That’s My Boy (2012)
by Steve Habrat
It hasn’t even been a year since comedian Adam Sandler unleashed the rotten Jack and Jill on audiences everywhere and now he’s back with That’s My Boy, an abrasive R-rated nightmare that doesn’t posses one ounce of shame. Reckless, irresponsible, and just plain wrong, That’s My Boy is another miss in a seemingly endless string of duds from the funnyman who has only come up with a small handful of decent comedies throughout his inexplicably long career. This time, Sandler seems hell-bent on destroying the career of Andy Samberg, fellow SNL alum who seems to grow more and more ashamed of himself with each passing frame of That’s My Boy. Filling the film with the usual Happy Madison suspects, Sandler crashes in with another slurring goofball character with a speech impediment, hooting and hollering over bodily fluids, warped back tattoos, and Vanilla Ice, all while telling a story that is painfully predictable. And then Sandler springs incest on us and things go from gross to downright nauseating.
That’s My Boy begins in 1984, with seventh grader Donny Berger hooking up with one of the hottest teachers in his grade school, Mary McGarricle (Played by Eva Amurri Martino). The student/teacher affair is eventually discovered and Mary ends up pregnant and facing thirty years in prison for the affair. The young Donny is stuck with raising the baby but he also becomes an overnight celebrity because of the affair. He ends up with tons of money and neglects his child who disappears when he turns eighteen. The film then skips to present day, with the adult Donny (Played by Adam Sandler) now a broke and washed up drunk who passes time in a rundown strip club trying to relive his glory days. Donny soon discovers that he owes $43,000 to the IRS and if he doesn’t pay up quick, he is looking at three years of jail time. Desperate to stay out of jail, Donny attempts to reconnect with his son, Todd (Played by Andy Samberg), on the eve of his wedding. Donny begins trying to lure Todd into unknowingly making an appearance on a reality television special that promises Donny a check of $50,000. As Donny and Todd reconnect, Donny begins to realize what a screw-up he was as a parent.
If you can believe it, That’s My Boy runs almost two whole hours and in those two hours, the film makes one joke about bodily fluids after another. There is a seamen joke here, a urine joke there, and feces thrown in for the hell of it. It also gets stuck on the joke that Donny just can’t leave the 80s behind, driving around still fumbling with cassette tapes in a beater car with a Rush decal stamped on the hood. What screenwriter David Caspe seems to not understand is that many of these raunchy R-rated comedies are successful and resonate with so many because they have an equal amount of heart behind all the crass behavior. This heart balances out all the penis and vagina jokes that these comedies like to harp on. That’s My Boy doesn’t have that balance, which causes the film to be extremely off-putting and mean spirited. This almost seems like an excuse for Sandler to dance around and humiliate Samberg, all while making half-hearted remarks about how good of a person he truly is.
When Sandler isn’t making Samberg blush, he is busy playing Donny like a mash-up of Billy Madison, Nicky from Little Nicky, and Bobby Boucher from The Waterboy. There is nothing that is wholly original or new about his latest stammering man-child, further proving that Sandler has absolutely no range as an actor. Samberg is handed the twisted role of a man nursing childhood wounds, still haunted by humiliation he suffered at the hands of his loudmouth father. He fears taking his shirt off in public due to an embarrassing tattoo of New Kids on the Block that covers his entire back. He also suffers from diabetes, can’t ride a bicycle, and lives in fear that he may have to throw or catch a baseball. He even had to change his name from Han Solo Berger to Todd Peterson and lie to his fiancé Jamie’s (Played by Leighton Meester) parents, telling them that his parents are long dead. Near the beginning, Samberg tries hard but as the film drags on, he seems to throw in the towel, as he realizes he is powerless to prevent this train wreck.
That’s My Boy is loaded with familiar Happy Madison faces, all who are absolutely talentless and not funny in the slightest. I’m still trying to figure out why Susan Sarandon and James Caan decided to show up to this horror show. The studio must have promised them a big paycheck because there is honestly no other reason why they should be here. Meester is given very little to do outside of act like a prissy pain in the ass and boss the twitchy Samberg around. Nick Swardson gets to come hang out and play a cross-eyed redneck creep who likes to hang around the strip club that Sandler’s character frequents. Peter Dante pops up briefly as a stoner who is eerily similar to the one that he played in the mediocre Grandma’s Boy. Will Forte gets to play things ultra geeky as Todd’s best man Phil, who throws what could be the lamest bachelor party on the planet. Milo Ventimiglia gets one of the better roles as Jamie’s Marine brother Chad who is overly intense and enjoys tormenting Todd every chance he gets. Also on the guest list is Vanilla Ice, who shows up as an even more washed-up version of himself, but at least he has the good sense to wink at the audience
Overall, no matter what I say, people are still going to flock to That’s My Boy and rave about how hilarious it is. Personally, I didn’t find it the slightest bit funny and found it downright sordid. Many may be quick to say I’m being uptight but as someone who enjoys a raunchy comedy as much as the next guy, I have to say I found this one empty, stupid, and redundant. Sandler and his crew hurl one shock at us after another and frankly, some of them seem desperate and recycled (old people talking dirty, overweight strippers bearing more than we need to see, full frontal male nudity). Near the end, Sandler puts a rotten cherry on top of this unholy shit sundae by diving headfirst into incest, making things even more appalling than they already are. Rather than pushing the raunchy R-rated comedy forward a few feet and making something worthwhile, That’s My Boy takes the subgenre back several feet and then sends it right down the toilet. I think it’s time that Sandler stepped away from the comedy genre before he does anymore damage.
The Dictator (2012)
by Steve Habrat
Perhaps my expectations were too high going in to comedian Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest shock comedy The Dictator, a political satire that doesn’t ever really go for the throat. I was hoping for a comedy on the level of 2006’s Borat and 2009’s Bruno, a film with jokes that really left a mark and left you saying “ouch.” With The Dictator, Cohen parodies such real life dictators as the late Kim Jong-il and Muammar Gaddafi, both who were constantly making news and creating a stir throughout the world. One would expect Cohen to have a ball riffing these two individuals and he clearly is having a good time parading around in a fake beard, but this offering seems to just go in circles for eighty minutes. I kept waiting for something to truly shock me and outside of a joke made about women attending college and a climatic rant that will have any liberal-minded audience member jumping up in applause, I was left unmoved by Cohen’s effort. There are still some chuckle worthy moments and some gross-outs that lean more toward gross rather than funny, all of which you’d expect from The Dictator but even still, it doesn’t wield as much power as it would like.
The Dictator introduces us to Admiral General Aladeen (Played by Cohen), the dictator of the North African Republic of Waydia. The Supreme Leader, as Aladeen is often called, loves to oppress his people, pay Hollywood movie stars to sleep with him, order executions on those who get on his bad side, and develop nuclear weapons. Upon making an announcement that leads the world to believe he possesses advanced nuclear weapons, the United Nations Security Council declares that they will intervene militarily unless he shuts the program down. Aladeen and his uncle, Tamir (Played by Ben Kingsley), decide to travel to the UN Headquarters in New York City to address the council. Upon his arrival, Aladeen is kidnapped by a hired hitman, who shaves his iconic beard and then accidentally unleashes him on the streets of New York. Aladeen then finds himself replaced by a dimwitted double that will sign a document making Waydia a democracy. With the help of an activist named Zooey (Played by Anna Farris), Aladeen begins trying to stop the signing of the document and in the process, develops a soft spot for Zooey and democracy.
At a brief eighty-three minutes, The Dictator doesn’t linger long enough to become too outrageous. Throughout those eighty-three minutes, it seemed like the nervous studio was holding Cohen back from really finding a groove. I can remember seeing Bruno for the first time and just feeling the air getting sucked out of the packed theater while multiple disgusted audience members bolted for the door. It appears that Paramount was determined to not let something like that happen with The Dictator. I wish that they had let Cohen go and do his wild and crazy thing, which would have helped the film out immensely. It should be noted that The Dictator is also structured like a normal Hollywood movie rather than the hidden camera footage of Cohen messing with real American citizens. Even the subject matter itself, which plays with our fear of terrorism in this post 9/11 world, seems to be a bit dated and almost cheap, like Cohen could have come up with something better to hit us over the head with.
As far as Cohen’s performance is concerned, he is immersed in this character 110%. He ad-libs with the best and he does think up a few stinging zingers, mostly the one about women attending college that really pissed off one girl in my showing. Oh, and he does deliver a good one about Dick Cheney that had me in stitches. For the first time, Cohen seems a bit too eager to make us gag over making us think, something that was put first in both Borat and Bruno. I liked it when Cohen really put himself in danger to make us laugh (Remember the rodeo sequence in Borat?), but also to show us the ugly sides of America, the ones we hear about but rarely ever see. Here it is all about defecating off of a building, masturbating, and yes, putting a cell phone in a woman’s vagina (you read that correctly). He also goes for easy and juvenile jokes, ones that Adam Sandler would settle for on what he perceived as one of his good days. Yet Cohen is as magnetic as always and he does make us feel for this lonely, lonely dictator.
As far as the rest of the performers are concerned, Ben Kingsley has little to do besides stand next to Cohen and mutter lines to side characters and John C. Riley shows up briefly as the hitman hired to kill Aladeen. Riley delivers some of the best lines The Dictator has to offer and then he is gone in a flash. Cohen, on the other hand, works well with Anna Farris, who plays things straighter than I imagined she would. She usually can’t resist taking a violent turn into wackoville but with The Dictator, she keeps things nice and liberally normal. Jason Mantzoukas shows up as a nuclear weapons developer Nadal, who Aladeen had thought he had executed. It should be said that Cohen and Mantzoukas have little comedic chemistry and have a hard time playing off each other. Sadly, they only briefly click.
For a film that could have had so much bite, The Dictator rarely ever bears its fangs. Instead, it gets hung up on body fluids and jokes about terrorists, throwaway jokes that I never thought I’d see Cohen fall back on. Yet I did enjoy parts of The Dictator and thought certain moments of it were really clever. A pair of political analysts who pick apart public appearances by Aladeen and his advisors are an absolutely hysterical riff on the ones we see on television, the ones who find so much in so little. Overall, I can say that while I am disappointed in this paint-by-numbers studio comedy, it was still a good time for a crass laugh or three. Yet I was left wishing that Cohen had raised the bar, been more offensive, and pushed the envelope just a little bit further. When it comes to his trio of mainstream comedies, The Dictator is the runt compared to the rough and tough Borat and Bruno. Oh well, at least the runt is kind of sweet and cute despite all the urine and seaman.
American Reunion (2012)
by Steve Habrat
After the flabby and puerile humor that plagued 2003’s American Wedding, it was no surprise that the American Pie series was banished to straight-to-DVD territory. It was apparent that screenwriter Adam Herz had nothing left to do with his characters anymore. American Reunion, the newest installment in the series, is the film that should have been made after the tasty second installment instead of the warmed over American Wedding. Enter new directors and screenwriters Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who enlist the entire original cast (yes, ALL of them are here) and bake up a hit-or-miss installment for the Facebook generation, one with full frontal nude shots, pubic hair stuck to lips, and a cooler full of feces. I knew these guys could run with the Wolf Pack, even if they are wheezing as they cross the finish line. While the film is a slight return to form for the series, there are still a handful of lulls in the film, which was slightly disappointing because when American Reunion is funny, it had me doubled over in laughter.
American Reunion wisely focuses back on hornball Jim (Played by Jason Biggs), who is now living a fairly normal suburban life with his geeky wife Michelle (Played by Alyson Hannigan). It turns out that Jim and Michelle have a two-year-old son Evan, who has ultimately caused a hiccup in Jim and Michelle’s sex life. Jim and Michelle return to their hometown of East Great Falls for their high school reunion, shacking up with Jim’s dad (Played by Eugene Levy) who is still grieving his wife who died three years earlier. Jim quickly heads out to meet up with his old group of friends, Kevin (Played by Thomas Ian Nicholas), Oz (Played by Chris Klein), Finch (Played by Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Stiffler (Played by Seann William Scott). As the group catches up, they quickly find themselves getting caught up in the same old awkward situations. They also have to confront their pasts with the return of Vicki (Played by Tara Reid), Heather (Played by Mena Suvari), and Nadia (Played by Shannon Elizabeth). Jim, however, finds himself juggling spending time with Michelle, getting out of humiliating situations, and attempting to help his grieving father get back out into the dating world.
American Reunion does little to set itself apart from the other American Pie installments, rehashing the same old antics that the boys are so fond of. The boys get drunk, talk about sex, and attempt to grow up a little bit here and there. Biggs appears to be more committed than ever as Jim, going so far to bear his privates for a shock laugh here and there. The rest of the cast has greatly improved, yes, even Chris Klein who punches in a watchable performance as Oz. I was shocked that Hurwitz and Schlossberg decided to hone in on Stiffler’s arrested development, once again forcing the party animal to attempt to grow up and stop living in the beer chugging past. Apparently, they never saw American Wedding, which attempted the same exact thing. They wisely place Stiffler in the background again, as they seemed to realize that a little bit of his character goes a long way. I was impressed with the emotional twist placed on Jim’s dad, who is at his patient and unassuming best. The early scenes where we catch glimpses of his wounded heart are signs that the franchise is starting to embrace a smidgeon of adulthood, but that all quickly goes out the window when Jim and Michelle drag him to a party being thrown by Stiffler.
The film places a good majority of its focus on Jim, Jim’s dad, Oz, Heather, and Stiffler, almost forgetting about the rest of the cast. Kevin and Finch have almost no reason to be in the movie other than to fill out the runtime with some minor conflicts that they run into. Vicki is there just to look pretty and create a forgettable scenario for Kevin. Nadia pops up for about three minutes, also to look pretty and have a chuckle worthy exchange with Jim, who is of course in an awkward situation. Natasha Lyonne makes an appearance as Jessica, who has a secret of her own to reveal, but then the film moves on and forgets she was even there. There are plenty more cameos from recognizable characters that, if you are a die-hard fan of the series, you will get a kick out of. The film works in a subplot that involves the eighteen-year-old Kara (Played by Ali Cobrin), the girl next door that Jim used to babysit and all the teenage boys lust after. She desperately wants to loose her virginity to the stammering Jim, providing a side plot that is intermittently funny.
American Reunion finds itself all dressed up in the latest fads and trends. There are jokes about Facebook, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, and smartphones, all which will make the older viewers giggle as the soundtrack blares nostalgic 90’s rock in the background. American Reunion also tackles the current hot topic of sexuality, revealing multiple characters to be gay throughout the runtime. The sexuality jokes are usually aimed at the obviously homophobic Stiffler, who fights with all his might not to be repulsed by the reveals, but don’t expect there to be any profound commentaries on the topic. American Reunion ends up feeling both unsullied and dated at the same time. It can still shock with the best of the shock comedies out there, but there was something vaguely old fashioned and, believe it or not, desperate about all of this. The script was horrifically uneven, some of the jokes bombing badly. For a film that is supposed to deal with the challenges of being adults while still holding on to your past, the film shows us surprisingly little growth in any of the characters, an aspect that I was immensely disappointed in. Something tells me that the American Pie gang will return in the near future, the film dropping a less than subtle hint about a sequel in the final frame (Seriously, what else do any of these actors or actresses have to do?). In the end, it’s still the same old comedy that you knew in high school but now with visible crows feet.