Thursday, November 27, 2014

NOT TOO HORRIBLE: "Horrible Bosses 2" Entertains Despite Improvisational Excess

Some films demand a sequel. Some films work as a "done-in-one". Some films get a sequel despite having been a "done-in-one." Horrible Bosses 2 belongs in that last category.  The bumbling would-be murders from the first film, womanizer Kurk Buckman (Jason Sudeikis), terminal worrywart Dale Arbrus (Charlie Day), and their ostensibly level-headed, eternally put-upon leader Nick Hendricks (Jason Bateman), trade in homicide for kidnapping in this unnecessary though fun sequel. The boys attempt to go into business for themselves, having tired of working for bosses (horrible or otherwise) and opt to go into entrepreneurship with a device called the "Shower Buddy". When shopping tycoon Bert Hanson manages to trick them into a deal that will leave them without the rights or profits to their invention, the trio enlist the dubious help of Dean "M*****F*****" Jones (Jamie Foxx), who advises them to kidnap Hanson's obnoxious prick of a son, Rex (Chris Pine) and hold him for ransom in an attempt to save their interests. 

Directed by Seth Gordon, the film's strength stems from its players, which also include Bosses alumni Jennifer Aniston as sex-addicted Dr. Julia Harris, and Kevin Spacey as the murderously irrascible Dave Harken. The camaraderie between the big three of Bateman, Sudeikis, and Day is evident in the performances. Unfortunately, not all of that camraderie translates to laughs. This time around, there's more of an improvisational aesthetic in their scenes together. It seems they were given more room to play; however, Gordon did not seem to know when to cut recess short. At times they go on so long (and are painfully unfunny), that you inadvertently feel Nick's frustration at his buddies, like emotional Smell-O-Vision. It's not to say that the actors are bad. The give-and-take between the three is genuine. You get the sense that these guys have the same chemistry in real life as their characters do and, for the most part, they're a pleasure to watch work...most of the time. It's when they veer off-script that the film's flow derails. It would be better if the improv'ed material were up to par. Some of what ended up on screen would have been better off on the cutting room floor. 

The true laughs from the film come from the supporting players. Aniston's Harris is now a nymphomainiac-in-recovery, but she only pays that lip service...among other things. She gamely steps out of her personal comfort zone to hilarious result.  Foxx' MF'er Jones character is given much more to do this time around and fulfills the character's promise only hinted at in the first film. Meahwhile, his Django Unchanined co-star Waltz plays the elder Hanson with matter-of-fact smarm. He treats his character straight, his "it's only business" sociopathy so throughly banal, one can't help not to hate him. The biggest surprise here, however, is Chris Pine; an odd thing to say, given that Pine has proven himself to be a very charming, convincing, and capable actor. However, he is so in sync with the three stars that it seems almost as if he's always been a part of the ensemble. The foursome mesh so well together, you can't help but get drawn in to their scenes together. 

The story itself, from a screenplay by Sean Anders and John Morris, is a convoluted affair, with enough twists to give one whiplash. Had the editing been tighter, it would have been a smooth ride. When it's off, it's off. But when it's on, the comedy's on full cylinders; especially as it leads towards the climax. Some of it is farfetched, but it's appropriate to the lunacy that typifies this film franchise.

Horrible Bosses 2 is a good film. Pacing issues and lack of actor restrainmt keep it from being a great comedy, but it is on par with the first. Just sit back, roll your eyes along with Jason Bateman when necessary, and relax. It won't be a "horrible" experence. 

Saturday, November 8, 2014


A children's story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children's story in the slightest.” – C.S. Lewis.

Big Hero 6 is the first Disney-animated production based on a Marvel Comics property but there’s a reason why it’s called “Disney’s Big Hero 6”…The final product is barely recognizable from the source material, having been reimagined as a family film.  The tale follows Hiro Hamada (Ryan Potter), a boy genius and robotics prodigy who uses his unique skills to hustle robot fights until an intervention by his brother Tadashi (Daniel Henney) gets him interested in becoming accepted into a prestigious robotics university run by science guru Robert Callaghan (James Cromwell). When his prototype nanotechnology is stolen by a menacing Kabuki-masked villain, young Hiro enlists the aid of his brother’s prototype medical soft robot Baymax and Tadashi’s colleagues Fred the geek (T.J. Miller); Go Go, the extreme sports enthusiast, (Jamie Chung); Wasabi, an OCD neat freak (Damon Wayans, Jr.); and chemicals specialist Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez) to ferret out how and why.

At the center of all this is Baymax, a plastic Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man primed for toy exploitation, who is as cute and cuddly as a Madagascarian penguin.  However, this ingratiating adorableness is achieved without being cloying manipulative, which is definitely attributable to the character’s minimalist rendering combined with guileless vocal performance by Scott Adsit.

To be truthful, co-directors Don Hall and Chris Williams know when to be big and when to bring the action down and have an impeccable sense of comic timing. They know when to let the story breath, and when to let it rip. The animation is so good it can almost be mistaken for a Pixar entry. San Fransokyo, setting of the film, is presented as a pseudo, animated Epcot whose design is emblematic of the film’s Asian and occidental pastiche, with the comparison to the theme park made even more apparent by Henry Jackman’s (possibly) “World Showcase” inspired score. The CGI, 3D renderings of location and character represent their hybrid influences without favoring one or the other. Given the amount of futuristic dirigibles that line the city’s skyline, a bit of Gotham City thrown in for good measure. It is so distinctive it is a character in and of itself much like Basin City and the aforementioned Gotham in their respective film franchises.

However, the city seems to have more character than the principals. The film is somewhat uneven in terms of plot and characterization. Granted, the story is well executed, exemplifying all the hallmarks of both the Disney story-telling template and the anime tropes thrown into the mix. However, unlike other similar films (Pixar’s Up and this film’s spiritual counterpart, The Incredibles, immediately come to mind), the balance between pathos and exhilaration is not well balanced. For example, when the requisite loss does take place, the impact is not as profound as would be found in previous Disney efforts (though no less poignant). To their credit, they present Hiro as a genius prodigy without making him overbearing. He’s rather likable; as are his teammates, though they are more personality traits than actual personalities, otherwise far too familiar to anyone who has seen any iteration of a Japanese super-team template. Though, when they have to “Teen Titans Go Go Go Power Rangers” mode, it’s entertaining to watch. In fact, they manage to present an antagonist as menacing as those in the upper echelons of Disney’s villainous Pantheon while, at the same time, provide poignant commentary about the darkening of characters (and super heroes) that need no such treatment.

Does it work as a story/film for both children and adults? Despite a couple of narrative and casting blips, the answer is an absolute “yes”. Big Hero 6 is a film that has a sense of fun and heart that breezes by so fast, you actually wish there were more to watch. Judging from the screening I attended, the primary audience the film is intended for gave it resounding, and loud, squeals of delight. It appeals to both the child and adult within us.

So yes, Baymax; I am satisfied with my care.