The Omen (1976)

That look.  It’s unmistakeable.

Respected American diplomat Gregory Peck is reeling.  His beautiful wife, Lee Remick, has just delivered a baby that “drew breath for a moment.  And then breathed no more.”  A priest has a potential solution.  A mother just died giving birth to a newborn son.  Why not adopt him as a replacement?

Peck is adamant.  Remick wants a biological child.  At the same time, he’s deeply concerned that trying again will kill her.

Then, he is shown this new baby.  The priest suggests there’s a family resemblance.  He proposes the following:  adopt the child, but never acknowledge this to Remick.  Pass the boy off as the son she just gave birth to.  (She doesn’t know her own child didn’t survive.)

The expression on Peck’s face is full of doubt and guilt.  Without saying a word, you know he has a bad feeling about going along with this.  But he loves Remick.  In the end, he keeps his deep reservations to himself.

He should’ve trusted his instincts.

So begins The Omen, Richard Donner’s creepily preposterous thriller that celebrates its 40th anniversary this year.  Despite its flaws, it’s one of the most beautifully photographed horror films I’ve ever seen.

A few months after secretly adopting Damien, Peck gets a new job as the Ambassador to Great Britain.  He is soon hounded by another priest who warns him of the bad deal he made in Italy (he was last stationed in Rome) on June 6 at 6 a.m. shortly after his birth.  Peck, understandably, thinks the guy’s a kook and has him escorted from his office.  But then media photographer David Warner (what is with his silly haircut?) takes a snap of the priest after he leaves the embassy.  Later on in his darkroom, he notices something odd, a mysterious object that appears to be jutting out of the priest’s shoulder blade.  It appears again, this time a bit more pronounced in a later photo of the man of God.

At Damien’s 5th birthday party, his young nanny suddenly hangs herself in his honour.  Her eventual replacement (the excellent Billie Whitelaw) suddenly shows up unannounced pretending to have been called into action by “the agency” which temporarily satisfies the skeptical Peck & Remick.  The guard dog that appeared to telepathically order the young nanny to take one for the team suddenly becomes Damien’s personal bodyguard.  (This fucker means business, too.  He never sleeps on the job.)  Peck’s old reservations quickly resurface.  He should’ve heeded that priest’s warnings.

Whitelaw informs the couple one morning that taking their son to church is a bad idea.  We soon find out why.  (How many clever kids imitated Damien’s freakout successfully, I wonder.)  Later on, Remick takes Damien to a local safari where his very presence turns off the giraffes and aggravates a bunch of baboons.  Growing ever more concerned, Peck reluctantly agrees to another meeting with that determined priest who immediately afterward gets impaled by a pole, the once mysterious object that photog Warner noticed in his pics of the man.

His journalistic impulses buzzing, Warner soon after gets in touch with Peck.  Peck thinks he wants compensation for accidentally breaking his camera.  Warner really wants him to see these photos.

Meanwhile, Remick is pregnant again and completely freaking about Damien.  (She’s smart enough to realize instinctively that is not her biological son.  As Peck notes at one point, the boy never gets sick.)  She starts seeing a shrink.  Peck learns she’s pretty much done with the whole mothering thing.

Now convinced that Damien is indeed the son of the devil and that he will soon lead an army of demons to conquer the Earth, he teams up with Warner to follow up on what the dead priest told him.  (The priest who convinced him to adopt probably wishes he was dead, too.  He’s in rough shape when the two visit him.)  Warner shows him another photo, this one of the photog looking at his own reflection in a mirror.  There’s something else in the shot.  An ominous sign.

Watching The Omen again for the first time in more than 20 years, I’m struck by how much of an influence it had on the Final Destination franchise, particularly the use of foreshadowing horrific deaths through unexplained objects mysteriously appearing in photographs.  In the film’s most infamous scene, a character gets beheaded by a huge sheet of glass.  The set-up for that moment clearly inspired similar ones in the overly gruesome FD series.  The Omen, however, makes it work.  (Yeah, you can tell the head is fake.  It doesn’t make it any less creepy.)

What also stands out for me is the incredible cinematography, especially when it focuses on Gregory Peck’s face.

Peck radiates decency in every scene, never more so than when he expresses serious doubt and anguish about his family crisis.  After a man in Apartheid Israel gives him some special knives for the purpose of executing his own son, there’s a great shot set aboard a private jet.  Peck, the only passenger, is stone-faced, staring straight ahead with the knives laid out on his lap, clearly uneasy about his mission.  He doesn’t blink, he doesn’t move.  He knows what he must do but he doesn’t like it.  We feel for his dilemma.  Peck always says more with his face than he ever does with his dialogue.

Horror films by their very nature are often ugly.  Rarely are they allowed to be elegant.  Because it’s set in the privileged world of international diplomacy, The Omen is a notable exception.  The way that world is depicted in this film, most especially in the first act, nicely captures the rather idyllic tranquility of political immunity, an illusion that will be dramatically shattered.  It helps the story that we like this well-to-do couple.  Despite his wife’s cheeky hope that he’ll one day run for President, Peck is perfectly happy being as far removed from the electoral firestorms of his home country.  But the sly arrival of Damien is one domestic firestorm he can’t escape.

The cinematography is so good in The Omen I even love the transition shots.  A car driving Peck up to the front of the US Embassy to an awaiting pack of photogs, all done in one uninterrupted take.  A car driving around the curve under the bridge to the family’s new UK mansion.  Peck walking towards the anxious priest in the park.  Peck walking down that staircase in the Rome estate.  Or how about when the camera imitates an elevator as it moves from the second floor of a Catholic hospice in Italy to the first as Peck opens up about his family crisis.

It’s hard to believe lensman Gilbert Taylor didn’t get an Oscar nod for this exquisite work.  (My favourite shot:  the last scene in the Catholic hospice.  The use of intense facial reflections in the window is very effective.)  Even the graveyard scene, which was clearly shot on a sound stage, looks great.  (Too bad those unhospitable hounds spoil the party.  By God, they’re freaky.)

Speaking of the Academy Awards, I hate to say it but Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-winning score (which includes its nominated opening song) left me longing for John Carpenter’s superior Halloween theme.  (If you want to hear Goldsmith operating at the top of his game, get the soundtrack to the original Total Recall.  I had it on tape for years and am still looking for a CD copy, preferably the expanded deluxe edition.)  My bones were decidedly unchilled.

Thankfully, because of a good script and strong performances, the film has enough of an uneasy atmosphere all its own to neatly compensate.

The Omen is by no means a great film.  It’s not nearly as scary as Halloween or even the overrated Exorcist (only the scenes involving the war between the old priest & the devil are compelling).  And at times, you really have to suspend your disbelief, especially if you’re a non-believer like me.

But watching it today in the unpredictable climate of the 2016 US Presidential campaign, you see disturbing parallels between Damien and Donald Trump.  Both are prone to temper tantrums.  Both have found sneaky ways to cozy up to the powerful.  Both want to be powerful in their own right.  And both are a serious threat to the natural order of things.

At the end of The Omen, Damien merely holds hands with power.  By November, Trump hopes to attain it all for himself.

Both are disturbing.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, March 29, 2016
3:29 a.m.

Published in: on March 30, 2016 at 3:29 am  Comments (2)  

Orphan (2009)

She wears ribbons on her wrists and neck.  She dresses like Little Bo Peep.  She paints.  She plays classical piano.  Oh, and one more thing.  She’s a cold-blooded killer.

Esther is a 9-year-old Russian with a lot of secrets.  And she’s about to be adopted by a family with secrets of their own.

The movie Orphan begins with a nightmare.  The beautiful Vera Farmiga in a good performance relives the trauma of losing what would’ve been her third child, a daughter named Jessica.  Not only that, she’s a recovering alcoholic who nearly lost another daughter in an accident near the family home.  Her husband Peter Saarsgard has his own shame.  He’s strayed.  (Hard to believe considering how hot and lovely Farmiga is.)  Both continue to feel tempted to fall back into their former self-destructive ways.

No longer able to bear biological children (her reproductive organs were removed after the stillbirth), Farmiga ultimately decides to adopt.  15 minutes into the movie, Saarsgard hears someone singing The Glory Of Love (not the theme from Karate Kid 2) on the second floor of a Catholic orphanage and meets Esther.  She’s cheerfully working on her latest painting.  Saarsgard’s impressed with her work and blatantly insincere personality.  Her trap is laid.

Shortly thereafter, Esther is introduced to her new siblings, mostly-deaf sister Max (Aryana Engineer) and Guitar Hero-lovin’ brother Danny (Jimmy Bennett).  Things seem to be going well until Danny stupidly decides to shoot his paintball gun at an innocent pigeon.  The power of the shot knocks it right to the ground and he weeps over its agony.  When he refuses Esther’s request to put it out of its misery, she takes a giant rock and squashes it to death.  Lovely.

At school, her outdated attire and unsubtly weird demeanour attracts constant mockery and abuse.  One such bully pays the price when she decides to go down a slide at a playground.  Hope you weren’t too attached to that ankle, kiddo.

After taking some piano lessons from former music teacher Farmiga (who isn’t much of a composer), Esther shocks her one afternoon by playing more fluently than she does.  When she catches Farmiga getting boned from behind by a frisky Saarsgard in the kitchen, she knows very well what they were doing.

Then nun CCH Pounder pays a visit.  She has a bad feeling about Esther.  (Then why did she allow her to be adopted without a thorough background check in the first place?)  So does Farmiga who wonders why Saarsgard isn’t taking her side.  Next thing you know, Pounder’s getting pounded with a hammer.

The diabolical Esther soon threatens both Max and Danny into staying quiet (they know and have seen too much) unless they too want to meet grisly ends.  Meanwhile, Farmiga grows ever more suspicious and eventually discovers that Esther’s behaviour is more consistent with that of a slick sociopath than an innocent child.

Over time, we learn Esther’s true intentions.  She wants Saarsgard.  Sexually.  She develops a phony bond with him which affords her some much needed protection.  As Farmiga and the kids slowly start to turn on her, Saarsgard, ever so foolish, is the stubborn holdout, lamely defending her from every legitimate accusation.  In Orphan’s most aggravating scene, an infuriated Farmiga fails to convince Saarsgard & her very dumb shrink that Esther is the problem, not her own temptation to relapse.

It’s hard to believe Roger Ebert loved this movie.  Orphan is as clichéd as it gets.  The film is somewhat reminiscent of The Hand That Rocks The Cradle (another routine thriller) even though Rebecca De Mornay’s vengeful nanny was a much scarier character than Esther.  Both villains act in similar fashion.  They both completely misrepresent themselves to not-so-skeptical families.  When their cover’s about to be blown by smarter characters, they both get away with bumping them off.  Others are merely scared off from speaking out.  As the matriarchs gradually learn all their secrets, the patriarchs stand by them.  Hell, just like Cradle, there’s a scene where the heel has a big freakout in the bathroom that no one else hears.

Which brings us to the big reveal, the true identity of Esther.  It ranks right down there with the bogus twist in The Village, a slightly worse film.  If Esther was genuinely terrifying (and she’s really not), maybe it would’ve had more of an impact.  As it stands, it’s just not credible.

Also not credible is how long it takes for Saarsgard to wake up and pay attention.  Esther has to literally throw herself at him before he finally understands Farmiga’s deep concerns.  By then, it’s too late.  One wonders if Saarsgard’s character was written that unsympathetically for a very specific reason.

Orphan drags out its familiar formula (with a few admittedly intelligent touches) for two hours (Cradle was almost the same length) and while it has its moments (Farmiga and Max acting heroically, for instance), it’s hard to take it seriously.  (There are a few unintentional laughs.)  The supremely smug Esther just isn’t that intimidating or as clever as she thinks she is.  Her “superficial charm” game is so transparent right from the start it’s hard to accept anyone with a brain buying her duplicitousness.  She’s not that good a faker.

It’s a frustrating experience watching this tiny phony hold this entire family hostage when she can be easily & collectively overtaken in five seconds.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 27, 2016
7:17 p.m.

Published in: on March 27, 2016 at 7:17 pm  Comments (1)  

Identity Thief

How easy is it to steal Sandy Patterson’s identity?  All it takes is a 2-minute phone call.

Played by an overly trusting Jason Bateman, he has no idea the suspiciously concerned person on the other end of the line is Diana (Melissa McCarthy), a solitary loser who specializes in credit card fraud.  She deceives the gullible twit into giving up all the information she needs to drown him in debt.

At no point during this brief conversation does it ever occur to Sandy that maybe, just maybe it’s a terrible idea to immediately give out your Social Security number to a complete stranger who just called you for the first time out of the blue, most especially to one who tells you flatly that someone is trying to steal your identity.

But Sandy isn’t bright.  The married father of 2 carries on with his mundane day-to-day existence not at all aware that Diana is buying a bunch of crap through his stolen name.  When he tries to buy gas, his card gets cut up right in front of him.  While driving, he’s notified of a huge bill from a store in Florida.  (He lives in Colorado.)

It isn’t until he’s pulled over and arrested that he slowly starts to put things together.  Diana missed a court date for punching someone in the throat (a very tired recurring gag) and it isn’t until officer Morris Chestnut (yet another comedown from Boyz N The Hood) gets confirmation on her appearance that he uncuffs a now frustrated Sandy.

Long story short, because the fraud is happening out of state, there’s not much local law enforcement can do.  In fact, any kind of investigation will take at least a year anyway.  (Really?)  And the chance of conviction is between 5 & 10%.  (Come on.)

The timing could not be worse for Sandy.  He’s just quit his job cutting cheques for dickish boss Jon Favreau to become John Cho’s VP in a new firm.  Cho even considers firing him because of his dilemma.  (Optics, you see.)  But Sandy has an out.  Someone from a Florida hair salon called him by accident to confirm an appointment Diana made in his name.  With the mutual blessing of Cho & Chestnut, the real Sandy has a week to convince Diana in Florida to come back with him to Colorado to turn herself in.

Suddenly, Identity Thief becomes a cross between Midnight Run and Planes, Trains & Automobiles but without any charm or laughs.  From the moment Sandy accidentally bumps his car into Diana’s rental on the highway (he was following her so she decides to pull a pay-in-cash-because-you-hit-me scam), it’s unrelenting war.  She constantly socks him in his Adam’s apple and attempts to flee.  (She doesn’t get very far.)  For his part, he’s either tackling her, bashing her with a guitar or driving erratically so she’ll hit her head on the passenger-side window.  (She never shuts up and sings whatever song is playing on the radio.)

Even handcuffing her doesn’t work.  One bobby pin and she’s free.  Did he not consider chloroform?

Unbeknownst to the clueless Sandy, Diana’s credit card scheme wasn’t really meant for her alone.  She was supposed to sell the cards without actually using them to a couple of nefarious characters who are well aware of her fuck-up.  (So is bounty hunter Robert Patrick who terrifies that salon owner into giving him her personal information.)  Because of this, when they come to her place guns a-blazing, purely for her own survival, Diana sticks with Sandy.  Despite some incredibly obnoxious behaviour on her part you can pretty much predict where their relationship is going.  To say it’s not at all believable would be redundant.

Jason Bateman & Melissa McCarthy are two of the funniest comic actors in the business today.  But you would never know it from watching them in Identity Thief.  They struggle mightily to sell this thoroughly predictable, completely indigestible material.  In the end, they fail miserably.

It’s hard to summon much sympathy for Diana when she’s so incredibly annoying and obnoxious.  A pathological liar who doesn’t even know her own name or birth parents (she was abandoned shortly after her birth), she takes every opportunity she has to embarrass Sandy in public.  (Hasn’t this moron suffered enough?)  At one point, she hooks up with a widow (Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet) for the strict purpose of robbing him and stealing his identity.  Part of her seduction technique is to pretend that Sandy enjoys seeing her get intimate with other men.  The whole sequence, like this overlong movie, is painful to watch.

Essentially, Diana is an unloved, overgrown child who constantly acts out for attention and has no idea how to forge healthy relationships with anyone.  Shortly after stealing Sandy’s identity she goes to a bar and buys everyone round after round of free drinks hoping to get some love in return.  Her antics get her kicked out instead and later, arrested.  (The throat punch deal.)

Stonestreet is actually the first person who genuinely likes her or at least the version she’s pretending to be.  After they have over-the-top sex, though, she bolts with his ID and cash hoping to escape all her problems.  She gets as far as Sandy’s car before suddenly becoming overcome with a conscience.  (Oh please.)  Shortly thereafter, she quietly slinks back.  We’re repeatedly manipulated into feeling sorry for her but we really don’t.  She’s out of her goddamned mind.

As if the lack of laughs wasn’t irritating enough, Identity Thief is also awfully maudlin, particularly in its second half.  As Sandy & Diana inevitably stop fighting and start conversing, she gradually wins him over with her sad sack bullshit.  To get back at old boss Favreau who diminished his contributions (Sandy’s job really is nothing, when you think about it), they decide to steal his identity and live the high life.  Then, they get caught.

But Diana has another bobby pin and they escape police custody.  Somehow, these serious fraud charges and the unlawful escape from the back of a police car magically disappear and are never addressed again.  Sure.

There is only one genuinely funny moment in the film.  It happens in the final scene.  Without giving anything away, Diana learns her real name.  Her reaction to how terrible it is made me laugh twice, first after she says it and then again when just thinking about it during a quiet moment immediately afterward.

By that point, nearly two hours have gone by.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, March 27, 2016
6:21 p.m.

Published in: on March 27, 2016 at 6:22 pm  Comments (2)  

Born In East L.A.

Cheech Marin is such a charmless sleaze in the movies.  When his characters are out in public and they spot beautiful women, they always stalk and harass them, without fail.  It’s rather remarkable how often he gets away with it, too.

In Born In East L.A., he plays Rudy, a mechanic who also sings and plays guitar.  On his way to work, he spots a French woman in a dress.  He starts driving around looking for her after she briefly disappears.  At one point, after he spots her again, he starts shouting creepy things at her while the car is in motion but thankfully she can’t hear him.  It turns out this is all completely unnecessary when she’s coming to his shop anyway to pick up her car.  There’s a gross moment where he slides out from underneath it and looks up her dress.  How he doesn’t get slapped is beyond me.

Before he even leaves the house this day, a relative he lives with asks for a favour.  He needs to pick up his cousin (Paul Rodriguez) at a toy factory.  But shortly after he arrives with no cousin in sight, the feds swoop in and round up the many undocumented Mexicans putting together stuffed animals here, much to the annoyance of the owner who’s been through this all before.

When one of the officers (Jan Michael Vincent) discovers Rudy hiding in one of those animals, he asks him very simple questions.  But because he’s a moron who doesn’t even know the name of the U.S. President (at the time, it was Ronald Reagan, not John Wayne) and doesn’t have any ID on him, he gets deported along with everybody else.

Because of rampant bureaucratic stupidity and the fact that he has the same name as an actual undocumented person with a criminal history (the other guy is 57, though), he’s stranded in Tijuana.  His unlikely saviour ends up being Daniel Stern (before he was a Wet Bandit).  He runs a strip joint and needs a doorman to bring in customers.  He pays peanuts but Rudy is desperate.  (He ends up giving him other menial jobs like selling fake IDs & visas and fresh fruit.)

During a break at the pool hall, he meets a beautiful server from El Salvador (she’s stranded, too, and works two other jobs to fund her eventual escape) who at first wants nothing to do with him.  But after watching him teach some “Chinese Indians” (including future Bruce Lee Jason Scott Lee from Map Of The Human Heart) several lessons on how to harass women in English (another Stern job) and after she secretly witnesses him giving away his entire cart of oranges to a desperate mother and her kids out on the street, her heart melts.  It’s not convincing.

Meanwhile, Rodriguez, who arrives just after the raid, gets a lift to Rudy’s family home from the disgruntled toy factory owner and is eventually let in by a kindly neighbour who gives him stolen lottery tickets for some reason.  (We never do know if he won anything.  They’re never mentioned again.)  Because he doesn’t speak a single word of English and is also a total moron, Rodriguez basically hangs out in the abandoned house (Rudy’s relatives are in Fresno for a week) drinking beer, watching the Playboy Channel and freaking out whenever the phone rings.  Why?  Because it’s blocked by a bizarre Jesus crucifixion picture that appears to be blinking.  Every time someone leaves a message, it never occurs to him to move the goddamn picture out of the way and pick up the phone.  Not that that would help Rudy, anyway, since he can barely speak Spanish himself.

It might only run about 85 minutes but Born In East L.A. is a chore to sit through.  There are no laughs. There isn’t much of a story.  And we really don’t care what happens.

Continuing an unwelcome homophobic tradition from earlier Cheech & Chong disasters, there’s a scene where Rudy is locked up in a Mexican jail with two gay men who proceed to harass him and threaten him with rape.  Later when they’re all free, Rudy accidentally bumps into them while en route to a date and they pick up where they left off.  This time, they stick to punching.

The movie briefly comes to life, thankfully, near the end when Rudy hooks up with a local mariachi band and starts doing catchy, mostly straightforward covers of famous rock songs like Purple Haze and Summertime Blues for tips.  (Marin is a good singer & credible rhythm guitar player.)  The title song, an otherwise unfunny goof on Springsteen’s Born In The USA done in a slightly lower key, strangely works in its more horn-friendly arrangement.  They should’ve hired Weird Al Yankovic to pen the lyrics, though.

Some of the film’s musical score is effective and the use of Neil Diamond’s America (a guilty pleasure) from The Jazz Singer in the final act feels appropriate.  But everything else about Born In East L.A. is dumb, annoying and humourless.  Originally released in the late summer of 1987, it’s not exactly remembered with much fondness.  Seen today in the context of a much more hostile xenophobic environment where the Mexican people are increasingly dehumanized by millions of paranoid, misguided, resentful white Americans and opportunistic politicians alike, its utter lack of social commentary on the cruelty of immigration laws and the hypocrisy of American business is even less excuseable now than it was during Reagan’s second term.  It has no ambition whatsoever.

That’s not a surprise.  Marin isn’t much of a screenwriter and even less qualified to direct.  The pacing here is ungodly slow, all the “jokes” exceedingly weak and banal.  Beyond the overt, almost cartoonish racism of the border patrol & INS agents (the scourge of nativism undoubtedly flows through their real-life counterparts), the story has zero credibility.  It’s so paper-thin you could slit your wrists with it.

If only Rudy hadn’t left his wallet at home.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, March 19, 2014
8:58 p.m.

Published in: on March 19, 2016 at 8:58 pm  Comments (2)  

The Wedding Ringer

During his long career as a critic, Roger Ebert often talked about The Idiot Plot, the most tired cinematic cliche of them all.  It works like this.  If every character in a movie wasn’t so stupid, everything would be resolved in five minutes.

The Wedding Ringer is an excellent case in point.

Nebbishy, wealthy sports fan Josh Gad is getting married to Kaley Cuoco.  He doesn’t love her.  She doesn’t love him.  So, why are they making this serious commitment to each other?  She’s tired of dating assholes and wants to be pampered.  He doesn’t have any other options.

In the first scene, a frantic Gad is trying to find a best man.  Because of his unsettled childhood (his family moved around a lot) and his workaholic nature (he inherited the family business), he doesn’t have any close friends.  So, he cold calls any guy from his distant past he had any kind of interaction with, no matter how brief or insignificant.  All of them turn him down.

After collapsing during a meeting with a suspiciously flamboyant wedding planner (who actually is gay even without his overwrought affectations), he’s directed to visit Kevin Hart.  Hart runs a service where, for a fee, he’ll pretend to be your best man and give you a glowing toast at your reception.  Like Gad, he’s a loner by choice.  Early on, we see him at work.  After he sings the praises of his client and his new bride at their reception, the client thanks him privately in the kitchen.  Hart rebuffs his offer of a real friendship.  That’s not part of their arrangement.

You know exactly where this is going.  Gad’s dilemma is more serious.  Not only does he not have a best man, he also doesn’t have groomsmen.  He needs seven altogether.  (He foolishly uses the surnames of famous athletes he doesn’t know personally as placeholders.  It takes Cuoco almost the entire movie to figure this out.  No one else does.  Despite this, she still wants to marry him.)

Absurdly, Hart isn’t immediately interested in taking his case.  (When your business office is tucked away in a basement in a building you don’t own, maybe you shouldn’t be so picky.)  It’s only two weeks notice.  Plus, he would have a lot more responsibility than usual.  Because Gad offers him a lot of dough, though, Hart relents.

What follows is a series of painfully unfunny sequences as the two men quickly develop the history of their fake friendship.  Hart can’t use his real name so Gad tells him to use “Bic Mitchum”, which has to be a thinly veiled shout-out to Maxwell Hauser in Hiding Out, another bad film about mistaken identity.

Cuoco catches Gad off-guard one day when she insists that Hart (who she thinks is a military chaplain) have brunch with her family.  On 18 hours notice, Hart & Gad work out the basic details of their fictional history.  But inevitably, during the family get-together, disaster strikes.  A question they didn’t anticipate being asked trips them up.  Hart has a strange solution for such moments: random words.  That’s right.  While speaking normally, he’ll suddenly throw in strange phrases like “muffin juice” like a more dimwitted version of Kevin Nealon’s Subliminal Man in the doomed hope that it’ll right the ship.  However, when Gad tries it, it’s too noticeable.  So, in a panic, Hart dumps some very hot food in his lap and the next thing you know, Cloris Leachmann is on fire.

At the hospital when Cuoco’s homophobic father challenges Gad and his mysterious groomsmen (a diverse group of misfits auditioned and assembled later by Hart who gives them fake character studies to memorize) to a football game with his own circle of retired goons, well, let’s just say the final result is what feminists mean when they talk about toxic masculinity.

All the while, an overwhelmed Gad is trying in vain to romance a disinterested Cuomo who makes up some bullshit excuse about delaying sex before they’re married.  When Hart asks him for info for his phony toast, Gad isn’t particularly helpful.  The way he met his indifferent bride-to-be is more of a red flag than a lovely memory.

Since his successful proposal, in fact, Gad’s been in perpetual panic mode.  If only he would sit down with Cuoco and tell her the truth, we could all be spared this godawful nonsense.

But nope, he’s too terrified and stupid to speak up even though she too is very clearly having profound doubts about the whole thing.  She ain’t much brighter, quite frankly.

This is the second Kevin Hart film from 2015 that firmly believes prison rape jokes are funny.  (Get Hard had far too many of them.)  One of the hired groomsmen is a formerly incarcerated psychopath who can’t keep his hands to himself & has an ugly record of assaulting his fellow prisoners.

In one of the worst sequences, Hart has Gad kidnapped in order to force him to have a bachelor party.  At one point, he’s handcuffed and blindfolded as a dog licks peanut butter off his penis.  (He thinks it’s really the hot woman who nearly blew him in a bouncy castle.)  Why is this assault funny, exactly?  When the dog won’t stop, the aforementioned psychopath shoots off his gun literally scaring the pooch to death.  This causes a disgusting emergency that you can pretty much figure out for yourself.

This is also the second Kevin Hart film from 2015 that has him playing a saviour to a rich, hapless white guy.  In Get Hard, Will Farrell is wrongly convicted of embezzling from his own company.  To prepare him for prison, Hart, who runs a car wash, you guessed it, at the bottom of a building he doesn’t own, offers to teach him how to prepare for life on the inside despite not having a record himself.

At least Get Hard, another terrible misfire, had a few funny moments.  How did this get a theatrical release?  There are no genuine laughs at all.  Zero.  There is however this pervasive tone of cruelty throughout The Wedding Ringer that makes you wonder if the screenwriters have any friends themselves.  The story is stupid.  The characters are stupid.  And I was as emotionally uninvested in the material as Kaley Cuoco is in her own relationship.

It’s hard to imagine Kevin Hart’s character drumming up much business in the real world.  He’s a transparent phony.  (Even Cuoco’s sister, who takes a liking to him, senses something amiss.)  Consider the scene where he delivers the eulogy to a former client.  (If you die within seven years of your wedding, he’ll speak at your funeral.)  Claiming to be an Ethiopian Jew who was rescued from bullies by his dead white saviour, there’s not a dry eye in the house.  (Even Gad starts dabbing.)  When we find out later that the guy was really an asshole, one wonders why everyone was so upset about his death in the first place.  Shouldn’t Hart’s kind words have been a tip off?

The only good thing Hart does for Gad happens by accident.  When the wedding planner dumps the original priest (he’s allegedly a pedophile) and replaces him unwittingly with Hart’s former high school principal, the ceremony ends up being presided over by someone who doesn’t have the authority to conduct weddings at all.

Other than that, Gad overpaid.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 17, 2015
11:58 p.m.


Published in: on March 17, 2016 at 11:59 pm  Comments (2)  

Dancing On The Edge Of Desire

A yearning from the past
A resurrection of lust
Lingering mysteries
A prevention of trust

A timeless conflict
Between desire and fear
A lack of certainty
Depresses the atmosphere

A decade of doubt
Refuses to be buried
Was the decision correct?
The answers are varied

She was open yet distant
Seductive but elusive
Both available and busy
Not exactly conducive

An interest was expressed
But plans were always tentative
Should I have taken a risk?
A view that remains argumentative

A tiring back and forth
As these feelings stay mixed
Several lengthy absences
The problem still isn’t fixed

Was it an adventure in waiting?
An invitation to explore?
Or was inevitable disappointment
Always hiding behind her door?

It’s a puzzle with missing pieces
A report with blacked out pages
Too impossible to recover
We’re now at different stages

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, March 10, 2016
12:54 a.m.

Published in: on March 10, 2016 at 12:55 am  Comments (1)