STREET is now in theaters and it manages to one-up the first film in every possible way. The script relies on an extreme amount of meta-humor and a mighty clever plot that goes out of the way not to repeat certain scenarios from the last film (hence the obvious meta-humor aspect prevalent in every frame of the film). 22 JUMP STREET is a very funny and wholly entertaining sequel to an action-comedy based on a cheesy 80’s cop-drama (you don’t often see that description, do you?).

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After a bust gone wrong, Morton Schmidt (Jonah Hill) and Greg Jenko (Channing Tatum) are sent back into the Jump Street undercover program. Since their age is starting to show, they have now been placed in college to find the supplier of a new deadly synthetic drug (exactly like the first time, as their police captain so eloquently states) and stamp it out before it spreads across the country. The pill-based drug “WHYPHY” is extremely hard to track down. While on their supposedly simple mission, Schmidt falls for an art major and Jenko blends into the hard-drinking football-playing frat boy lifestyle. These factors complicate the dim-witted duo’s mystery of discovering where the drug is coming from and the identity of who’s selling it.

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Everything is a lot funnier and more entertaining this time around. This is the most meta-humored movie I’ve ever seen. One of the opening scenes in the sergeant’s office should let you know right away what you’re in for, because he’s pretty much describing the unexpected success of the last movie (right down to box-office lingo) in briefing the partners of their new assignment. Ice Cube, who got annoying as the angry black man stereotype in the first film, is given a lot more room to garner some well-deserved laughs. A few of his scenes had me cracking up to the point of near tears.

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The comedic pairing between Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum feels more natural here too. Jonah Hill is essentially still playing the straight-man that he played in the previous installment, though he does get some comedy gold here and there. Channing Tatum is absolutely the funniest person. The friendship between Hill and Tatum feels genuine, even if it does get strained from time to time. It’s a good pairing, though I wouldn’t necessarily pray to see 23 JUMP STREET in the future (lightning probably won’t strike three times with this idea). A much-welcomed Peter Stormare shows up as one of the antagonists and gets some memorable moments. Another stand-out is Jillian Bell as a disapproving roommate who comes off as a very unusual comedic character in a lot of odd ways. You really have to see her performance to fully appreciate how funny she is. Plenty of cameos abound as well.

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22 JUMP STREET has a fair share of problems. These mainly revolve around some predictable through-the-motions clichés that do pop up from time to time. The movie makes fun of itself with some ultra self-aware jabs at even containing these familiar buddy-cop tropes. It still can get a little irksome. Also for the first half, I felt as if the movie would wind up on the same decent-but-not-great level that I found 21 JUMP STREET to fit squarely in. Then one key moment (you’ll know if when you see it) happens and the movie catapulted into hysterically good territory. The second half of the film is where things really shine, although the former does have it’s fair share of good jokes. Once it hits the successful stride halfway through, it never lets up on the laughs.

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22 JUMP STREET, much like 21 JUMP STREET, is far better than it has any right to be. It’s a sequel to a comedic reboot of a silly 80’s TV series. Things work out entirely in the movie’s favor though. This is one hell of a funny action-comedy. The first half has some solid laughs, but takes a little while to get fully going. The second half is where things went onto being downright hilarious. The movie is very entertaining and I can definitely see myself watching it again sometime in the future. Also stick around for the brilliant end credits that send the film out on the highest (most meta) note possible!

Grade: B

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