Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rehash, Amp Up and Act Cool: A fresh batch of overkill

I’m down with popcorn flicks people! I don’t like to sound like an old man yelling at kids to get off his lawn. I just want mainstream flicks to stop being so damn pretentious for their own good. This whole “pulling out the stops” mode: trying to impress a desensitized audience by overloading their senses is just overkill and it’s getting old. Case in point was the latest “Mummy” flick (“The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor”). I watch everything – I am a film whore- but this flick was so loud, cartoony and downright stupid that I just had to shut it off, even though I had enjoyed the previous two. It was more interested in being a Universal studio action ride than a film. I was already burned out by Brendan Frasers’ exasperated mugging in “Journey to the Center of the Earth”. Brendan- bubby, - more “Crash” less “George of the Jungle” you’re getting too old for this shit. (Poor Maria Bello filling in for the smart script reader Rachel Weisz)

Then there was “Eagle Eye”, more enjoyable but equally excessive. Again we see older, better films plundered for their plot points (“2001”, “Parallax View”, “War Games”, “The Game”) to make an all-inclusive, big budget, super-paranoid thriller involving an omniscient computer in a political conspiracy. Shia Labeouf has a good agent, but he is less an actor and more of a reactor. Obediently diving the green screen demons isn’t compelling but it pays well. I wanted to have more fun but the car chases were so over-cut- that I literally had no idea what was going on. The excessive junkyard cranes of course would have crushed our beloved heroes and why was it necessary to have the computer being (Julianne Moore who keeps her name off the credits) snap high tension wires when that is so ridiculous? Had this movie just gotten off its steroids, stayed a little grounded and thrown in more originality it may have been great. That potential is why I get so irritated. Less is always more, especially in thrillers.

Speaking of less- I had less love for “RocknRolla” a movie by Guy Ritchie who gave us the great “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and the weaker “Snatch” (insert joke here). Madonna could always smell a sinking ship and I have never in my life seen a film so desperately trying to be cool. The Julia Roberts smug part, a leggy femme fatale ‘mastermind’ who says things like “I’m the best there is” is just one of the one hundred stock characters that are paraded through this backlit piece of shite. All of them speak quickly and strive to be clever; none are developed or believable in the least. Poor Tom Wilkinson almost saves himself but he plays the mafia boss and his silk suits and shades overshadow the clich├ęs he is forced to try to spout believably. See “Get Carter” with Michael Caine.

So if you see someone trying to be cool- they’re not, right? Michael Cera is a good comic actor- kind of like a young Bob Newhart. But he is far better as the lovable loser than as a confused emo rocker trying to shake off a bad break-up. “Nick and Nora’s Infinite Playlist” brings on reductive geography to make NYC seem like a one horse town. (You mean the Port Authority isn’t in the village?) Teenagers ride through it on a single crazy night ala “American Graffiti” but once again you want so much to believe and hang loose while the filmmakers continue to kill it. Nick and Nora, like their “Thin Man” ancestors, have a witty, quick-fire banter and Kat Dennings as Nora is great. These two main characters just deserved a better script. Nick plays in a band whose other members are gay (which means they travel with woman’s’ bras in their van) but that’s literally all we know of them. Oh wait one is gay and Asian. The point being that the film wants to be gay friendly because its’ cool not because its’ a reality. The gay bar they visit seems like a homogenized side show but so does everything else in this make-believe club land where there is always parking in front. Nora’s friend gets drunk – but seems more like she is tripping (or someone just acting drunk). Would any drunk consider reaching into a bus terminal toilet that they’ve just vomited in to get their gum? No but again the overkill monster needs to shock us. (The gum joke is then milked endlessly since they liked it so much) This flick gives us cool actors in cameos and indie bands on its wall-to-wall soundtrack but it has no real street cred. Michael, out of those skinny jeans and sign back on as George Michael for the “Arrested Developmentfilm already. You’re lost in this high school poseur fantasy. We know these two people are destined to be with each other. So why was “Sixteen Candles” a cooler film decades ago even when it’s set in a bland suburb? Films like this don’t poke fun at over-ironic hipster pretensions anymore- they ape them. Tragically hip is jaded. Optimism is the new adrenalin. I’d like my pop films to rehab off the kitchen sink approach already. Oh and see “After Hours” for old timey “one night trapped in downtown NYC” fun, before the hipsters took over of course! (And get off my damn lawn!) :)