3 Big Bags of Suck
Be careful what you wish for, that’s the lesson that was re-pounded into my head with this week’s movie selections. After my piss-and-moan session about seeing only things I liked, which was just dousing my anger fire, the gods apparently listened and turned those tides dramatically. I’ve got two Instant Watch gems (including the fastest tap-out I’ve had in recent memory) and a rental to cover here, and a lot of bile to spew, so enough with the chit-chat.
Control Alt Delete - Indie Comedy, 2008. I like Tyler Labine. I like him a lot. That said, I’m sure there’s a great chance you have no idea who he is, so let me ‘splain. In the realm of television, Tyler Labine might be the best second-banana working in his generation. He’s been in a lot of hip things (beginning with small parts in The X Files years ago), and more recently in the short-lived and awesome Invasion and the also-short-lived and way-more-awesomer Reaper. That said, I haven’t watched one episode of his current show Sons of Tucson, because I’m not attracted to the idea of him as a lead – it just seems like too much of ‘that thing he does’. In general, he’s the perfect sidekick/buddy guy. He dresses hip, he’s mean-funny, and by the AMA’s standards, he’s about 80 lbs overweight (by my standards, he’s about 35 over, if we’re comparing).
However, when it comes to Netflix Instant, I’ll consider watching anything; it’s very existence is the great equalizer. And so it is I stumbled across Control Alt Delete, a comedy starring Labine. It might be good to note at this point that I, much like Major League Baseball and the American judicial system, believe in a ‘three strikes’ policy when watching a movie, no matter how ‘free’ it is. The description had me nonplussed – he plays some nerd whose girlfriend dumps him, and he gets tired of Internet porn, so….and that’s where the description ends.
Strike One: As mentioned in my talk about Shadow Puppets, nepotism in film is generally a horrible idea. So you can imagine my feelings when the words ‘directed by Cameron Labine’ showed up.
Strike Two: The digital transfer on Netflix of this is HORRIBLE. That, or the move was filmed entirely on a Betacam. I can deal with bad digital transfer to a certain point. ‘Apparently filtered through a full used coffee filter’ is well past that point. That’s a nice benchmark to establish, in case you’re wondering in future reviews.
Strike Three: The OPENING SCENE of this thing starts with Labine, completely naked, locked in the end of the Styles Clash (you’ll have to look that up on YouTube in the TNA Wrestling area if you don’t know the reference) with a really really attractive girl. Except Tyler just doesn’t feel like getting it on with her. And then he rolls over in the bed and then walks around. Naked.
I can accept the implausibility of a really hot girl being with a witty nerd, that’s fine. I can accept even that maybe he doesn’t feel as attracted to her as she is to him, again, fine. What I can’t accept is a guy who is forty pounds heavier than I am wantonly strutting around balls-out in front of a camera his brother is behind. Gross. Respect the public, man. That’s just nasty.
Tapped out at 2 minutes and 48 seconds. Oh, and so I knew what I ‘missed’, if that’s even the right term, the ‘and so….’ part of the plot involves him deciding to get it on with his computer. Awesome. How drunk does one have to be to spend money on this idea when the light of day shines its ugly flashlight on you? You’re off the invite list, Labine. Zero out of 7.
iMurders – Horror, 2008. I should note that my personal ‘three strikes’ rule applies to major infractions – like ‘bad casting’, ‘horrible filming’ and ‘gigantor naked guy leading off to bat’. This is important, because as you’ll note upon examination, the poster for iMurders by itself has three big warning signs on it: a) I don’t know the last time I saw a mouse with a cord on it, at least not in a movie based on ‘technology’, b) especially not one with the wheel and clickers on the opposite side of the cord, and c) the use of the word ‘cyberspace’ in any promotional material released since 2001.
But I ignored these things, in hopes of finally getting my fix of Tony Todd (see: Shadow Puppets, absence of Tony Todd within first half, despite being billed third). But here, with iMurders, TT gets billed second – that has to mean he’s prominent, right? So I hunkered down and began to watch the longest opening credit roll-out I’ve ever seen….it sets up following some wires through a computer case. Slowly. As fourteen ‘stars’ are announced. Fourteen. None seemingly more important than the others….but in this fourteen we get Todd, we get Gabrielle Anwar (I told you she belongs in things like this), we get William Forsythe (whom I mistakenly thought was William Fichtner, the Bruce Dern of our times, so you can imagine my disappointment when I realized it was not creepy Fichtner, but instead ‘the guy we get when we know Nicholson won’t look at it, and Michael Ironside is busy’), and….Billy Dee ‘Lando Motherf-ing Calrissian’ Williams. Hello! However, in order to get to ‘and featuring Billy Dee Smoothness’, I had to sit through what felt like twelve minutes of credits. Fourteen stars? Really? Somebody has trouble prioritizing.
So anyway, I see Billy Dee is in here, and then we start the movie with a scene of some guy boinking some girl next to his computer with a gigantic chat window open next to him, and his wife comes home, and there’s an argument, and then a gunshot and then…more opening credits. Seriously. Like another five minutes of cord-tracing while the director of cinematography and the best boy get their due. Jesus H.
Finally this thing sets up: there’s a young woman moving into an apartment, like 10 months after that scene between the credits happens, and she meets her nosey-but-nice landlady and starts teaching her all about the magical innerwebs (however, I would be remiss to ignore the roughly seventy times the internet is referred to, again, as ‘cyberspace’. Because that’s contemporary, or something). Anyhow, this quickly sets up to be a tale about the dangers of social networking. Ha ha! Didn’t see that coming! Our heroine Sandra is hooked into ‘FaceSpace’ (clever!) so much, that she has a subset group of friends who get together just to chat twice a week – and this is where some of those aforementioned fourteen ‘stars’ come into play. Oh, and ‘FaceSpace’ is apparently that social-networking platform that defaults to immediate full-screen chat windows, because that wouldn’t be the most irritating thing ever.
Far be it to make any sense, though, it never becomes clear WHY this group of eight or ten are a group (it was hard to follow the number – there’s real names and ’cyberspace’ names and it’s all very muddled); there’s no theme like ‘we all watch Law and Order’, or ‘we are droids’, or ’we like to swap pictures of kittens fighting with hammers’ - they’re just a random and diverse group of future murder victims. Oh wait, there it is! And this is a tight group – evidence of such comes in the form of camera shots of their individual calendars, all of which have ‘Chat Night’ written boldly on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and the fact they all keep blowing off the people in their lives to chat. It would have been helpful if someone would have just shown up on-screen and announced ‘this is set in 1998, btw’ at the beginning just to cover all this bullshit, but they didn’t, so screw them.
So Chat Group Bunch plays some sort of unstructured game every month, usually run by the effeminate special effects artist that is sort of their heart and soul – and we know he’s a special effects artist because 1) we are told so, and 2) he has ‘special effects things’ hanging on his wall in the background. And by ‘special effects things’, I naturally am referring to the ‘Mask from Scream’ placed there for character development, authenticity, and to attest that the art director had 2 dollars burning a hole in his pocket at Dollar Tree. Granted, no explanation of previous competitions is given, nor does the film bother to extrapolate why these people get along, but that would just be bothersome – no, all we need to know is this month’s contest is ‘solving a murder mystery’, and one of them will be revealed to be the culprit.
At least, I think that was how it was going to go, because the SFX guy never really got to explaining how any of it is supposed to work. He starts to, but then one of the Halloween Express decorations behind him stands up and puts a power drill in his head. Of course, because webcams blow, and Flaming SFX is such a jokester, everybody ignores his pleas for help, and the blood, and the part where he says ‘Oh Sweet Lord this isn’t the game and somebody is using a 3/16th in my ear when it clearly is a job for a 5/8ths!’.
Also, there’s occasional cut scenes to Billy Dee Williams as a lawyer explaining to some other random girl with a giant bandage on half her face and wearing Trinity’s outfit from The Matrix that she shouldn’t worry, because she’s going to get what’s coming to her if she’s patient. I have this to say – Billy Dee looks bad. Like in a ‘my death is going to be weird and you people are going to learn a lot of things about me you didn’t want to know’ bad. Anyway, this part didn’t seem to be making much sense, but BDW is there, so it’s all good.
Guess where we’re at in this 98 minute fiasco? 45 minutes. That’s almost halfway through. You know who we haven’t seen? That’s right, Tony Todd. Again. We have had two excruciating scenes with Charles Durning as a psychiatrist, whose theraputic mode is ‘repeat back to the patient everything they just said, word-for-word, then grunt’. I thought Charles Durning was dead, though in all honesty this performance doesn’t disprove that. Still, no Tony Todd. This is two in a row where one of the two LEADS, according to the marketing, hasn’t been in ANY of the exposition. This is about where I thought to myself: ‘I’d bet that Faux-Trinity with her bandage-covered face scar is the girl getting plowed at the beginning of this thing and then the wife scarred-her-up good, so she’s exacting revenge on all the social-networking people, to teach them a lesson about morality.’
And I’m assuming that’s exactly what happened, because I had enough. I’m tired of being lied to Netflix Instant Watch. From now on, If I see ‘Tony Todd’ listed in your preview, and I tune whatever that particular sixty-thousand-dollar-budget-assterpiece on, I better see The Candyman in two minutes or less, or it’s free. Wait, it is free; damnit! Why don’t I have any rights? 1 out of 7
When In Rome – Mainstream Romantic Comedy, 2009. Okay, here’s one you’ve actually heard of, and it was in a real movie theater once, and I rented it, so lissen’ up. Let’s sum this up: this is a lightweight rom-com, with no actual surprise in the plot, and that’s fine in and of itself. A overachieving woman can’t find love, but then somehow meets an amazing guy and finds love. Doesn’t get much more clear-cut than that.
In this case, Kristin Bell is an art curator, and Josh Duhamel (who’s sort of a blend of Greg Kinnear and Joel McHale, I guess) is a never-explained-how wealthy former college quarterback who was struck by lightning. Ridiculous, yes, but it doesn’t really matter. I’m taking the road of ‘not talking about the leads or the story’ this time out, because I’ve already told you the whole story - in fact, four movies a year tell this whole story, and I’d prefer to not talk about Kristin Bell. Yes, I know you think she’s fabulous and pretty; I don’t. I mean, I don’t think she’s horrendous, but I do think her chin is pointy in a ‘three-year-old-drew-my-face’ way, and her eyes are half-a-size too small for her head and that’s distracting. That’s just my deal, you like her all you want.
Instead, I judge When In Rome by the factor I now judge ALL romantic-comedies by: the supporting cast. Really, they make-or-break these things all of the time. From Elizabeth Perkins and Jim Belushi in About Last Night to Jay and Silent Bob in Chasing Amy to Paul Rudd and Leslie Mann in Knocked Up, a couple good comic foils on the periphery can make something dismissable into something you sort-of-enjoy just like that!
I’m assuming that’s what director Mark Steven Johnson must have been thinking, but given his directing resume of Daredevil and Ghost Rider it’s sort of easy to see how ‘restraint’ might have been a challenge. (Aside: when asked the question ‘we have a lightweight rom-com coming up on the schedule, who should we get to direct?’, who answers ‘That guy that made Ghost Rider!’?) That’s the only explanation I have for why there’s FIFTEEN supporting cast members that serve some purpose to stretching this five-minute-plot out to a gasping 91 minutes. Let’s break ‘em down:
Her Friends: (3) There’s the kinda-goofy looking one made up to seem sorta-pretty, the gay guy, and the overweight one. Aside from the first one, I’m not sure where they fit in, other than cheering Kristin Bell on. Effectiveness: Meh
His Friend: (1) Well, actually there’s two more, but the other two are in one scene. Primarily there’s the one main one, who’s a photographer to Duhamel’s writer-guy. The part seems written for Seth Rogan, but thankfully it’s not played by him. Instead, Bobby Moynihan gets the call, and he swings back and forth between straight-on-Rogan and straight-on-Kevin Smith. But he’s good at it, so god bless. Effectiveness: Great.
Her Hard-Ass Boss: (1) Played by Anjelica Huston, who looks about 87 in this. It’s a cardboard role, and probably a day’s filming for Huston. Whether the character exists or not has no bearing on the movie as it exists. Effectiveness: Pointless.
The Weird-Speaking Foreign Priest: (1) I would just call him ‘Italian-speaking’, but that’s not really what Keir O’ Donnell is doing. Instead he’s mostly playing Mr. Bean as Italian. Oh, and he’s the most negligible supporting cast member of all these. Except for the part where he’s the most important character in the big reveal at the end. Effectiveness: Pretty pointless, very derivative.
Her Dad: (1) played by Don Johnson, and acting like Don Johnson. But I like Don Johnson. Effectiveness: Crockett!
Her sister and her new Italian husband: (2) Other than their wedding being the setting for the big plot twister, kinda pointless, but they keep going back to the two of them to essentially explain the plot, thus avoiding unneccessary ‘plot development’. Effectiveness: Meh.
The Waitress: (1) Essentially just a one-scene character, but they went to the point of casting Kristin Schaal (you’d recognize her if you saw her), so count it. Effectiveness: Actually funny. Perhaps she could have been used for one of the many other larger parts.
The Suitors: (4+1) Here’s the hub, because the ‘twist’ in this rom-com is that Bell, disheartened at not finding love, picks five coins out of a magical ‘love fountain’ in Italy – and by doing so, the tossers (appropriate title twice!) are now desperately in love with her (and because one is a poker chip, she assumes Duhamel is one of them – eh, you get it). And because of this, these guys are sort of the make-or-breakers. We have:
The Frustrated Italian Painter played by Will Arnett: I hate Will Arnett. Always.
The Egotistical Male Model played by Dax Shepard: I usually dislike Dax Shephard, but he’s oddly enjoyable in this.
The Danny DeVito Character played by Danny DeVito: He plays a character who introduces himself as ‘The Sausage King’. Remember that gag from Ferris Bueller? So did they. So much so, that another character says ‘like from Ferris Bueller?’ If you’re going to steal, I’m going to say you stole, not yell at you for spitting on the sidewalk. Noting it yourself is worse. Dismissable.
The Weird Street Magician played by Jon Heder: I like Jon Heder a lot, so it pains me to say that he fails here, coming off ‘weird and creepy’ instead of ‘odd and funny’. However, he does bring a +1……
Weird Street Magician’s Filmographer Friend played by Efren Ramirez: VOTE FOR PEDRO!
Overall Suitors Effectiveness: Total Mess.
This isn’t the worst thing you’ll ever watch, especially not in its category, but there’s a lot better too. All in all, When In Rome is sorta a waste of time. 3 out of 7.