D: Jake Szymanski / 98m
Cast: Zac Efron, Anna Kendrick, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Stephen Root, Stephanie Faracy, Sugar Lyn Beard, Sam Richardson, Alice Wetterlund, Mary Holland, Kumail Nanjiani, Jake Johnson
The Stangle brothers – Mike (Devine) and Dave (Efron) – are party animals who consistently disrupt and ruin any and all family occasions. Their parents (Root, Faracy) are fed up with their antics and provide them with an ultimatum: for their sister, Jeanie’s (Beard) upcoming wedding in Hawaii, the brothers have to bring dates with them, dates who will stop them from trying to impress all the single women there and causing chaos in the process. For two young men in their twenties, finding “nice girls” proves to be a bit of a challenge. So what’s the obvious answer? Easy – put an advert on Craigslist offering an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii for the two lucky women who are suitable companions.
Unsurprisingly, the vetting process isn’t as speedy as the brothers would like, and it’s not until they go on The Wendy Williams Show that best friends and equally riotous party girls Alice (Kendrick) and Tatiana (Plaza) take an interest in the offer, and decide that they are the perfect candidates for the “job”. They meet Mike and Dave, pretend to be a hedge fund manager and teacher respectively, and find that their machinations have done the trick: they’re off to Hawaii.
The brothers’ parents, and everyone else for that matter, are impressed with their choice of partners. But as the stay continues, Alice and Tatiana’s true characters begin to express themselves. Tatiana refuses to have anything to do with a clearly infatuated Mike, while Alice begins a tentative relationship with Dave. They do their best to have a good time, while Mike and Dave do their best to behave themselves. But an unscheduled quad biking trip through Jurassic Park country finds Jeanie the victim of Mike’s carelessness, and suffering facial injuries that threaten her wedding day. Add to the mix a conniving cousin (Wetterlund), a massage therapist (Nanjiani) with a very “personal” touch, a groom considered by the bride to be boring, and increasing divisions between Mike and Dave, and there’s very little chance that their sister’s wedding is going to go ahead as planned. Far from it, in fact…
By now we should be used to the idea that women can be just as non-PC and crude as their male counterparts, and it’s an idea that Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates clings onto with all its might. In fact, it clings onto the idea as if it were the only idea it could have. Even when it becomes clear that Alice and Dave are falling in love – and therefore it’s only a matter of time before the same happens to Tatiana and Mike – the movie wants to have its cake and eat it by trying to convince the audience that any redemption will be short-lived. But we’ve all been here way too many times for such a clumsy notion to work, and by the movie’s end, Mike and Dave and Alice and Tatiana are no longer the rough diamonds we’ve been encouraged to cheer on from the start, but polished individuals with an improved sense of propriety, and heading for a life of domesticated bliss.
It’s a well-worn road to Damascus that these characters take, and that familiarity breeds an acceptance that the script, by Andrew Jay Cohen and Brendan O’Brien, won’t try to do anything different in its closing stages. With examples of gross-out humour proving unforthcoming, the movie falls back on a handful (literally, in one scene) of sex jokes, and a short sequence where Alice and Jeanie get high on E’s. Elsewhere, Devine yells and shouts and makes agonised faces, while Efron adopts a strained, perpexed expression throughout, as if he’s read the script, passed on it, and is completely amazed that he’s actually making the movie after all. And Kendrick does what Kendrick does, not best, but all the time: plays Alice in the same perky, quirky way she plays all her other roles, from Martha in Mr. Right (2015) to Dana in The Accountant (2016). (Is there no beginning to her talent as an actress?)
Thankfully, there’s respite from all the stillborn humour and desperate attempts to instill laughter, and it comes in the form of Aubrey Plaza. Plaza has an uncanny ability to appear bored and engaged at the same time, and this apparent displacement allows her to give a performance that keeps the viewer on their toes; you’re never sure just what she’s going to say or do next. All you can be sure of is that the combination of her expressions and the way she delivers her dialogue won’t be as telegraphed or predictable as that of her co-stars. Plaza isn’t afraid to take risks in her performances, and it’s this that makes her so interesting to watch.
With the movie proving entirely lacklustre, and relying on the kind of contrived set ups so familiar from a dozen or more similar movies – it even references Wedding Crashers (2005), a movie that makes this movie look like it was put together by people who haven’t actually seen Wedding Crashers – all the viewer can do is hope that it’ll all be over sooner rather than later. In the director’s chair, Szymanski makes his feature debut after years of writing and directing video shorts with titles such as Bat Fight With Will Ferrell and Denise Richards’ Funbags (both 2009), and makes a decent enough fist of things but can’t make it all flow together in a way that would make it more palatable. And with the performances being so wayward – Efron seems to be in a different movie from everyone else (maybe he was still wishing he was), Wetterlund sets back the cause of credible lesbian performances by about a thousand years – it’s a movie that doesn’t even do justice to its Hawaiian locations.
Rating: 4/10 – despite being based on a true story (two brothers really did advertise for wedding dates on Craigslist), Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates takes the basic idea and doesn’t come up with anything it can run with; unfunny for long stretches, the movie lurches from one dispiriting confrontation to another without ever stopping to think if what it’s doing is actually working – which it isn’t.
aka Bad Neighbours 2
D: Nicholas Stoller / 92m
Cast: Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Chloë Grace Moretz, Ike Barinholtz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Dave Franco, Jerrod Carmichael, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Elise Vargas, Zoey Vargas, John Early, Hannibal Buress, Selena Gomez, Kelsey Grammer, Lisa Kudrow
Rating: 3/10 – a disastrous sequel that should be subtitled The Movie Laughs Forgot, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is another “comedy” that barely succeeds in raising a smile, let alone any genuine outbursts of laughter; a lame retread of the original, the cast sleepwalk through their roles, the script allows for long stretches of tedium, Stoller appears to have been on holiday for the whole of shooting, and any chance of a good time is dismissed from the off, leaving the audience to wonder how on earth this was made in the first place.
A Close Call for Boston Blackie, Alien abduction, Blackmail, Boston Blackie, Brittany Allen, Chester Morris, Christmas Icetastrophe, Cory Monteith, Crime, Criminal, David Morse, Detective, Disaster, DJ, Drama, Emily Ratajkowski, Extraterrestrial, Flash freeze, Freddie Stroma, Friendships, Horror, Jennifer Spence, Jonathan Winfrey, Josh C. Waller, Lew Landers, Lynn Merrick, Max Joseph, McCanick, Meteor, Mike Vogel, Murder, Review, Sheriff, SyFy, The Vicious Brothers, Victor Webster, We Are Your Friends, Wes Bentley, Zac Efron
Extraterrestrial (2014) / D: The Vicious Brothers / 101m
Cast: Brittany Allen, Freddie Stroma, Melanie Papalia, Jesse Moss, Anja Savcic, Gil Bellows, Michael Ironside, Sean Rogerson, Emily Perkins
Rating: 4/10 – Teens in a remote cabin discover a crash-landed UFO, and soon learn that this isn’t an isolated incident, and that aliens have been abducting people for some time; yet another tired, gloomy-looking sci-fi/horror that starts promisingly and soon runs out of steam, Extraterrestrial aims to be edgy but is compromised by a convoluted narrative and some frustratingly poor performances.
A Close Call for Boston Blackie (1946) / D: Lew Landers / 60m
aka Lady of Mystery
Cast: Chester Morris, Lynn Merrick, Richard Lane, Frank Sully, George E. Stone, Claire Carleton, Erik Rolf, Mark Roberts, Russell Hicks
Rating: 6/10 – Private detective Boston Blackie (Morris) becomes embroiled in a scam involving a missing baby and an old flame, and finds himself accused of murder; one of the better entries in the series, A Close Call for Boston Blackie sees Morris having a ball as Blackie and the movie as a whole is a lot of fun, the simple, fast-paced approach to the material making the whole thing enjoyable even if you’re not a fan.
Christmas Icetastrophe (2014) / D: Jonathan Winfrey / 87m
Cast: Victor Webster, Jennifer Spence, Richard Harmon, Tiera Skovbye, Mike Dopud, Johannah Newmarch, Andrew Francis, Ben Cotton, Boti Bliss
Rating: 4/10 – A meteorite splits in two in the Earth’s atmosphere, and one half crashes to earth in the small mountain town of Lennox causing everything in the area to flash-freeze; another slice of sci-fi hokum from the SyFy channel, Christmas Icetastrophe narrowly avoids being complete rubbish thanks to some good location work and a sense of its own absurdity, but when all’s said and done, it’s still rubbish.
McCanick (2013) / D: Josh C. Waller / 96m
Cast: David Morse, Cory Monteith, Mike Vogel, Ciarán Hinds, Rachel Nichols, Trevor Morgan, Tracie Thoms, Aaron Yoo
Rating: 6/10 – Veteran detective Eugene McCanick (Morse) goes after a small-time crook (Monteith), but not for the reason everyone around him thinks; a feature role for the ever-reliable Morse is set in psychological thriller territory and gives the actor plenty of room and time to play “disturbed”, but Waller’s sterile direction lets him and the movie down, and McCanick becomes disturbing for all the wrong reasons.
We Are Your Friends (2015) / D: Max Joseph / 96m
Cast: Zac Efron, Wes Bentley, Emily Ratajkowski, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Schaffer, Jon Bernthal
Rating: 6/10 – An aspiring DJ (Efron) finds the road to fame and fortune paved with obstacles: the friends who are unwittingly holding him back, the girl who can’t fully commit, and the mentor who may or may not help him fulfill his dream; a surprisingly aimless movie with little actual drama to sustain its running time, We Are Your Friends is too lightweight in its execution to make much of an impact, and as a result, never gets off the ground.
D: Scott Hicks / 101m
Cast: Zac Efron, Taylor Schilling, Blythe Danner, Jay R. Ferguson, Riley Thomas Stewart, Adam LeFevre, Robert Hayes, Joe Chrest, Ann McKenzie, Kendal Tuttle
Adapted from the novel by Nicholas Sparks, The Lucky One opens in Iraq and a night mission where Logan (Efron) and his platoon run into Aces (Tuttle) and his platoon. There is a firefight with some Iraqis and Aces is killed. The next morning, Logan spies a picture of a woman in the rubble. He picks it up just seconds before an incendiary device goes off, killing several of his comrades. Logan survives, and for the rest of the tour he keeps the photo with him and it acts as a talisman, warding off harm and keeping him safe. He also tries to find out if anyone knows who the picture belongs to, but no one recognises it.
Back home, Logan traces the location where the picture was taken, and with his dog, Zeus, heads off on foot across country from Colorado to Louisiana, and the small town of Hamden, where after asking around, he discovers the woman’s name is Beth Green (Schilling) and she runs a kennels on the outskirts of town. When Logan goes there to tell her about the picture he finds he doesn’t know how to, and the situation is further complicated by Beth’s assumption that he’s there to apply for a job. Accepting the job, but with Beth having reservations about someone who walks so far just to work at a kennels, Logan makes himself useful doing repairs and general chores.
Beth’s grandmother, Ellie (Danner) takes to Logan from the start, as does Beth’s seven year old son, Ben (Stewart). The one person who doesn’t is Beth’s ex-husband, Keith (Ferguson), a deputy sheriff whose jealousy and violent temper have him believing that Logan is trying to usurp his position as Beth and Ben’s protector. With Keith making it difficult for Beth to move on with her life, Logan becomes increasingly close to her, and soon they are looking at each other with more than curiosity. They begin a hesitant romance, but Logan still finds it impossible to tell Beth about the photo, even when it becomes clear that Aces was her brother.
When Keith finds out that Logan was showing Beth’s picture around town he wastes no time in telling Beth (he also has the picture, stolen from Logan’s home). Beth confronts Logan and she asks him to leave. Keith makes an attempt to reconcile once more with Beth but when she rejects him, he threatens to take Ben there and then. Ben runs away, but in doing so, puts his life in danger…
With its typical stranger-with-a-secret-comes-to-town storyline, The Lucky One doesn’t bring anything new to the romantic drama genre, but in many ways that’s its strength. Its reliance on minor soap opera clichés to reinforce both the romantic and the dramatic aspects helps establish the movie as a straightforward telling of a familiar story, and one that the audience can take a great deal of comfort from. As Logan and Beth circle each other, there’s never any doubt as to how their romance will proceed, and the familiarity of the situation is aided greatly by the performances of Efron and Schilling, his brooding reticence complimenting her fragile beauty.
Beautifully set (and shot) in Louisiana, the movie moves easily from one reassuring plot development to the next, almost casually hitting its emotional high points, and thanks to Will Fetters’ astute screenplay, never trying to subvert or over-complicate matters. Hicks, who shot to fame with the altogether weightier Shine (1992), directs with a confidence that is reflected in the ease with which the cast inhabit their characters, and the credibility of their interaction. Efron plays the strong, silent type effortlessly but for long stretches Logan is almost a secondary character, as the movie sets up the family dynamic around Beth, Ben, Keith and Ellie. Once the romance kicks in, Efron gets to show just why he’s become one of the most sought after actors working today, showing a vulnerability the likes of Channing Tatum and Josh Duhamel (both male leads in other Sparks’ adaptations) would struggle to portray. It’s a low-key performance and one that befits the character of an ex-Marine trying to rebuild his life one step at a time.
Schilling also impresses as the put upon single mother putting a brave face on being divorced and bereaved at the same time, as well as looking for some way to rebuild her own life. Beth and Logan are kindred spirits in that sense, and when they begin their romance, their need for each other ignites a coming together that breathes new fire into both their lives (surprisingly, their love scenes are quite steamy for a PG-13 movie, but that’s not a bad thing). As Keith, Ferguson (mostly known for his TV work) makes more of the dastardly ex-husband role than appears to have been a part of the script, and the scene where his armour cracks during a recital given by his son is both unexpected and affecting in equal measure. Danner outshines them all, of course, but then if she hadn’t then something would have really been wrong.
The movie does have some faults, however. Logan’s PTSD is clumsily dealt with and is forgotten once he’s met Beth, and there’s a few too many occasions where the central conceit struggles to fend off its own implausibility, and Ben behaves a little too much like the semi-adult he clearly isn’t at seven years old, but these are minor complaints. All in all, The Lucky One is a rewarding experience, cleverly presented, and if things are a little too predictable at times – fans of this type of movie will be able to spot the outcome from a mile off – as noted above, the filmmakers’ determination to embrace the customary elements of such a storyline is a benefit and not a detraction.
Rating: 7/10 – a solid if unspectacular production, The Lucky One will please fans of the genre for its straight on approach and for treating its main characters with sympathy and respect; bolstered by often beautiful location photography, it’s also blessed with a score by Mark Isham that avoids all the usual emotional cues.
(for Roxanne xx)
D: Tom Gormican / 92m
Cast: Zac Efron, Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Imogen Poots, Mackenzie Davis, Jessica Lucas, Addison Timlin, Josh Pais
With the rom-com feeling like it’s hit a bit of a rut at the moment, this male-centric offering from first-time writer/director Gormican seems – at first glance – to offer something a little bit different.
When Mikey (Jordan) tells his friends Jason (Efron) and Daniel (Teller) that his wife, Vera (Lucas) wants a divorce, it prompts them to make a pact: to avoid serious, long-term relationships and revisit their younger days when they partied and flirted and drifted from woman to woman. For Jason and Daniel this isn’t so difficult as this is what they’re already doing; for Mikey it proves a little bit harder as he still wants to rescue his marriage.
Jason meets Ellie (Poots) at a bar and they go back to her place. A misunderstanding sees him leave before she wakes the next morning, but already he’s smitten. When they meet again where he works as a book jacket designer (in tandem with Daniel), they resume their fledgling relationship, and begin spending more time together. Daniel, who uses his friend Chelsea (Davis) to pick up girls, finds himself becoming attracted to her; their friendship evolves into their becoming lovers themselves. With Mikey rekindling his marriage to Vera, all three men find themselves reneging on the pact they made. Afraid of ruining their own relationships, the men find themselves struggling to admit their feelings for the women in their lives, both to themselves and to each other.
That Awkward Moment is, at heart, more of a bromance than a romantic comedy, with the relationship between Jason, Daniel and Mikey taking centre stage. With this in mind it’s easy to dismiss the movie as a “guys-can-be-jerks-but-deep-down-they’re-really-sensitive” modern-day fairy tale. They’re all good guys and they have an obviously close bond but they can’t seem to relate that well to women, until they meet the right ones (or in Mikey’s case, fail to call her back). There’s the usual missteps and misunderstandings along the way, a couple of minor emotional upheavals, and the sight of Efron and Teller both attempting to pee while dealing with the effects of Viagra. The humour is generally low-key (there are few laugh-out-loud moments), and some scenes are entertaining in an offbeat way, but the way in which the guys lie and deceive each other is wearing and uninspired. It’s this haphazard approach that keeps the movie from being as insightful as it would like to be, and as original as it thinks it is.
Of the male leads, Teller (recently revealed to be the new Reed Richards in the Fantastic Four reboot) fares best, his rapid fire delivery and caustic put-downs infused with a nervous energy that suits his often dismissive character. Jordan is required to look either bemused or credulous a lot, and while his character is the most likeable of the three, he gets less screen time. It’s Efron, though, who gets a bit of a raw deal. Jason is, to put it bluntly, a bit of a prick. He’s a commitment-phobe who balks when the women he’s seeing start to ask where their relationship is going (the awkward moment of the title), and he badly disappoints Ellie at a time when she really needs him. He views being “serious” as something to be avoided, even when he is clearly falling in love; why he’s so repressed in this area is never satisfactorily explored or explained. As a consequence, Efron is hard-pressed to make Jason sympathetic; he just makes too many easily avoided mistakes.
As the slightly kooky Ellie, Poots cements her rising star status, while Davis’s confident turn should ensure her career gains momentum, but Lucas is saddled with a one-note character who is never developed in a way that would make her interesting. The script is at fault here, and it’s this lack of attention to some of the characters that stops the movie from breaking out of its own shell. That aside, there are some good moments – Jason attending a party and misunderstanding the dress code, Daniel and Chelsea’s friendship evolving into something more serious – but there aren’t enough of them to make up for the shortage elsewhere.
Under Gormican’s direction, That Awkward Moment ambles through its running time, neither pleasing its audience entirely or taking too many risks. The material wears thin too soon, and there’s not enough depth to make the interplay between the couples anything less than perfunctory. There’s the germ of a good idea here, but Gormican can’t quite get it to flower.
Rating: 5/10 – below par bromantic comedy that never takes off or seems to want to; a patchy script means a patchy movie and a severely weakened premise.
D: Peter Landesman / 93m
Cast: James Badge Dale, Zac Efron, Paul Giamatti, Jackie Earle Haley, Colin Hanks, David Harbour, Marcia Gay Harden, Ron Livingston, Jeremy Strong, Billy Bob Thornton, Jacki Weaver, Tom Welling
Covering events in Dallas, Texas from 22-25 November 1963, Parkland takes a behind-the-scenes look at the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the people who were involved both on the day and in the aftermath. From the opening showing Kennedy at Fort Worth before travelling to Dallas to the final scenes involving the burial of Lee Harvey Oswald (Strong), the movie paints an intimate portrait of the men and women who dealt with one of the most emotive events in American history, from the trainee doctors and nursing staff at Parkland hospital – where Kennedy and Oswald were both taken after they were shot – to the President’s Secret Service detail led by Forrest Sorrels (Thornton), to Oswald’s brother Robert (Dale) and mother Marguerite (a frightening Weaver), to the local FBI office who had Oswald there only a week before, and most effectively, to Abraham Zapruder (Giamatti), the man fated to film the death of a President.
All these stories coalesce to make Parkland an engrossing, gripping drama where some of the smaller details have the greatest effect: the sheer number of people who gather in the emergency room where Kennedy is worked on; Robert Oswald asking a member of the press to be a pallbearer; Zapruder asking a lab technician for three copies of the film, one for the Secret Service, one for the FBI, and one for himself; and Jackie Kennedy clutching something in her hand that proves to be a piece of her husband’s skull. First-time director Landesman juggles the various story lines with an ease that belies his lack of experience, and the cast raise their game accordingly; Giamatti in particular is a standout. A fine addition to that sub-genre of American history movies, the JFK era, Parkland impresses with its level of detail and its clearcut approach to what is still a very contentious event.
Rating: 8/10 – studious and compelling in equal measure, Landesman’s debut draws you in and never lets go.