by Steve Habrat
Almost any movie buff can tell you that January and February are far from the most exciting movie months of the year. Outside of a few Oscar nominees finally receiving the wide release treatment, audiences are stuck with—and astonishingly flock to—clichéd comedies, cable-channel action movies, vapid romantic comedies, and stiff horror movies that should have remained in their coffins. It’s extremely difficult to find a diamond in the rough, but every so often, one shimmering winner shines brightly through the piles of garbage. This year’s diamond in the rough is The Lego Movie, a rainbow explosion of sugary visuals and Adult Swim humor tailored for those far too young to know what Adult Swim is. Refreshingly weird, fast paced, and quick witted, The Lego Movie is an animated jewel that almost demands to be seen twice just so audience members young and old can appreciate the clever script from directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller. It’s also a hallucinogenic tribute to soaring superheroes, pop culture icons, and cinematic classics that audiences have all come to know and adore over the years. Did I mention that it boasts an A-list cast enthusiastically lending their voices to these little plastic wonders, and that it also sends a wonderful message to children about the power of imagination?
The Lego Movie introduces us to everyman Emmet (voiced by Chris Pratt), a happy-go-lucky construction worker who always follows his instruction manual for conforming to the world around him. Despite Emmet’s best attempts to fit in with the rest of the citizens of his Lego world, the bouncy little guy always seems like the odd man out. One evening, while leaving work, Emmet spots a mysterious girl called Wyldstyle (voiced by Elizabeth Banks) snooping around the construction site. As Emmet goes to approach Wyldstyle, he slips down a hole in the ground, and comes face to face with a glowing red brick called the Piece of Resistance. Entranced by it’s beauty, Emmet attempts to touch the Piece of Resistance, but when he does, he passes out and wakes up in the clutches of Bad Cop (voiced by Liam Neeson), who is the muscle for Lord Business (voiced by Will Farrell), the sinister president of the Lego world. While being interrogated by Bad Cop, Emmet learns that the Piece of Resistance has attached itself to his back, and that Lord Business possesses a weapon called the Kragle, which is capable of freezing the entire Lego universe. Emmet is soon rescued by Wyldstyle, who takes him to meet the Master Builders—a group of heroes capable of building anything they can dream of. Among the Master Builders are a wizard called Vitruvius (voiced by Morgan Freeman), Batman (voiced by Will Arnett), the pirate Iron Beard (voiced by Nick Offerman), the overly positive Princess Uni-Kitty (voiced by Alison Brie), and ‘80s spaceman Benny (voiced by Charlie Day). It is with the Master Builders that Emmett learns that he is the “Special,” the one who can save every man, woman, and creature from Lord Business’ evil plot.
The Lego Movie’s hyperactive style and rapid-fire jokes will mostly certainly turn off viewers who aren’t open to this sort of thing. But for those willing to open their imagination to what Lord and Miller have thrown up on the screen, the rewards will stretch far beyond the film’s runtime. It’s almost a given that children will be powerless against its 200-mile-per-hour pacing and the barrage of characters both old and new zipping across the screen, but the filmmakers don’t forget about the parents or those (possibly inebriated) audience members looking for a hearty dose of artistic vision. Adult DC Comics fans are sure to have just as much fun as the kids as Batman, Superman, Wonder Woman, and Green Lantern flash across the screen and cleverly poke fun at themselves, while Star Wars fans will certainly have a chuckle at one joke that flickers with Family Guy’s sense of humor. For those who spend their evenings in a marijuana cloud watching Adult Swim, the film’s bloodshot psychedelics and self-aware jabs will have them doubled over in their seats as trippy graphics and sly pop culture references leap out in 3D and call upon the spirit of Seth Green’s dementedly anarchic Robot Chicken. This strange brew may sound like an acquired taste, but rest assured when I tell you that there is a brilliant last act twist that helps this dizzying concoction of caffeinated inspiration go down smoothly.
When it comes to discussing the The Lego Movie’s wide array of characters, there is a long line of A-list actors lending their vocal chords to these little marvels. Chris Pratt brings his man-child charms to Emmet, our everyman hero who proudly stands behind his idea for a double decker couch. Will Arnett lends his gruff voice to Batman, growling the expected “I’m Batman” line with an extra sprinkling of cheese. He’s easily the most fun character of the bunch, mostly because he’s so overly confident even when he’s botching his batarang throws. Elizabeth Banks makes Wyldstyle an instant plastic sweetheart with a rough and tough side. Little girls in the audience are sure to adore her as she flips, spins, punches, and kicks her way through an army of robotic bad guys. Charlie Day screeches his way through the role of Benny, the ‘80s space man who desperately wants to build the crew a retro rocket ship. Alison Brie’s coo and unpredictable mood swings make Princess Uni-Kitty downright hilarious, as she is in constant turmoil with her excessive positivity. Morgan Freeman offers his trademark vocal talents to Vitruvius, a wise but slightly spaced-out wizard with eyesight complications. Will Farrell brings his maniacal cackle to Lord Business, snarling playful threats to our heroes and his endless supply of henchmen. Liam Neeson rounds out the main cast as Bad Cop, the hushed muscle of Lord Business who will suddenly unleash his peppy side.
While The Lego Movie’s razor-sharp sense of humor makes it an instant winner, the real refresher here is the amazing animation that offers a nice change of pace from the computerized creations from Disney, Pixar, and DreamWorks. Though the characters and the world around them are brought to life with CGI magic, the film never truly looks like it was brought to life with a computer program. It looks like we are watching a stop motion miracle—a toy store Lego display that has suddenly leapt to crude life and started interacting with us. The filmmakers don’t forget to smartly call attention to the Lego figurine’s flexibility limits, most memorably with Emmet’s hysterical jumping jacks that he starts his day out with. The constant swirl of colors, characters, and action is all brought home with a thumping title track called “Everything is AWESOME!!” from Tegan and Sara, an indie rock duo who provide a electronic dance track that is sure to be an instant favorite in your family. Overall, with so many animated features struggling to win the hearts of both adults and children, The Lego Movie stands tall as a shining example of how to appeal to all ages. It dares to get a little weird, a little wild, and a little satirical, but it does it with plenty of heart and intelligence, sending an enduring message about the power and importance of imagination.
by Steve Habrat
Finally, a summer comedy worth laughing hard about! Funnyguys Will Farrell and Zach Galifianakis team up for a short but (really) sweet political satire in The Campaign, cleverly released just three short months before the presidential election, right in the thick of battle for the White House. Pitting these two buffoons against each other is comedic gold and under the direction of Jay Roach, the film manages to have a soft side that really made me fall for it despite the consistent string of jaw dropping obscenities and playground tomfoolery. A step in the right direction for both of these titans of comedy, The Campaign refuses to play dumb like the two candidates duking it out at the heart of the film. As Roach guides things along, The Campaign evolves into a witty prod of the absurdities of a political race, at times feeling a little too real despite the all the childish behavior. The Campaign also comes as a major relief because it was released just in the nick of time to make up for the sorry state of funnies in 2012. Any film that has a tiny baby taking one in the kisser by Mr. Farrell runs off with my vote.
After leaving a sexually explicit message on an innocent family’s answering machine, long-term democratic Congressman Cam Brady (Played by Will Farrell) finds himself in hot water with the public. Since his careless slip has occurred right before the upcoming election, two wealthy and corrupt CEOs (Played by John Lithgow and Dan Aykroyd) see a way to finally push clueless Cam out of office and use the election as part of a plan to profit from shady deals that they have made with the Chinese. They set their sights on the equally clueless Marty Huggins (Played by Zach Galifianakis), the sensitive tourism director for their small town. Backed by a no-nonsense campaign manager named Tim Wattley (Played by Dylan McDermott), the conservative Marty has to get aggressive against the ruthless Brady fast in order to win over the public’s vote. Things start out civil but take a turn for the disastrous when the two candidates cross paths, locking them in a never ending game of tug of war that finds them resorting to childish tricks and putdowns to win the election. May the best comedian win!
While it is business as usual for both Farrell and Galifianakis, it is business that is right at home in The Campaign. Here, Farrell is great as an idiotic man-child who doesn’t seem to understand the severity of his behavior and Galifiankis is on point with his lisping naivety that just never clicked for me in The Hangover. You’ll feel for poor Marty when he first meets with cold-hearted Cam at a brunch that finds Cam going for the throat of his opponent. The jabs are hysterical, one of the best coming from Cam who accuses Marty of being a communist because he owns (and adores) two pugs. When Marty realizes that the gloves need to come off and the brass knuckles need to be put on, the sweet natured Marty dishes out his fair share of insults. While we expect this abrasive behavior from Cam, it begins to be a bit painful to see Marty resorting to the same style of politics. Marty becomes almost monstrous in his attacks at Cam, the lowest being his accusations that Cam is a lousy father (you have to see it to believe it). Roach and his screenwriters, Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, avoid repetition by revealing the emotional bruises that are left by each insult hurled, something I was pleasantly surprised with. It really allows The Campaign to have it both ways, raunchy gonzo comedy for those looking for an escapist laugh and substantial satire for those who like their chuckles with a side of intellect.
While the big name leads keep things spunky for the eighty-five minute runtime, the supporting comics all have their moments too. It was nice to see Lithgow and Aykroyd really playing it up as two slimy suits that warn that money and big business control the election. It is said with a wink in all the theatrical madness but it coldly cuts through you to the point where you half suspect your vote doesn’t make a bit of difference in the real world. Brian Cox as Marty’s disappointed father who enjoys cocaine and multiple afternoon cocktails was also a welcome presence even if he does spend much of the film exasperated with Marty. McDermott almost steals the show with his domineering Tim, the campaign manager from Hell. When he steps on the scene and begins tinkering with Marty’s life, things really get fun. He overshadows the rather forgettable Jason Sudeikis as Mitch, Cam’s close friend and campaign manager. I’ve never been particularly smitten with his brand of comedy and he didn’t really do anything out of the ordinary to really win me over here. Katherine LaNasa has strong presence as Cam’s fiendish wife Rose, who gladly accepts big checks to stick by her unfaithful man. Rounding out the supporters is Sarah Baker as Marty’s bashful wife Mitzi, a gal who weakens in the knees for both Drew Carrey and Cam. 30 Rock’s Jack McBrayer also stops by in a small cameo that ends up being one of the funniest sequences in the entire film. I’d love to see him get his own project one day but I have a gut feeling that too much of him could be a bad thing.
After the disappointing Dictator, the revolting That’s My Boy, lumpy Ted, and lackluster Watch, The Campaign is an absolutely glowing adult comedy despite the handful of flaws that can be found throughout. There are a few points where Farrell flies wildly off the rails, taking things further than he needed to and killing the moment. It happens only a few times and you quickly forget about it. Farrell’s problem is that he gets on a role and begins to run the joke into the ground but I guess it comes with adlibbing. There is more emphasis put on him in the middle section of the film while Galifianakis twiddles his thumbs in the corner and patiently waits for his turn. I’d say that Galifianakis gets the upper hand through a good majority of The Campaign but Farrell is always a very close second, eager to not be completely outdone. It just boils down to range and there is no question that Galifianakis has Farrell there. I also found the side plot involving those slippery CEOs to be thinly written and completely overlooked during the middle of the film. I can confidently say that you have not seen all the funniest moments in the laugh-out-loud trailer that has been running all summer long and there will be more than a few jokes that linger once the film has left the theater. Overall, The Campaign has more than a few surprises up its sleeve and the fact that it actually sends you away thinking is a major positive. You won’t simply be swapping your favorite one-liners with your buddies and wiping away tears of laughter from Farrell’s baby punch heard round the world.