Friday, February 26, 2010

Cop Out

(Note: I see this movie garnered an abysmal 13% on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought it was pretty darn funny.)

Former indie director Kevin Smith (Clerks, Chasing Amy, Dogma, Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back) didn’t write the screenplay for this cop-buddy action comedy starring Bruce Willis and Tracy Morgan as hapless NYPD cops; it was written by Robb and Mark Cullen. But you would never know it: the movie is landscaped with Smith’s brand of laid-back, affectionately profane male banter.

Remarkably, in his first foray into this well-worn genre, Smith achieves what many have failed to do: blend action successfully with comedy. Even the most tired cop-movie tropes (the police captain exasperated with the team’s unorthodox methods, the divorced cop dealing with his ex-wife) feel refreshed here. Willis is veteran cop Jimmy Monroe, whose childlike partner, Paul Hodges (Tracy Morgan) is prone to giving Jimmy sentimental anniversary cards and intimidating suspects by reciting dialogue, badly, from famous cop movies. Paul worries about his wife (Rashida Jones) cheating on him, while Jimmy frets about how to pay for his daughter’s wedding. Jimmy’s plan to sell a valuable baseball card is foiled when obnoxious robber Dave (Seann William Scott, very funny) steals it, leading Jimmy and Paul into an underworld of violent Mexican drug dealers.

The action plot is beside the point; the comic byplay is the heart of the movie, which, like most of Smith’s films — and unlike most action movies — is funny, humane and rather sweet.

This appeared originally in Cleveland Scene.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Happy Tears

The Parent Trap

Two sisters deal with their dad’s dementia in Happy Tears

By Pamela Zoslov

There’s a scene in Happy Tears in which Jackson (Christian Camargo), an art dealer who is going insane, cuts himself, and the spurting blood decorates the canvas of an abstract painting. The scene is a metaphor for the movie, which was written and directed by Mitchell Lichtenstein, son of famed Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein. Lichtenstein pére bleeds his personal history onto the canvas of this strange, often hilarious film about two sisters dealing with the dementia of their aging dad, Joe (Rip Torn as a randy hell-raiser even closer to reality than we imagined before his recent arrest for armed, drunken after-hours banking).

Named after one of Roy Lichtenstein’s most famous paintings, Happy Tears is informed by Mitchell’s experience, revealed in a Huffington Post interview, as a young man watching his mother lose her mind. (He would come home to find her drunk, sitting with her pet monkey on her shoulder.) He paints himself not only as Jackson, the dealer burdened with the task of managing his famous father’s legacy, but also as Jayne, Jackson’s pampered wife, who resorts to cheerful fantasy rather than face unpleasant realities.

Jayne, played magnificently by Parker Posey, indulges in $2,200 boots and clings to the heroic legends told by guitar-strumming old Joe, who boasts that he could have been a famous singer, has buried treasure in his backyard, and isn’t losing control of his mind and bowels. Her earthier sister Laura (Demi Moore), shoulders the dirty work of cleaning up Joe’s backside and tolerating his lady friend, Shelly (a brilliantly feral Ellen Barkin), a grifter in spike heels posing as a nurse.

Called back from California to the gritty Pittsburgh family home, Jayne drifts in and out of hallucinatory states to escape the realities of Dad’s dementia, Jackson’s fragmenting psyche and her continued infertility, while Laura, a pragmatic environmentalist in peasant blouses, tries to drag her into the real world, where Dad was a philanderer who cheated on “Mommy” for years.

Lichtenstein, whose previous film was the bizarre Teeth, which made literal the “vagina dentata” myth, ornaments this oddly touching family drama with audacious flights of fantasy: a shoe salesman transformed into a giant, predatory bird, Jackson bouncing off padded walls, a crazy backyard treasure hunt. These absurdist sequences, carried off with film-school flamboyance, will not be everyone’s cup of tea, but for those who favor smaller, offbeat movies, Happy Tears is a dream movie, graced by a dream cast.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Monday, February 15, 2010

Valentine's Day, the movie

Never has the importance of opening weekend been more obvious than with the release of this one-day holiday movie, whose success hinges on the idea that women will drag their romance-challenged menfolk to a V-Day comedy. (Pretty clever marketing strategy, at that).

The movie, directed by 75-year-old Garry Marshall (Happy Days, Pretty Woman), is a labored, wheezing affair, with an all-star cast more populous than It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World. The idea is a roundelay of relationship stories set in L.A., but there are so many plots, interchangeable actors (Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher? The two Jessicas, Alba and Biel?) and people in half-written parts (Queen Latifah as a sports agent, Taylor Swift as a lovestruck cheerleader, beautiful Jessica Biel as, unbelievably, a wallflower) that the result is eye-crossing confusion rather than amusement.

The few more or less fully developed stories have Jennifer Garner as a schoolteacher in love with a caddish doctor (Patrick Dempsey), while her dopey florist pal (Kutcher) secretly yearns for her, and Anne Hathaway as a phone-sex worker whose naughty career repels her straitlaced suitor (Grace). (The “phone sex” conceit, which has Hathaway imitating a Southern belle and other characters, gives you an idea of how dated and tired this movie’s tropes are). Hector Elizondo and Shirley MacLaine show up as long-married grandparents spatting over a long-ago affair, and Julia Roberts plays an Army captain who bonds with Bradley Cooper aboard an airplane. Katherine Fugate’s script furnishes too many situations and too few laughs, though I'll give the movie half a point for the unexpected gay twist in a macho character's story.

(A shorter version of this appeared in Cleveland Scene.)