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The Five Funniest Things About Ride Along

by Ethan Alter January 17, 2014 6:00 am
The Five Funniest Things About Ride Along

Though it's claiming to be a comedy, the Ice Cube/Kevin Hart team-up Ride Along isn't actually funny. At all. Or, at least, not intentionally. The only laughs to be had from this umpteenth variation on the odd couple buddy cop formula -- which partners Cube's veteran Atlanta detective with Hart's aspiring officer, who happens to be dating the older guy's sister -- lie in areas that are incidental to what's actually happening onscreen. That's because what's happening onscreen is pretty dire: the standard-issue tale of two guys that hate each other, but grudgingly become pals through a series of unlikely situations and lots of property damage that's directed with a distinct lack of panache by director Tim Story (who has made some legitimately funny movies in the past, including Barbershop) and lazily phoned in by the entire cast, which also includes John Leguizamo as one of Cube's cop buddies and Laurence Fishburne as the crime boss they get around to fighting in the third act. Look, sometimes you've gotta entertain yourself when the movie you're watching refuses to do so. With that in mind, here are the five funniest things about Ride Along.

Five Things to Know About Last Vegas

by Ethan Alter November 1, 2013 6:00 am
Five Things to Know About Last Vegas

What happens in Vegas usually stays in Vegas. But it would be irresponsible for us to let you take a bet on Last Vegas without any advanced warning. Here are five things to know about this old friends (really old friends)-hit-the-Strip comedy.

Don Jon: Jersey Boy (and Girl)

by Ethan Alter September 27, 2013 6:05 am
Don Jon: Jersey Boy (and Girl)

Before it flies off the rails in the final act, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's first self-penned, self-directed star vehicle, Don Jon, is an uncommonly provocative spin on familiar rom-com tropes, one that challenges the "love is all you need" message of so many films of this type. It doesn't hurt that, as screenwriter, Gordon-Levitt has written himself and co-star Scarlett Johansson the best roles either of them have had recently, characters that start out as broad cartoons straight out of a Saturday Night Live skit, but gradually reveal emotional layers that alters our perception of them. And behind the camera, the actor's direction is crisp and confident, establishing a fun, freewheeling rhythm from the jump that captures the audience's attention. So yeah, Don Jon is a great coming out for a new filmmaker… at least until it isn't.

The World’s End: Childhood’s End

by Ethan Alter August 23, 2013 5:55 am
The World’s End: Childhood’s End

Ever since Shaun of the Dead kicked off their so-called Cornetto Trilogy, Edgar Wright and his regular cohorts Simon Pegg and Nick Frost have repeatedly stated that they aren't mere spoof-meisters à la the classic Zucker-Abrams-Zucker crew or the more recent Friedberg & Seltzer team. Sure, both Shaun and its follow-up Hot Fuzz directly riff on specific genres and films the trio in charge grew up watching, but they aren't an Meet the Spartans-style assemblage of pop culture-derived sketches. Or, for that matter, a Top Secret!-like tapestry of nuttiness mostly untethered to things like plot and character development. Rather, they argue, each of the individual entries in the Cornetto series is a movie unto itself, where they use familiar genre tropes and famous movie scenes they've carried with them since childhood to advance a new story and set of themes. That line of reasoning gets its strongest workout in The World's End, the last Cornetto film and by far the most dramatically ambitious of their collaborations to date.

The To Do List: Sex and the Single High School Girl

Since the pop culture nostalgia wheel spins in 20-year cycles, the wave of '90s nostalgia we're currently experiencing has arrived right on schedule, with such period remnants as the Backstreet Boys, Boy Meets World and even House Party washing up on our 21st-century shores to appeal to that era's now grown-up teenagers and whatever offspring they may have since spawned. Maggie Carey's feature filmmaking debut The To Do List cannily capitalizes on the "We Love the '90s" trend, setting viewers down in the bygone year of 1993 and telling a story that's essentially a female-driven version of the end-of-the-millennium hit, American Pie with Aubrey Plaza in the Jason Biggs role as the last American virgin who spends her senior year of high school pursuing an independent study in sex education.

Girl Most Likely: Not Ready For Primetime

by Ethan Alter July 19, 2013 12:21 pm
Girl Most Likely: Not Ready For Primetime

After seven seasons on Saturday Night Live, it's understandable that Kristen Wiig would want to move beyond sketch comedy and explore a wider range of roles. In that case, though, why does she spend the entirety of her first post-Bridesmaids star vehicle, Girl Most Likely, acting likes she's still in Studio 8H? Throughout the film, Wiig can be glimpsed mumbling out of the side of her mouth, pulling faces and hauling out that sing-songy "Just kidding" cadence she employed as Judy Grimes -- all tics she developed during her time on SNL. But Wiig's shtick-heavy performance is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the problems afflicting this dire "comedy" about a thirtysomething playwright suffering from a serious case of arrested development. Girl Most Likely has already been sitting around unreleased for almost a year after its debut at the 2012 Toronto Film Festival and leaving it on the shelf indefinitely may have been the kindest thing for all concerned.

The Way, Way Back: The Boys of Summer

by Ethan Alter July 5, 2013 6:00 am
The Way, Way Back: The Boys of Summer

There's an incisive and well-acted character portrait contained in The Way, Way Back, the directorial debut of Oscar-winning screenwriters Jim "Dean Pelton" Rash and Nat "Ben Fox" Faxon. Unfortunately, it's not the character that this summertime coming-of-age story is actually about. I'm speaking about Trent, played by Steve Carell in his most successful attempt at ditching the nerdy nice guy persona he's been saddled with since the one-two punch of The Office and The 40-Year-Old Virgin made him an A-list comedy star and taking a walk on the dark side. Trent's not a "bad guy" in the Hannibal Lecter or Darth Vader sense of the term, mind you; his villainy -- if you can even call it that -- is more benign and almost invisible to anyone not directly on the receiving end.

The Heat: Cop and a Half

by Ethan Alter June 28, 2013 6:00 am
The Heat: Cop and a Half

Once a reliable formula in the '80s and '90s, the buddy cop comedy has fallen on hard times of late, with occasional bright spots like 21 Jump Street mostly surrounded by such dreck as Cop Out. Although entirely disparate in quality, both those films are alike in the way they continue the genre's relentless focus on dudes, with women sidelined or wholly absent from the frame. So what makes Paul Feig's The Heat innovative in its own modest way isn't the plot or the big and brash comic sensibility, both of which are standard buddy cop fare. Instead, it's the way the film lets the ladies -- specifically Sandra Bullock and Melissa McCarthy -- have all the fun, while the guys are relegated to the back of the squad car.

This is the End: Seeking Six Friends For the End of the World

It's not a spoiler to say that the world really is ending in the all-star comedy This is the End. This isn't an artificial apocalypse or a meta mega-disaster designed to complement the movie's already-heightened level of reality that comes with its cast -- including Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jay Baruchel, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson and Danny McBride -- playing themselves (albeit slightly tweaked versions of themselves) rather than fictional characters. The film, which Rogen wrote and directed his longtime creative partner Evan Goldberg, takes the end of days seriously... so seriously that the level of violence (to say nothing of the body count) is higher than you might expect for a warm weather comedy. Fortunately, much of what's unfolding in the shadow of the apocalypse is also seriously funny, so even though the world as we know it is over, it's ending with laughter rather than a whimper.

The Internship: Google Crashers

by Rachel Stein June 7, 2013 6:01 am
The Internship: Google Crashers

The Internship is quite literally a two-hour commercial for Google. It's ridiculously racist and sexist, and every character who's not played by Vince Vaughn or Owen Wilson is at best an archetype. The plot developments and beats are almost directly ripped from Wedding Crashers. The film has enormous plot holes, essentially no stakes and a resolution that barely solves anything; to say it makes any sense at all is an overstatement. And yet, thanks to its stars, it is also ridiculously charming, and very, very funny.

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