Friday, February 27, 2009


I'm a self-admitted and unabashed fan of Star Wars and, as such, I really wanted to love Fanboys. Sigh. Sadly it felt like too many people screwed with this cute little project about Star Wars fans until the result was something jumbled and broken, which, is of course, what happened.

The film follows the reunion of young used car salesmen Eric (Sam Huntington) with his old pals (Chris Marquette, Dan Fogler, Jay Baruchel, and Kristen Bell) still rocking to Star Wars years later and counting down the hours and minutes to Episode I: The Phantom Menace. After discovering Linus (Marquette) is dying of cancer and won't live to see the premiere, Eric and his pals decide to storm the Skywalker Ranch and steal a rough-cut of the film.

What results is your basic geek road movie filled with cameos of various stars. The gang argue about the incestuous relationship of Luke and Leia, battle some Trekkies (led by Seth Rogen, in one of his many, many roles in the film), hit Vegas, and finally make it into the Lucas compound (with a little assistance from one William Shatner).

Although the film has some heart it takes us a little too long to get to know, and like, this band of nerds. Also troubling are the number of antics they go through to reach their destination (seriously, how many times can they take on the Trekkies?). Although some work of these work (Shatner's cameo, the van hitting lightspeed) many are nothing more than lame regurgitation from other flicks of this type (the gay biker bar, the pretty girls who "happen" to be hookers in Vegas, the needless chase scenes). And although some of the cameos work many don't. Do we really need to see Harry Knowles (Ethan Suplee) beating up our nerds or how Jay and Silent Bob spend their weekends? No, not really.

Even with these issues there are a number of things that work, most notably Kristen Bell (who's sadly given the smallest role of the group). I've been a fan of Bell since her Veronica Mars days. And, no, I'm not praising her only for the way she fills out the Leia bikini (very nicely). Although, much like the other nerds, her character isn't written all that well, she does infuse it will some spunky charm and grace. She's also given one of my favorite lines of the film when trying to overhear a guard's conversation with George Lucas ("I can hear his beard!").

And, if at times they struggle with story, I will give screenwriters Ernest Cline and Adam F. Goldberg credit for filling the film with funny Star Wars references (even if all of them don't quite work). The film works best when it allows the dialogue and nerdiness to come naturally, and struggles mightily when it tries to force big laughs. I also enjoyed how the script incorporated both Star Wars design and philosophy into the film, my favorites being fact that the most secure room in Skywalker Ranch has blast doors and how life itself is boiled down into a simple quest of finding your Death Star.

Fanboys isn't a bad film, but it's not likely to work all that well outside the rabid Lucas fan base. I'm a pretty huge Star Wars nerd and I had a very mixed reaction. If I had paid $10 to see it I would have felt a bit cheated, but if someone else is buying, or you luck into finding it on the tube in a couple years, it's not too bad an experience. Fanboys isn't a film that you feel stole any time from your life, but it doesn't really add a memorable experience either (except perhaps the final line of the film, which I won't spoil for you here, when it earns its biggest laugh).

Friday, February 20, 2009

Fired Up!


I come neither to praise nor bash Fired Up! Here's the type of movie, in the right mood, I might be perfectly fine finding at 1:00am on Comedy Central. If you're a fan of the straight-to-DVD American Pie films you should feel right at home.

The basic set-up for this male cheerleader recruitment film involves two high school ladies men (played by 28-year-old Nicholas D'Agosto and 31-year-old Eric Christian Olsen) who skip out on football practice for a chance to join the squad and go to cheer camp with the hopes of scoring with as many cheerleaders as possible.

Those looking for the level of writing of Bring It On will be disappointed, though Fired Up does include a fun scene involving the entire camp watching that film. In fact the movie is filled with some pretty funny moments, and, unlike the previously mentioned American Pie flicks, keeps the level of raunch to a minimum (as much as you can in a film about guys trying to bang as many cheerleaders as possible).

I call it a cheerleader recruitment film because the film strongly suggests there is nothing better than being a straight male cheerleader. The film points out most cheerleaders are athletic, beautiful, not too bright, horny as hell, and basically willing to sleep with whoever is convenient. Now imagine a camp filled with such women and you're one of only four straight guys within miles. Compared to two-a-days out on the football field in the hot Texas sun it sounds like heaven. Hell, compared to a bucket full of cash it sounds pretty damn good.

Although the film has all the depth of Van Wilder it does have some heart. The two bucking "young" studs do learn to respect both cheerleading and women. Awwwwwwww.

Of course the film does go through many of the dumb teen comedy motions complete with one of guys falling for the head cheerleader of his school (Sarah Roemer), facing up to a deception that nips their burgeoning feelings in the bud, and dealing with her douchebag of a boyfriend (played by David Walton with half the charm of Chet from Weird Science).

Fired Up doesn't score any points for brains, acting, or originality, but let's face it that's not the reason you go to a flick like this. What it does deliver is plenty of hotties in cheerleader uniforms, some fun moments, dumb humor aplenty, and more than a few groan-worthy contrivances. Is it a good film? Not really. Is it a fun time? For the right audience (and you know who you are), sure.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The International

There's much about The International that works, and almost as much that doesn't. Still, for a mid-February release it's much better than expected and one of the few films of the new year worth a look.

Clive Owen stars as an Interpol agent obsessed with bringing down a bank which does shady dealings with both world governments and criminal organizations. Naomi Watts stars as his deskbound partner who, as is often the case in these types of films, hits the streets with him to bring down the bad guys.

Who are these evil-doers he's willing to risk his life and career to stop? Well, they're bankers. Um...yeah. As movie baddies go evil bankers ranks slightly below evil party clowns and Elvis impersonators.

Thankfully we're given Owen who raises the bar here by elevating the script and infusing the character with an obsession both palpatable and a little out of control.

The rest of the cast isn't quite up to the challenge. Watts is Watts (meaning she's mildly annoying me throughout the film). I don't completely blame her as she's stuck with the far less interesting piece of this buddy team-up.

One of the major problems here is the lack of a movie-sized villain. What we're given is a mysterious hitman (Brian F O'Byrne), whose role should have been expanded, and a bunch of pretty uninteresting bankers.

It doesn't help that the actual nefarious plot these bankers are responsible for is both overly-complex and convoluted. The script's attempt to also make it mysterious only proves to make it more confusing.

From my comments so far you might expect that I hated the film (other than Owen's performance). That's not the case. Though filled with both script problems and an ending that many movie goers may rebel against for its ambivalence, there are pieces which work well.

The film, proving good to its name, gives us several locations around the world. Each are framed, lighted, and shot beautifully, and the look of the film is marvelous! This alone makes the film worth watching not just once, but multiple times.

There are also some impressive stunt sequences including one in the Guggenheim museum and one racing through Italian markets. And, thankfully, we get to see these as the film stock isn't cut and pasted within an inch of its life (see Taken).

The International is a flawed film but with impressive locations, good action scenes, and a character Clive Owen can sink his teeth in, it's better than I expected for a mid-February release. Fans of the genre may want to check it out.

Friday, February 6, 2009

He's Just Not That Into You

He's Just Not That Into You starts out with some promise, but, as romcoms are prone to do, falls prey to contrivance and the inevitable happy ending which is cuter than a basket of newborn kittens. Adapted from a self-help book the film does take a (at least occasionally) funny look at how women regard relationships in a mostly twisted and illogical way.

The plot centers around a group of romantically challenged individuals including a loving longtime couple (Ben Affleck, Jennifer Aniston) dealing with the question of marriage, a quirky young woman (Ginnifer Goodwin) who can't seem to find a guy, Justin Long as the nice-jerk you find in films like this with an encyclopedic knowledge of women's bad relationship habits, a real estate agent (Kevin Connolly) in love with a Yoga instructor (Scarlett Johansson) who is more infatuated with a guy she met in a grocery store whose wife (Jennifer Connelly) keeps his balls in her purse. Oh, and I forgot Drew Barrymore (and so does the film for large stretches) as woman trying to find romance online surrounded by the trademark swishy gay friends who have nothing better to do than help their hetero pals find love.

Did you follow all that? Not to worry, given enough time watching this flick you'll simply stop caring. The film has two main problems. The first is there's simply too many stories all going on at the same time. Too many characters. Too much drama. And of all these characters only Goodwin's crazy woman (who you would run screaming from in real life) is remotely likable. We don't care about these characters, we don't root for them, we know how each relationship is going to end, and we're more than a little perturbed when the film which promised to take a harder line on romance allows every single character their own happy ending.

The second, and more troubling, problem is the film's attempt to look down its nose at relationships and romantic comedies on one hand while at the same time relying on many of the same contrivances of the genre (no matter what the marketing says). You can't have it both ways. When the film sticks to its harsh look at women's views of relationships it works; when it tries to be a cute romantic comedy it fails.

If you judge in terms of romantic comedies He's Just Not That Into You comes out ahead of the curve. But on a scale which includes 27 Dresses, Over Her Dead Body, and anything starring Kate Hudson or Mandy Moore, that doesn't mean as much as you'd think. Is it better than having your girlfriend drag you to one of those? Yes, but again so is a swift kick in the crotch. Will it serve main purpose of a romcom for getting you laid? Well sure, so will Ruffies, but neither is recommended.