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.

TheBoss2

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

 

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The Brothers Grimsby (2016)

The Brothers Grimsby, poster

Released: March 11, 2016. Directed by: Louis Leterrier. Starring: Sacha Baron Cohen, Mark Strong, Isla Fisher. Runtime: 1hr, 23 min.

I’m a huge fan of Sacha Baron Cohen’s work in Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan – the titular journalist character is rather brilliant. And his creation of the character Ali G was also quite funny.

His comedic work really makes him a unique figure, but he hasn’t made a great comedic character since Borat – as both the titular character in Brüno and Aladeen in The Dictator were hit-and-miss.

With Nobby Butcher in The Brothers Grimsby, he creates another hit-and-miss character – but at least gives him some stronger development. Nobby is a drunken football hooligan cheating the welfare system, living in the poverty-stricken town of Grimsby, cheering for his main team England.

When he was a kid, he was separated from his younger brother Sebastian through Grimsby’s orphanage system. Sebastian (Mark Strong) is now the top agent of MI6, on assignment to prevent the assassination of philanthropist Rhonda George (Penelope Cruz), and to uncover a huge terrorism plot by a group called Maelstrom.

When Nobby is able to get tickets to the charity ball and reunite with his brother after 28 years, he hugs him which causes Sebastian to miss his shot on an assassin (Scott Adkins) and hit a spokesperson instead. This mistake causes the other MI6 agents to think he has gone rogue – and Nobby and Sebastian are forced on the run.

The Brothers Grimsby - Hug it out

Grimsby is another addition to the cannon of unlikely people finding themselves in bigger-than-themselves spy missions as a spy, like Johnny English and Spy. While the world created here is a good base for Nobby’s hijinks, he is nowhere near as amusing as Rowan Atkinson’s Johnny English or as hilarious as Melissa McCarthy’s Susan Cooper in Spy.

The story is a bit heartwarming with the brother dynamic but the really raunchy and often gross-out humour rarely hits. The action set pieces are pretty good, well-filmed with Louis Leterrier’s style of direction.

The film is at its most effective in terms of comedy when Nobby is making awful decisions – but humour is ineffective when they hide away from government assassins inside of an elephant, and get stuck in there during mating hour. Yuck.

One masterwork of Grimsby is the casting of Mark Strong. It feels like he could be cast as an actual MI6 agent in a spy franchise so that’s what helps create a believable world. He does his job as the straight man for Nobby’s jokes, even though Nobby’s humour never really hit for me.

At least the film doesn’t stick around for very long. The only part worth rooting about is Donald Trump being the butt of a joke. He’s horrendously rendered via CGI, and there’s a really bad stand-in Daniel Radcliffe as well, but those are really the only jokes that hit for me. And the fact that Nobby’s look is based off of Liam Gallagher’s look is amusing.

Score: 40/100

Ride Along (2014)

Ride AlongReleased: January 17, 2014. Directed by: Tim Story. Starring: Kevin Hart, Ice Cube, Tika Sumpter. Runtime: 99 min.

Buddy comedies remain one of the most dime-a-dozen, yet bankable, sub-genres of comedy and action. Last year, Paul Fieg made an attempt at re-inventing the genre by simply replacing men as the focal point, with women (Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy were the unlikely duo) appearing in “The Heat.” The buddy cop action comedy is a formula that’s never going to change, but we can always hope for a film to try to mix things up and still give us a good time.

The newest buddy cop comedy “Ride Along” stars Kevin Hart and Ice Cube. Ben (Kevin Hart) is a fast-talking security guard who has just been accepted to the police academy. This film is really about him proving himself that he could be a good police officer, as well as prove to his girlfriend’s (Tika Sumpter) brother James (Ice Cube) that he’s man enough to marry his sister. And how does he prove that he’s man enough? Well, James can take him on a ride along, of course! Isn’t that the only way? And he proves to people watching the film that he’s man enough by nicknaming his penis the black hammer (and that’s his gamer tag, too!)

It’s funny to me that this ride along can prove that Ben is man enough to marry the sister and be a police officer, while it’s simply an excuse for James to humiliate him and prove that he can’t do either. Meanwhile, James really wants to take down this feared Atlanta criminal named Omar; he’s a ghost because he’s never been seen. One knows when that’s the case with a big-time villain, the reveal is either going to be someone we’ve already seen on screen, or a random big-name actor. I won’t reveal which one it is here, don’t worry. James has been chasing this Omar character for three years, which is ruffling his lieutenant’s feathers. It feels uninspired and a simple excuse to make this film look like it has a plot; but it is the sub-plot that enables action to happen.

If this sub-plot wasn’t existent, the film would simply be a comedic version of “Training Day.” Regardless, this is still a comedic version of “TD” – the filmmakers put in that silly sub-plot in to make it less obvious. They will help some people make the connection to it by saying that film’s title, so at least they’re honest about the fact that we’ve seen this story before. The film isn’t as bad as I might be making it out to be in these first paragraphs; I just wanted to get the flaws out of the way. The action scenes are amusing because they’re able to add comedy to the action mix of it all. That can be difficult, filmmakers try and try to do that – but it’s usually a miss. It hits here, once or twice. So director Tim Story (“Fantastic Four”) should get some recognition for it.

The film is usually entertaining because of the consistent laughs. The film is as familiar and unoriginal as they come, but I think you’ll find yourself laughing a lot, but maybe a bit less if you’ve seen the trailer beforehand – I managed to not see the trailer once. The multiple laugh-out-loud moments are the most enjoyable parts of the film. Well, really the only enjoyable parts – the action is straight-forward and there are explosions; so that might make this a fun flick for people who like loud noises. There’s an amusing aspect in one of the action scenes, but I won’t spoil it because now that I saw the trailer after watching this, I won’t spoil a funny scene that wasn’t in the trailer.

This feels like an advertisement for XBOX Live at times, but whatever; video games are cool, too. It seems Hart’s character is inspired by video games to become a cop, but with his knowledge of the sounds of weapons developed by playing realistic video games, he might just be better off as a weapons specialist. Or he might just be better off continuing playing video games with his buddy Assface. That’s a funny name, but the filmmakers are making it too easy for people to criticize it and say that they (the writers) are trying too hard for a laugh every time the name is said. At least the film is funny, but this is one of those comedies where only one character gets the laughs. That character is Ben, and Hart’s energy helps the film not be a trainwreck. Anyway, he makes it enjoyable for the audience members, while Ice Cube is simply the straight man. He isn’t able to have much fun in his role, unless you consider screwing with Ben’s character a fun activity. Cube’s stern facial expressions and his pissed-off comic delivery works with some characters (like his angry police captain in “21 Jump Street”) but it doesn’t work here.

The main reason why James hates Ben so much is because Ben accidentally set him on fire at a barbeque one time. That’s one reason to hold a grudge, I guess. Some might just want to say to him; man, you got burnt, get over it and just be thankful it didn’t leave any ugly scars on your face. Since James hates Ben for a fair majority of the film, the chemistry isn’t enjoyable. It’s a buddy comedy but the buddy aspect doesn’t feel there. In buddy movies, the two main characters might not like each other at first but they usually have a heart-to-heart about halfway through. With this, it feels like it’s never going to come. Also, with other buddy cop movies, they might not like each other, but at least one of them isn’t trying to humiliate the other. It makes James look like an antagonist to Ben’s dreams. Ben tries hard be nice to James because he loves his sister, but it’s hard when the guy is such a dick. She must be a real freak in the bedroom to make him willing to deal with James.

Note: This is one of those movies I had to put a lot of thought into my score because I enjoyed the laughs, but it was really a toss-up between getting a 60 or a 58, it might not mean much a difference to some, but it means being rotten and not being rotten on a Rotten Tomatoes scale. In the end, Hart won me over.

Score60/100

Recap of June’s Theatrical Releases

I saw six out of the nine major theatrical releases of June. I still plan on seeing the following from the month of June, in alphabetical order: “Berberian Sound Studio”, “The Bling Ring”, “Byzantium”, “The Internship”, “Maniac”, “Much Ado About Nothing”, “Song for Marion”, “Syrup” (because I love Brittany Snow), “Violet & Daisy”, White House Down”. Considering that the lowest score of June’s new releases was 50 out of 100 (surprisingly “awarded” to “Man of Steel”), it was hardly a bad month for movies. Here’s the ranking of the June’s releases from best to worst, with a blurb from each of my reviews.

This is the End (6/12)

This is the End (6/12) [My review]

“This is an insanely funny movie. Ridiculous, yes, but a sure blast if there ever was one. It’s all good old-fashioned, self-aware bliss. This just shows that a comedy about hanging out with one’s best buds could be a real gem to the genre. Adam Sandler could take quite a few pointers from this comedy.” 91/100. This was my fourth most anticipated movie of June, and it exceeded expectations, and it’s currently my favourite movie of the year thus far. 

IMDb Score: 7.9/10Rotten Tomatoes Critics: 7/10RT Audience: 8/10.

Monsters University (6/21)

Monsters University (6/21) [My review]

“I will always cherish this fantastic film. I will always watch this with a big smile on my face. This is an impressive prequel to “Monsters, Inc.”, and an impressive Pixar movie.” 90/100. This was my most anticipated movie of June, and it truly satisfied.

IMDb Score: 7.8/10RTC: 6.7/10; RTA: 8.4/10.

World War Z (6/21)

World War Z (6/21) [My review]

“The story’s a good one, as far as ‘find the cure’ movies go. Since I have not read the book, I cannot comment on any similarities or big differences. All I can say is, it’s a story that plays well on the screen. I like that Drew Goddard has a hand in the screenplay; because he has talent. It’s a traditional, but very enjoyable ‘find the cure’ type of film.” 75/100. This was my tenth most anticipated movie of June, so it really impressed. 

IMDb Score: 7.3/10RTC: 6.2/10RTA: 7.6/10.

The Heat (6/28)

The Heat (6/28) [My review]

“The humour is raunchy as hell, but usually funny as hell. When I wasn’t laughing at the jokes, I was at least smirking a little. When it isn’t being hilarious, the likeable chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy really carries it along. The movie balances out to a fun, predictable, but hysterical time at the movies.” 75/100. This was my seventh most anticipated movie of June, so it did satisfy. 

IMDb Score: 7.1/10RTC: 6.0/10; RTA: 8.0/10.

The Purge (6/7)

The Purge (6/7) [My review]

“The concept helps make this movie memorable. However, this rushed home invasion flick/intriguing social commentary ends up being incredibly average. It’s disappointing, and while it has some worthwhile menacing villains, it’s the latest movie to the Great Concept, Poor Execution category.” 57/100. This was my third most anticipated movie of June, so it was truly disappointing.

IMDb Score: 5.6/10; RTC: 5.1/10; RTA: 6.0/10.

Man of Steel (6/14)

Man of Steel (6/14) [My review]

“I do not appreciate the constant changes in tone throughout the feature. It goes from big, stupid action to character-driven drama that feels real. It becomes bothersome quickly, and it does not make for effective storytelling.” 50/100. This was my second most anticipated movie of June, so it was a big let-down.

IMDb Score: 7.8/10; RTC: 6.3/10RTA: 8.0.

Here are some statistics: 

IMDb Ranking: 1. “This is the End” (7.9), 2. “Man of Steel” (7.8), 2. “Monsters University” (7.8), 4. “World War Z” (7.3), 5. “The Heat” (7.1), 6. “The Purge” (5.6). Average score: 7.25/10. 

RT Critics Ranking: 1. “This is the End” (7.0), 2. “Monsters University” (6.7), 3. “Man of Steel” (6.3), 4. “World War Z” (6.2), 5. “The Heat” (6.0), “The Purge” (5.1). Average score: 6.21/10. 

RT Audience Ranking: 1. “Monsters University” (8.4), 2. “The Heat” (8.0), 2. “Man of Steel” (8.0), 2. “This is the End” (8.0), 5. “World War Z” (7.6), 6. “The Purge” (6.0). Average score: 7.66/10.

My Average score: 73/100. (Adjusted [excluding lowest grade]: 77.6/100.)

What movies did you enjoy out of June’s releases, and which ones did you hate? There were a total six votes in my Most Anticipated Movies of June poll (4 to “Man of Steel”, 1 to “This is the End”, and 1 to “Monsters University”, which was my vote). Did your most anticipated movie satisfy or disappoint the hell out of you? Let me know in the comments!

Also: I’ll be posting my Best of the Year So Far article sometime this weekend or early next week. Stay tuned! 

 

The Heat (2013)

The HeatRelease Date: June 28, 2013

Director: Paul Feig

Stars: Sandra Bullock, Melissa McCarthy, Marlon Wayans

Runtime: 117 min

The comedy genre is one of the most popular genres out there, but it’s very hit-and-miss. The comedy gem of the year so far is This is the End, but The Heat will produce more than a few laughs. And in a year of mostly mediocre laughfests, we have to take all the near-greatness we can get.

Uptight FBI special agent Sarah Ashburn (Sandra Bullock) is teamed up with foul-mouthed Boston street cop Shannon Mullins (Melissa McCarthy) in order to take down a ruthless drug lord, Larkin. Things might go a little awry, because neither of these women have ever had a partner or a friend.

Sandra Bullock has always been a funny screen presence, and a talented one. Whatever she is called to do, she can do it well. Melissa McCarthy is also a funny screen presence, even if I prefer her on TV’s Mike and Molly. She has basically been playing the same roles in the movies ever since 2011’s Bridesmaids. (First Megan in Bridesmaids, then Diana in Identity Thief, and now Shannon Mullins here.) While that works for some actors, I’d really like to see her mix it up a little. That dirty, vulgar role might get old in a hurry. As her character of Shannon, she is funny, but even a sailor might be offended at some of the things she is asked to say. Most do produce laughs, and that’s just the point of a comedy; it makes you laugh.

The humour is raunchy as hell, but usually funny as hell. When I wasn’t laughing at the jokes, I was at least smirking a little. When it isn’t being hilarious, the likeable chemistry between Bullock and McCarthy really carries it along. The presence of Bullock really balances out the humour as well, and she isn’t just milking a straight man role. Both of these girls have lots of fun together joking around. There’s some quotable lines with a few memorable supporting turns. It’s great to see so many TV personalities on the big screen (most notably MADtv alum, Michael McDonald). Paul Feig knows how to bring it as the director as well, and I like the general story more than Bridesmaids, even if it isn’t anything special.

It’s really just your traditional buddy cop comedy. They’re trying to take down a drug lord, and blah blah blah, you know the rest. It’s one’s traditional, somewhat predictable ride. It’s a formula that works, and the Bullock/McCarthy team produce a lot of laughs. There’s lots of fun action and memorable jokes, even if they’re all vulgar and not all that clever, but they’re not repetitive or lazy, either. I appreciate the sweet core and sentiment underneath its mean spirit. It’s interesting how each character’s loneliness is shown; Ashburn only hangs out with a fat cat who has to go back to the neighbour’s when she comes-a-lookin’; and Mullins has basically been disowned by most of her family, for a reason I won’t spoil. It gives these characters depth, and you’ll probably like these characters a lot. The plot flows well and there’s a good comedic momentum – with a chuckle-worthy scene here, and a hilarious scene there. There’s one particularly gross and superfluous scene, though, that does nothing to advance the story. It feels as if they could get the message across a lot better in a much better way.

The movie balances out to a fun, somewhat predictable, but hysterical time at the movies. You’ll laugh out loud quite a few times, and that’s all that matters with a comedy. This isn’t the most memorable thing out there, but you could spend your money on a lot of worse movies. Check it out if you don’t mind your comedy often raunchy and incredibly vulgar.

75/100

Bridesmaids (2011)

BridesmaidsRelease Date: May 13, 2011Director: Paul FeigStars: Kristen Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Rose ByrneRuntime: 125 min.

This film is usually very, very funny and features a breakout role from the charismatic Melissa McCarthy. However, I think it pans out like a traditional romantic comedy, with room for originality. Melissa McCarthy and other select characters really make the film. Honestly, I don’t like how McCarthy got so much recognition for this role. Let me explain. She’s hilarious in this, but I think this has restricted to her to dirty and crude roles in the cinema universe. She’s still hilarious, but I just wish she would be able to play more tame comedy roles, or not play such dirty characters, because she’s really quite pretty. She still is a great screen presence, but this type of character might get old really quickly. Anyway, it’s usually extremely funny, but I get bored when it’s not being funny. The main conflict between Kristen Wiig and Rose Byrne’s characters becomes tedious to me. And that’s what drives the film, so that’s a problem… The runtime is just exhausting. I really think 50/50 should have received the Best Original Screenplay at the Academy Awards instead of this. I respect this for what it tries to be, and I do laugh a lot when I’m in the mood for it. I might re-watch it, take notes of when the funniest jokes are, and just watch those scenes.

Score69/100

Identity Thief (2013)

Identity ThiefIdentity Thief

Release Date: February 8, 2013

Director: Seth Gordon

Stars: Melissa McCarthy, Jason Bateman, John Cho

Runtime: 111 min

Tagline: She’s having the time of his life

As a follow-up to the hilarious Horrible Bosses, Seth Gordon brings us Identity Thief, a film that isn’t the gut-buster everyone was expecting, but it is quite funny.

Sandy Patterson (Jason Bateman) has a good life: a beautiful family, a decent job, and a silly name he swears to be unisex. He’s almost living the American dream. He is able to land a Vice President job at a new firm when he and a good majority of employees at his old one start a new company. Everything’s going well, until he finds out that he is the next victim of identity theft, Diana (the hilarious and charismatic Melissa McCarthy), who is living it up with his credit cards down in Winter Park, Florida. Since the cops can’t do it, he must travel from Colorado to Florida to retrieve her so he can get his life back, and all will be hunky-dory. Unexpected threats arise, and comedy and action ensue.

This film follows a pretty traditional road trip formula that is structured to get asses in seats, eyes on the screen, and money in the studio’s pocket. Thankfully, it’s fairly deserving of many people’s money. It’s mostly entertaining, but sometimes predictable. It suffers many flaws on the way to the end, but it finds its way, thanks to the great comedy team that is Bateman and McCarthy.

Jason Bateman plays the straight man here, lobbing up lines so the hysterical McCarthy can smash down some hysterical comebacks. A lot are aces, but some are just a little too out there, and even for a crude comedy, some of it’s a little too raunchy. The scene with her and Big Chuck is only funny because of poor Bateman hiding away in the bathroom. It’s nice that he is able to make the audience laugh a few times. The extreme crudeness is the case only on one to three occasions, but this suffers greatly from poor comedic momentum. It’s funny in the beginning, it begins to be hilarious when Bateman and McCarthy are united for the first time, and at times, five minutes go by without a joke. It forgets to make its audience to laugh, and that’s something that a comedy should promise. However, part of this is to blame on the excessive marketing campaign. If you haven’t been living under a rock since December, you would know that a good 60% of the film’s best jokes are revealed in the trailers.

Thankfully, they’re still a little funny when they come around (but I go to the movies so much that I probably saw the trailer six times beforehand), and there are points in the film where some jokes are really, really funny. The big laughs are separated by some good chuckles, so that’s decent. There are also some nice surprises in this film as a whole. Diana receives a nice emotional layer added to her, as she seems to be stealing identities because she doesn’t know her own. Because of this, many might be able to relate to the material and find a solid emotional connectivity to her character. This adds a sweetness to her, and the film in general, when car chases aren’t going on. Or Diana isn’t punching 92% of the people she meets in the throat. It is also nice to see her character transformation go from antagonist to anti-hero and so forth.

Back to the flaws, since many road trip concepts have been walked on before, this isn’t very original. It’s good enough entertainment, though. This film is also very crowded. There are antagonists left and right, and to make the film longer and put in more laughs, another is added to the mix. At first, Sandy is chasing Diana. Then Diana finds herself in trouble with a drug lord to whom she sold bad credit cards, and his drug dealers (Genesis Rodriguez and T.I.) come after her. Then, as a pleasant surprise, Robert “T-1000” Patrick is back in his element: chasing people. He portrays a bounty hunter who is also after Diana. Then there are cops who are also chasing Diana, and at times, Sandy. It’s a real jumbled nightmare when they are all chasing each other and when some of their paths cross. The conflicts also get solved almost too conveniently and unrealistically, so for some of it you have to turn off the logical part of your brain. I guess it’s better than having no conflict at all, like last year’s The Guilt Trip, which is almost completely bereft of conflict.

Due to all the antagonists, the writing often comes off as lazy. Especially part of the haphazard ending, which makes the writer, Craig Mazin (who also wrote The Hangover Part II and Scary Movie 3), come off as completely disorganized and idiotic. He does not know whether to end it off as mean-spirited, dramatic, sweet, or hilarious, so he practically decides to do all four.

In a nutshell: Despite all Identity Thief‘s flaws, it’s a funny, often charming, and fun, yet sometimes unrealistic, ride and it flows to the end fairly well. It isn’t a gem and the writing stops it from being great, but it’s still a slightly above-average comedy. By the end of 2013, many might forget about this comedy; but it is inarguably the first big comedy hit of the year, thanks to a lack of competition and a great comedy duo.

72/100