MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com

Wilmington on DVDs: Green Lantern; Horrible Bosses; Zookeeper; Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer

Green Lantern (Two Stars)
U.S.: Martin Campbell, 2011 (Warner Bros.)

Maybe I’m just getting really, really tired of Superhero movies —  but I had trouble sitting through Green Lantern.

A half an hour or so into the show, I started checking my watch, and soon I was checking it every few minutes or so– even though on the screen, a lot was happening. Cities were exploding, mad scientists were running amok, the entire world was in jeopardy, and we kept getting whisked off to the Planet Oa, where our hero, Green Lantern, a.k.a. Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds), a crime fighter in skin-tight costume and a silly little green mask, kept getting briefed on his new superhero intergalactic-peacekeeping duties, as well as the progress of the ongoing war with the monstrous Parallax (an intergalactic fiend voiced by Clancy Brown).

What was Hal, an earthling test pilot turned intergalactic cop, doing there? Well, Pay attention: Hal became the first human member of the universe‘s prime law enforcement group, because he happened to be around when another Corpsman, Abin Sur (played by Temuera Morrison of Once Were Warriors) was dying, and, because the all-powerful green ring on Abin’s hand, chose Hal. How’s that for a super-charged wish fulfillment fantasy?

That should have been enough to keep my mind from wandering and my watch under my sleeve! And so should the cast: Ryan Reynolds as the engagingly cocky daredevil test pilot Hal Jordan, turned Green Lantern, Tim Robbins (always a welcome sight) as the powerful and politically hefty Senator Hammond, Blake Lively as Hal’s fellow test pilot, magnate’s daughter and love interest Carol Ferris — and especially Peter Sarsgaard as the nerdy scientist/teacher turned sadistic, misshapen intergalactic maniac Hector Hammond.

In fact, Planet Oa itself should have held my interest — particularly since there was so much money so obviously spent on it. So why did I feel so gloomy whenever G.L. went back there? Maybe because it was such a gloomy-looking place, a weird-looking habitat of lofty spires towering into the murk and the perpetually overcast skies, where the weird-looking populace kept talking and yelling at each other on the rooftops, and where our hero kept confabbing with Tomar Re (voiced by Geoffrey Rush), a wise old Yoda of the Guardians of the Universe, and a chap who looked something like an erect talking fish, as well as Sinestro (Mark Strong), a cranky superhero with what looks like a pretty bad sunburn.

On Oa, despite the murk, there’s so much of incredible interest to engage us all! We can see Hal/Lantern quickly learn how to be one of the stalwarts of the Green Lantern Corps, policemen of the universe, whose motto reportedly is “In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my (our?) sight.” (There’s no Green Lantern Military or Police Academy, or at least none I saw. Apparently, you just pick this stuff up from a few tutors.)

Sound exciting? But no, with all that going for it, the movie struck me as stupefying. Part of the problem may have been the secret identity bit. I like sort of wimpy, bullied secret identities like Clark Kent (Superman) or Peter Parker (Spider-Man). Green Lantern’s superhero had a secret identity — or his regular alternative identity — who was himself a kind of superhero, or at least a hero: the arrogant star test pilot Hal, who thinks nothing of breaking rules, mouthing off and wrecking billion dollar planes.

Even worse, this secret identity was almost impossible to keep secret, since all Hal has as a disguise is a skintight costume and that silly little green mask. (The scriptwriters, to their credit, have heroine Carol point this out.)

As soon as Hal hooks up with Abin, he takes the ring, and suddenly is transformed into a super-duper-hero possessed of all kinds of amazing superpowers, including superhuman strength, being able to super-fly everywhere, including Oa, being able to alter reality and shift shapes around him at will, and, most importantly, being able to wear the Green Lantern outfit without falling on the floor in fits of hysterical laughter.

I’m sure it all works much better in the comic. Anyway, you know the superhero routine by now, at least for this movie. You fly to the city, you fly to the Planet Oa, you yak it up with the Guardians of the Universe and take a few martial arts lessons from Kilowog (who looks like the Hulk as a Thing), you try not to lose your cool with Sinestro, you love-spat with Carol, and you try to calm down Hector Hammond — who injected himself with something from the corpse of the late Abin Sur and now has gone utterly gruesome and crazy. You put on the damned costume. You try to save the world every few days. After a while, it gets almost boring. And the medical benefits cost a ton.

There s just one other thing wrong with this whole superhero gig, or at least with the Green Lantern gig. It’s that silly little green mask…

Horrible Bosses (Two Stars)

U.S.: Seth Gordon, 2011, (Warner Bros.)

There’s an ugly rumor going around that Horrible Bosses is a funny, clever movie. But if that’s true, I must have wandered into the wrong Multiplex theatre and seen some other horrible movie by mistake.

One person‘s laugh riot can be another person’s snore. And a number of reputable critics pronounced themselves convulsed at this alleged laugh riot — which is about three buddies, beleaguered and persecuted by their intolerable bosses, who decide to strike back and murder them all in a three-cornered Strangers on a Train-style murder swap (at which they prove howlingly inept). But  it  really didn’t make me laugh. (Well, to be truthful, it sort of made me laugh, but only briefly, in the last half of the movie.) And that was despite strenuous efforts by director Seth Gordon (of Four Christmases) and his writers to supply taboo-shattering, darker-than-dark, politically incorrect, shock-the-pants-off-the-bourgeoisie humor, executed by three fairly funny guys (sly Jason Bateman, hysterical Charlie Day and gabby babe-hound Jason Sudeikis) and three talented actors as their mean bosses (Kevin Spacey, Jennifer Aniston and Colin Farrell) — plus comedy ace Jamie Foxx, as a supposed whack advisor named Dean M—–F—-r Jones. (I repeat, with bleeps, Mr. Jones’s uncommon nickname, something his fictitious would-be employers also do incessantly, to give you a hint of the kind of politically incorrect comedy gems that await any s—–r who buys a ticket to this movie.

In Horrible Bosses, Bateman, Day and Sudeikis play, respectively, wary Nick Hendricks, scratchy-voiced Dale Arbus and smoothie Kurt Buckman, three old buddies who tend to meet and commiserate about their awful bosses at a local bar. By a fantastic coincidence — and fantastic coincidences are something this movie could not function without — all three of the chums have seen their hideous relationships with those unbearable bosses reach what the film’s writers seem to regard as the last f–k–g straw.

Bad Boss Number One is Spacey as the Machiavellian sadist-bully Dave Harken (played by Spacey in his best, acid Swimming with Sharks mold), who has denied Nick a long-awaited promotion after tricking him into drinking whiskey in the morning at work. Bad Boss Number Two is Aniston, wearing a Demi Moore hairdo, as randy dentist Dr. Julia Harris, who insists on trying to have frequent sex with her reticent dental assistant Dale, who wants to stay faithful to wife Lindsay Sloane (or maybe it was Jason Bateman). And Bad Boss Number Three is Farrell as balding, combed-over, cocaine freak Bobby Pellit, who takes over the family business after the death of his good guy dad (Donald Sutherland), of whose eye Kurt was the apple, and announces his intentions of firing as many employees as he can while actively working to squander his inheritance, disgrace his father’s name and damage the environment.

So, the guys, after a few minutes’ discussion, decide to become murderers and risk a life in prison, to express their anger. And then they compound their idiocy, by trying to find a hit man on the Internet or in the want ads, and then hiring a complete stranger, Mr. M—–F—-r himself, after noticing him nursing drinks in a seedy bar. Now, what self-respecting idiot would do all that? Fortunately for our anti-heroes, their bosses prove about as stupid, or crazy, as they are, and, after complications galore, the movie sputters to its seemingly inevitable conclusion: a paean to dumb luck and cell-phone recorders.

What’s to dislike? The jokes obviously (though they’re sometimes smartly delivered). But most of all, the attitude. Horrible has the seed of a good idea: a comic attack on white collar workplace tyranny. (Director Gordon worked on “The Office.“) And these are bad bosses, except for Aniston‘s Dr. Julia, who looked to me like the answer to Dale‘s prayers. (After all, that part could have been written for Ken Jeong.)

But I felt little sympathy for these guys, and on some level, you’re obviously supposed to.  Even granting our crippled economy and the let’s-ride-off-the-cliff attitude of some of the nuttier members of the U.S. Co—ss, it still seems a better bet for these guys to just look for another job, or maybe better, to try to dig up a scandal that would get the bosses fired (in fact, scandals like that are all over the movie) rather than indulge in elaborate bone-headed murder schemes. I realize this is a movie about attempted murder going awry, but the screenwriters need to overcome our resistance to what seems rampaging illogic. After, all it’s a scenarist’s job to make crazy decisions plausible. Here, they haven’t.

So Bobby Pellit is a coke-addled dimwit screw-up. (Farrell makes him almost visibly rot on screen.) But what does Kurt gain by murdering him: Kurt who first comes across not as an angry fanatic or an embittered employee but as a basically good-hearted guy and a cheerful lecher? Nick would seem to have some kind of motive for negative action against Harken — who has threatened to blackball him if he ever leaves the company — but a decision to kill still seems a serious deviation from Nick’s generally self-effacing, slightly devious character. And, as for dental guy Dale’s motive — wanting to avoid having the sexual advances of Jennifer Aniston (or a dentist who looks like Jen) by killing her — that struck me as about as plausible, and sympathetic, as whacking your boss, the billionaire, because he crudely insists on giving you all his money. (I realize Dale is trying to save his marriage, but murder one seems unlikely couples therapy.)

Horrible Bosses tries to go the Coen Brothers-ish Blood Simple route, of showing how normally sensible people go stupid when they get involved with murder. But the movie never really, believably, projects these guys as having a normally sensible thought, or shows why they’ve escalated to thoughts of homicide so fast, why they’re so dumb that they try to hire a hit man on the Internet, or why they would spill their intentions to their “advisor,” Mr. M—F—r, after meeting him briefly in a rowdy bar. The way The Hangover finessed stuff like that — matching one dumb, off-the-wall guy (Galifianakis) with two slightly smarter ones (Cooper and Helms) — apparently didn’t occur to anybody, even though God knows, they’ve tried to steal enough else.

Then there’s the whole problem of being asked to sympathize, at least on some level, with characters who decide to kill people so easily, if stupidly. In fact, Horrible Bosses didn’t even seem potentially funny to me, until the last half, when some of the bosses began to reveal a more homicidal or criminal streak themselves. I suspect the movie would have worked better if the threesome had started out with more modest intentions: maybe just trying to tail their bosses to get some scandalous goods on them, to get them fired — and then somehow got sucked into a seeming murder plot, because one of them (Dale, naturally) is a little Zach-Galifianakis-crazy, and the other two think they’re kidding him along.

Maybe the writers here got all hung up on hit-man jokes. Still, Horrible Bosses didn’t strike me as politically incorrect so much as comedically incorrect. It often helps, for a dark comedy, if there’s one character at least who’s somewhat moral, or somewhat sane, or well-meaning, or not wholly deranged. We often need that moral counter-balance, however small.  A great dark comedy — like the Ealing Studio The Ladykillers, or Billy Wilder‘s Sunset Boulevard or the Coens’ Fargo and The Big Lebowski or Kubrick‘s Lolita and Dr. Strangelove (greatest and darkest of them all) — can kid their “good“ character or characters, as Dr. Strangelove kids Mandrake, but not wholly eliminate them. Bateman’s Nick is the closest thing to that kind of half-sensible type here, but he gives in to the plot too easily.

Is Horrible Bosses at least timely? I hope not. And, believe me, there are some really horrible bosses around: maybe not as bad as Kevn Spacey’s Harken, but definitely within a shark’s swim of him.

Zookeeper (Two Stars)

U.S.: Frank Coraci, 2011, (Sony)

Zookeeper is a Kevin James comedy of almost stupefying dopiness; a movie that, at its worst, makes you feel (to succumb for a moment to Zookeeper’s own vice of ludicrous exaggeration), as if you were sinking slowly, slowly into a huge steaming vat of vanilla pudding, while screeching monkeys swing past on vines, pissing all over you. That’s an experience I‘ve never had, of course. But then, I didn’t want to have an experience like Zookeeper, either.

It’s a movie that really shouldn’t have been as lousy as it is. The cast is good –including the very likable James as Zookeeper Griffin Keyes, and especially Rosario Dawson as his coworker Kate and Nick Nolte doing the gruff voice of a gorilla named Bernie. The production values are nice; it was shot at Boston’s beautiful Franklin Park Zoo, with very photogenic animals and animatronics. And there’s a killer under-the credits rendition of Boston’s “More than a Feeling“, sung or lip-synched by the star animals, a routine that actually beats everything in the rest of the movie.

No, scratch that. Nothing else in this movie beats Rosario Dawson, an almost insanely good-looking woman — but who has been weirdly cast here as the Zookeeper’s great good friend who‘s trying to help him out romantically by pretending to be his date to get another woman (Leslie Bibb as blonde snob Stephanie) jealous. Pretending? Wouldn‘t it make more sense if it was Griffin who pretended to be in love with Stephanie, so he could pretend he wanted to make her jealous, so he could get an actual date with Kate?

Works for me. But not in this movie. The people who made it, and especially the people who wrote it, can’t seem to decide whether they’re making a lovable kid‘s movie with a lovable zookeeper and colorful talking animals, or a hip romantic comedy about a schmo who chases after a hottie, and ends up with an even hotter hottie. Not that you can’t do both, but the five writers blamed for Zookeeper, don’t make it work and don’t make us laugh.

There are possibilities, but they usually lead nowhere. In Zookeeper’s first scene, one of its few funny ones, Griffin attempts to propose to Stephanie on the beach, on a horse, with fireworks and a mariachi band waiting to pop out and serenade and explode over them. But Steph, a money-grubber impervious to romance, ignores all that pizzazz and dumps him, before the mariachi guys even get a chance to play.

He‘s crushed. (James has a good “crushed“ expression, a kind of kicked-spaniel look of longing befuddlement.) It’s sort of funny, about as funny as this movie will get. And five years later, Griffin is till pining over Stephanie, who’s still playing the field, still moping despite the fact that he has a good job that he likes, and is surrounded by animals he likes (and who, it develops, like him a lot). He doesn’t have a mean boss — like those clowns in Horrible Bosses — or problems with the zoo. (That may be one of the script‘s big lacks.) And his co-worker is Dawson‘s Kate — who, I have to repeat. is so gorgeous that she can make fireworks and mariachi bands explode in your heart. (Not that Bibb isn’t gorgeous too; just not that gorgeous.)

So Griffin has to choose: Be the man Steph wants him to be: a greedy slick hustler/huckster selling luxury cars at his brother’s swanky car dealership. Or be the man he wants to be: a Zookeeper on producer Adam Sandler‘s payroll, who works with a smart, friendly knockout who looks just like Rosario Dawson, and who might just leave for Nairobi if he doesn’t make the right moves.

I know what you’re thinking. What does all this sex romantic fantasy stuff have to do with zoos or animals or Kevin James as an affable zookeeper? Well, as it turns out, the animals all speak English (though many of them probably come from Africa or other foreign lands), but only to each other and not to humans. And they decide to break their rule and start gabbing with Griffin, in order to advise him on to win Leslie.

But why do they want him to be with Leslie, who hates zoos and wants him to leave? Shouldn’t they be promoting a romance with Kate, their friend, and trying to keep her at the zoo? Why do they give such lousy advice: the bears telling him to be an alpha-bear or alpha-male, and the lions telling him to be leonine, and Don Rickles as a frog telling him to puff up his neck, and the wolf telling him to pee in an area to mark off his territory — which Griffin actually does, in a potted plant at a party?

This all struck me as ridiculous: like most of the movie, too silly for adults, too gamy for kids. The movie has another ace supposedly up its sleeve: lots of star voices for the animals, beginning with producer Adam Sandler as Donald the monkey, and continuing with Sylvester Stallone and Cher as Joe and Janet the lions, Nolte as Bernie the gorilla, Maya Rudolph as Mollie the giraffe, Jon Favreau and Faizon Love as Jerome and Bruce the bears, Bas Rutten as Sebastian the wolf, and in an unusual casting coup, producer/director/writer Judd Apatow as Barry the hyphenate-elephant.

There are other cards the writers (all five of them) keep pulling out of their deck, including Bernie’s big night at Thank God It’s Friday, with Griffin disguising him as a guy in a gorilla suit. And there are Griffin’s duels with various obnoxious fiancés of Stephanie’s (the worst scenes in the movie) and Griffin‘s attempts to become a slick super-salesman at his brother’s car dealership. (No, those were the worst scenes in the movie.

Only the dumbest sounding one of those last three — Bernie at TGIF — actually works, and that’s partly because Nolte does such a good job as the Gorilla. He’s one of the few voice actors here who seem to realize that when you’re playing a wild beast, you have to articulate clearly instead of screeching unintelligibly (as some of them do).

The director of Zookeeper, Frank Coraci, made one of Sandler‘s best movie comedies, The Wedding Singer, as well as the more ordinary but amusing The Waterboy, and he makes this movie look good as well as move along, He just doesn’t seem able to differentiate this time between the good jokes (rare) and the bad ones (most of them). As for Kevin James, he’s an actor with such an affable persona, a plump easygoing guy who doesn’t seem to have a mean bone in his body, that it’s hard to blame him for this mess — hard to dislike him when he tries to be unlikable, as when he turns massively obnoxious car salesman, which he doesn’t do well. (He should study some slick old Eddie Albert movie villains.)

But if you spend most of the movie absorbed in Griffin’s love life, as this movie almost forces you to, instead of, say, having Griffin spend more time fighting to save his friends at the zoo, then he turns into just a big fat crybaby. Perhaps the writers think that their core audience s is the one that wants to see shlub Griffin win out with two killer babes. But I suspect that more of the audience wants to see Griffin save the zoo somehow — and get the SuperBabe in the end.

Then again, maybe the writers could have kept their ideas, here, and just written some more funny jokes. With James, Ken Jeong (again), Sandler, Nolte, Rudolph, Rickles and the others, it shouldn’t have been hard to get them delivered. (It was, though.) Main rule: if a joke doesn’t work — and here, most of them don’t — just cut to Rosario Dawson.

Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer (One and a Half Stars)

U.S.: John Schultz, 2011

Hard to believe. But there really is a move called “Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer.”

And yes, it really is based on a popular kiddie book of the same title, about energetic third grader Judy and what a bummer her summer is. And yes, yes, YES, they’ve made a really terrible movie out of this book, complete with that overemphasized NOT in the title. (The writer insists on it.) The movie stars Jordana Beatty, an energetic young red-headed Australian actress, and she plays a zippy suburban third grader, who lives in a neighborhood where everybody yells and acts stupid, and the dogs keep pooping on the lawns. (Or it feels like they do.) In the course of the film, Judy keeps running around trying to have fun — and complaining that she doesn‘t, that nothing happening in her neighborhood is entertaining. You can say that again.

By the way, the hit kiddie book, part of a series, was written by successful author Megan McDonald, who also co-wrote the script for this awful movie. So she can’t blame anyone else, for ruining her work — or at least for ruining it without her help.

Anyway, here’s what happens. Judy and her brother Stink (Paris Mosteller) and Judy’s nerdy friend Frank (Preston Bailey) are left to their own devices when Judy‘s chirpy parents (Janet Varney and Kristoffer Winters) go off for the summer (they’re pretty selfish too) after Judy’s other good friends head off for Borneo or a circus camp. This spoils Judy‘s plan to have a huge chart on which they’ll all accumulate “thrill points” for doing things like taking roller coaster rides (and barfing) and going to scary movies (and running away). Then they’ll decide at the end who had the most fun. Wow! Fun! Yay! (They need a chart for that?) (I know, I can’t believe I‘m writing this synopsis either.)

So that’s the story of this really bummer of a summer, this dumber of a slummer, this hummer of a flummery (and this bummer of a movie) for Judy and Stink and Frank and wacky Aunt Opal. (Heather Graham tries to look as if she hasn’t had this much fun since Bowfinger, but I‘ll bet she has.)

Oh, I forgot to mention something: Brother Stink has this obsession with Big Foot, and he has some dopey older friends who are also obsessed with Big Foot, who is supposedly prowling around someplace in the area, pursued by Stink and the other Big Footies, as well as all those dogs who poop all over everything. Now you’ve been prepared for the smash surprise climax.

SPOILER ALERT

Just kidding.

END OF SPOILER

What’s this movie like? It’s loud, Its garish. It’s dopey. It’s shameless. As Rip Torn said to Norman Mailer in Beyond the Law, It’s a bummer. John Schultz directs the picture as if Big Foot were chasing him through fields of dog-doody and he’d lost his pooper-scooper. Everybody in the movie including the kids jolly teacher, Mr. Todd (Jaleel White) seems to have a screw loose somewhere. Judy herself struck me as often behaving like an obnoxious, selfish little brat, who maybe deserves to have a bummer summer. (Jordana Beatty just deserves a better movie.)

Is that enough for you? It should be. Believe me, you’re in pretty good shape right now. You’re in the wonderful position of NOT having to see Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer and of NOT having to think about seeing it, as soon as you’ve finished reading this review– unless you have daughters who read the book and insist on checking it out, in which case I strongly advise you to NOT see it with them. Instead, drop them off at the multiplex and go off to see something else, anything else. Even a “Saw” movie.

You should find better books for them to read though — or NOT to read. And I’m not talking “Diary of a NOT Wimpy Kid.”

One Response to “Wilmington on DVDs: Green Lantern; Horrible Bosses; Zookeeper; Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer”

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