Thundering Pineapple Mummies
Well, the summer is winding down, but I’m taking advantage of the lull to catch up on some movies! Here’s what I’ve seen lately:
Tropic Thunder — Just saw this tonight, and let me tell you it is phenomenal. Ben Stiller stars in and directed this tale of a group of self-absorbed hollywood actors filming a big-budget Vietnam action-adventure movie called Tropic Thunder who, through a ludicrous series of circumstances, wind up in an actual Vietnam action-adventure. (Hmmm, that description makes it sound sort of like Space Camp, but rest assured that it is not.) The movie is hilarious, and I mean every scene is hilarious. The cast is terrific. Ben Stiller is Tugg Speedman, the action movie star looking for some respectability after the flop of his oscar-bait role as the mentally challenged Simple Jack…and Stiller plays forlorn self-absorbtion to a tee. Jack Black plays drug-addled Jeff Portnoy, known for playing all the roles (in a variety of fat-suits) in the obese family movie series The Fatties. As you’ve probably read by now, Robert Downey Jr. keeps his summer of success rolling (after Iron Man) with his portrayal of Kirk Lazarus, an actor so devoted to Method that he, well, transforms himself into a black man to play African-American Sgt. Osiris. Those are the stars, but there are so many other juicy roles that are very winningly embodied by a variety of other talents. Brandon T. Jackson plays rapper-turned-actor Alpha Chino (I laughed and laughed at that rapper name), and Jay Baruchel (so great as the lead in the great-but-cancelled Judd Apatow TV series Undeclared) is the requisite baby-faced soldier, Kevin Sandusky. Danny McBride (who’s also having quite a summer, with the long-awaited release of his feature film The Foot Fist Way a few months ago, as well as his role in The Pineapple Express) is the somewhat psychotic pyrotechnics expert Cody. Steve Coogan (Coffee and Cigarettes, Tristan Shandy, and the upcoming Hamlet 2) plays the desperate director Damien Cockburn trying to get his spoiled stars to behave. Nick Nolte is genius playing… well pretty much himself, or at least the world’s perception of Nick Nolte, as the addled “Four Leaf,” the man who wrote the book Tropic Thunder being adapted by these Hollywood dim-wits. And, of course, I cannot forget Tom Cruise, under a you-need-to-see-it-to-believe-it bald cap and hairy chubby suit, playing the gleefully profane studio mogul financing the production. OK, do you want to see this movie yet?? Let me just add that this film is also enhanced by a trio of fake trailers even more enjoyable than the ones in Quentin Tarantino’s Grindhouse from last year. (Speaking of which, will that movie ever see a DVD release in its theatrical form??? Sheesh!)
The Pineapple Express — Not quite the home run that Tropic Thunder is, but this film from the Apatow comedy troupe (The Forty Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad, Forgetting Sarah Marshall) is still pretty funny. Its also exceedingly weird, as the stoner comedy turns into an action adventure, or at least a sort-of parody of an action adventure. Watching the somewhat rotund Seth Rogen take an action super-hero leap off a balcony to tackle Gary Cole (who is just great as the drug-lord bad guy here) is one of the more memorable shots in a movie this summer. The Pineapple Express hangs on the buddy pairing of Seth Rogen (as the mild-mannered Dale Denton) and James Franco (as Dale’s drug-dealer, Saul Silver), and in that respect it succeeds well. Both Rogen and Franco are exceedingly likeable and funny, and watching them joke around with one another (as they do for much of the film) is a lot of fun. There are also a number of fun, familiar faces filling out the cast here, such as Bill Hader (involved in my favorite sequence in the film, an opening that reveals the real reason why marijuana was made illegal), Craig Robinson (the always-exasperated Darryl from The Office), the afore-mentioned Danny McBride, Ed Begley Jr., and Rosie Perez. I will comment, though, that the film feels a little long. I have often heard reviewers complain that Judd Apatow’s movies are all about 15 minutes too long…and I’ve never agreed with that (if the movie’s funny, then who cares how long it is?) until now. Since this isn’t a “laugh in every scene” type of movie, it does start to feel a bit stretched towards the end. But then you see a pants-less Seth Rogen carrying James Franco out of an exploding building, and I can’t say anything too bad about the movie.
The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor — Now this movie, I can say something bad about. Ugh. Just terrible. I know Brendan Fraser has been criticized before, but I’ve always found him to be an endearing, energetic lead. But here he just seems bored. Perhaps because he read the script? Maria Bello, one of my favorite actresses (The Cooler, A History of Violence), is just dreadful — utterly unconvincing in every scene. Is it her attempt to pull off an English accent that undermines her? I dunno, but my goodness. The great action hero Jet Li is wasted, seeing as how he is played by a CGI molten-rock creature for most of the movie. The wonderful Michelle Yeoh doesn’t have much to do except get stabbed, not die, deliver some exposition, and then die later. Are you starting to get the idea? Go rent the first Mummy film… or better yet, just go watch Raiders of the Lost Ark. I will say one thing, speaking of Indiana Jones (whose character and style of archaeological adventure was so shamelessly cribbed from by this franchise when it began)… this film was less painful than The Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But only very very barely.
Have a great weekend, everyone!