THE BOSS BABY (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for some mild Rude Humor

Directed by: Tom McGrath

Written by: Michael McCullers

(based on the picture book THE BOSS BABY by Marla Frazee)

Voices of: Alec Baldwin, Miles Bakshi, Tobey Maguire, Steve Buscemi, Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow & Conrad Vernon

To be completely honest, I had hopes for THE BOSS BABY. The trailers made this film look like a silly family friendly comedy, some of the jokes made me laugh, and the animation looked visually pleasing. DreamWorks Animation also has a pretty good track record, slight hiccups aside (cough, HOME, cough, SHREK THE THIRD). So I rented THE BOSS BABY with a pep in my step and hoped for the best. 97 minutes later, I’m baffled as to what the director, writer, cast, crew, and producers were even attempting to do with this movie. Despite having a couple of positive qualities, THE BOSS BABY is a mind-boggling combination of bad ideas and uneven storytelling.

Based on the picture book of the same name, THE BOSS BABY follows young Tim Templeton (Miles Bakshi) who’s content with being an only child and receiving all the love from his parents (Jimmy Kimmel, Lisa Kudrow). Tim finds his normal life shattered when his parents arrive with new baby brother Theodore (Alec Baldwin). This suit-wearing infant (who’s constantly carrying a briefcase) isn’t like other babies though, because he’s actually been sent from Baby Corp to stop the rival company Puppy Co. from stealing love away from babies worldwide. Things get more complicated when Tim realizes his new brother’s identity and the two work together to stop evil CEO Francis E. Francis (Steve Buscemi) from killing off new babies forever.

From the plot description, you may be thinking to yourself, “Man, THE BOSS BABY sounds really stupid and weird.” Well, you haven’t heard the last of this movie’s strangeness. In a creative decision that seems clever at first and then becomes confusing, THE BOSS BABY has imagination sequences in which Tim shows off his crazy thoughts and pretends to be on adventures. A smarter movie might have framed the entire “infant secret agent versus adorable puppies” storyline as a product of Tim’s overactive imagination. BOSS BABY’s visual style makes it clear that the imagination sequences have nothing to do with the super-smart infant with a business mindset.

This movie might make sense if the viewer were high whilst watching it (not that I’m advocating that…unless it’s legal where you live). In BABY’s own mismatched logic, the storyline doesn’t make a lick of sense. Of course, this piece of family entertainment also tries to cap things off with a forced feel-good message about brotherly love and family in the final ten minutes. However, this only left me scratching my head and rolling my eyes. After all, how will THE BOSS BABY 2 (scheduled for 2021) ever happen if we’re to buy into the would-be emotional ending that this film tries to sell us?

As far as the voice cast goes, the two big stand-outs are Alec Baldwin as the titular boss baby and Steve Buscemi as the CEO antagonist. Baldwin’s constant mixing of baby language with adult business lingo supplies a few laughs. The film’s humor also has references to GLENGARRY GLEN ROSS and even THE MATRIX for older viewers to enjoy, but constantly goes to the well of toilet, drool, fart, and vomit jokes. Meanwhile, Buscemi’s baddie and his lumbering silent sidekick provide genuine laughs as over-the-top evil characters. I enjoyed watching their scenes and these moments are easily the best bits in the entire film. Every other character is bland and predictable, including main character Tim.

THE BOSS BABY seemingly doesn’t know what audience it’s aiming for and is constantly conflicted about its cinematic identity. There are fart jokes and colorful images to keep the kiddies occupied. However, the plot gets needlessly complex (with a never-explained mixture of imagination and “reality”) and a crazy conspiracy thriller aspect. A Tobey Maguire narrated epilogue attempts to sell this as an emotional tale, but that feels entirely unnecessary and unearned. At the end of the day, the animation is nice to look at and there are a handful of laughs to be had, but those are about the only positive things I can say for THE BOSS BABY. Again, I’m not advocating it (unless it’s legal where you live), but THE BOSS BABY is indeed a children’s film that might make more sense and be far more enjoyable if the viewer was high.

Grade: D+

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 58 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Pervasive Extreme Drug Use and related Bizarre Behavior, Strong Language, and brief Nudity

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Directed by: Terry Gilliam

Written by: Terry Gilliam, Tony Grisoni, Alex Cox & Tod Davies

(based on the novel FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS by Hunter S. Thompson)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Benicio Del Toro, Tobey Maguire, Gary Busey, Christina Ricci, Cameron Diaz & Christopher Meloni

FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS didn’t do well upon release (grossing little over half its budget back) and surprisingly garnered a large cult following shortly after. However, it shouldn’t surprise many that this film is highly divisive. Like another movie that came out in the same year and similarly went on to be a highly regarded cult classic THE BIG LEBOWSKI, FEAR AND LOATHING lacks a solid three act structure. It’s a plot that wanders aimlessly for two hours, but the joy of spending time with these wacky characters and the surreal atmosphere makes this an entertaining experience for anybody who doesn’t mind an unconventional plot that’s more of an excuse to show frantic goings-on.

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Raoul Duke (Depp) is a journalist with the hot assignment of following a Las Vegas desert race. His lawyer, known simply as Dr. Gonzo (Del Toro), advises on renting a fast car and bringing a limitless supply of extreme drugs and narcotics. The two wind go to Vegas and get high off their asses. They travel to different casinos/hotels/theaters, encounter various oddball people, and wind up in a couple of tense circumstances (wrecking more than one hotel room along their way). Like I stated before, FEAR AND LOATHING isn’t so much about an interesting story as it is about spending time with these two lunatics (mainly Raoul Duke, as his inner monologue lays each situation out for the viewer) and laughing your ass off at their antics. It will either work for you or it won’t. It charmed me into liking this bizarre film based on the drug-fueled ravings of an author who pretty much went through the exact same experiences that Duke goes through in Vegas. The old saying of “write what you know” is very apparent here.

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Terry Gilliam is known for his weird sensibilities and quirky style. With off-center camera angles, various special effects, and two highly capable actors in the center roles, Gilliam has brought to life a mere two-hour film that gives the viewer the exact impression of what it feels like to be on drugs. I felt like I was high without ever once having to drink, smoke, snort, or inject something potentially dangerous into my body. This film might be described as the safest drug experience you’ll ever have and it’s legal. Through the script (also co-written by Gilliam, among three others) and direction, Gilliam captures paranoia, hallucinations, danger, fantasies and pleasure that come through Raoul Duke’s illegal adventure. The excellent choice of songs are a nice touch too.

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The biggest issue that many people might find annoying and did decrease some of my enjoyment/interest in FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is the lack of a flowing plot. The many appearances by big name celebrities ebb and flow through comedic scenes, some of them work and others don’t. Tobey Maguire as a disheveled nervous hitchhiker, Cameron Diaz as a reporter in an elevator, Gary Busey as a Nevada desert cop, and Christina Ricci is an artist of Barbara Streisand paintings. These are among many faces that quickly pop in and leave the film just as fast as they appeared. The story may be frenetic and an excuse for a series of drug-fuelled experiences in a city full of gambling, shows, and all sorts of craziness. Depp’s ranting and raving narration puts the viewer squarely into his life, which makes everything as coherent as it can be given the circumstances that frequently venture into hallucinations and hazy memories. It’s still enjoyable for anyone who loves Johnny Depp, the writings of Hunter S. Thompson, Terry Gilliam’s filmography, or all of the above.

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According to Terry Gilliam, Hunter S. Thompson was freaking out during his first viewing of FEAR AND LOATHING at a test screening. When asked about his vocal reactions and wild response to this adaptation of his work, Thompson related that it was like living the whole hellish experience all over again. With that seal of approval, you know that FEAR AND LOATHING greatly accomplishes what it set out to do. However, your enjoyment will purely depend on what that means to you. Frankly, I have never done drugs, drank or smoked and don’t plan on it because these things are simply not for me. FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS is a wonderfully weird cinematic experience that puts you in the constant drug-addled mind of its main character. I can definitely understand the love for FEAR AND LOATHING IN LAS VEGAS (like the love for the similarly wild BIG LEBOWSKI) and appreciate the cult following it has gained, but I only like the film. It’s one I will definitely watch again in the future, but I’ll have to be in the mood for it. FEAR AND LOATHING is the closest thing the world will get to a legal form of binging on ether, pills and other hallucinogenic drugs.

Grade: B

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