COFFEE & KAREEM (2020) – Dumb Comedy Provides Some Laughs

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Sometimes I find myself shaking my head and asking, why did I choose to watch this movie again?

That’s what I did with COFFEE & KAREEM (2020), a new comedy on Netflix starring Ed Helms about a white cop in Detroit dating a black woman who gets involved in a madcap misadventure with the woman’s 12 year-old son after the youth attempts to have him killed. Doesn’t this sound like a fun movie? Nope.

But the trailer actually looked funny, I like Ed Helms, and I thought that perhaps this interracial plot would have something redeeming to say for our current troubled times.

And while COFFEE & KAREEM is far too dumb to provide any relevant social commentary, the one saving grace and the one thing that kept me from hating this movie is a lot of its jokes are really pretty funny. I laughed frequently, which for a comedy, is a good thing.

Coffee (Ed Helms) is a rather ineffective police officer on the Detroit police force. In fact, after he allows a drug dealer to escape from his custody, he’s relegated to traffic duty. But his problems are just beginning. See, he’s dating the lovely Vanessa Manning (Taraji P. Henson), who happens to be black, and her wannabe-gangsta twelve year-old son Kareem (Terrence Little Gardenhigh) is having none of it. His mom dating a white guy? Who’s a cop? Not on his watch! So, Kareem hatches a plan to pay a drug dealer— the same one who escaped from Coffee’s police cruiser— to teach the officer a lesson.

Of course, this being a screwball comedy, things don’t go as planned, and the next thing you know Coffee and Kareem are fleeing for their lives from violent drug dealers and crooked cops, and to survive, they have to set aside their differences and work together. Yep, it’s an old fashioned buddy comedy, this one of the father and son variety. Step-son, that is.

As plots go, this one is silly, trite, and relentlessly stupid. In fact, the plot is the worst part of the movie. It’s one of those films where because the story is so phony you wish you weren’t stuck watching it. It’s also one of those plots where every cop is crooked. Of course, in this day and age, you might be thinking, that’s not so unrealistic, but seriously, it is. And no effort is made to make any of what happens here real or believable.

But a lot of the jokes work, enough to save this one from being a complete turkey. There are some laugh out loud visual gags, one involving a hand grenade, another involving Taraji P. Henson’s violent take-down of two henchmen. Ed Helms and Terrence Little Gardenhigh share frequent funny moments together, and the three drug dealer heavies channel a Three Stooges vibe throughout which is most welcome, like one scene where before they break into a house one of them rings the doorbell, and there’s a whole ensuing discussion about the stupidity of doing so.

The screenplay by Shane Mack provides plenty of comical moments, but they’re all stuck in a plot that is as boring as a routine traffic stop.

I like Ed Helms, and he’s humorous here, but Officer Coffee is a difficult character to rally around. He’s the cliche last honest guy on the police force, and while he has plenty of admirable qualities, he’s more a buffoon than anything else. Helms has been far funnier before, especially in THE HANGOVER movies, the insanity of which COFFEE & KAREEM tries to capture, but the advantage THE HANGOVER movies had, or at least the first one anyway, was that in spite of the crazy happenings, somehow it was all rooted in reality. It all seemed real, which is not the case with COFFEE & KAREEM. Helms also knocked it out of the park in dramatic fashion in CHAPPAQUIDDICK (2017), in which he played it straight as Ted Kennedy’s advisor and friend Joseph Gargan.

Terrence Little Gardenhigh has a field day as twelve year-old Kareem, and much of the movie seems to be tailored around him. Trouble is, I just didn’t find this foul-mouthed youth to be a very likable character. The R-rated comedy GOOD BOYS (2019) took a similar route with a bunch of fifth graders and turned up the vulgarity, but that film worked because one, the kids were endearing, and two, much of the raunchiness in that story happened to the kids, and the comedy was their reactions to it. Here, Kareem is anything but endearing, as his plot to have his mom’s boyfriend killed isn’t funny at all, and he’s not simply reacting to vulgar events. He’s vulgarity personified.

I like Taraji P. Henson a lot, as she has delivered some powerhouse dramatic performances in such movies as HIDDEN FIGURES (2016) and THE BEST OF ENEMIES (2019). Here, she plays things for laughs, and while she’s not in this one all that much, she makes her few scenes count.

On the other hand, Betty Gilpin is wasted in a completely cliche role as the aggressive crooked cop Detective Watts. The role has no range, and Gilpin plays it one note throughout. Gilpin, who for me was the best part of the recent thriller THE HUNT (2020), is not allowed to do much here other than be combative and crazy.

I did enjoy RonReaco Lee, Andrew Bachelor, and William “Big Sleeps” Stewart as the three drug dealing baddies, who as I said channeled a Three Stooges vibe throughout and made me laugh nearly every time they were on screen.

COFFEE & KAREEM was directed by Michael Dowse. He must like buddy comedies, because he also directed STUBER (2019), a buddy comedy starring Dave Bautista as a cop who recruits the help of his Uber driver Stu, played by Kumail Nanjiani. STUBER was an amiable comedy, but it also wasn’t anything to write home about.

COFFEE & KAREEM is a subpar comedy that will not have you reminiscing about the buddy cop comedies of old, except to recall how much better they were. There are laughs to be sure, and this is to be commended, but the unrealistic story was a snooze, so in spite of the jokes, I found this one hard to sit through.

As much as I like coffee, this one had me yearning for tea.

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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) – Will Ferrell Musical Comedy Is Much Better Than Expected

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For starters, the title is awful— EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA— it sounds like a teen fantasy novel gone wrong— and it stars and was written by Will Ferrell, whose work I’ve enjoyed less and less with each passing year. But yet—

—-yet, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) is actually a really good movie, one that gets better as it goes along. It’s also one of Ferrell’s best films in years.

Lars Erickssong (Will Ferrell) has dreamed his whole life of winning the famed Eurovision Song Contest for his home country of Iceland, so much so that he has devoted his entire life to the endeavor, much to the chagrin of his father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) who makes it no secret how ashamed he is of his son’s “foolish” dreams. But Lars’ best friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) feels otherwise and together they make up the band Fire Saga and work each day to achieve their goal of making it to Eurovision.

Trouble is, they’re not particularly good, and they have established the reputation in their village as being pretty darned awful, which is a major reason why Erick thinks his son is wasting his life away on a dream rather than working.

But fate intervenes when Iceland needs one more entry for their national competition, and so they select a band randomly, which turns out to be Fire Saga. While Lars and Sigrit are overjoyed, as expected, they do not win, and hence don’t qualify for the trip to participate in Eurovision. But “fate” intervenes again when a ferry boat carrying every single Ice Landic act who placed ahead of Fire Saga mysteriously explodes in a fiery inferno, leaving as the only act left– Fire Saga. Suddenly they are on their way to Eurovision!

And that’s what the bulk of the movie is about, Lars and Sigrits’ adventures as they practice and prepare to particpate and somehow win the Eurovision competition.

Okay. On the surface, this plot sound silly, trite, and dumb, but it really isn’t. There’s a lot going on here.

The beginning of EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is very silly and humorous, as some of Fire Saga’s awful music numbers are laugh out loud funny, and so the feeling is, this is going to be a goofball comedy perhaps satirizing shows like Eurovision. But that’s not the direction the movie takes.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about two things. For one, it’s a love story between Lars and Sigrit, which at first sounds funny, because the idea of Will Ferrell in a love story is— well, laughable. And Ferrell is himself here, meaning he’s goofy, but he does channel an exhuberant innocence the way he did as Buddy the Elf in what I think is still his best movie, ELF (2003). Lars is also super focused on winning the contest, and so he barely notices Sigrit who definitely has feelings for him.

And so the love story is driven by Sigrit and by Rachel McAdam’s spirited performance as the character, as she delivers by far the best performance in the movie. She believes in Lars and during their journey together falls in love with him but hesitates to be up front with her feelings because she doesn’t want to ruin their art together.

Which is the second thing EUROVISION SONG CONTEST is really about, the making of art. These two characters devote their lives to a cause, and for Sigrit it’s more about performing than winning, while Lars just wants to win, but they both have something to say with their music. And they say it.

They both also see the world as artists do. So when Sigrit speaks of believing in elves, which on the surface is a statement about superstition in Iceland and is in the movie for comedic value, on a deeper level, it’s about a figurative way of thinking that allows artists to see things in ways that others don’t and to believe in things that others don’t. It’s why art— music, films, books, paintings— can change the world.

Now, I know this sounds too deep for a Will Ferrell movie, but these elements are all in the script, which is why I liked this one so much. Beneath this silly musical comedy about an unlikely singing duo, there’s a subtext which speaks and speaks well about what it is to be an artist. It’s a really good screenplay by Ferell and Andrew Steele.

It also gets the humor right. There are several laugh out loud moments in this film, from the outrageous bands in the contest and some of their numbers, to the playful banter between Lars and Sigrit, to some over the top sequences where Lars’ innocent silliness is on full display. Ferrell enjoys a lot of funny moments here.

And the end of this movie is really moving. You’ll actually forget how this one started, as a seemingly silly spoof, and be moved to tears by the emotional impact of its conclusion. Seriously!

As I said, this is Will Ferrell’s best work in some time. While most of his recent films have been meh, and in fact I haven’t loved a Ferrell movie since ELF, he steps it up big time here with EUROVISION SONG CONTEST. While Lars is never ordinary, he is sincere, driven to win to a fault, and in spite of his innocent offbeat silliness he’s believable.

He’s also complemented by Sigrit, brilliantly played here by Rachel McAdams. Hands down, McAdams gives the best performance in the movie. I like McAdams a lot, and she has delivered some memorable performances over the years. I especially enjoyed her work in SPOTLIGHT (2015) and she was hilarious in the very funny comedy GAME NIGHT (2018) in which she starred alongside Jason Bateman.

Here, McAdams plays Sigrit as an artist inspired by Lars and moved by him to be the best singer she can be, something that is sadly lost on him for most of the story. Her enthusiasm for her craft is infectious, and she and Ferrell have excellent chemistry throughout and are enjoyable together during the entire movie. McAdams effortlessly traverses between silly and serious and she makes Sigrit one of the more interesting characters I’ve seen in the movies this year.

Pierce Brosnan adds solid support as Lars’ father Erick, who for most of the movie is embarrassed for his son. Brosnan doesn’t play the character in a cliche over the top way. His contempt for his son is deep and real, and Brosnan nails the emotion throughout.

Dan Stevens is also excellent as Alexandar Lemtov, Russia’s contestant in the Eurovision contest and the odds-on favorite to win the entire competition. He also has eyes for Sigrit. Like the rest of the movie, Steven’s performance is a mix of over-the-top humor and subtle subtext. In Lemtov’s case, he’s a closeted homosexual who laments that Russia doesn’t allow him to live his life the way he wants.

Directed by David Dobkin, EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER in spite of its God-awful title and presence of Will Ferrell which would lead one to believe this is just a goofy comedy, is really a movie that supercedes expectations and is one of the more entertaining and enjoyable films I’ve seen this year.

Dobkin gives this one so much energy it flies by and even though it’s a two hour movie it seems much shorter than that. It’s full of memorable music numbers, has a surprisingly literate script by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele, and features wonderful performances by Ferrell and more so by Rachel McAdams.

So, ignore the title, and the fact that Will Ferrell is playing an over-achieving singer and songwriter. EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE STARTER is a treat of a movie, one that offers both surprises and laughs throughout, and finishes with an emotional conclusion that is above and beyond what one would usually expect for this type of movie.

You might even find yourself believing in elves!

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THE LOVEBIRDS (2020) – Romantic Comedy Offers Some Light Diversion

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Movie comedies are in a major slump.

Think about it. When was the last time you saw a new movie that made you laugh so hard you couldn’t stop? There haven’t been all that many recently. Which is too bad, because we can always use a good laugh, especially in the here and now.

I wish I could say today’s movie, THE LOVEBIRDS (2020), bucked that trend and had me laughing throughout, but that’s not the case. That being said, this silly romantic comedy about a couple who seconds after deciding to break up become involved in a murder that sends them fleeing from the police and searching for the real killer has its moments, and as such, is for the most part a pleasant diversion from current real world woes.

THE LOVEBIRDS opens with the first date between Jibran (Kumail Nanjiani) and Leilani (Issa Rae) and then leaps forward several years in time to the point where these two lovebirds are on the brink of breaking up. In fact, while in their car on their way to a party they do break up, and at that very moment, they strike a bicyclist with their vehicle. When they run out to see if the man is okay, he gets back on his bike and pedals away in a panic.

Stunned and shocked, they attempt to process what just happened, but they barely have time to do this when a man (Paul Sparks) arrives on the scene claiming to be a police officer. He commandeers their car with them inside and tells them the man on the bike is a dangerous criminal. They give chase, and when they finally catch up to the bicyclist the “police officer” who’s behind the wheel runs him down, and then runs him over several more times until he’s very dead. As he gets out of the car to check on the body, Jibran tells Leilani, “I don’t think he’s a cop.”

What follows is a comedic tale in which Jibran and Leilani work hard to elude both the police and the man, who they refer to as Moustache, as they attempt to find out why Moustache wanted to kill the bicyclist. If they find out why and can prove it, they can go to the police with a real story rather than the flimsy one they have now, with little or no reason why they fled a crime scene other than they were afraid.

THE LOVEBIRDS is a mixed bag. The two leads, Issa Rae and Kumail Nanjiani, do work well together, and by far, the funniest parts of the movie are their interactions with each other. The screenplay by Brendan Gall and Aaron Abrams gets this part right. In fact, the opening date sequence had me both laughing out loud and really enjoying these two characters as they got to know each other and fell in love. And this part of the movie remains consistent throughout. Rae and Nanjiani are both funny and enjoyable to watch from beginning to end.

The problem is the rest of the movie isn’t as strong. The plot never becomes as zany or as madcap as it needs to be. Most of the predicaments Leilani and Jibran find themselves in either fall flat or never push the envelope as far as they should. For example, in one scene, as they are held prisoner, they are given a choice, either hot bacon grease to the face or the unknown threat behind the door. Jibran chooses the door, and finds himself facing the back end of a horse. He actually says what the audience is fearing and expecting, but what happens is anticlimactic. This happens throughout the movie.

I almost wish this one had been a straight romantic comedy without the silly crime plot because Rae and Nanjiani really do work well together. In this case, they have to because they pretty much are the entire movie. Which is another problem with THE LOVEBIRDS. Movies like this really need some quirky supporting characters to keep the comedy moving, but this film doesn’t have any.

The only other memorable character is Moustache, and Paul Sparks plays it straight. He’s simply a menacing bad guy, but he’s not in the movie enough to have an impact. Moustache is also not developed at all. That being said, Paul Sparks does a nice job with what little he has to work with, which is no surprise, because he’s a really good actor. He’s been memorable on the TV show HOUSE OF CARDS (2015-18) and as a rather nasty critic James Gordon Bennett in THE GREATEST SHOWMAN (2017).

Issa Rae is excellent as Leilani, as is Kumail Nanjiani as Jibran, and they really do succeed in making these characters seem like a real couple. They’re funny throughout, and even when the situations they find themselves in simply aren’t as comical as expected, they still manage to garner a chuckle with a one-liner here and there. My favorite Kumail Nanjiani movie remains THE BIG SICK (2017). THE LOVEBIRDS is on par with his silly buddy comedy STUBER (2019) in which he co-starred with Dave Bautista.

There’s a conversation in a restaurant between Leilani and Jibran after they have fled the scene of the crime in which they discuss their options. and they agree they can’t go to the police since they are both nonwhite and fear the police would shoot first and ask questions later. This conversation reminded me of a similar moment in the dark drama QUEEN AND SLIM (2019), a movie about a black couple who flee a crime scene and go on to become an unintentional “black Bonnie and Clyde.” While its heart was in the right place, a lot of QUEEN AND SLIM simply didn’t work as well as it should have. Here, THE LOVEBIRDS attempts to be a lighthearted version of the same predicament, although race relations and police brutality, while a central theme in QUEEN AND SLIM, is barely mentioned here, although it is the reason the two main characters fear going to the police.

Two very different movies, two very similar scenes, and one very present and timely theme.

THE LOVEBIRDS was directed by Michael Showalter, who also directed Kumail Nanjiani in the far superior THE BIG SICK. In THE LOVEBIRDS, Showalter succeeds in bringing the two main characters to life. You will really route for Leilani and Jibran to survive their ordeal and get back together by the movie’s end. But he stumbles somewhat with the rest of the story. The predicaments are never as nutty or as energetic as they could be, and supporting characters who could add to the absurdity are nowhere to be found.

THE LOVEBIRDS works much better as a romantic comedy than an action comedy, because the relationship beween Leilani and Jibran is sincere throughout, while the action sequences are simply not very silly.

THE LOVEBIRDS is good for some light diversion, and it’s generally a fun experience, as long as you’re not looking to laugh your butt off for 90 minutes. Yep, at last check, my butt is still there.

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THE HALF OF IT (2020) – Tender Teen Love Story Emphasizes Romance Over Comedy

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Leah Lewis and Daniel Diemer in THE HALF OF IT (2020).

There have been some very good coming-of-age teen comedy/dramas in recent years, and you can go ahead and add THE HALF OF IT (2020) to the list, a new film by writer/director Alice Wu.

In THE HALF OF IT, nerdy high school senior Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) lives with her father Edwin (Collin Chou) who’s still traumatized over the death of his wife, Ellie’s mother.  He barely works and spends most of his time watching old movies on television. To help makes ends meet, Ellie runs a business writing essays for her classmates, with her motto being that if they don’t get an A, they don’t have to pay.

When she’s approached by a quiet yet sweet jock Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) to write a love letter to the girl he has a crush on, Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire), Ellie at first refuses, but she changes her mind when Paul offers to pay her more money which she needs to prevent the electricity in her home from being shut off.

Ellie writes the letter, and it works, as Aster responds with a letter of her own, and suddenly Paul is asking Ellie for more help, but further complicating matters is that Ellie also has a crush— on Aster.

What’s a girl to do? In Ellie’s case it’s to keep writing the letters which are really expressions of her own feelings towards Aster, which makes the whole process more and more difficult for her, especially when Paul sees just how hard Ellie is working to help him, a realization that changes the way he feels about her.

THE HALF OF IT is a comedy/romance, but as the movie goes along, the emphasis falls more on the side of romance. The theme of the movie is that love is messy and complicated, and the relationships in this story certainly back up this notion.

Now I liked THE HALF OF IT but I didn’t find the script by Alice Wu quite as sharp as I expected it to be. The comedy aspects, while funny, become less prevalent as the story moves forward, and the film loses some of its edge as it sheds its comedic voice. Much of the comedy early on involves Ellie’s and Paul’s antics to woo Aster, including scenes where they are spying on her, and a dinner date where Paul is fumbling to speak to Aster, so Ellie who’s watching from outside attempts to bail him out by texting her, but the trouble is, Paul can’t see what she’s texting. And while these moments are good for a chuckle, the humor never goes over the top to really make you laugh out loud.

The writing is stronger when focused on romance. There are some tender moments, like when Ellie attempts to teach Paul the art of conversation over a game of ping pong. And there are lots of little moments throughout, but one thing lacking in THE HALF OF IT is a big moment, that scene where the film tugs at your heart strings. There’s a dramatic climax inside a church which comes close to doing this but ultimately falls short.

But the small moments are enjoyable, like one at the film’s conclusion involving running after a train.

The three principal actors are all very good, Leah Lewis as Ellie, Daniel Diemer as Paul, and Alexxis Lemire as Aster, but one thing that works against this movie is that strangely, none of these folks generate much chemistry together. While I appreciated the odd love triangle, I never completely bought how they felt about each other. The love triangle just never came to life.

Director Alice Wu scores highest when covering the tender moments of teens contemplating love. More than just a teen comedy or love story, it’s really about understanding what love is, why people love, and how people love. Wu also uses the art of texting to the film’s advantage. The characters text each other constantly, and we see these texts in real time, and they really add to the effectiveness of the storytelling.

But I still wish the movie had been funnier. I enjoyed BANANA SPLIT (2018) more, a film I reviewed several weeks back, as that teen romance scored much higher on the comedic meter. Likewise, I also enjoyed THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) and LADY BIRD (2017) more as well.

The movie also doesn’t have a strong sense of place. It takes place in small town America, the typical “nothing happens here” town where the teens are just aching to leave, but the film doesn’t really capture the feel of this small town or where it is located. It’s in Washington, but it could take place just about anywhere there’s a small rural town.

I liked THE HALF OF IT but didn’t love it.

The theme of THE HALF OF IT is based on a Greek story by Aristophanes in which the gods split whole humans in half, and so humans now spend their lives looking for their other half in order to complete themselves. A sweet notion, one that the film returns to throughout its plot.

And THE HALF OF IT is composed of two halves as well, comedy and romance, and like the characters in the story, it too struggles to become something that is whole.

 

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BUFFALOED (2019) – Spicy Comedy-Drama Showcase for Zoey Deutch

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Zoey Deutch in BUFFALOED (2019).

BUFFALOED (2019) is a spirited, in-your-face comedy-drama about a young woman whose hell-bent on out-hustling anyone and everyone around her as she pursues her dream of making money.

It features a tour de force performance by Zoey Deutch in the lead role and sharp funny writing by Brian Sacca. It doesn’t entirely work, but for the most part, it’s a film I liked a lot and recommend.

While made in 2019, BUFFALOED premiered on February 14, 2020, and is currently available to watch at home on Xfinity On Demand.

BUFFALOED is the story of Peg (Zoey Deutch), a young woman who from a very young age believed she had to hustle in order to make it big in life, and that’s because her dad died when she was young, and she found herself unhappy at home with her now single mom and older brother in their low-income home in Buffalo, NY, an area she describes as being dominated by Bills’ games and chicken.

When she gets accepted into college, she realizes there is no way she can pay for it and so she comes up with a scheme to scalp Bills’ tickets, a decision that lands her in jail. After serving her time, she’s contacted by debt collectors regarding the money she owes, and after a phone conversation in which she realizes she’s better at this process than the guy she’s talking to on the phone, she joins a sleazy debt collecting business run by the unsavory Wizz (Jai Courtney) with the challenge that she will become his number one debt collector.

It turns out to be true, but when Wizz fails to pay her what she is owed, she quits and launches her own debt collecting firm, hiring an eclectic crew of collectors, from people she met in prison to a Bible salesman who showed up at her door. Of course, Wizz doesn’t take kindly to the competition, and he declares an all out war on Peg and her business, a war that gets nasty, violent, and dangerous. Hence, the drama part of the story.

I have to say, I liked BUFFALOED a lot, for the two main reasons mentioned above, for Zoey Deutch’s performance and for the script by Brian Sacca.

By far, the best part of BUFFALOED is Zoey Deutch’s performance as Peg. From the opening seconds of the movie, where she screams out one giant expletive, she had me hooked, and she easily carries the rest of the movie on her back. Peg is an abrasive, obnoxious, and often raunchy young woman who is also incredibly persistent and driven, a perfect salesperson, who in this case sadly uses her talents to collect debts from people. In a lesser actor’s hands, she could have been a very unlikable character. That’s not the case here as Deutch imbues her with such oomph and drive she’s like a roller coaster ride. It nearly makes you sick but you go right back in line for more.

I first noticed Deutch in ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP (2019) where she played Jesse Eisenberg’s Columbus’ new girlfriend. She more than held her own alongside Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin. In fact, her performance was one of my favorite parts of that movie. She’s equally as memorable here in BUFFALOED. Zoey Deutch is an actor to watch.

I also enjoyed Jai Courtney as the villainous Wizz. While most of the film is played for laughs, Courtney’s Wizz is not. He’s a sexist bully who is an exceedingly annoying character, well-played by Courtney. While Jai Courtney has enjoyed some prominent movie roles, like Captain Boomerang in SUICIDE SQUAD (2016) and Kyle Reese in TERMINATOR GENISYS (2015), his work here in BUFFALOED may be the best thing I’ve seen him do yet.

Judy Greer plays Peg’s mom Kathy, and she’s excellent as always. She stands by her daughter even as Peg’s decisions continually hurt the family, but even she has limits, and one of the best scenes in the movie is when Kathy finally has had enough and admits to Peg she wishes she would just leave. Greer has been playing Scott Lang’s ex-wife Maggie in the ANT-MAN  movies, and she also starred as Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode’s adult daughter Karen in the recent HALLOWEEN (2018) movie.

I enjoyed the screenplay by Brian Sacca, who also stars in the movie as Sal, one of the debt collectors who works for Wizz. The strength of the screenplay is the rough and raunchy dialogue which scores high on the funny meter. I laughed a lot. It also does a fantastic job creating Peg’s character, helped of course by Zoey Deutch’s performance.

Where it doesn’t do as well however is the actual story. As much as I enjoyed the dialogue, I didn’t always believe what I was watching. For example, the plan by Peg to scalp Buffalo Bills tickets to make money for college seemed more a plot device to get her into prison than something she would actually do. And things come so easily for her later, I wasn’t always buying it.

The best part of the story and when the movie hits its stride is when Peg assembles her debt collecting staff. This array of characters are the liveliest in the movie, and I wish the story had spent more time on their antics and less on the bully tactics of Wiff and his cronies to stop them.

The love story between Peg and her attorney friend Graham (Jermaine Fowler) also didn’t really work for me, for a couple of reasons.  One, I didn’t think Graham was a particularly well-written character, as he was by far the least developed character in the movie. And also, I didn’t feel that Fowler and Deutch shared much onscreen chemistry together.

Also, for a movie that clocks in at a crisp 95 minutes, there were times, especially towards the end, where it actually dragged a bit.

Director Tanya Wexler captures the Buffalo blue-collar feel well enough, and for the most part the film possesses the same oomph as Deutch’s Peg, but it’s not quite a home run.

With the heavy-handedness of Wizz and his henchmen, the film tries to make a  statement about the debt collecting underworld, but it’s not as successful as it sets out to be. There are times where it aims for the relevance of THE BIG SHORT  (2015) and THE WOLF OF WALL STREET (2013) but it falls short of these aspirations.

Just before the end credits roll, for example, the films lists the sad statistics of how many Americans are now in debt and who now face the unceasing ire of debt collectors, a practice that remains largely unchecked and unpoliced by the U.S. government. While this statement definitely pertains to the movie’s plot, it almost seems like it belongs in a different movie, since so much of BUFFALOED was played for laughs.

For the most part, I enjoyed BUFFALOED. It’s a showcase for an up and coming actor, Zoey Deutch, and it’s got a lively and very funny script that will make you laugh even when it explores some of the darker sides of the shady practice known as debt collecting.

And it does it all with as much spice as your favorite buffalo hot sauce.

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BANANA SPLIT (2020) – Teen Comedy Hilarious And Poignant

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Liana Liberato and Hannah Marks make their points in BANANA SPLIT (2020)

If you liked the coming-of-age teen comedies like THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016), EIGHTH GRADE (2018), LADY BIRD (2017), and BOOKSMART (2019), you’ll love BANANA SPLIT (2020), an exceedingly well-written and acted comedy that is as poignant as it is funny.

And even though BANANA SPLIT was filmed in 2018, a bizarre copyright issue involving a Bart Simpson T-shirt delayed the film’s release, and so it’s finally getting its wide release this weekend here in 2020. Of course, these days thanks to COVID-19, theaters are pretty much closed, and so if you want to see this one it’s available on Video On Demand services like Xfinity. It’s well-worth the $7.99.

BANANA SPLIT is the story of two high school seniors, April (Hannah Marks) and Clara (Liana Liberato), who over the summer before leaving for college, form an unlikely best friendship, and it’s unlikely because Clara is dating April’s ex-boyfriend Nick (Dylan Sprouse). Yeah, there’s that.

In an opening montage, we learn about April and Nick’s relationship, from how they first meet, to their junior and senior year romance, to how they break up at the end of their senior year, following April’s acceptance to Boston University, which will take her far away from their southern California homes.

April is devastated, and when she learns from their mutual friend Ben (Luke Spencer Roberts) that not only is Nick now dating a new girl in town, Clara, but that Clara happens to be a childhood friend of Ben’s, she’s overwhelmed. When she meets Clara at a party, she fully intends to make a scene, but strangely, the two hit if off. They have such a good time that before they leave, they exchange phone numbers.

The next thing they know they are hanging out, and as best friends, but to keep things “sane” they decide to come up with some rules, like “no talking about Nick” for instance, and also “no telling Nick.” Which puts their mutual friend Ben in a very awkward position, because he knows, and he’s not supposed to tell Nick. As he constantly warns, at some point this is all going to go to sh*t, because sooner or later Nick is going to find out.

Yup.

BANANA SPLIT is a superior comedy that is driven most of all by an impressive script by Joey Power and Hannah Marks, who also plays April. The dialogue is off-the-charts real. It’s also hilariously funny.

The story is a good one. In addition to the intriguing plot point of two friends who have dated the same guy, the script takes an honest and refreshing look at the friendship between April and Clara. These two become really close, and they talk openly about how while they are so close, they don’t have sexual feelings for each other and neither is seeking a lesbian relationship.

The honesty of the script and the frankness of the dialogue are the movie’s strengths. The conversations around the dinner table between April, her mom (Jessica Hecht) and her 13 year-old sister Agnes (Addison Riecke) are laugh-out-loud funny, because of the subjects being discussed, the language used to discuss them, and the honesty with which they unfold.

Sure, there’s an awful lot of sex, drugs, and alcohol happening among high school students which some may find disturbing. The film earns its R rating. But it’s all covered in an honest way that makes it work. In other words, the story is not about sex, drugs, and alcohol use. It’s about friendship. And these other things are just part of the story.

The writing by Marks and Power is phenomenal. Not only is it funny, but there are so many smart moments and observations which just click. Like when Clara observes two of April’s friends gesticulating at them at a party. Clara remarks dryly that they look “friendly,” to which April responds “They’re not friendly. They’re just my friends.”

The acting is just as good as the writing. Hannah Marks is just so good as April. Even though there are four main characters in this story, Marks pretty much carries this movie on her shoulders. She makes April a character we can relate to and care about. Her performance is every bit as good as the leads in the four movies mentioned above, Hailee Steinfeld in THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN, Elsie Fisher in EIGHTH GRADE, Saoirse Ronan in LADY BIRD, and Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein in BOOKSMART.

Liana Liberato is equally as good as Clara, a role that is a challenging one because Clara is still dating Nick and she has to play both sides of the fence. Yet, she does not come off as a manipulative person, even though ultimately by keeping this secret from Nick she is being less than honest. She comes off as a person who enjoys April’s friendship and her relationship with Nick, and she sees little conflict with continuing with both.

Dylan Sprouse is fine as Nick, but he disappears for large chunks of the movie. Making more of a mark is Luke Spencer Roberts as Ben, the neurotic best friend of both April and Clara who finds himself stuck in the middle and having to lie to his other best friend, Nick. Roberts enjoys many scene-stealing moments throughout this one.

Speaking of scene-stealing moments, Addison Riecke as April’s sister Agnes is not in this one a whole lot, but when she is, she commands attention. The aforementioned dinner table scenes are some of the most riveting and comical scenes in the movie, featuring rapid fire verbal and vulgar onslaughts between the two sisters while their mother struggles yet most often succeeds in keeping the peace. As such, Jessica Hecht is also very good as their loving and sincere single mom Susan.

BANANA SPLIT was directed by Benjamin Kasulke, who imbues this one with so much life and vivacity. His lively direction includes hilarious montages, like when Clara recounts to April the fourteen guys she’s had sex with, makes full and effective use of cell phone texts superimposed on the screen, and uses the camera to capture the vulnerabilities of all four of his main teen characters.

BANANA SPLIT is a winner from beginning to end. It perfectly relates the experience of high schoolers having relationships in the here and now, and even if your high school days are in the past, truths about young relationships never go out of style, and this movie is full of truths. Regardless of your age, this one is worth checking out.

Right now we are practicing social distancing amid the COVID-19 epidemic. You can’t go to your local ice cream eatery and enjoy a banana split with friends.

But you can enjoy this BANANA SPLIT on a television screen in the comfort of your own home. It’s just as fun and better yet, contains far fewer calories.

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Books by Michael Arruda:

DARK CORNERS, Michael Arruda’s second short story collection, contains ten tales of horror, six reprints and four stories original to this collection.

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Waiting for you in Dark Corners are tales of vampires, monsters, werewolves, demonic circus animals, and eternal darkness. Be prepared to be both frightened and entertained. You never know what you will find lurking in dark corners.

Ebook: $3.99. Available at http://www.crossroadspress.com and at Amazon.com.  Print on demand version available at https://www.amazon.com/dp/1949914437.

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

How far would you go to save your family? Would you change the course of time? That’s the decision facing Adam Cabral in this mind-bending science fiction adventure by Michael Arruda.

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00. Includes postage! Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

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Michael Arruda reviews horror movies throughout history, from the silent classics of the 1920s, Universal horror from the 1930s-40s, Hammer Films of the 1950s-70s, all the way through the instant classics of today. If you like to read about horror movies, this is the book for you!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, first short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

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Print cover

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Ebook cover

 

Michael Arruda’s first short story collection, featuring a wraparound story which links all the tales together, asks the question: can you have a relationship when your partner is surrounded by the supernatural? If you thought normal relationships were difficult, wait to you read about what the folks in these stories have to deal with. For the love of horror!

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.crossroadpress.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Includes postage. Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019) – Comedic Bio-Pic Features Eddie Murphy At His Best

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Conventional wisdom is that Eddie Murphy deserved an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Rudy Ray Moore in the Netflix film DOLEMITE IS MY NAME (2019).

After finally catching up with this one, I heartily agree.  This is Murphy’s best work in years. That being said, while I agree that Murphy could easily have been nominated, I’m still glad Joaquin Phoenix won the award for his lead role in JOKER (2019), as for me, his was the best performance of the year.

But back to DOLEMITE IS MY NAME, a movie I liked a lot. It’s a bio pic of Rudy Ray Moore, who after years of struggling to make his name in show business, changed his name and took on a new persona, Dolemite, leading to best-selling comedy albums and eventually a string of successful 1970s blaxploitation movies. As such, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is also quite funny, because Rudy was a funny guy, as were his antics.

When DOLEMITE IS MY NAME opens, Rudy (Eddie Murphy) is stuck working in a record store and can’t get his own records played on the radio to save his life. He feels increasingly frustrated that he has worked his butt off with nothing to show for it. But when he hears a street person telling a series of jokes in a sing-song fashion, he realizes that this man and others like him are a treasure trove for material. So Rudy visits them on the streets and writes down their stories and their jokes, and he turns their source material into his own original act, creating a new character in the process, the charismatic Dolemite.

He’s an instant sensation at his local stand-up comedy venue, and then things just take off from there, leading to comedic record deals, and eventually movies.

Eddie Murphy is right at home playing Rudy Ray Moore and his alter ego Dolemite. Murphy is a natural at capturing Rudy’s raunchy comedic style since it fits right into Murphy’s own style of comedy back in his heyday. Better yet, Murphy nails the dramatic elements here as well. Early on, he does a great job showing Rudy’s frustrations with life, that he just can’t seem to catch a break, and he isn’t getting any younger. Likewise, after he has achieved success and has become a “star,” Murphy portrays Rudy as a man who never forgot his roots. He doesn’t become a jerk, and he treats his fans well. Murphy’s Rudy is a guy to be admired.

Wesley Snipes and Chris Rock are also in the cast and their presence is felt. This is actually the first time that Murphy and Snipes have ever made a movie together. They share some fun moments, as Snipes plays D’Urville Martin, who directed Dolemite’s first movie, and the two don’t always see eye to eye, which makes for some entertaining sequences.

Da’Vine Joy Randolph gives one of the best performances in the movie as Lady Reed, a performer who Rudy “discovers.” Their scenes together are some of the best in the film. Randolph enjoys lots of comedic moments and some dramatic ones, like when she thanks Rudy for giving her a chance, grateful that he overlooked her large size and didn’t let that stop him from promoting her.

Kodi Smit-McPhee is the film student Rudy hires to be his director of photography. Smit-McPhee has been in a bunch of movies in his young career, and my favorite remains his portrayal of the boy Owen in the exceptional vampire movie LET ME IN (2010) starring Chloe Grace-Moretz and directed by Matt Reeves. Sure, it’s a remake of LET THE RIGHT ONE IN (2008), which many people prefer, but I like LET ME IN a lot. Smit-McPhee is excellent in it, and plus it’s a Hammer Film!

Director Craig Brewer really gives this one a 1970s look and feel and successfully recaptures the essence of Rudy’s original Dolemite movies. Things slow down a bit during the film’s second half, but other than this, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is an enjoyable piece of filmmaking, as long as you don’t mind lots of vulgar language.

The screenplay by Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski is ripe with coarse language, and there’s plenty of nudity as well, all capturing the 1970s blaxploitation feel. It also tells a noteworthy story and portrays Rudy Ray Moore as decent guy whose years of hard work eventually pay off. The movie is also hilariously funny.

I liked DOLEMITE IS MY NAME a lot. It tells a worthwhile story, features one of Eddie Murphy’s best performances in years, and in addition to being an informative biography of Rudy Ray Moore is exceedingly funny as well.

If you’re indoors social distancing looking for a movie to watch, DOLEMITE IS MY NAME is a worthy addition to your movie queue.

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PARASITE (2019) – Gripping Tale of Haves and Have-Nots Comedic One Moment, Horrific The Next

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So-dam Park and Woo-sik Choi in PARASITE (2019).

Usually when a movie can’t be pigeonholed into one genre, the common refrain is that it can’t make up its mind what kind of movie it wants to be.

Not so with PARASITE (2019), a drama that hails from South Korea that is frequently comedic even as it flirts with undertones of a harsh reality, before it explodes into a full-blown horrific nightmare.

PARASITE has been quietly gaining momentum as a dark horse Best Picture contender, and while I certainly really liked this one, I’m not sure it would have made it into my Top Ten list for Best Movies of 2019.

That being said, I still really liked it.

PARASITE is the story of a destitute family, Ki-taek (Kang-ho Song), his wife Chung-sook (Hye-jin Jang), their 20-something daughter Ki-jung (So-dam Park) and college-aged son Ki-woo (Woo-sik Choi). They are all unemployed and live in a decrepit basement dwelling.

But when Ki-woo’s college friend recommends him to take over his private tutoring position while he studies abroad, Ki-woo suddenly finds himself hired to tutor the high school daughter of a very wealthy family and as a result he’s handsomely paid. He then comes up with a scheme to have his sister impersonate an art therapy tutor to help the family’s youngest son, and once she’s hired, now there are two members of Ki-woo’s family working and getting paid amazingly well.

So, why stop there? The comedic plot thickens as the family schemes to get Ki-taek and Chung-sook hired there as well, and so they all find themselves pretending to be people they are not working for the family led by Dong-ik Park (Sun-kyun Lee) and his wife Yeon-kyo (Yeo-jeong Jo). And while life is good for a while, as the two families interact, it becomes increasingly clear how much of a divide exists between the likes of Ki-taek’s family and Dong-ik’s, who hold the poor in contempt. And so there is this undercurrent of a painful divide which is there and seemingly on the verge of exploding yet never does.

Until something completely unexpected happens which turns everything that has occurred thus far on its head.

THE PARASITE is a gripping, captivating story that is as entertaining as it is disturbing. You’ll find yourself smiling and laughing along for one moment and then grimacing in horror the next. And the best part is these seemingly opposite emotions really work here, and they work because they are both based on truth. The truth of the matter is in the here and now, we are seeing a greater and greater divide between the haves and the have-nots, and while here the antics of the have-nots to make do can be light and humorous, when push comes to shove, and the realization hits that the have-nots are never going to be the haves, the pleasant comedic balance ends. Things get dark real fast.

THE PARASITE was written and directed by Bong Joon Ho, who has made a couple of other highly regarded movies, films like SNOWPIERCER (2013) and THE HOST (2006). The script captures the class differences perfectly, as does the camera, as we see entirely different worlds, the elegant and opulent home of Dong-ik and the shanty poverty-stricken dwelling of Ki-taek, which when there is a flood, not only has to contend with the flood waters, but all the back-up sewage water which erupts through their plumbing.

The cast is excellent, especially Kang-ho Song, Hye-jin Jang, Woo-sik Choi, and So-dam Park as the four members of the Kim family.

The best part of THE PARASITE is that it mixes its emotions perfectly, and while at times it can be jarring to go from light laughter to brutal horror, in terms of the story it’s telling, it makes perfect sense and it works.

Sadly, the divisions between classes continues to grow. The rich seem to grow richer while the poor grow poorer.

The emotions in THE PARASITE capture and reflect this sad reality. In short, in these present conditions, you can only laugh for so long. Eventually you’ll be crying.

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JO JO RABBIT (2019) – Unlikely Comedy of Boy Who Idolized Hitler One of Year’s Best

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If I were to tell you that one of the best comedies of the year would feature Adolf Hitler as a main character, you probably wouldn’t believe me.

But believe! Because not only is JO JO RABBIT (2019) one of the best comedies of the year, it’s also one of my favorite movies of the year.

JO JO RABBIT is the story of a young boy named Jo Jo (Roman Griffin Davis) who during the waning days of World War II not only wants to be in Hitler’s army but also idolizes the Nazi leader, so much so that his imaginary friend is none other than Hitler (Taika Waititi) himself. He gets the nickname Jo Jo Rabbit when during his youth soldier training he refuses to kill a rabbit, and the officers make fun of him, calling him first a coward and then “Jo Jo Rabbit.”

When Jo Jo discovers that his mother Rosie (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish girl, Elsa (Thomasin McKenzie) in their house, he is at first outraged, but then as he gets to know her through their subsequent conversations, his feelings change, so much so that he finds himself questioning the Nazi doctrine.

JO JO RABBIT is an unusual movie. It’s also a terrifically fun and comedic one. The scenes between Jo Jo and his imaginary Adolf are flat-out hilarious. Writer/director Taika Waititi has a field day with the role, making this one of the most unlikely characterizations of Hitler on-screen ever. Waititi channels equal parts Mike Myers and Michael Palin, and even some Tom Hanks in his completely inane and hysterical take on the character. When asked why he would ever consider playing Hitler, Waititi, who is Jewish, answered, “What better way to say f*ck you to the guy?” And he’s right.

Young Roman Griffin Davis is astounding as Jo Jo. He pretty much carries this movie, and that’s saying a lot for a film that features a strong veteran cast.

Equally as good as Davis is Thomasin McKenzie as Elsa, the young Jewish girl hiding inside Jo Jo’s home. She is responsible for teaching Jo Jo some truths about life, including that he’s just a kid and not a Nazi. McKenzie stood out in last year’s LEAVE NO TRACE (2018) in which she co-starred with Ben Foster. I may have enjoyed her more here in JO JO RABBIT.

Scarlett Johansson delivers a spirited performance as Jo Jo’s mother Rosie. The two share some of the movie’s best scenes, certainly its most poignant ones, as the film speaks on what it’s like to be a single parent, but don’t expect strife and pain. Johansson’s Rosie is a strong character who is more than up to the task of raising her son on her own, even as she secretly works to take on the Nazis.

Likewise, Sam Rockwell— as he always is— is excellent as quirky Nazi officer Captain Klenzendorf who at times seems as if he walked off the set of the old HOGAN’S HEROES TV show. But there’s also a sincerity to Klenzendorf in his relationship with young Jo Jo that transcends comedic caricature.

And if Klenzendorf hearkens from HOGANS HEROES, Rebel Wilson’s Nazi Fraulein Rahm could easily have walked off the set of a Mel Brooks movie.

And young Archie Yates is exceptional as Yorki, Jo Jo’s second best friend— after Adolf. Yates and Davis share some tender scenes and some hilarious ones.

The screenplay by Taika Waititi, based on a novel by Christine Leunens, is nonstop hilarious. The film works not only as an energetic comedy and satire, but also as a moving drama that looks at the human condition and explores the relationship between Jo Jo and his mother, and more importantly, between Jo Jo and Elsa.

Some may argue that a movie like this may promote pro-Nazi views, and that some folks may not get the joke that these people are being made fun of, but the film combats that notion on two fronts. One, the Nazis here are portrayed as over-the-top buffoons, and two, the love of the Nazis is seen through the innocent eyes of a young boy, who with the experience of getting to know a young Jewish girl realizes how backwards and false those views are. In essence, as the story goes along, Jo Jo falls out of love with Adolf and in love with Elsa.

The film is clear in its repudiation of the Nazi agenda, as not only is Elsa a voice against Nazism, but so is Jo Jo’s mother Rosie, and to a lesser extent Captain Klenzendorf.

Taika Waititi, who also directed THOR: RAGNORAK (2017), and is known more for films like BOY (2010) and WHAT WE DO IN THE SHADOWS (2014) has hit a home run here with JO JO RABBIT. Everything about this one works, from its sharp satire, to its frequent laugh out loud moments, to its touching message on the human condition, which is simply put, that love conquers all, and that we are here to love each other, not kill each other.

The film is also shot in bright vibrant colors, giving Nazi Germany a celebratory feel, which goes against the many gray newsreels from history, the point being that ordinary German citizens thought everything was going great. They believed they were living the dream, while others who secretly fought back, realized their government was misguided and working against human rights and decency. So Nazi Germany in JO JO RABBIT is shown as a happy place, where the Nazi agenda operated in the shadows.

It’s not every day that you come across a comedy that satirizes Nazism successfully, but JO JO RABBIT makes it look easy.

As such, it’s one of my favorite movies of the year.

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GOOD BOYS (2019) – R-Rated Tween Comedy Surprisingly Sincere and Nonstop Funny

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Brady Noon, Jacob Tremblay, and Keith L. Williams in GOOD BOYS (2019).

GOOD BOYS (2019) is one of those movies where you’ll find yourself laughing at things you know you have no business laughing at.

That’s because it’s an R-rated comedy about tweens, three boys who are about to enter 6th grade. Its story features raunchy language, drugs, and sex, among other things, but the fundamental reason GOOD BOYS works so well is its screenplay by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky is incredibly sincere and sensitive.

The tweens act like tweens, and that’s part of the comedy. When the three boys inadvertantly find themselves in possession of illegal drugs, they don’t break open the container and get high. They scream about the dangers of drugs and try to get rid of the stuff. When they discover a bunch of sex toys, they have no idea what they are and use them for all sorts of different things. When they discover a sex doll, they think it’s a CPR doll.

The writing is sharp and on the mark, the laughs fast and furious.

The story in a nutshell involves three tween boys, Max (Jacob Tremblay), Lucas (Keith L. Williams) and Thor (Brady Noon) who are best friends and call themselves  “The Bean Bag Boys.” When they get invivited to the cool kid’s party, they are overjoyed until they learn that it is a “kissing” party, and as much as they want to kiss the girls there, they have no idea how to kiss.

And so they decide to find out. One complication leads to another, and before they know it, they are in some serious sh*t.

Depending on how judgmental you are about movies, you may or may not like GOOD BOYS. If the idea of having 6th graders involved in comedic adult situations turns you off, you probably won’t enjoy this one.

I liked this one because it’s genuine and remains true to its characters. The boys here never act like adults. They act exactly the way 6th graders act, and when placed in these outrageous comedic situations the combination of their innocence with the zany proceedings results in constant hilarity.

One thing working against GOOD BOYS, which is no fault of the movie, is that the film’s trailers gave away an awful lot. While there are still funny scenes not shown in the trailers, most of the film’s funniest bits I had seen already.

Even so, the laughs really never stop. Director Gene Stupnitsky keeps this one funny from start to finish.

The tween cast is terrific. Jacob Tremblay, a talented young actor who has already made his mark in such notable films as ROOM (2015) and WONDER (2017) where he played Auggie, plays Max here. Of the three boys, Max is the most interested in the kissing party because he wants to kiss Brixleee (Millie Davis) his first real crush, and who he says he may marry one day. Incidentally, Millie Davis also starred alongside Tremblay in WONDER.

This plot point opens the door for a subplot towards the end of the movie where the boys realize they are changing. For example, of the three, Max is the most mature and the first to be interested in girls, and these changes put a strain on their friendship. It also allows the tweens to talk about respecting women, and they are constantly talking about seeking the girl’s consent before kissing. It may not sound like much, but the climactic kissing scene near the end is even more moving when Max approaches Brixlee and before kssing her asks, “Can I kiss you?” and she says, “Yes.”

Keith L. Williams plays Lucas, and his storyline introduces divorce to the story, as his parents are separating. The scenes with his parents are both hilarious and sad, which is no easy feat, but this movie pulls it off with ease.

And Brady Noon plays Thor, who is the recipient of the most bullying and peer pressure of the three, so much so that even though he loves to sing, he drops out of the school musical. Noon’s performance as a boy who likes to sing rises above the traditional cliche.

Later, when he’s dared to break the beer drinking record, it’s not about the number of beers one drinks. It’s about the number of sips. The record is three sips, by the way.

Molly Gordon and Midori Francis are fun as the two older teens who “go to war” against the boys after they discover the boys spying on them with a drone. The chase scene where the girls pursue the bike-riding boys both in their car and on foot is a highlight. As is the sequence where they send the boys inside a college frat house to buy drugs. Some of the loudest laughs of the entire movie came when the boys gave the frat boys their comeuppance.

And I saw this one in a crowded theater, and the laughs were frequent and loud.

Molly Gordon has been busy lately, as she also starred in supporting roles in BOOKSMART (2019) and LIFE OF THE PARTY (2018). She was notable in both.

Isaac Wang  shows some presence as Soren, the tiny cool kid who hosts the kissing party.

And comedian Lil Rel Howery has some comical moments as Lucas’ Dad. Howery recently showed up in a couple of high quality horror movies, BIRD BOX (2018) and GET OUT (2017).

Nearly all the jokes work. But one of the sequences that didn’t work as well was the scene where the boys had to cross a busy highway. It reminded me an awful lot of a similar scene in a comedy from some years back, BOWFINGER (1999) starring Steve Martin and Eddie Murphy. Too derivative for me.

But all in all, GOOD BOYS is nonstop funny and entertaining. And for a comedy, you can’t ask for much more than that.

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