40 posts categorized "raunchy comedy"


'Whiskey Tango Foxtrot,' an intoxicating war drama

Lance Cpl. Andrew Coughlin (Evan Jonigkeit) and Kim Baker (Tina Fey) use their weapons of choice in a "Whiskey Tango Foxtrot" firefight. (Paramount Pictures)

Here’s my only real beef with Whiskey Tango Foxtrot: It’s a witty, gritty war-correspondent drama posing, or more appropriately being marketed, as a comedy, which it is not.

Is it because Tina Fey, one of our most gifted comedians, is out front as a stateside cable news producer thrown into the explosive turmoil of the Afghanistan war zone in the early 2000s?

Could it be because the co-directors, Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, co-wrote the hilarious darkly comic Bad Santa and aimed for something like the late Robert Altman’s comic-war drama MASH of 1970?

Well, “Atten-hut,” film-making soldiers. What you have marched to the screen here is a superbly nuanced drama (with occasional comic turns, granted) about a cable news desk jockey.

Kim Baker (Fey) is a producer so mired down in a life where she “writes news copy for dumb pretty people to read” that she’s willing to venture to a war-torn country where fecal matter actually permeates the air. She’s not quite as emotionally bottomed-out as Tom Hanks’ character was when he agreed to leap into a fiery volcano in Joe Versus the Volcano (1990), but she’s close.

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is based on print journalist Kim Barker’s 400-page The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Screenwriter Robert Carlock, an Emmy winner for his work on NBC’s 30 Rock, which also starred Fey, focuses on the author’s sometimes horrifying adventures in war-ravaged Afghanistan.

Baker, asked point blank by fellow war correspondent Tanya Vanderpoel (Margot Robbie of Focus and The Wolf of Wall Street) if she can borrow Baker’s video crew for sex, is tossed first into the Fun House, a sex, booze and caustic comic dormitory of sorts for war reporters, then the war itself. Fitting in as a seasoned journalist is out of the question at first. She marches off to war with a bright orange backpack and fatigues that still have a store label on the pants leg.

But a funny thing happens once Whiskey Tango Foxtrot gets past all the slightly irritating stabs at dark war comedy. A beautiful drama emerges. Fey, as so many comedians are, turns out to be a superb dramatic actor. She plants her feet solidly in this conflicted character who becomes a seasoned war reporter in a hurry and may just become a little too intoxicated by the rush of real explosive danger.

In fact, this is a film overflowing with funny folks who are also gifted dramatic actors. Billy Bob Thornton, who played (and will play again next Christmas) the title character in Bad Santa, is outstanding here as Marine Col. Walter Hollanek, a leader with a constant 2,000-yard stare and a devotion to his men and duty.

Even though this film was shot in New Mexico, it captures the filth, the poverty, the desperation and the conflict of the Middle East extremely well. One of the things it does best is reveal Baker’s view of what she witnessed there as a journalist embedded in the chaos.

Extremely gifted actor Alfred Molina (Love is Strange) is so immersed in his character of budding government official Ali Massoud Sadiq that he’s almost impossible to recognize. Up-and-comer Christopher Abbott (A Most Violent Year) might just find that his performance as Fahim Ahmadzai, Baker’s fixer (interview arranger) is a catapult to stardom.

Martin Freeman (Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit series), as flirty, quick-witted photographer Iain MacKelpie, and Fey create some real screen magic as two lost souls flailing about trying to find some direction in their lives amid the madness of war.

Despite the fact that the filmmakers even make a feeble inside joke with the first letters of the military lingo title, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (You get it, right?), this film excels as what it is; an extremely well-acted drama about flawed humans fighting to keep even a loose grip on humanity.


MPAA rating: R (pervasive language, some sexual content, drug use and violent war images)
111 minutes
Jalapeño rating: 3½ (out of 4)


Life is like a box of just being there

I never knew Forrest Gump had a country cousin until I saw "Our Idiot Brother."

Actually, Paul Rudd's Ned isn't really a simpleton or savant, as Tom Hank's Forrest was.  Ned is just a seriously laid-back guy who chooses to go through life telling the unfiltered truth, trusting strangers and constantly getting chastised -- or jailed -- for his simple approach to life.

In other words, it looks like Ned, who lands in the slammer in this raunchy comedy's opening sequence for being talked into selling pot to a uniformed policeman, has little or no chance in the cold, hard, "me-first" real world.

Life isn't like a box of chocolates for Ned, it's a constant swift kick below the belt.

But Ned, superbly downplayed by Paul Rudd behind a bushel of hair and beard, only wants to reunite with his dog, Willie Nelson.  Yes, a dog named Willie Nelson.  

Directed by Jesse Peretz, who guided Rudd through "The Ex" and "The Chateau," "Our Idiot Brother" is the thinking person's raunchy, low-brow comic romp.  Ned sells dope and acts like one at times.  But he also wanders into domestic dilemmas involving his three sisters (played with spunk by Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel and Emily Mortimer).

Like the late Peter Seller's Chance Gardner in the now-vintage comic-drama gem "Being There" (1979), Ned sometimes soothes troubled waters by simply showing up and shutting up.

Rudd, who has the uncanny ability to look like a straight man even when his character is way off into Goofville, turns in a subtle, understated performance that's a refreshing diversion from what we usually see in today's over-the-top raunchy comedies.

"Our Idiot Brother" turns out to be a well-acted exercise in cinematic ensemble folly that makes for an enjoyable evening of frenzied vs. cool reacting movie-going.

Screenwriters Evgenia Peretz, a "Vanity Fair" contributing editor who's the director's sister, and her husband David Schisgall, write themselves into a corner bubbling over with over silliness a couple of times, however.

Why else would they dub the Golden Retriever Ned is constantly trying to retrieve "Willie Nelson"?

You'll just have to wait until the final scene to answer that one.


Booty calls with entanglement pitfalls

Kudos to "Friends With Benefits" director Will Gluck for daring to sprinkle some real-life drama into a silly little romantic-comedy that flashes some skin and lesser parts romance and comedy.

Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, two rising stars of the Yeah, Us Generation, do all they can with a premise doomed from the beginning:  Sex without emotion or entanglements.

Let's face it, folks.  The booty call, no commitment relationship already had its chance on the big screen.
Earlier this year Oscar winner Natalie Portman ("Black Swan") and Ashton Kutcher (Charlie Sheen's soon-to-be replacement on TV's "Two and a Half Men") gave it a goofy go in "No Strings Attached."

The idea failed, although the movie had some merit as a romantic-comedy.

Even good actors like Timberlake ("The Social Network") and Kunis ("Black Swan") can't make "Friends with Benefits" hook an audience as entertainment, however.  The problem is that director Gluck's first effort since last year's semi-entertaining "Easy A" attempts to stuff some serious life lessons, including but not limited to the sex without commitment thingy, into a format that's traditional romantic-comedy.

Dylan (Timberlake) plays a hotshot Web site graphic designer in L.A. who's recruited by Jamie (Kunis), a get-it-done corporate headhunter.  She lures him to New York for an interview at GQ magazine.

Both are on the rebound from recent breakups, which are inter cut nicely by Gluck to open the film.

Like Portman and Kutcher in "No Strings Attached," Dylan and Jamie take the plunge into a grand experiment doomed to failure:  vigorous sex with none of the cuddling, or "Call me" or whining about a sex partner who might encounter someone else away from the not-so-sacred pact.

Jamie, claiming to be a "good girl," makes Dylan swear on a Bible that neither partner will violate the special bond.  The Bible, however, is a Bible app on an ipad.

Welcome to The Good Book in the New Digital Age, movie-goers.

Jamie's Mom (Patricia Clarkson) wanders off in the direction of every man she sniffs.  Dylan, on the other hand, is sort of hiding the fact that his dad (superbly played by Oscar nominee Richard Jenkins of "The Visitor") has some serious, heartbreaking health issues.

I like the fact that "Friends With Benefits" attempts to fry some real life stumbling blocks in the same pan as the over-easy romance and peek-a-boo frolics under the sheets.  For those who seek out R-rated movies for such things, there's more raunchy sex talk than exposed skin, except for a showcase of Timberlake's bare Southern extremities.

"Friends With Benefits" is a tough call for a critic.  If modern, graphic pillow talk is all you require in a romantic-comedy, it's a semi-rewarding hour and a half or so in a movie house.

Otherwise, some very good veteran actors (Jenkins, Clarkson) and young rising stars (Timberlake, Kunis) might just appear to be hanging around on the screen for a very long time.


'Bad Teacher' sent to comic detention

A couple of weeks ago, this looked like a blossoming cinematic summer of lowbrow, raunchy girl power.

Well, "Bridesmaids" did its part with bottom-feeder bodily malfunction laughs the like of which haven't been seen since Jeff Daniels' outrageous guest bathroom experience in "Dumb & Dumber" way back in the prehistoric comic ages of 1994.

Unfortunately, "Bad Teacher" can't carry the Girls Can Be Just As Comically Nasty As Boys torch forward.

Cameron Diaz's jilted fiancée/teacher who, according to "Bad Teacher's" catchphrase, doesn't give an F might just find that some movie critics who rate flicks from A to F do.

Showing flickers of creativity in early scenes, when awful high school teacher Elizabeth Halsey (Diaz) shows her students movies about teachers teaching instead of bothering to do it herself, "Bad Teacher" quickly becomes a mirrored image of the main character's goal in life:  a boob job.

Like "Bridesmaids" and "The Hangover Part II," "Bad Teacher" provides a steady barrage of below-the-belt humor, drugs and sex.  The only thing missing here most of the time is laugh-provoking gags.

Diaz ("Green Hornet," "Knight and Day") snarls her way on cue through a limp script by writing partners Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg ("Year One").  There's even the added curiosity of Justin Timberlake, Diaz's former significant other, co-starring as Russell, a substitute teacher she has her eye on.

That fizzles as well.  Timberlake, an excellent actor, really, gets lost behind a pair of plastic-rimmed glasses and a milquetoast character.  The aw shucks love interest is brought to the screen in an aw shucks, who cares? manner by Jason Segel, who fails to connect with Diaz or his character.

Only Lucy Punch (Darla in "Dinner for Schmucks") dives head first into her character, a nutty goody-two-shoes teacher named Amy Squirrel.

Director Jake Kasdan ("Walk Hard:  The Dewey Cox Story") makes a primal filmmaking mistake in this one.  Raunchy material is fine as long as it's in tandem with humor.  There are at least 10 misses to every joke that scores in this one.  

Diaz should know that.  She was hilarious sporting that, uh, special hair gel as the title character in "There's Something About Mary" in 1998.

One word stands out in "Bad Teacher." And it ain't "Teacher."


Second 'Hangover' more like a leftover

OK, "The Hangover Part II" is "Bridesmaids" for men.

How's that for equality?

What the above statement means is that men may have gotten the jump on women (no pun intended; maybe a little) when it comes to bottom-feeder raunchy comedy.  But women, as displayed recently in "Bridesmaids," are just as capable as men when it comes to comic carnal knowledge on the Neanderthal level.

A contrived follow-up to the huge box office success of "The Hangover" in 2009, "Hangover Part II" takes its vocal rancor, blatant nudity and dumb guys buzzard luck not only to Thailand, but also to the very bottom of soft-porn shock raunch.

And this time director Todd Phillips ("Old School," "Road Trip"), who can be booked on charges of conspiring against decency by directing the first "Hangover," is packing a monkey.

Not just any monkey, either.  This capuchin monkey smokes cigarettes, peddles dope, snorts a little himself and engages in monkey-on-monk simulated sex.

Too tough for you?

Then you'll definitely want to move on down the hall of the multiplex to something a little more tame, like the third sequel of "Pirates of the Caribbean."A quick note, though.  There's a nasty, snarling monkey in that one, too.

The key cast members of the first "Hangover" all return.  That includes Bradley Cooper as Phil, the leader of the Wolfpack and Ed Helms ("The Office" on TV) as Stu, who lost a tooth the first time around and is the groom-to-be (seriously messed-up) this time.

Also, Zach Galifianakis returns as Alan, the self-proclaimed stay-at-home son, and Ken Jeong gets to get naked and screeches his lines again as Mr. Chow, an international man of crime.

Exceptional actor Paul Giamatti ("Sideways"), who appears to have forgotten to go on his pre-shooting diet and looks uncomfortably pudgy, joins the cast briefly as a businessman who just happens to be in the crime business.

In case you haven't already guessed, "Hangover Part II" travels the same path of lowest brow humor possible.  Just like the first, but then some.  Instead of misplacing the groom this time, a night of Bangkok debauchery leads to a morning where Stu's soon-to-be brother-in-law Teddy, a 16-year-old played by newcomer Mason Lee (director Ang Lee's son), is missing.

At least most of him is missing.  One of Teddy's severed body digits is discovered cooling in an ice bucket, which sets this less-effective misadventure in motion.

"The Hangover Part II," like its precursor, reveals all in a groan-inducing montage of gross-out photos during the final credits.

The good news is that no 3-D glasses are required for this one.  A barf bag might come in handy, though.


Bride and prejudices

First, the good news about the raucous comedy "Bridesmaids."

I laughed.  I laughed a lot, and so hard that I shook a couple of times.

And the bad news?  As funny as it is, this "Hangover"-for-women is sloppy at times and overindulgent.   Still, "Saturday Night Live" standout Kristen Wiig is so good that I'm ready to dub her "the new Lucille Ball."

Director Paul Feig, however, apparently doesn't know how to trim a scene down to its golden comic core.  I'm guessing Feig, creator of TV's "Freaks and Geeks" who has been working in TV lately, probably eats bananas peel and all.

"Bridesmaids" is, however, very, very hilarious much of the time.  And it proves women can be just as raunchy as men when it comes to bottom-feeder dark comedy.

Wiig teams with two close friends.  The modern female genius of goofball comedy (Come on, did you see her in "Paul"?) co-wrote "Bridesmaids" with former Groundlings co-member Annie Mumolo.  In front of the camera, Wiig joins forces with Maya Rudolph, the former "Saturday Night Live" cast member.

Wiig takes on the role of downtrodden jewelry store clerk Annie, who might as well be called "second-hand Rose."  Her dream -- to own a bakery in Milwaukee -- fell victim to the lousy economy.

Annie sleeps with a jerk named Ted ("Mad Men's" Jon Hamm) she doesn't even like and -- when she's really down in the dumps -- gets in a shouting match with a teenage girl who wants "Best friends forever" engraved on a locket.

Much of "Bridesmaids" involves a series of set pieces, which generally work but may remind audience members of extended sitcom or "Saturday Night Live" sketches.

Wiig is so good, though, that it matters little.  What the writers and Feig do right is allow Annie to suffer through angst that many of us snacking in the dark can identify with.  She has money problems, for one thing, and drives an old clunker car that may or may not start.  

That would be funny enough by itself.  But when Annie's asked to be her best friend Lillian's (Rudolph) maid of honor, she must somehow attend high society way beyond her means -- an expensive dress, parties at the country club and such.

Anyone who's ever been forced to drop off a beat-up old car for valet parking in a line of Mercedes and other ritzy rides will appreciate Annie's dilemma.

"Bridesmaids" is boiling over with humor like that, and much of it scores.

It also helps that Wiig is surrounded by very solid support.  Rudolph is always terrific and she is here.  So is the late Jill Clayburgh in her final film role.  Clayburgh plays Annie's mom.

Rose Byrne ("Insidious") does some interesting things with Helen, the high society bridesmaid trying to horn in on the longtime friendship between Annie and Lillian.  And Melissa McCarthy, co-star of the TV sitcom "Mike & Molly," might just have you rolling in the aisles as Megan, a woman of size who has a heart of gold and a suggestion for the bridal shower theme:  "Fight Club."

"Bridesmaids" ultimately, though, is Wiig's show.  With a little editing help, it could have earned extrememly high marks as brilliant lowbrow.

Still, I love Lucy.  I mean Kristen.


'Paul' needs to phone home for more guffaws

Although comic actors Simon Pegg and Nick Frost might not admit it, before "Paul," their latest effort, they were Great Britain's version of Abbott and Costello, or Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin.

In comedies like "Shawn of the Dead," "Hot Fuzz" and "Run Fatboy Run," Pegg pegged the straight role (Abbott and Martin) while Frost goofed around as the funny, or at least funnier guy (Costello and Lewis).

To put it bluntly, there are two Abbotts and a definite need for a Costello in "Paul," a mildly funny alien/human road picture featuring the voice of funny guy Seth Rogen in the title roll and a scene-stealing featured role for "Saturday Night Live's" Kristen Wiig.

Wiig made me laugh the most as Ruth Buggs, a one-eyed religious zealot who breaks away from her Bible-thumping, shotgun-toting father to join the adventure.

Adventure doesn't necessarily mean a consistently comic one, however. This one, written by best pals and frequent collaborators Pegg and Frost and directed by Greg Mottola ("Adventureland," "Superbad"), is rather pedestrian.

That's despite a computer-generated extra-terrestrial (Rogen) on the run to hook up with his mother ship and get home. Of course, there are buffoons (government and from Hicksville) who get in the way.

I kept waiting for Pegg and Frost to make me laugh, as they have many times before. But the duo of Brit wits are resigned to being reactors in this one, relying on the CGI alien and Rogen's quips to do the comic heavy lifting. Unfortunately, that just never materializes.

"Paul," and thus screenwriters Pegg and Frost, borrow heavily from Steven Spielberg's "E.T." and "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Somehow (movie studio nudging, perhaps?) they even get Spielberg to phone in during an embarrassing conversation with the alien.

The talents of Jason Bateman ("Up in the Air," "Juno"), Jane Lynch ("Glee" on TV) and "Saturday Night Live's" Bill Hader are pretty much wasted in secondary roles.

"Paul" isn't a total washout. There are spotty laughs to be found here and there.

When it comes to the sparse comedy, though, it's impossible to tell who's on first.


A comedy of eros with benefits

Raise your hand if you know anyone who has made a "friends with benefits" hit-and-run, no questions, no entanglements relationship work.

I didn't think so.

Veteran filmmaker Ivan Reitman ("Ghostbusters," "My Super Ex-Girlfriend") does, though, with the edgy, against-the-grain romantic-comedy "No Strings Attached."

It's smarter than I expected and sweeter.  Also, Natalie Portman and Ashton Kutcher are darn good together as a doctor (she) and a TV teen musical production assistant (he) who hook up and try to keep it purely sexual.

It's an idea that might seem tattooed to today's twentysomethings.  Don't tell today's speed-dating youngsters, but Woody Allen wrestled with the same issue (and a reluctant self-proclaimed nymphomaniac) in "Play It Again, Sam" back in 1972.

The gnawing issue then and in "No Strings Attached" remains, "How did I misread those signs?"

In Reitman's comedy of eros, Emma (Portman) claims to have an allergy to all the usual stuff that goes along with sex; holding hands, naming each other's intimate body parts, going out on dates, etc.  She just wants to give Adam (Kutcher) a call at the drop of the hat and satisfy her basic needs.  There's to be no hugging, no hanging around and no custom-made mix CD.

If this sounds like the perfect relationship for a guy, it's not for Adam.  That's partially due to the fact that his former TV star dad (broadly played well by Kevin Kline) is dating Adam's former girlfriend.

Actually, what rookie screenwriter Elizabeth Meriwether has done with Mike Samonek's original story is reverse the roles.  Emma is the one who fears commitment.  The traditional male, if you will.

Adam's a little goofy for Valentine's Day and tries to maintain the quirky mood with a bouquet of carrots instead of roses.

Portman, also sprouting wings on screen in "Black Swan," gets to go for the funny for the first time, really.  It works, and we can thank Kutcher (Yes, that Ashton Kutcher) for strong support.

To be honest, though, I think the script gets a little too edgy -- make that vulgar -- at times.  Portman isn't exactly America's sweetheart.  But there's something about Portman launching an F-bomb that just hits me the wrong way.

The principal characters are not of my generation, though.  That could have something to do with my sensitivity.

Maybe, like Woody Allen, I'm still misreading those signs


Hitting the road with odd couple comedy

Ten years after kicking the tires and jump starting the old road movie premise with the inspired "Road Trip," director /producer Todd Phillips hits the road again with "Due Date."

Inspired?  Not so much.

But "Due Date" has something "Road Trip" didn't.  That's one exceptional actor, Robert Downey Jr., and another on the way to earning that distinction, if in a Will Ferrell, Seth Rogen buffoon-tilted manner.

That would be Zach Galifianakis.  The talented, furry-faced actor co-starred in "The Hangover," Phillips' raunch-fest of 2009.

In "Due Date," Downey  (The "Iron Man" franchise) and Galifianakis play an odd couple thrown together in a rent car for a long wacky drive from Atlanta to Los Angeles.  The two very different strangers can't fly because a series of contrived (if you ask me) events get them thrown off a flight and thrown onto the "No fly" list.

Peter (Downey) needs to be home by Friday.  That's when his first born is scheduled to arrive by C-section.  Ethan (Galifianakis), who schleps his recently deceased father's ashes along in a coffee can, is a budding actor with an ultimate goal of appearing on "Two and a Half Men" on TV.

Movie-goers with a fondness for the past will see more than a little of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" (1987), which paired Steve Martin as the uptight responsible one and the late John Candy as the loose goof.

"Due Date" ups the raunch ante, of course.  Instead of two guys accidentally bumping body parts in the name of a laugh when they're forced to share a bed during a harried trip, this one features one guy getting a little friendly with himself (if you know what I mean) as the two spend the night in the confines of a mid-sized rental car.

Like "Planes, Trains ...," though, "Due Date" also manages to work in some tender moments.  Galifianakis changes character tone in a split second and is very likely to bring tears to audience members eyes with a simple one-sided telephone call.  

Downey and Galifianakis are the engine that drives this so-so road comedy by committee (a quartet or so of writers).  Sonny, a French bulldog with some disgusting personal habits, and Jamie Foxx, playing Downey's best friend, round out the featured cast.

Until "The Hangover 2" makes it to the screen, I suppose "Due Date" fulfills the compulsion for guys-on-the-run lowbrow laughs well enough.


A teen comedy adults can appreciate

"Easy A" is one of the smart modern high school comedies, and it has more bite than a cornered junkyard dog.

That said, this is one of those clever. sharply sarcastic high school yarns not unlike "Mean Girls" that shouldn't work as well as it does.

Leading young lady Emma Stone, who played a tough zombie chaser in the creature-feature spoof "Zombieland," is out front as Olive, a California 17-year-old who takes drastic measures to get herself noticed at school.

The basic premise couldn't be simpler.  Olive lies about losing her virginity to a community college guy, and the news spreads like wildfire through her Ojai, Cali campus.  She likes the attention, so she leaks follow-up rumors.  Soon she's perceived as the school pushover, although she's really not.  That eventually hurts her feelings.

So why did I laugh so much?  The premise follows a well-worn formula.  Stone, from this aisle seat, still has some things to learn about carrying a comedy, and her voice is huskier than most of the 20-somethings playing schoolboys.

The key to this film's success is not in the story, which relies heavily on the "Scarlet Letter" theme, or even in director Will Gluck's ("Fired Up!") overused gimmicks like sped-up footage and opening credits that appear to be part of the school campus landscape.

The joy comes from the support players, and from a smart, comically biting screenplay from first-timer Bert V. Royal.  I don't know if Royal, a former casting assistant, had anything to do with choosing this film's support players.  But someone is to be congratulated big time.

Stanley Tucci ("The Lovely Bones") and Patricia Clarkson ("Legendary") work in tandem spectacularly as Olive's nonjudgmental, supportive parents.

Thomas Haden Church, who plays the English teacher, is probably just excited to have another film on the cinematic landscape after the horrible "All About Steve," which was not his fault nor Sandra Bullock's.

And, man, Lisa Kudrow (still trying to find a real movie career with "Friends" in the rear view mirror) sneaks up on the audience with a killer performance as Mrs. Griffith, the high school guidance counselor married to Church's character.

"Easy A," while wobbling down the usual high school road of petty misunderstandings, romance and labeling, spits fire in dialogue and line delivery.

It's obvious, though, that at least some of what's going on suffers from the sordid underbelly of movie-by-committee.  That means unnecessary homage to "Glee" (TV's new "it" series) in a near-finale musical number and leaning too heavily on high school romance yarns of the past.

"Easy A" needs none of that.  Even though Stone comes across a little too much like a Lindsay Lohan clone at times (in a good, talented actress way), the bottom line is a teen comedy aimed at kids that I think adults might just enjoy more.