THE HOUSE (2017)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Language throughout, Sexual References, Drug Use, some Violence and brief Nudity

Directed by: Andrew Jay Cohen

Written by: Brendan O’Brien & Andrew Jay Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Amy Poehler, Jason Mantzoukas, Ryan Simpkins, Nick Kroll, Allison Tolman, Rob Huebel & Jeremy Renner

Despite starring in hilarious comedies throughout the 2000s, Will Ferrell has been in some real stinkers lately. With the exception of a few animated comedies (MEGAMIND, THE LEGO MOVIE), Ferrell’s recent output has included stale attempts at recapturing past comedic magic (ANCHORMAN 2), lazy executions of fairly funny premises (GET HARD), and some of the worst films of his entire career (DADDY’S HOME). I was hoping that THE HOUSE might wind up being Ferrell’s return to form. The premise was funny, the cast looked solid, and the R-rating allowed extra room for irreverent hijinks. THE HOUSE falls between GET HARD and DADDY’S HOME on Ferrell’s cinematic totem pole. This film is mostly lazy and lots of dull patches frequently overshadow its better moments.

Scott (Will Ferrell) and Kate (Amy Poehler) are ecstatic for their daughter Alex (Ryan Simpkins) to head off to college. Alex has been accepted into a prestigious university, but Scott and Kate realize that they don’t have the cash to cover her tuition. To make matters even worse, the town’s annual scholarship program has been shut town by shady councilman Bob (Nick Kroll). Things might turn around though, because Scott and Kate’s eccentric friend Frank (Jason Mantzoukas) has a brilliant idea to raise lots of funds in a short amount of time. Frank turns his house into an illegal underground casino, while Scott and Kate become his business partners. Wacky hijinks ensue.

I’ll address THE HOUSE’s positive qualities first because there are a few redeeming factors. One of those factors arrives in Jason Mantzoukas. Though the selling points of this film were Ferrell and Poehler, Mantzoukas steals most of the show as the overly eccentric Frank. A subplot about him trying to win back his recently separated wife is tedious, but Mantzoukas even makes these scenes watchable in his absurd line delivery and over-the-top body language. Mantzoukas was one of the best things about last year’s not-as-bad-as-they-said-it-was DIRTY GRANDPA and he’s easily one of the best things in THE HOUSE. Maybe, Mantzoukas’s roles are simply meant to improve low-quality comedies, because he seems to be doing a bang-up job so far.

I’d be lying if I said that THE HOUSE didn’t have a couple of funny scenes. The best bit has already been given away by the red band trailer, though the actual scene lasts longer than the 30 seconds and had me cracking up. If the entire film was as funny as that single sequence, then this would be a very different review. Unfortunately, this scene and a couple of other bits (mostly involving Mantzoukas) are the only things worth praising about THE HOUSE. The rest of this film feels boring, lame, and lazy.

Even though they are the main selling points, Ferrell and Poehler really don’t have much to do in this film. Aside from occasionally mugging at the camera, their married couple characters mostly remain straight-faced and don’t receive many great jokes. We see them acting like dorky parents with their daughter. We watch as they worry and celebrate with Mantzoukas. By the time the film tries to throw them into an over-the-top style, it feels drastically out-of-place and unearned. Most films like this have a natural progression as a character transforms from a boring suburban nobody to a stylish interesting somebody. THE HOUSE never executes that story arc in a natural or funny way, so the viewer is left to roll their eyes and remain completely disconnected towards these characters.

THE HOUSE’s plot troubles don’t stop at its unconvincing story arcs for the two dimwitted protagonists though, because a lot of this film feels like filler. It’s as if somebody was brainstorming what happens in Las Vegas casinos and decided to write those ideas down…and then just threw them into the movie with no rhyme or reason. Stand-up comedians, air bars, massages, fight night, and CASINO-style torture all just come and go, leaving few laughs to be found. Bits of this film might have served better as Funny or Die/College Humor web skits…as opposed to scenes in a comedy that was funded on 40 million and had big names attached to it. A subplot with an unnecessary bland antagonist feels like an afterthought, while Jeremy Renner as a mobster (who shows up for two scenes) would have been a much better baddie to focus on.

THE HOUSE is a missed opportunity. The pieces were there to craft a really funny R-rated comedy, something to draw in crowds who wanted to laugh in 2017’s lackluster summer movie season, and a possible comeback film for Ferrell. Instead, THE HOUSE is lazy, uninspired, and drowns out its funny bits with lots of filler and a script that feels like it never got past the brainstorming stage. There are loads of better Will Ferrell movies and far funnier R-rated comedies out there. If you bet on this flick, everybody loses.

Grade: D+

JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Nonstop Crude and Sexual Humor, Pervasive Strong Language, and Drug Content

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Directed by: Kevin Smith

Written by: Kevin Smith

Starring: Jason Mewes, Kevin Smith, Ben Affleck, Jeff Anderson, Brian O’Halloran, Shannon Elizabeth, Eliza Dushku, Ali Larter, Jennifer Schwalbach, Will Ferrell & Jason Lee

After starring as memorable supporting characters in four movies, stoners Jay and Silent Bob became the main players in Kevin Smith’s fifth View Askewniverse flick. Lampooning countless films, featuring a bevy of cameos, and resembling an R-rated cartoon, JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t necessarily Kevin Smith’s most heartfelt or well-written effort. Instead, this is a stoner comedy that focuses on being entertaining and funny. It accomplishes both of those things in spades.

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Jay (Jason Mewes) and Silent Bob (Kevin Smith) have spent most of their lives peddling pot outside of the Quick Stop convenience store (from CLERKS). When pissed-off employee Randall (Jeff Anderson) slaps them with a restraining order, the two stoners find themselves looking for a new place to hang out. This leads them to a comic book store…which in turn leads them to discover that they are the basis for upcoming superhero blockbuster BLUNTMAN AND CHRONIC. Unfortunately, Jay and Silent Bob never received their big Hollywood check and, to make matters worse, anonymous internet trolls are calling them names. Jay and Silent Bob decide to travel from New Jersey to Hollywood in order to stop the film from being made…or at least receive some cash. This road trip leads the pair of stoners to a stolen orangutan, a group of sexy jewel thieves, a loose-cannon wildlife marshal (Will Ferrell), and lots of movie references.

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JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK isn’t going to win over anyone who already hates Kevin Smith. This film was tailor-made for Smith fans who already loved the titular pair of stoners/drug-dealers in CLERKS, MALLRATS, CHASING AMY and DOGMA. The film isn’t as grounded as CLERKS or CHASING AMY, but it’s definitely not as fantastically outlandish as DOGMA. JAY AND SILENT BOB plays everything as a goofy stoner comedy, defying logic and physics when it results in a laugh or furthers the plot along. I’d like to think of this film as Kevin Smith’s equivalent to HAROLD AND KUMAR before there was even HAROLD AND KUMAR. It’s JAY AND SILENT BOB GO TO HOLLYWOOD with lots of stupid humor, general craziness and tons of movie references. I can’t even begin to tell you how many movie references and big name cameos are in this film.

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One of my favorite moments lambasts the then-upcoming SCOOBY DOO flick. There’s also a hilarious chase through the Miramax backlot that’s more than a tad reminiscent of PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE and also serves as an excuse for plenty of in-jokes. My point is that JAY AND SILENT BOB is hardly original. The plot is a giant road trip and intentionally borrows from many other movies. However, JAY AND SILENT BOB is well-made where it counts, in being funny and entertaining the whole way through. Whether it’s three of the best fourth wall jokes I’ve seen in a film or the sheer absurdity of a romance between Jay and a hot criminal with a heart of gold (Shannon Elizabeth), this film just worked for me. Is it stupid? Absolutely. Is it Kevin Smith’s best movie? Not at all. Did Jay and Silent Bob really deserve their own feature? Probably not. Yet, this film still inexplicably manages to be funny and engaging for well over 90 minutes.

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It’s also worth noting that JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK predicted the future in regards to internet trolls bitching about superhero movies for the sake of bitching about superhero movies. The flick makes that into the main plot point behind Jay and Silent Bob’s nationwide quest to Hollywood, also providing colorful profanity and insults along the way. Though it’s far from Kevin Smith’s best movie in the View Askewniverse (I think that title will always belong to CLERKS), JAY AND SILENT BOB STRIKE BACK is highly entertaining for Smith fans. Film references, gross sexual humor (one joke about a cup broke me into a hysterical fit of laughter), the screenplay’s sporadic craziness, and the buddy-pairing of real-life friends Jason Mewes (foul-mouthed Jay) and Kevin Smith (almost mute Silent Bob) make this film well worth watching!

Grade: B+

DADDY’S HOME (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 36 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Elements, Crude and Suggestive Content, and for Language

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Directed by: Sean Anders

Written by: Brian Burns, Sean Anders & John Morris

Starring: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Wilder Vaccaro, Thomas Haden Church, Hannibal Buress & Bobby Cannavale

Like any other big comedic actor, Will Ferrell has gone through highs and lows. His highs have been hilarious (TALLADEGA NIGHTS), hugely entertaining (MEGAMIND), and surprisingly emotional (STRANGER THAN FICTION). His lows have been bland (GET HARD), disappointing (ANCHORMAN 2), and outright terrible (BEWITCHED). DADDY’S HOME made a splash in last year’s box office and is now Will Ferrell’s highest grossing live-action film. That’s a bit depressing, because this lame comedy is nowhere near Ferrell’s best and actually falls near the bottom of his output. DADDY’S HOME is confused about whether or not it wants to be light-hearted family friendly comedy or the usual crude PG-13 Ferrell fest. The film’s tone suggests the former, while the sex/penis jokes suggest the latter. As a result, DADDY’S HOME is a dull mess that isn’t really aimed at anyone in particular.

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Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell) is a dorky stepfather, who’s overly polite and a total pushover. Despite being happily married to his wife Sara (Linda Cardellini), Brad’s stepchildren Megan and Dylan are understandably reluctant to accept him as their dad. Just when doors seem to be opening up between Brad and the kids, they receive a phone call from their biological father Dusty (Mark Wahlberg). Through a misunderstanding, Dusty invites himself to visit for a week and Brad begins to engage in a full-blown “dad off” between himself and Dusty. Wild and crazy antics ensue, except they really don’t because these jokes feel a bit tame, far-fetched, and outright stupid.

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DADDY’S HOME reveals a big problem in its first ten minutes. Brad seems like a sociopath, even though the movie is trying to portray as a lovable clumsy doofus. Through his opening narration, Ferrell’s stepfather protagonist all but directly tells us that the main reason he even married Sara was because she had kids. Remember, we’re supposed to be rooting for this guy. The script also goes too far in showing us what a geek Brad is. Of course, he works at a slow jazz radio station. Of course, he has uncomfortable conversations with his boss. Of course, he keeps misunderstanding what his step-kids want from him. He’s a dork…but ain’t he lovable? Yeah, not really.

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That’s not to say that Mark Wahlberg’s character is likable either, but at least Dusty is set up as one-dimensional antagonist from the start. The film’s characters act like he has charisma that simply wasn’t evident to me and then slowly pulls back layers to reveal Dusty’s true intentions…like they weren’t obvious from the start. The underhanded tactics that Dusty uses make him completely unlikable, but Brad and Sara still keep him around out of misguided reasons. Even when Dusty invites a random guy (played by Hannibal Buress) to start living with the family, they still allow him to stay in the house…because the film wanted it that way. Dusty also accompanies Brad to work and warms up to his boss…solely because the script called for it.

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Many events in this movie only occur because the script called for them and not out from believable character decisions or a natural story flow. I know these might sound like dumb complaints for a PG-13 Will Ferrell comedy, but there has to be a level of consistency to make any story work. TALLADEGA NIGHTS was far funnier (I truly love that movie) and has more believability than DADDY’S HOME. This bland comedy simply moves from crude set-piece to even cruder set-piece and also tries to maintain a family friendly atmosphere by having the story bring would-be heartfelt messages into the final third. This mix doesn’t work because it’s not well written, particularly funny and the characters are all unlikable scumbags.

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At the end of the day, DADDY’S HOME is bland, forgettable, and not particularly funny. Adding insult to injury, this film tries to shoe-horn in a forced message about what it truly means to be a family and constantly feels like a jumbled mish-mash of two very different movies. To make matters even worse, the wife and children are merely regulated to game pieces that will be won by either scummy Wahlberg or sociopathic Ferrell. Even if it weren’t already a tonally confused mess, DADDY’S HOME would be seen as reprehensibly stupid, unfunny, and intelligence-insulting comedy thanks to a sloppy script. DADDY’S HOME might just be down there with BEWITCHED as one of Ferrell’s very worst films.

Grade: D

ZOOLANDER 2 (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Crude and Sexual Content, a scene of Exaggerated Violence, and brief Strong Language

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Directed by: Ben Stiller

Written by: John Hamburg, Ben Stiller, Nick Stoller & Justin Theroux

Starring: Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson, Will Ferrell, Penelope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Christine Taylor & Benedict Cumberbatch

2001’s ZOOLANDER has a special place in my heart. It’s a movie that I constantly watched throughout my high school years and I still occasionally quote it with friends today. A sequel wasn’t necessarily a bad idea as the original cast of characters have been reassembled (with a couple of new additions) for another over-the-top story of deadly inner workings behind the fashion industry. Ben Stiller was still at the helm in directing this follow-up and the production values are as good as ever. So, why does ZOOLANDER 2 come off as extremely forgettable and disappointing? Sometimes, the simplest answer is the correct one. ZOOLANDER 2 suffers from being too little, too late.

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Fifteen years have passed since the events of the first film and life has not been good to Derek Zoolander (Ben Stiller) or Hansel McDonald (Owen Wilson). In the aftermath of a horrible tragedy, Derek adopted a hermit lifestyle and a scarred Hansel developed an unhealthy relationship with his orgy partners. When both of these former friends/male models receive an invitation to do a fashion show in Italy, it appears that their careers have been reborn…until an Interpol agent (Penelope Cruz) recruits them to solve a mysterious chain of “beautiful people” murders (the latest victim being Justin Bieber). Derek Zoolander must bond with his estranged son, face a familiar villain from the past, and work with Hansel to uncover a bigger mystery at work.

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Despite how ridiculous, stupid and juvenile it was (all positive qualities in the context of the original film), 2001’s ZOOLANDER had a coherent plot. There was a progression of events, development of characters, and lots of dumb laughs to be had as the story moved forward. ZOOLANDER 2 has a narrative mash that attempts to resemble a plot and keeps going off the rails into new storylines. The film’s trailers have already highlighted the return of Mugatu (Will Ferrell delivering the funniest scenes in the movie), but he doesn’t really come into play until the halfway point. Up until then, it’s Derek bonding with his son, flirting with Cruz’s Interpol agent, and trying to reinvigorate his faded career. The conclusion is also wildly all over the place in a bad way.

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You don’t necessarily watch a movie like ZOOLANDER 2 for the plot though, right? Instead, you go in expecting lots of goofy humor, ridiculous scenes, and stupid characters. Well, ZOOLANDER 2 occasionally delivers on that front, but has long stretches where I was hoping for something remotely funny to occur. The bonding scenes between Derek and his son had potential to be hilarious, but instead they come off as old tired gags that have been seen in many other comedies. A story arc about Hansel’s constant orgies becomes tiring after its introduction. While this was a nod to a legitimately funny throwaway scene in the first film, it dominates nearly every Hansel moment in this sequel and seems forced.

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ZOOLANDER 2 relies on entirely too many cameos as well. The first film had cameos, but placed them in a way that felt funny in the context of the story. This sequel overdoes it to an annoying degree. There are a number of spots where the pacing drags just to squeeze in a few more celebrities for the sake of including them. Even when the film isn’t packing in a ton of unnecessary famous faces, the pacing lags thanks to the unfocused script. New characters like Penelope Cruz’s Interpol agent and Kristen Wiig’s weird fashion designer are also wasted in not being given anything interesting to do.

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This isn’t to say that all of ZOOLANDER 2 is entirely bland and unfunny. As mentioned before, Will Ferrell delivers the best moments in the film as the returning Mugatu (the pay-off to a prison confrontation made laugh pretty hard). The story also sets up a few strong scenes early on. There’s a clever montage filling us in on the details of what occurred after the first film. A running gag about a schoolmaster was probably my favorite joke of the entire film. Also, Justin Bieber gets killed by a machine gun (I have no complaints about that). Compared to recent comedy sequels, ZOOLANDER 2 isn’t nearly as bad as JOE DIRT 2 or HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, but is only marginally superior to DUMB AND DUMBER TO and TED 2. It seems like Ben Stiller and company tried too hard to recapture certain qualities from the first film and none of their chosen qualities were what made ZOOLANDER stand out among 2000’s comedies. Much like its titular male model, ZOOLANDER 2 feels like a washed-up has-been with occasional glimmers of talent.

Grade: C+

GET HARD (2015)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 40 minutes

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

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Directed by: Etan Cohen

Written by: Jay Martel, Ian Roberts & Etan Cohen

Starring: Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Edwina Findley & Craig T. Nelson

Full disclosure: I was not expecting a lot from GET HARD. It looked like a fairly typical Will Ferrell vehicle clashed with a basic Kevin Hart comedy. Not surprisingly, it’s getting trashed by most critics. While this is far from a good film, GET HARD does have a handful of solid laughs and doesn’t really do any harm to society. It’s a by-the-numbers flick that will probably satisfy less discerning Ferrell/Hart fans who only want to sit down and watch two on-screen jackasses for 100 minutes. This is a pretty basic comedy that has a few good jokes and lots of dusty ones.

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James King is a wealthy businessman with a beautiful girlfriend, a huge mansion, and lots of cash to spare. Darnell Lewis is a struggling car washer who’s trying to provide for his family in radical ways that often backfire. After King is indicted with embezzlement charges and sentenced to 10 years in San Quentin prison, he seeks the help of Darnell. Through a misunderstanding and plain racism, King mistakenly thinks that Darnell is a former convict and offers to pay him 30 grand to get himself properly prepared for the big house. With 30 days before King is sent to prison, Darnell does his best to make King as hard as possible. Wacky antics ensue.

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The premise is funny by itself and offers a lot of opportunities for craziness. Will Ferrell is enjoyable to watch as King, though he’s essentially playing his same type-cast idiot character. Kevin Hart is equally enjoyable as Darnell, though he’s essentially playing his same type-cast Kevin Hart character. Nothing about either Ferrell or Hart really stood out. I just saw them as Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart as opposed to characters they were supposedly playing. While a lot of jokes in GET HARD didn’t work for me, a number of scenes got me laughing. These moments included a staged prison riot, Ferrell meeting two radically different gangs, and a lesson in fellatio. However, some gags drag on for far too long and get less funny as they go. The most notable of which is a prison yard simulation with Hart pretending to be three different kind of convicts. That scene starts off very funny and simply becomes tired after it wears out its welcome.

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Besides jokes being killed by their length, a majority of this comedy feels dusty. It’s shocking that three people wrote this film as the story is overly predictable. The laughs rely far too much on homophobic and racist jokes. A couple of these scenes do work (the fellatio lesson and a Nazi hate group), but the rest of the movie feels like it’s not really trying that hard to be that funny. These are old jokes that have been seen in plenty of other films (including some starring Hart and Ferrell). You can pretty much guess the basic outline for GET HARD after a certain point in the first act and this story doesn’t do anything to stray from that formula. This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if the hilarity factor were off the charts. It should bear mentioning that the R-rating is a nice touch, allowing for many F-bombs and some nudity, but again, feels like it’s wasted on a standard script.

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GET HARD is a typical Will Ferrell/Kevin Hart vehicle that goes through the motions. There are funny moments, but the jokes mostly feel dusty and familiar. The screenplay is easy to predict from the first act. Ferrell and Hart are playing the same kind of characters that they always play. There’s a definite audience who are likely to eat this film up, but I prefer many other Ferrell comedies to this movie (e.g. TALLADEGA NIGHTS, even BLADES OF GLORY). The overuse of homophobic and racist jokes is bound to rub many folks the wrong way. It’s not all out bad. GET HARD’s biggest problem is being lazy. I didn’t love it. I didn’t hate it. It is simply there.

Grade: C

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