New Releases for Tuesday, July 5, 2016
Directed by: Scot Armstrong
Run time: 93 minutes
The Lowdown: Here’s the thing about comedies. Sometimes, even the ones that aren’t consistently funny from start to finish are better than the ones that try so, so hard to be funny and continuously fail.
Comedy, by its very nature, is subjective. What one person finds hysterical, another may find offensive. Comedy is the sporting world’s equivalent of swimming. It’s a singular experience often best reserved for individuals watching alone at home. After all, who wants to be the only person in a packed movie theater who laughs at the off-color ethnic joke?
I’m kidding, mostly.
But comedy is a tough genre, and one that time and the movie industry as a whole has not been kind to. Consider this – CGI, or computer-generated imagery, has made action-adventure and comic book-superhero movies the technological marvel of the 21st century. Anything we can imagine can now appear on screen. The same can’t be said for comedies.
Are there topics today that are funnier than topics in the 1970s? Or the ‘80s? Not really. We make comedies based on those decades because they were chock-full of funny, irreverent events.
What’s funny today? Politics isn’t funny. It’s more like a horror movie. Nature isn’t funny. Our planet is dying. Crime isn’t funny. People keep killing each other in new and terrifying ways.
The theme that seems to be most prevalent in today’s funny pictures is the kitchen sink approach. Throw every kind of possible scenario at the screen and see what sticks.
Sometimes, it works. Movies like “Road Trip” and “Old School” and “Neighbors” and “Horrible Bosses” found ways to take relatable situations and turn them inside out so audiences could see just how ridiculous and irreverent they were.
I mention two of those films because they directly tie-in to this week’s featured release, Search Party.
You probably haven’t heard of Search Party. It was filmed and finished and shelved in 2014. And now, two years later, it’s being released direct to DVD.
I suspect one of the financial decisions to push its release now is that it co-stars TJ Miller, the red-hot comedian coming off of “Deadpool.” Miller has been popping up everywhere of late – in commercials, on TV shows in recurring roles. He’s aggressive in his humor, which could best be described as in-your-face, yet likeable.
Miller’s co-stars are equally funny, yet maybe not as well-known. Adam Pally should be familiar to fans of “Happy Endings” and “The Mindy Project.” And Thomas Middleditch, so good in “The Final Girls,” has a face you don’t quickly forget.
The guy responsible for Search Party is writer-director Scot Armstrong, making his feature film debut. Armstrong is stranger to comedies. He wrote or co-wrote “Road Trip,” which was hysterical, and “Old School,” which was even funnier, along with “The Heartbreak Kid,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Semi-Pro” and “The Hangover Part II.”
So he’s got some hits and some misses, but the guy clearly knows his way around a joke.
Search Party is the story of three best friends – Evan (Pally), Jason (Miller) and Nardo (Middleditch) – who all live together and have been friends since grade school. Nardo is about to get married and break up their happy union. Some bong hits and a few true confessions later, Jason decides he must stop the wedding to save his friend, which sets off a chain reaction of events that only happen in the movies.
Nardo’s fiancé leaves in a furious huff and goes alone on their planned honeymoon trip to Mexico. Nardo decides to follow her and win her back. He gets carjacked and clothes-jacked and ends up naked in a remote Mexican village. So he calls Jason and Evan to save the day.
At this point, you’re about 20 minutes in, so there’s a lot of movie left to go. But, to its credit, the first 20 minutes are pretty funny.
And that’s when Search Party loses its way.
First, we have Evan’s tired subplot. He’s a successful business guy up for a promotion even though when he talks to women he turns into a 12-year-old and says nothing but awkward double-entendres. Evan has a crucial meeting in 12 hours when Jason intercepts a collect international call from Nardo begging for help. Evan has taken Ambien to sleep. Jason carries him to the car and sets a course for Mexico, which is three hours away.
When Evan wakes up, he has an idea. They can wire Nardo money to buy clothes and continue on his way to the honeymoon resort to woo back his love. Fortunately, there’s a casino on the way to Mexico that Jason frequents. Not so fortunate, Jason encourages Evan to hit on a hot femme fatale (Krysten Ritter, clearly returning a favor) who happens to be a black market organ bandit.
For some inexplicable reason, Search Party grinds to a complete halt for about 20 minutes while we endure the casino exploits, including Evan’s near-death rescue and escape from the organ bandits. None of it is very funny and it just drags on.
Things kind of improve once Evan and Jason reach Mexico, but first they have to get arrested just shy of the border and bailed out by Evan’s work crush, who blithely overlooks his inappropriate man-child adolescent outbursts and keeps helping him avoid getting fired, even after Evan and TJ steal her car.
Search Party culminates with a shootout inside a Mexican jail. The south-of-the-border cops are poorly-drawn stereotypes. The drug lord who wants Nardo dead is broadly played for laughs by second-tier comedian J.B. Smoove, who hosted one season of “Last Comic Standing.”
Still, I watched the whole thing. I belly-laughed often for the first half hour. After that, I only chuckled. But I never gave up.
I’m not necessarily recommending you do the same thing.
The Stuff You Care About: Hot chicks – Yes, but not as many as you would think.
Nudity – No. Gore – No.
Drug use – Yes.
Bad Guys/Killers – Drug lords, an overbearing boss and an angry fiancé.
Buy/Rent – Rent it at your own risk.
Cabin Fever (Shout! Factory, 99 minutes, Unrated, Blu-Ray): What’s the appropriate amount of time to wait to remake a movie?
Is it 10 years? 20-plus?
Sony waited just five years between “Spider-Man 3” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” to reboot its superhero franchise, and despite producing a second sequel, the company is already re-re-booting the web-slinger just three years (!) after “The Amazing Spider-Man 2.”
In my opinion, that's just too soon.
When Eli Roth first became a household name, it was 2002 and his debut, “Cabin Fever,” had taken fans by storm. I saw Roth’s original in a theater, unsure what to expect. It was disjointed but ridiculously gory. It felt like Roth was trying too hard at times to conjure up nostalgia for the subversive horror hits of the 1970s and early ‘80s when directors like George Romero and Tobe Hooper inserted weird characters with no explanation.
“Cabin Fever” spawned a mini-franchise with two sequels arriving direct-to-DVD: 2009’s “Cabin Fever 2: Spring Fever,” directed by Ti West, which I actually enjoyed much more than the original; and, 2014’s “Cabin Fever 3: Patient Zero,” which I never saw.
Now, 14 years after his debut, Roth is once again going off-script. He has lent his approval and a screen-writing credit to a straight remake of his original movie, Cabin Fever, by director Travis Zariwny, who goes by the unfortunate moniker Travis Z.
Travis Z’s Cabin Fever is pretty much exactly what you would expect. It’s like blunt force trauma to your head with little regard for subtlety or nuance. None of the characters are very likeable. The females get naked pretty much immediately. And many of the iconic, as some believe they are, moments from the original are repackaged here with an obvious wink-wink, nudge-nudge.
Remember Deputy Winston from the original film and the first sequel? The dim-bulb cop who loves to party? Here, the character is made female and played completely over-the-top by Louise Linton.
If you can get past the first hour, Cabin Fever 2.0 does offer up some truly disgusting special effects, and the climatic shootout is ridiculously violent (and, honestly, kind of funny).
But there’s nothing here to recommend – there’s no new subtext to the environmental contagion, there’s no deeper exploration of how and/or why people and animals start getting sick and having their flesh melt off, there’s no new characters to help anchor the chaos in reality.
Cabin Fever 2.0 is basically Cabin Fever 1.0 – a backwoods bloodbath about college-age kids you don’t really like getting eaten by a disease you never learn anything about and being tormented by the kind of clichéd hillbilly hicks you only encounter in the movies.
Term Life (Universal, 93 minutes, R, Blu-Ray): Most people only think of Vince Vaughn as a comedic actor, and that’s fair. His biggest hits have all been straight comedies – “Swingers,” “Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Old School.”
But, for me, my favorite Vaughn picture is a criminally-underrated black comedy/thriller from 1998 called “Clay Pigeons,” where Vaughn played Lester Long, a serial lady killer roaming the truck stops and small towns of big sky country. It’s an incredible role in a fantastic film that required Vaughn to be both charming and menacing.
Vaughn’s latest, Term Life, asks audiences to accept him in a similar role. He plays a low-level criminal whose super-power is his ability to instruct crooks as to how to rob places that should be impossible to pilfer.
And man, oh man, does Term Life have a pedigree: It’s directed by Peter “A Christmas Story” Billingsley and co-stars Oscar nominees Hailee Steinfeld, Terrence Howard and Taraji P. Henson, plus Jon Favreau, Bill Paxton, Annabeth Gish, Mike Epps and Jonathan Banks.
Don’t get too excited. The one thing you will remember about Term Life, should you actually make it all the way to the end (spoiler alert – I didn’t) is the ridiculous hairpiece that Vaughn sports throughout the movie. He even makes jokes about his hair, which is never a good sign.
Term Life is paint-by-numbers filmmaking at its worst. Avoid.
Electra Woman & Dyna Girl (Sony, 81 minutes, Unrated, DVD): When I was a kid, I loved everything that arrived from Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions, whether it was “H.R. Pufnstuf,” “The Bugaloos,” Sigmund and the Sea Monsters,” “Land of the Lost” or “Dr. Shrinker.”
The Krofft brothers made subversive, adult-friendly entertainment disguised as kid-friendly programming. There were tons of hidden drug references, odes of nods to the counter-culture movement of the late 1960s and enough hallucinatory imagery to keep a pothead anchored to the couch for an entire afternoon.
Each title conceived and executed by the Kroffts fit into a particular genre: “Sigmund and the Sea Monsters” was a sitcom. “The Bugaloos” was “The Monkees” on LSD. “Land of the Lost” was an adventure serial.
And, in 1976, they took a deep-dive into comic books and “Batman” territory with “Electra Woman and DynaGirl.” The superhero exploits of Lori and Judy, two female reporters who moonlight as costumed heroes, were staged similar to the shows of the 1960s, often with a two-part episode where the first part ended on a cliffhanger. Electra Woman and Dyna Girl also battled ridiculous villains such as Spider Lady, Glitter Rock and The Genie.
Flash forward 40 years and now, suddenly, Electra Woman & Dyna Girl has been dusted off and repurposed as a straight superhero comedy feature film starring two YouTube personalities, Grace Helbig and Hannah Hart, who is best known for her cooking show, “My Drunk Kitchen.”
Helbig and Hart are hot commodities right now. They represent the voice of the millennial generation. By all accounts, they should own this and completely crush an updated version of a silly but beloved short-lived superhero show.
And, sadly, they don’t.
Electra Woman & Dyna Girl works about as well as “Jonah Hex.” It’s the direct-to-DVD equivalent of 2015’s “Fantastic Four.”
Helbig and Hart, who did not write the screenplay, do the unthinkable and play their roles completely straight. There’s zero camp. Very little comedy. They simply play unknown heroes hoping for a chance to fight crime in the public eye. They bicker and break up and meet a bunch of other silly heroes and then have to reteam just in time to finally shine.
Excuse me while I…try to think of something positive to say. Nope. I’ve got nothing.
Sadly, this is not the update to a childhood favorite that I was looking (and hoping) for.
New on Video-On-Demand:
Bachelor Games (Gravitas Ventures, 87 minutes, Unrated, VOD): Bachelor Games is like “The Hangover” for horror fans. It’s a mostly smart, often effective, survival thriller that deftly deploys a number of red herrings in its pursuit of something deeper, a more meaningful denouement that actually touches a nerve and affects emotional growth. How successful the film is will depend entirely on each individual viewer’s patience and willingness to suspend belief at points and not ask too many questions about the crazy supernatural entity introduced midway through.
By the Sea
Boy and the World
Joseph & Mary
House of Cards: The Complete Fourth Season
The Swinging Cheerleaders
The Family Fang
The Adderall Diaries
Chronicles of the Ghostly Tribe
Not to be Overlooked: New Releases for Tuesday, June 28, 2016
Eye in the Sky
Kung Fu Panda 3: Awesome Edition
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot
Double Feature: Circus of Fear/Five Golden Dragons
Ray Harryhausen: Special Effects Titan
Return of the Killer Tomatoes
Two Guys and a Girl: The Complete Series
The Bible Stories: Jacob
The Bible Stories: Joseph