8 posts categorized "1 jalapeño"


'Last Vegas,' where laughs go to die

Kevin Kline, left, Morgan Freeman, Robert De Niro and Michael Douglas go through the motions in "Last Vegas." (CBS Films)
Last Vegas sounded like such a fun, silly idea at first. 

Four lifelong buddies of an advanced age head to Las Vegas to celebrate the upcoming marriage of one of their own to a 30ish woman less than half his age.

Unfortunately, even with accomplished actors Robert De Niro, Kevin Kline, Morgan Freeman, Michael Douglas and Mary Steenburgen out front, Last Vegas plays like a tired, last-gasp effort of fading movie stars chasing a fleeing spotlight.

 Sure, it had to be what has been referred to by some – including this critic – as a “geezer” version of The Hangover, which has finally run its course (thank goodness) after three outings.

The only sliver of good news here is that there is no way Last Vegas should even return for one encore.  In fact, this desperate attempt at elder comedy, best friend camaraderie and looking for love in all the wrong places shouldn’t have even found the light of a projector.

Let me put it this way, if you’ve seen the trailer you’ve seen all the funny, borderline funny and watchable parts of Last Vegas.  Douglas, as Billy, the groom-to-be, De Niro (Paddy, Billy’s anger-consumed former best friend), Freeman (Archie, the heavily medicated one who loves to drink and dance), Kline (Sam, who has a “free pass” to cheat on his wife) and Steenburgen (the kindly aging Vegas lounge songbird) should have all told their agents to pass on this project; or at the very least demanded a better script.

Director Jon Turteltaub, who has found some success entertaining the masses with the National Treasure franchise of comic-adventures, can’t find anything to show movie-goers about Las Vegas we haven’t seen before.  Even worse, the script by Dan Fogelman (Crazy, Stupid, Love) relies on too many clichés – December/May engagement, mentally sparring best friends, true love waiting where someone least expects it – fails to keep this dismal attempt at sentimental comedy interesting.

Failed comedy is never pretty, but this one is ugly enough to hurt.

Save your money.  The reason has very little to do with the fact that this group of actors are all of a certain age.  For some reason, they all hitched their stars to a turkey.


MPAA rating:  PG-13 (profanity, sexual content)

105 minutes

Jalapeño rating:  1 (out of 4)


There's no real 'Dilemma'; stay away

The next few may not be happy days for Ron Howard.

"The Dilemma," an unfunny buddy comedy teaming Vince Vaughn and Kevin James, is a clunker.

The only joy -- and it's minute -- comes from watching some decent actors work.  Vaughn can carry a comedy given a fair chance.  Unfortunately, he doesn't get one here.

James?  Frankly, I'm cooling on the former TV sitcom star ("King of Queens") as a viable big-screen force.

The women fare better in supporting roles.  Jennifer Connelly, an Oscar winner for "A Beautiful Mind" in 2001, provides a steady presence as Beth, Vaughn's live-in girlfriend.

The brightest force in an otherwise dismal visit to the movie house, however, is provided by Winona Ryder as Geneva, James' wife with wandering eyes.

Ronny (Vaughn) and Nick (James) are pals since college who design automobile engines.  They have a big deal with Chrysler working if they can dodge  serious bumps in their personal life highway.

That's not so easy.  Ronny is a recovering gambling addict.  When he catches Nick's wife cheating on his best pal, Ronny's crisis over whether to spill his guts to his best friend is misunderstood by those around him as a retreat to his old gambling ways.

If it hasn't occurred to you yet that this list of serious life obstacles might be a little difficult to milk entertainment yuks from, don't fret.  Howard, the usually fine and, might I add, Academy Award winning director ( "A Beautiful Mind," "Apollo 13"), may not fully realize it either until box-office returns don't exactly come rushing in.  (If they do, then my bad.)

"The Dilemma" is aptly titled for the very reasons described above.  I wasn't just bored.  I felt let down by usually reliable filmmakers and, frankly, in an unpleasant place much of the time.

Alsso, Queen Latifah fans should know that Ms. Latifah is only around for a couple of scenes.  So don't bother.

In Vince Vaughn-speak, "The Dilemma" is not money.  It's cinematic chump change. 


Short takes: 'Get Low,' 'Love Ranch'

Lowpicuse Every small town seems to have a legend bouncing around -- perhaps for decades -- about the town grump, or hermit or outlaw.

Felix Bush, portrayed without a flaw by Oscar-winner Robert Duvall in the period heartfelt drama "Get Low," however, is based on the real thing.

In the late 1930s, Felix "Bush" mostly stayed to himself in the backwoods near Kingston, Tenn.  His only companion was his mule.  Fearing death in his old age, Felix paid for a funeral "party" and turned the offbeat proceeding into a lottery, which attracted a huge crowd from miles around.

You should know going in that "Get Low" is not a happy-go-lucky story, despite the co-starring performance by Bill Murray as opportunistic funeral home owner Frank Quinn.

"Get Low" also features a solid performance by Oscar-winner Sissy Spacek, who plays a woman from Bush's past who returns to town just in time for his final, premature farewell.

Summing up:  Excellent acting; a heartfelt delight.

3 jalapeños out of 4.  100 minutes.  Rated PG-13 for some thematic material and brief violent content.

(Bill Murray, left, and Robert Duvall photo courtesy:  Sony Pictures Classics) 

Very little critical love for 'Love Ranch'

Ranchrevuse I'm not going to lie.  I had high hopes going into the based-on-truth drama "Love Ranch," and feelings of major disappointment once the closing credits rolled.

Question to self:  How can the rock-solid director of "An Officer and a Gentleman," "Against All Odds," "Dolores Claiborne" and the excellent Ray Charles musical biopic "Ray" let something like this happen.

Especially with his real-life wife, Oscar winner Helen Mirren (for "The Queen" in 2006), in the lead role.  Mirren and Joe Pesci attempt to portray Grace and Charlie Bontempo, the husband-and-wife owners of Nevada's first legalized brothel in the late-1970s.

The acting is flatter than the Nevada desert.  The dialogue by screenwriter Mark Jacobson is mundane and the production itself feels like something put on by a small-town theater group on an off night.

Summing up:  One of the worst films of 2010.

1 jalapeño out of 4.  94 minutes.  Rated R for sexual content, pervasive language and some violence.

(Joe Pesci, left, Helen Mirren photo courtesy:  E1 Entertainment) 


Boys, even as 'Grown Ups,' will be boring

What do you get when you send a gaggle of decent comics and a dozen or so support players out to a lake house to make a movie comedy about old pals?

Not much.  And, oh yeah, "Grown Ups."

Adam Sandler, who played a comedian who thought he was dying last year in "Funny People," really does die comically in this dismal ensemble series of tasteless sight gags about passed gas, a dog with his vocal chords slashed and an arrow through the foot (not once, but twice).

And, oh yeah, Sandler's comic pals Kevin James, Chris Rock, David Spade and Rob Schneider die right along with him, as do former "Saturday Night Live" alums Maya Rudolph, Colin Quinn, Tim Meadows, Tim Herlihy and Norm Macdonald.

The idea, co-written by Sandler and former "Saturday Night Live" scribe Fred Wolf ("Strange Wilderness," "Without a Paddle" and "Joe Dirt," if that tells you anything) is this.

Five starters on a boys basketball team reunite 30 years later at the lake house where they celebrated a city championship.  They bring their families.  In the rush to pack, however, they forgot to bring the funny.

Comedy is hard.  Ensemble comedy is even harder because the jokes must be divvied up.  Sadly, "Grown Ups" is just hard to watch.

Even though this movie has a script and is allegedly directed by Dennis Dugan ("Happy Gilmore," but also "I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry"), it wanders aimlessly through trite lowbrow humor and boys-will-be-boys gawk sessions at some of the females in the cast.

Speaking of the women unfortunate enough to be part of all this, Maria Bello ("Thank You for Smoking," "A History of Violence") draws some laughs as "got milk" mama Sally Lamonsoff.  Salma Hayek, now acting under her married name Salma Hayek Pinault, doesn't embarrass herself as Roxanne, Sandler's on screen fashion designer wife.

"Grown Ups" reminds me of the awful 2004 con-man comedy "The Big Bounce."  Owen Wilson, Charlie Sheen, Morgan Freeman and country crooner Willie Nelson all looked like they were having a blast hanging out in Hawaii for that one.  But the movie sucked.

Change the beach to a Massachusetts lake front and the players to Sandler and the gang (including his wife and kids in small roles), and the results are unfortunately the same.

A good time must have been had by all ... on the set.  Not so much for those of us in the audience, though.


A 'Nightmare' on a film screen

The scariest word associated with the new "Nightmare on Elm Street" is not fright, sleep, blood or even die.

The word that sends chills up my spine is "reinvention."

Wes Craven's 1984 original wasn't perfect, but it combined two monumental elements of cinematic fright night -- slasher gore and the notion of killer nightmares -- with grisly comic one-liners.

Samuel Bayer's do-over with the unfortunate Jackie Earle Haley under the melted-skin makeup as gleeful nightmare rider Freddy does absolutely nothing to advance the horror staple.  If anything, the new "A Nightmare on Elm Street" could condemn the franchise neighborhood itself.

Once again, a Springwood teenager named Nancy (Rooney Mara of "Youth in Revolt" in for Heather Langenkamp of the original) and a gaggle of her classmates are having disturbing nightmares.

A horribly melted-skin guy with knives for a hand, a red and green sweater and a battered fedora (Robert Englund in past installments) taunts and haunts them in their sleep.  They try to stay awake.  As they discover one by one, however, Freddy Krueger's serious about wielding revenge for an event that occurred years earlier, when the teens were Badham Preschool students in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Veteran screenwriter Wesley Strick ("Final Analysis" in 1992) and first-timer Eric Heisserer combine efforts for this flat, flimsy revision.  The biggest victim here is not the young actors who are, for the most part, stalked and slashed into bloody oblivion by the vengeful Freddy, but the actor under the scarred makeup.

By reinventing the Freddy Krueger back-story, first-time director Samuel Bayer (Need I say it?  A music video and TV commercial helmer) and the writers allow Haley, their leading man-slayer, to suffer the most.

Haley, the former 1970s child star ("The Bad News Bears," "Breaking Away") and San Antonio, TX resident, re-emerged as an actor to be reckoned with and drew his first Oscar nomination as Ronnie, the sex offender, in "Little Children" of 2006.

This is a step back (way back) for the gifted Haley (also behind a mask in "Watchmen").  That's primarily because this restructured plot borrows heavily from one of Haley's recent past performances to move this plot forward through the blood-and-gore sludge.

Despite Haley's effort, Freddy's "comic" lines are as stale as this entire lifeless, humorless failed "reinvention."

Note to new filmmakers looking to make a name for themselves:  If you must "reinvent," take a lousy old film and make it sparkle.

Even in the horror genre, gutting a classic for a quick buck just doesn't cut it anymore. 


Clooney loony in failed military dramedy

Invest in "The Men Who Stare at Goats" and you'll spend most of your time staring at a dog; a dog of the week.

George Clooney's first starring vehicle of the fall/winter movie season falls flatter than a poorly prepared pancake.  Take heart, though, Clooney fans.  "Up In the Air," Clooney's other '09 entry opening next month, is funny, insightful and pretty much perfect.

But first this offbeat hippie-dippy military intelligence tale that opens with, "More of this is true than you would believe."

Fine.  I only wish more of it was funny, or clever or intriguing enough to hold an audience's attention.

Clooney may have second thoughts about handing off the directing reins for "Goats" to Grant Heslov, Clooney's producing/writing partner in Smokehouse Productions.

I'm not sure anyone could turn Jon Ronson's non-fiction best seller of paranormal activity, "The Men Who Stare at Goats," into anything resembling mainstream movie entertainment.  Rambling and mind-numbing boring most of the time, it follows an Ann Arbor, Mich. newspaper reporter (Ewan McGregor) as he follows former military intelligence guy (Clooney) into Iraq on a bumbling secret mission in 2003.

As this disappointing movie experience slowly revealed itself to be the waste of time it is, I couldn't help thinking of some military comic satires that got it right:  "Dr. Strangelove," of course.  But there's also Robert Altman's big-screen version of "M*A*S*H" and, more recently, "Wag the Dog."  

Clooney has been to Iraq before on the big screen.  He was following a map in search of gold shortly after the first Gulf War in David O. Russell's "Three Kings" of 1999.  Clooney's Lyn Cassady, a shadowy figure who can stare a goat to death, has no clue where he's headed this time.

That's strange since the shining star of an experimental U.S. military unit -- a unit of hippies, really -- led by "shaman" Bill Django (Jeff Bridges, who deserves better) can bust up clouds just by staring at them.

As Clooney and McGregor (as reporter Bob Wilton) wander the Iraqi sands (actually, New Mexico), they encounter key figures in a puzzle without plausibility or sustained interest.  Sadly, Heslov shows no reason why he should hop into a director's chair again anytime soon.

The director even fails to seize an opportunity for an easy laugh.  Clooney's New Age mental soldiers are referred to as Jedi Warriors.  Since McGregor played Jedi Warrior Obi-Wan Kenobi in three "Star Wars" prequels, why not a little wink-at-the-audience fun?

Kevin Spacey, a two-time Oscar winner ("American Beauty," "The Usual Suspects"), takes on renegade psychic Larry Hooper, while Robert Patrick ("Balls of Fury," "Terminator 2"), the nicest cinematic bad guy you'll ever meet, smiles while a firefight erupts around him.

These actors, from Clooney on down, are all near-death wanderers in the desert.  Water would be nice, but the only thing that can really save them is a coherent script.  That never pops up.

Not even as a mirage.


A little bit of 'Hate' goes a long way

"I Hate Valentine's Day" is written and directed by Nia Vardalos, the "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" star. 
Vardalos is also out front with an annoying Miss Congeniality forced grin pasted on her face throughout.

Vardalos, in the director's chair for the first time, brings back John Corbett, her "Greek Wedding" co-star.  Let's be kind and just say that "Valentine's Day" doesn't repeat the creative and financial success vows of "Wedding" in 2002.

This new so-called romantic-comedy wouldn't upset the psyche quite so much if it didn't arrive on the heels of Vardalos' previous inept comedy, "My Life in Ruins" (June 5).

In "I Hate Valentine's Day," Vardalos sets herself up as overly cheerful Brooklyn flower shop owner Genevieve Gernier.  Genevieve chirps on and on about how much she loves the corporate-manufactured holiday to her openly gay (and over-stated) co-workers played by Stephen Guarino and Amir Arison. 

A bevy of neighbors and friends come to Genevieve for dating advice, despite the fact that she's a single woman of semi-substantial age.

She has a strict rule about dating.  Five dates are fine.  But anything beyond that just leads to heartache.  So she always breaks it off after five dates.

Genevieve's dating disciples include Tammy (Zoe Kazan of "Revolutionary Road") and Kathy, portrayed by former "Saturday Night Live" cast member Rachel Dratch.  Dratch had the misfortune to also appear in "My Life in Ruins."  If you knew that, you have my condolences.

That's all filler, really.  "Valentine's Day" is all about the "Take Two" on-screen relationship between Vardalos and Corbett.  Greg (Corbett), unlucky in love lately, opens up a tapas restaurant down the street and, of course, wanders into the flower shop.

The only thing even remotely funny here is the running joke about the name of Greg's restaurant (Get on Tapas) and the fact that no one gets the play on words.

Sadly, there is no repeat strike of the much-hoped-for lightning in a bottle for Corbett and Vardalos. 
Corbett, whose big-screen career has sputtered lately, appears to be fighting the duality of being glad to have an acting gig, but knowing the creative drivel he's involved in.

Vardalos makes no significant creative impact as a first-time director.  Frankly, some of her choices both as a filmmaker and leading lady boggle the mind.  Perhaps to offset the notion that she's coming across as Lucille Ball lite, Vardalos sexes up her performance. 
A scene where her skirt lifts to reveal her undergarments in front of Corbett's restaurant window is embarrassing and uncomfortable to watch.  And it seems to last a tick or two beyond forever.

I'm OK with Valentine's Day, but I'm beginning to grimace with the mere mention of another Nia Vardalos movie.


Where there's a weak spoof, there's a Wayans

Clear the floor, "Dance Flick" passes the gross-out comic baton to the next generation of Wayans kin.

Rarely funny, this spoof of every dance movie you can imagine from "You Got Served" to "Step Up" with major twisted homage to "Fame," "High School Musical" and "Hairspray" relies instead on gut-reaction shock laughs.

If you've seen the trailer and you've seen pregnant battle dancer Charity (Essence Atkins) spin around on her tummy and then pop a smiling baby across the dance floor, you know the kind of kick-in-the-groin humor you're in for here.

The problem is, it rarely works.

Damien Dante Wayans (son of sibling Elvira Wayans), who toiled a while on TV's "My Wife and Kids," calls the erratic, wise-cracking shots.  Damon Wayans Jr. is out front as Thomas Uncles (nicknamed Uncle Tom, of course), a street dancer/thug who might just turn his life around via dancing if he can stay alive long enough.

Thomas hooks up with clumsy would-be dancer Megan White at Musical High School.  TV actress Shoshana Bush takes on the role inspired -- No, let's say ripped-off -- from Julia Stiles character in "Save the Last Dance."

The only character consistently funny in all this is extremely gifted comedienne Amy Sedaris.  Sedaris, who no longer needs to prove she's fearless after starring in "Strangers With Candy" in 2005, lets it all hang out as the school's dance instructor.  Let's just say she wears her leotards way too tight.

Her name:  Ms. Cameltoe.

'Nuff said?

Nothing else even comes close to comic inspiration.  This second generation of spoofing Wayanses turns out to be as lame as the last.  The older Wayans had some success with the "Scary Movie" franchise, but also bestowed turkeys like "White Chicks" and "Little Man" on moviegoers.

Spend good money on this one if you must.  But remember this:
If you do, they're gonna git you sucka.