Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Video Review: Horrible Bosses, 30 Minutes or Less & Paul

In general, it’s my hope to write a full-on review of each movie I see, but I know that’s going to be impossible – not only is it far too time consuming, but some movies just won’t warrant that kind of analysis. Recently, I’ve seen three comedies – Horrible Bosses, 30 Seconds or Less and Paul  – that I have the same general opinion on so I thought one piece would work just fine.

All three come from filmmakers who have created some of my favorite movies of the past few years, and so I had pretty high expectations going into each one. Sadly, none reached the heights I had hoped for.

Horrible Bosses delivers enough laughs to overcome a soft ending.
Horrible Bosses fares best. The script, which features three friends (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day) who attempt to off their bosses (Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston), was mentioned on the Black List a few years back, and that’s really no surprise. Although it’s predictable and doesn’t go much beyond basic caricatures, it does offer up entertaining situations and slew of roles that were always destined to attract some big names looking to cut loose. While I wish the film had really embraced the dark concept instead of going soft at that end, the movie works well enough to slide on that account.

Everyone in the cast nails the tone, but it’s Day (the least well known member) who steals the show. The manic personality he has spent years developing on It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia transfers wonderfully to the big screen, and he dials it back enough to make the character realistic without losing anything on the comedy end.

As important as acting can be, the pacing on something like this is everything, and director Seth Gordon does a fine job in that regard. Gordon made one of my favorite films of the past several years – the documentary The King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters (if you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and rent it) – so it’s nice to see him back on good footing after the dreadful Four Christmases.

30 Minutes or Less has all the ingredients to deliver
something awesome. It doesn't.
 Based on another Black List script, 30 Minutes or Less should’ve been right up my alley. It’s from the director/star duo of Zombieland (Ruben Fleischer and Jesse Eisenberg), and features an awesome supporting cast of funny people, including Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, and Nick Swarsdon.

The story is intriguing too* – in order to get the money to pay a hitman to off his rich dad, Dwayne (McBride) and his buddy Travis (Swarsdon) strap a bomb to the chest of slacker pizza delivery guy Nick (Eisenberg) and make him rob a bank. For help, Nick calls upon best friend Chet (Ansari) with whom Nick’s currently feuding due to having slept with his twin sister (Dilshad Vadsaria).
*The movie is actually inspired by a pretty bleak real-life robbery. If you have time, I fully recommend the story Wired posted on the whole incident a few years back. It's sad, fascinating, and could've made a great Coen Brothers film.
While there are some nice moments (McBride and Swarsdon do nice work, there's a cute nod to Eisenberg's role in the Social Network, and the bank robbery features a hilarious bit concerning a dye pack), the film never really settles in. There’s a sense that we are supposed to care for these characters, but the script doesn’t earn it, and the movie is not helped by the stilted energy between Eisenberg and Ansari. Their friendship should be the heart of the movie, but it just doesn’t play.

When compared to something like Pineapple Express, a zany, action-oriented buddy comedy that actually nails its landing, the flaws of 30 Minutes or Less become even more evident. That film had two leads with wonderful chemistry and escalated the weirdness to some ridiculous (and wonderful) levels. This one just sort of sits there, and, in the end, feels like the rough draft of a far better (and funnier) film.

This screenshot from Paul concerns an anal probe joke.
Unlike, Horrible Bosses and 30 Minutes or Less, Paul actually achieves a some level of emotion. Most of that is due to the well-established chemistry of long-time collaborators Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz), who co-wrote and star as two British comic geeks who travel to the States to attend Comic Con only to come across an alien named Paul (voiced by Seth Rogen) on the run from government agents (led by Bateman). Along with a religious nut (Kristen Wiig), the duo attempts to help Paul rendezvous with his fellow aliens and make his getaway.

Paul is a nice enough diversion, but it’s mostly a generic, family-friendly, sci-fi lark that has been dirtied up by some lewd language. I liked the idea that Paul has been the driving force behind how pop culture views aliens, and there is a low-key charm to the proceedings, but the film isn’t really that funny. That normally wouldn’t be a big problem for me – director Greg Mottola’s Adventureland wasn’t that funny either, and it’s still a personal favorite of mine. But unlike that film, and Mottola’s Superbad for that matter, the characters are pretty one-note and uncomplicated, and so funny becomes more of a necessity. Making matters worse, the bond between Paul and his human friends (the crux of the story), isn’t believably developed, and that really handicaps a movie like this.

Overall, I’d give all three films passing grades, with diminishing returns going from to Horrible Bosses to Paul to 30 Seconds or Less. Horrible Bosses should have some solid replay value on cable down the line, but it’s hard to believe I’d stop channel surfing for a second viewing of either of the other two.