CHIPS (2017)

 

CHiPS. Released: March 24, 2017. Directed by: Dax Shephard. Starring: Dax Shepard, Michael Peña, Vincent D’Onofrio. Runtime: 1h 40 min.

Dax Shepard’s third directorial effort reboots 1977 TV cop drama CHiPS into a raunchy buddy cop comedy. It’s not the best comedy but it entertains for enough of its runtime.

Larry Wilcox’s Jon Baker (Shepard) is updated to a washed-out stunt motorcyclist with no more fans or sponsors. His sole motivation is saving his marriage with wife Karen (Kristen Bell), and he brings up his marriage problems so much you can turn it into a drinking game.

Michael Peña is Frank ‘Ponch’ Poncherello, an FBI agent who is brought into the California Highway Patrol as an undercover agent to investigate an armoured van robbery ring rooted within the CHP itself. He’s partnered with Baker, and their chemistry isn’t great because and they bicker from the start.

Their fights in the first half are only occasionally funny. They establish Baker spends so much time in couple’s therapy that he’s almost an expert in trying to get to the root of Ponch’s problems. He’s a better wannabe psychologist than police officer since he can’t shoot his gun with any accuracy whatsoever.

They’re some of the worst on-screen cops you’ll see. Ponch is also reckless and does everything an undercover cop shouldn’t do. Plus, he can barely ride a motorcycle, which makes him the butt of some of the film’s funniest jokes during the chase scenes. Baker’s only graduated because he’s great at riding a motorcycle.

The problem with these bad cops is that they’re not believably written, and while it’s like a farce of bad cops, the film’s not clever so the line between attempted farce and plain stupid comedy blurs. The film doesn’t take itself too seriously so it still manages to be fun.

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One of the many chase scenes in CHIPS (Source). 

The stunts and chase scenes are great. It blends extreme sports with comedy and it works well, especially because of some of the bike jump stunts. The action’s well-directed and more fun than some jokes. The action scenes and umpteen crashes and explosions help distract from a simplistic story written by Dax Shepard.

The heists are fun but Shepard’s decision to reveal the bad cops to us from the word go removes all their mystery, and since we know who they are so long before our dynamic duo, the story loses punch and surprise. Vincent D’Onofrio plays the tough-as-nails corrupt cop ring leader. He’s a generically written brute only enlivened by D’Onofrio. His character is cruel for no reason and it makes him campy, especially when he breaks out a SWAT tank – which is admittedly awesome.

Shepard holds some characters back who are criminals and unceremoniously reveals them as baddies far too early. It’s disappointing because it would be a nice surprise to find out they’re villainous when Ponch and Baker learn it.

He doesn’t pen a strong story but his jokes are decent, and it finds a balance between big laughs and forgettable chuckles. Some gross-out raunchiness misses, especially a joke about how Baker doesn’t know the new trends of oral sex, that loses slight cleverness when it’s used too many times.

The main duo’s chemistry strengthens after they stop bickering, which helps make it a decent buddy comedy since they start to enjoy each other’s company. Plus, they are funny people. They become friends when Ponch makes lip contact with Jon’s wiener – and it’s funny, but it doesn’t feel naturally enough to be a believable best friend moment. Their chemistry suffers because of it. They don’t feel like besties like Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill in 21 Jump Street – and they don’t have a natural chemistry like the guys in Super Troopers.

CHIPS

Dax Shepard and Michael Pena in CHIPS. (Source)

The supporting cast doesn’t leave an impression – though Maya Rudolph gives a decent cameo, and there are other familiar faces that pop up. The supporting characters are so one-note – especially Jessica McNamee, Rosa Salazar and Adam Brody – and it feels like Ponch and Baker are the only characters Shepard bothers to develop.

The self-involved nature of all the characters make them jerks. Baker’s obsession with his severed marriage is the film’s most annoying aspect, especially since it’s so obvious it’s over he seems delusional. Ponch is mostly just a cliché womanizer and sex addict, who has perfected one-night stands by writing the name of the woman on a Post-It note and putting it on his bathroom mirror.

Jon’s wife Karen (Bell) is the biggest jerk of them all and treats Jon terribly throughout. She feels satirical of trophy wives, but it would help if she was funny – instead, she’s heartless and terribly written. The character almost made me hate Bell whenever she was on-screen. Her talent feels wasted – but kudos to her for being a believable jerk, especially to her real-life husband.

CHIPS is a funny ride overall that gives the ‘70s cop show a modern comedy twist. It’s nice that Shepard gets to mix his love for motorcycles with comedy, but his passion merely translates into a forgettable action comedy.

Score: 60/100

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The Boss (2016)

Released: April 8, 2016. Directed by: Ben Falcone. Starring: Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Bell, Peter Dinklage. Runtime: 1hr, 39 min.

R-rated comedienne Melissa McCarthy and hubby-and-director Ben Falcone take a second shot at co-writing a screenplay together with The Boss after their first botched attempt in 2014’s Tammy. The good thing is this is a much funnier collaboration.

The basic story follows Michelle Darnell (McCarthy), the (fictional) 47th wealthiest woman of America. The film glosses over how Darnell makes money, simply billing her as a CEO of three Fortune 500 companies. It’s a poor-to-rich story, as Darnell grew up in the foster home system.

Her life gets ruined after she’s imprisoned for insider training. All of her belongings are seized and her house foreclosed, she learns when she’s released. She then stays with her former assistant and single mother Claire (Kristen Bell), basically the only person on who will give her a place to stay because no one is answering Michelle’s calls.

The story feels like Darnell is on a path to make money again, rather than redeeming herself as a person – which just comes out naturally. Her new business venture is a brownie company called Darnell’s Darlings.

She gets the idea after knowing the demand of Dandelions girl guide cookies, after taking Claire’s daughter Rachel (Ella Anderson) to one of the meetings. Claire is the baker for the company because she has a good recipe – and her motivation for helping is to get Michelle off her couch.

Michelle gets more likable throughout. But that’s easy considering her obnoxious introduction at a sold-out arena show about telling people how to make money – where she comes down on a golden phoenix to sing “All I Do Is Win” with DJ Khaled.

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Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Bell in The Boss. (Source)

The Boss is great example of how the essential falling-out of characters can ruin a film’s momentum. The clichéd moment arises because of Michelle’s lack of a family and fear of getting close to people.

The poor narrative is the film’s worst aspect. It feels like the jokes were written first, and then a story was shaped around them. To the credit of Falcone, McCarthy and Steve Mallory, there are many clever jokes and laugh-out-loud moments. That’s the redeeming part that makes this an entertaining film.

A flaw of the film is the fact that Melissa McCarthy gets almost all of the funny jokes. The film suffers when she isn’t on-screen. The character who misses the most is Peter Dinklage’s Renault, an aspiring samurai, or something. He’s obsessed with ex-girlfriend Michelle, where revenge is mostly on his mind, but he still has the hots for her even after she screwed him over.

His banter with his assistant Stephan (Timothy Simons) is simply awkward, but sometimes so stupid it’s almost funny. The character’s so poorly written that Dinklage just has to do his best with the crappiness he is given.

Kristen Bell’s Claire is simply boring – she only has a few good laughs to offer. She’s the set-up for McCarthy’s Darnell, characterized as a single mom who works hard for her daughter. We’re supposed to see Darnell as a really mean boss, but she’s not as bad as any boss in the Horrible Bosses franchise. Maybe we caught her on a nice week?

But Claire just keeps getting stuck with bad bosses, getting stuck with Dana Dandridge (Cecily Strong) when Michelle goes to prison. She’s supposed to be mean, but she’s cringe-worthy and awkward, ribbing Claire for being three minutes late at one point. Tyler Labine as Claire’s love interest is supposed to add a layer in Claire, but all it does is set up a funny scene when Claire prepares for a date.

The characters don’t work, and McCarthy is the best part about this. That’s high praise from me – since I’m not a McCarthy fan. Since everyone else is lackluster, it should be blamed on bad writing and directing from Ben Falcone. It feels like the next time the couple write something together – they should just hire a competent director.

Despite my problems with The Boss, I enjoyed myself and laughed a lot. That’s what counts here. While it may be weaker than any of the three McCarthy and Paul Feig collaborations – Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy – it’s a lot better than Tammy or Identity Thief.

Score: 65/100

 

Veronica Mars (2014)

Veronica MarsReleased: March 14, 2014. Directed by: Rob Thomas. Starring: Kristen Bell, Jason Dohring, Enrico Colantoni. Runtime: 107 min.

Veronica Mars is a film made for the fans, released ten years after the television show’s premiere year. The show, cancelled after three seasons, stars Kristen Bell as the titular Mars, who is resurrected after all this time by a successful Kickstarter campaign (over 91, 000 fans backed the project, their donations totalling over $5.7 million), so this film really isn’t a big risk for the studio. This films follows Mars (Kristen Bell, duh) who is no longer a private teenage private eye. She gets pulled back to her town of Neptune – just in time for her high school reunion – when an ex-boyfriend, Logan Echolls (Jason Dohring), is embroiled in a murder mystery.

This film brings in some themes of being drawn back to your home town and addictive lifestyles. I think the writers (creator of the show Rob Thomas and Diane Ruggiero) handle these themes really well. Your home town always calls you back and can trap you even though Veronica is trying to start a new life in New York as a lawyer. (Better to be trapped in Neptune, rather than Uranus. Haha.) That brings about addictive lifestyles, as private eyeing seems pretty fun. There are a few sub-plots that seem unfocused at the time, but in the end add a new layer to the film, like exposing corruption in Neptune.

The great thing about this film is that audience members who are not fans of the show will probably enjoy this, too. It’s a vastly entertaining, clever and effective whodunnit murder mystery. The main suspect is of course found in Logan, but Gaby Hoffmann portrays a crazed stalker who is also a suspect. She is crazed, but she’s also eccentric and actually pretty funny. Hoffmann, a child star known for Field of Dreams and Uncle Buck, is now making a comeback, and I’ve seen her referred to as a new “queen of indie flicks.” I don’t remember where, but it has a ring to it, doesn’t it? She starred in last year’s Crystal Fairy and the Magical Cactus and 2012, as the titular character, but I turned it off ten minutes in when I realized I’d have to look at those eyebrows the whole movie. (Feels like a good time to quote Walter White from the pilot of TV’s Breaking Bad saying “F*ck you and your eyebrows!”Otherwise, she’s charming. She can’t be so bad if I dedicated a paragraph to her, right?

veronica-mars-movie-2Anyway, I love the main character of Veronica, who is enjoyable for everyone. She’s a resourceful, intelligent, sexy and funny woman who’s very appealing. We need more of that kind-of character in cinema. Kristen Bell is perfectly cast as her, as I’m sure you already know. I love that little tinkerBell. (Hey, that comment on her cuteness and height could be a good nickname for her. What a happy accident.) Bell can have great chemistry with mostly everyone (her relationship with her boyfriend Piz, portrayed by Chris Lowell, sometimes feels hollow – but that might be the intention) be it her friends in the film or the great relationship she shares with Enrico Colantoni, her on-screen father. I’m sure it’s easier to work again with someone you worked with for three seasons on a show. This is a truly believable dynamic, when Veronica goes away for awhile and then she’s back, and everything goes back to normal. She’s changed, but it’s fun to break out the private eye stuff and do it all again; and for the viewers of the show, they might have changed, but it’s always fun to go for a few hours to the good ole days. I think those meta similarities to the real-life situation express the film’s brilliance.

Veronica Mars is also filled to the brim with cameos, many which take place at the high school reunion. Tina Majorino (from Napoleon Dyamite, who is insanely attractive by the way, but the only thing I saw her in before this was N. Dynamite) has a minor role as her character from the show, Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie, and Percy Daggs III also reprises his role as Wallace Fennel. It seems there are other cameos, but I won’t spoil them – especially because there’s no excitement on my part for the cameos, never having seen the original television show. Well, except when I saw Daran Norris, because I know him as Gordy on TV’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide.

This is why another reason why the “Marshmallows” will find more enjoyment in this, especially since I didn’t have knowledge that the fans of the show are called “Marshmallows” during the film. So, I didn’t get the privilege of understanding that joke, but it’s a nice little Easter egg for fans. I didn’t feel out of the loop a lot of the time, though, which is good. (I counted two occasions, at least that I remember.) You’re going to be able to feel like a Marshmallow if you’re a fan of this movie, at least for a condensed time in this effective feature-length episode. The beauty of this mash-up of mystery, drama and great comedy is that it is so entertaining, it makes me want to check out the TV show. I think this is a great time at the movies complemented by a dynamite cast and a great soundtrack.

Score80/100

Frozen (2013)

FrozenReleased: November 27, 2013. Directed by: Chris Buck, Jennifer Lee. Starring (voices): Kristen Bell, Josh Gad, Idina Menzel. Runtime: 1o2 min.

I heard that “Frozen” utilizes music to assist its narrative and to portray the character’s feelings, but I didn’t think there’d be a musical number right off the bat. There’s a cute reindeer and a cute little kid on the screen while working men are singing a working song while loading ice onto sleds. The catchy tune and the beautiful landscapes hooked me right away. I couldn’t help but wonder why the landscape looked green and wasn’t frozen? The story starts when the two princesses, Anna (Kristen Bell) and Elsa (Idina Menzel), are children. The two sisters are best friends, until a near death-experience for Anna, when Elsa and her were playing, wipes her memory of Elsa’s true powers and makes their parents want to hide the two princesses from the kingdom in order to hide her powers.

When Elsa becomes the Queen of the Kingdom of Arendelle, she has to interact with the people. She is scared of what the people would think if her powers were exposed, while Anna could not be happier to be let out of the castle. Later on in the night, Elsa’s powers are exposed in a fit of impatience, and when she runs away, she puts unintentionally puts the kingdom in an eternal winter. Anna must set out on a perilous journey climbing snowy mountains accompanied by a worker bee Kristoff (Jonathan Groff), his reindeer Sven, and a trusty snowman called Olaf (Josh Gad).

I thought this might have been a bit more like “Narnia” where the kingdom has been trapped in a winter for awhile because she didn’t know how to reverse it; not where the kingdom is trapped twenty or so minutes in. I didn’t mind, though. It’s interesting to see the way the citizens have to adapt to the sudden change of weather. The character designs look absolutely great; the princesses are really beautiful, and great additions to the Disney princesses line-up. There’s one character called Hans (Santino Fantana), who Anna falls for pretty quickly. Elsa is a realistic character who doesn’t think people should marry each other after knowing each other eight hours. Many might expect Kristoff to be the initial love interest, but it’s refreshing how that isn’t the case.

Anna is a great character because she is so full of wonder at everything, and you’d be, too, after being trapped in a castle after all those years. The isolation is reminiscent of other animated films, but it’s handled so well in this. Anna’s curiosity is entrancing, and it’s heartwarming how she wants to love her sister so badly even though she feels like she doesn’t know her anymore. It’s heartbreaking, too, because Elsa is afraid of hurting her sister again. It seems that Elsa is an antagonist to herself because she is scared of what her powers might do to others, but she still has a lot of love in her heart, even though she struggles with it. A lot of these emotions are portrayed through incredible original songs.

She’s not a villain, but an anti-hero who doesn’t mean to harm others unless endangered- or so it seems to me. She has a great sense of self-empowerment, really, as shown in “Let It Go” – a song that also shows she is accepting her true self. I love the bond of sisterhood portrayed here. One main antagonist is the Duke of Weaselton (Alan Tudyk), who sees Elsa as a sort-of Frankenstein. And there’s a giant snowman called Marshmallow that Elsa makes to protect her. Other than them, there’s not many antagonists, but a lot of conflict – and a whole lot of entertainment.

The music is one of the best parts about the film, and the voicework is memorable. The bonds between all of these characters are fascinating. I think the singing is just excellent. Jonathan Groff is pretty good, I liked him best when he was doing his voice for his reindeer Sven. His mannerisms are very funny, especially when his tongue hangs out. It’s also refreshing that the animal can’t talk. Yet, there’s a talking snowman. Olaf is hilarious, and a bulk of the comic relief, but other characters in the film are funny, too. This is just entertaining and remarkable. The animation is also outstanding, snow has never looked so beautiful in an animated film. The landscapes are just quite breathtaking.

I hope there are more films made that have stories based in Norway. It’s kinda cool. (I didn’t really realize it was a Nordic country until a scene featuring a character with a very Nordic accent.) What I think is really great about this movie, is that even though it has themes that Disney has used before – love, accepting oneself, sisterhood, all those great themes that help improve the narrative – it still has the ability to surprise and mesmerize, manage to solve conflicts in refreshing ways, and make classic themes feel original – and that’s quite an achievement.

Score97/100

Movie 43 (2013)

Movie 43Movie 43

Release Date: January 25, 2013

Directors: Elizabeth Banks, Steven Brill, Peter Farrelly (and 10 others)

Stars: Liev Schreiber, Emma, Stone, Richard Gere

Runtime: 94 min

I just watched a version online, and I believe it was the version released in the U.K.; it’s an alternate plot to the U.S. version that doesn’t have Dennis Quaid pitching crazy ideas to a studio. I was not going to spend money on this.

Movie 43 is a haphazardly edited sketch comedy that stars as many A-list actors (including Emma Stone, Richard Gere, Kate Bosworth, Liev Schreiber, Naomi Watts, Justin Long, Kristen Bell, and Elizabeth Banks, to name a few) as the filmmakers could convince that this movie would be lots of fun to make. Charles Wessler achieves his vision: A satire that brings up common issues in the most offensive of ways, and it is the most outrageous comedy ever made.

But it is also one awful movie. If only his passion project (an idea that he’s had for over a decade) wasn’t so silly. Saturday Night Live has okay sketches, good sketches and those rare great sketches. This, however, has awful sketches, bad sketches, and just tolerable, but kind-of funny sketches. Even if you do laugh at some points, it doesn’t stop this from being one bad, bad film. This is still sort-of imaginative and quite original, and unlike anything you’ve seen at the movie theatre before. It’s one of those times where too many cooks in the kitchen (13 directors, a huge cast, 30 writers) really spoils the broth. Apparently, it takes thirteen directors, 102 credited cast members and thirty writers to make a really bad film.

The plot follows three adolescent boys who are searching the depths of the internet for Movie 43, the world’s most banned feature. The two older teens who tell a younger brother, the incredibly irritating Baxter who looks like he’s really ten years old, about Movie 43 are really just making it up because they want some April Fool’s revenge. Little do they know is that the video could very well end the world, somehow.

That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, nor is it explained. It’s completely random and idiotic. This backstory manages to be worse than some of the comedy sketches, to a point where you might actually want to see another bad sketch. This is because the actors in the background story have little to no charisma, and they’re increasingly annoying and bland.

While the idea of sketch comedies in movies is fairly new, this is still trash. The plot is almost as disorganized as every spoof movie out there. If this is compared to Scary Movie 5, this might as well be an Oscar contender. This is definitely not for the easily offended. The humour is thoroughly crude, offensive, absurd, violent, vulgar, inane, insane, sophomoric and rarely funny; but it’s ironic that I’ve seen a lot more nudity in less offensive films. So… Humour that will offend almost the entire world is okay, but extreme nudity is off the table? Hmm.

Out of the movie’s thirteen comedy sketches, there are thirteen stupid and fairly offensive ones. The one with Terrence Howard is hardly funny at all. The sketch showing that people get much too angry with machines and it upsets the kids inside the machines is incredibly stupid, but it’s creative. There are arguably five tolerable ones, but there are none that provide consistent laughs. The ‘Super Hero Dating’ segment with Jason Sudeikis and Justin Long has a few solid jokes, and it’s an imaginative look into the culture of super hero impersonators. It’s the movie’s strongest segment (even if it’s hardly great). The ‘Happy Birthday’ segment with Seann William Scott and Johnny Knoxville also has some good laughs (albeit forgettable), but it is one of the movie’s more violent and vulgar segments. The ‘Truth or Dare’ segment starring Stephen Merchant and Halle Berry is funny in the beginning, but it progressively gets worse until it falls on its face. Suffice to say, the ‘Happy Birthday’ and ‘Super Hero Dating’ sketches are my favourite, and they are somewhat entertaining.

SPOILERS FOLLOW IN THIS FUNNY PARAGRAPH, I briefly describe the film’s worst three sketches. It seems as if the movie is designed to have the worst three sketches at the beginning of the film. The first sketch has Hugh Jackman sporting a pair of testicles under his chin and it is unfunny and unwatchable. It’s a one-joke sketch where it seems as if Kate Winslet’s character is the only one to notice the prominent nuts. Though, it does show that society cannot help but judge someone for the way they look. The second sketch features Liev Schreiber and Naomi Watts homeschooling their child and mercilessly bullying him to a point where he will definitely need to be institutionalized. The third sketch features Anna Farris requesting Chris Pratt to poop on her (you read that right) because it’s apparently a big step in a relationship. Apparently, it’s okay to poop on women, but it’s frowned upon to sh*t on them. Because if you shit on a gal, it’s deemed very offensive. (Read the next part very sarcastically.) Wow. This is the world of my dreams. I’ve always wanted to live in a world where the norm is to poop on women and have a pair of testicles dangling under my chin. Oh, someone, take me there! I can’t take this society where women bitch about me even farting in their general direction! END OF SPOILERS.

Alas, this movie is awful. (But, I am able to use the word ‘alas’ in one of my reviews.) I’ve seen much worse, but it’s really, really, really, stupid. The laughs are forgettable; but it’s the disturbing sketches that are unforgettable. Much to my dismay, this stuff kind-of just sticks with you… Forever.

30/100