“The Country Is In A State Of Complete Chaos And The Universe Sends Me You…”
Winning the award for least anticipated sequel of the year, Johnny English Strikes Again sees the return of Rowan Atkinson’s bumbling British secret agent following on from his first appearance on screen in 2003 and its’ sequel, Johnny English Reborn in 2011. Directed by Northern Irish big-screen debutante, David Kerr, the third installment of the spy spoof franchise is ninety minutes of pretty much what you would expect from a Johnny English movie, offering PG friendly slapstick comedy within a selection of sketches which are marginally worked around the thinnest of narratives which sees English hooked back into the payroll of MI7 after every single serving secret agent’s identity across the globe is revealed by an unknown, tech savvy hacker. Whilst most critics will undeniably head into Strikes Again fully aware of the certainty that the next Citizen Kane won’t exactly be waiting for them inside, the real litmus test for Kerr’s movie resides in the way in which it manages to work to its’ strengths, and whilst Strikes Again fails to offer anything fresh or interesting to the catalogue of spy-spoof comedies, Atkinson’s undeniable smirk-inducing talent results in a movie preferably best watched when either drunk or with highly energetic friends. Or even both.
With a high proportion of the funniest set pieces readily available within the movie’s trailer, ranging from a diabolical attempt at utilising cutting edge virtual reality to the complete and utter destruction of a classy, world renowned yacht, Strikes Again does manage to capatalise on Atkinson’s hilarious slapstick persona to a somewhat effective degree, and with the film’s best gag undeniably an elongated riff on a similar comedic routine seen in Jon S. Baird’s 2013 black comedy, Filth, in which English feels the effect of adrenaline enhancing drugs, it’s hard to prevent smiles being cracked even when you know the film as whole is absolute tosh. With the enigmatic presence of Emma Thompson (Saving Mr. Banks) chewing the scenery as the opinionated, wine-dependant British Prime Minister, the more the movie remembers it has to at least follow some sort of plot is when it ultimately crumbles to pieces, with Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) and Jake Lacy (Rampage) managing to supply performances both instantly forgettable and agonisingly dull, and whilst it’s quite sanctimonious to hate on a film not exactly aiming for anyone other than a child-friendly audience, Strikes Again manages to be neither good nor bad, just ridiculous nonsense.
Overall Score: 5/10
“My Suspicions Were Correct. You’re Clinically Dumb…”
Directed by American filmmaker, Malcolm D. Lee, director of the surprisingly well received Girls Trip from 2017, Night School sees Lee team up with Kevin Hart, the high pitched, knowingly “pint-sized” comedian whose venture from the stage into cinema has been somewhat, how can I put this, exhausting, with the likes of Jumanji and Get Hard not exactly prime examples of a performer putting his talent to best use thus far. Based on a screenplay seemingly dissected by a committee of writers, including Hart himself, Night School sees Hart in the lead role as Teddy Walker, a high school dropout who constantly feels the need to impress his fiancee amidst wallowing under the pressure of proving other people wrong by driving fancy cars and renting flash apartments in order to disguise his career as a low-level BBQ salesman. After the complete and utter destruction of said BBQ sales space however, Walker is given the opportunity to work alongside Ben Schwartz’s (The Walk) financial analyst in a bid to recover his own career, but after discovering the only obstacle preventing him from doing so is his complete lack of GED’s (Sort of a GCSE hybrid qualification), Walker heads to night school under the watchful eye of Tiffany Haddish’s (Girls Trip) enthusiastic teacher, Miss Carrie.
Whilst the overall tone of the movie is surprisingly buoyant and pleasant, offering surface scratching comments on the notions of learning disabilities and the effect it can have on one person’s foray into the real world, and performances all around are undeniably dedicated, particularly from Haddish, whose cocky, streetwise power-house levels of sass allows her character to be both the most believable and relatable, Night School primarily suffers from the age-old problem of American comedies by not managing to balance its’ wildly inconsistent tone, with rather silly and embarrassing slapstick comedy being intercut with awfully designed set pieces which just make certain parts of the movie a real nightmare to sit through. However, where the film does manage to succeed is in the contained elements of the piece, particularly in our leading character’s relationships with each other, ranging from within the confines of the classroom in a The Breakfast Club inspired set-up to congratulating each other at results day in a way which did manage to slightly win me over, and whilst the film’s runtime seemed to miss the hand of a strong-willed editor willing to shed at least half an hour, Night School is mind-numbing, fluffy fun which doesn’t injure, maim or last long in the memory either.
Overall Score: 5/10
“Let Me Explain Something To You. I Am Not “Mr. Lebowski”. You’re Mr. Lebowski. I’m The Dude…”
Unbelievably, The Big Lebowski is twenty years old. As we all hide under our bed sheets and weep at the quick turn around and passing of two decades, Joel and Ethan Coen’s cult comedy classic returns to cinemas for one night only, offering the chance to witness the iconic presence of Jeff Bridge’s (Hell or High Water) Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski stroll around 1990’s Los Angeles slobbering White Russian’s and dozing around in flip flips upon the big screen. With the Coen’s undoubtedly supplying some of the best examples of modern cinema throughout the past three decades, with Fargo, Inside Llewyn Davis and No Country For Old Men being my personal favourite trio, The Big Lebowski has always remained the primary Coen release which a high percentage of cinephiles always relate to the swiftest. Whether it be the film’s endless array of quotes which falls only second to Pulp Fiction in terms of hit count from the 90’s, the hilarious comedic performances from its’ brilliant cast or the tonal balance between crime, drama and zaniness, The Big Lebowski is indeed endlessly watchable and thoroughly entertaining but ultimately does fall short of being masterpiece as it remains the one Coen release which still hasn’t completely and entirely won me over.
With a narrative which becomes entangled within a eclectic array of plot threads which seems to mirror the care-free, bohemian nature of the film’s leading Lebowski, the Coen’s movie centrally focuses on a bizarre case of mistaken identity as Bridge’s The Dude is introduced in a hilarious attempt to procure funds on behalf of Ben Gazzara’s (Dogville) criminal overlord Jackie Treehorn. With the real Lebowski being uncovered as David Huddleston’s (Blazing Saddles) wheelchair bound millionaire, The Dude quickly becomes embroiled in kidnap plots, bowling tournaments and the over-bearing, manic nature of John Goodman’s (Argo) Walter, whose on-screen relationship with Steve Buscemi’s (Reservoir Dogs) Donnie undeniably ranks up there with one of the most misunderstood bromances of the modern era. Whilst the laughs and giggles are quick-quipped and constant and the performances all fall into a Coen-inspired level of ripeness, The Big Lebowski still to this day remains on the zanier side of the Coen’s back catalogue, and even when the film is nowhere near the sheer wackiness of The Hudsucker Proxy or Burn After Reading, the Coen’s most famous venture still remains slightly too overbearing to be considered at all in any way flawless, but with a rewatchability factor which makes it undeniably entertaining, The Big Lebowski is back for one night only and deserves to be admired once again. Yeah, well, that’s just like, my opinion, man.
Overall Score: 8/10
“There Is A Hokkien Phrase ‘Kaki Lang’. It Means: Our Own Kind Of People, And You’re Not Our Own Kind…”
Based upon the 2013 novel of the same name by Singaporean–American writer, Kevin Kwan, Crazy Rich Asians takes the familiar tale and narrative path of romantic comedies from the past and places it slap bang in the middle of Southeast Asia as we follow Constance Wu’s (Torchwood) Rachel Chu, a successful professor of economics at New York University who travels with her secretive boyfriend, Henry Golding’s (A Simple Favour) Nick Young, to Singapore in order to finally meet his family and friends. Directed by Jon M. Chu, a filmmaker whose previous credits haven’t exactly been rewarded with critical admiration thanks to the likes of Now You See Me 2 and, shiver incoming, Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, Crazy Rich Asians manages to be the director’s first outstanding success, with his latest release a frothy, uplifting and thoroughly enjoyable rom-com which manages to balance a catalogue of underlying themes and ideas whilst offering stellar development of its’ many leading and supporting characters who each come across identifiable and wholly individual, and whilst at times the narrative may feel overly familiar and cliched, the sheer sense of wonder the movie emits showers over its’ creases with expert levels of delight.
Whilst the big and most important headline regarding the film’s release is the fact that Chu’s latest is shockingly the first film since the 1993 drama, The Joy Luck Club, to simultaneously feature a predominantly Asian cast and be financed, backed and released by a major Hollywood studio, Crazy Rich Asians is much more than just a kick-starter for filmic equality, with committed performances, laugh-out loud levels of comedy and a warm beating heart at its’ core all congealing around a central duo of lovers whose chemistry is so convincing, the fact the film only ever has one outcome doesn’t matter whatsoever and only serves to improve the good-hearted nature of the tale. With comments on the global class system and the potential cost of being an outsider, the film’s screenplay takes the appeal up a level from just being yet another bog-standard romance re-hash, and with pain-staking levels of detail and admiration for the movie’s location setting, the eye-watering levels of excess, ranging from deluxe style houses to ridiculous bachelor parties, never feels annoying or sickening, with the depiction of the culture’s food in particular guaranteed to make the stomach rumble. Leaving all audiences undoubtedly with a spring in their step and a tear in their eye, Crazy Rich Asians is a traditional love story which manages to feel both fresh and fantastical without ever feeling to need to be manipulative in order to win over its’ audience. Superb entertainment.
Overall Score: 8/10
“It’s So Disappointing When People Stoop To Backstabbing…”
Based upon the extraordinary Hatton Garden safe deposit burglary which occurred over the Easter Bank Holiday of 2015, a contemporary infamous act of criminality which has been labelled as the “largest burglary in English legal history”, King of Thieves, the latest feature by The Theory of Everything and The Mercy director, James Marsh, is the third adaptation of the events onto film after a couple of low-budget attempts including The Hatton Garden Job featuring the likes of Larry Lamb and Matthew Goode, but the first to hit the big screen, aided undoubtedly by a joyously star-studded cast which features the likes of Michael Caine (The Dark Knight), Ray Winstone (The Departed) and Jim Broadbent (Paddington 2) as the aged crooks who are determined to seal off their careers with one last job. With cocky attitudes, an abundance of cockney accents and enough chemistry between the cast to keep the enjoyment levels flowing, King of Thieves is a flawed but enjoyable, overly cliched heist movie which primarily suffers due to a inability to harness the film’s wildly inconsistent tones as it sways between comedy, drama and an overbearing sense that maybe at times, we’re having too much fun with what are essentially murderers and thieves.
With Caine’s Brian Reader acting as the central focus of the opening act of the movie in which we see an early loss act as a catalyst for his return to crime, the film’s opening forty five minutes is wildly entertaining as we are introduced to an eclectic herd of aged bad boys as they banter themselves to death whilst the central heist is planned, perfected and then carried out with eye-watering rewards. With the cast clearly enjoying themselves with seemingly ad-libbed sweary dialogue and particular members not exactly trying hard to be anything other than themselves, Mr. Winstone, I’m looking at you, it’s a particular shame that the second half of the movie completely bombs as Marsh attempts to juggle the seriousness of the effect the central crime has on those around it with a crow-barred notion of how our leading characters are actually violent murderers who are happy to off Police officers without an echo of remorse, and whilst the movie ultimately overstays its’ welcome by at least twenty minutes, King of Thieves is an odd little movie, but enjoyable nonetheless.
Overall Score: 6/10
“If Shit Gets Crazy I’m Gonna Go Crazy As Shit…”
Whilst Jim Henson will always be primarily remembered for his work on The Muppets and the subsequent legacy the American’s famous puppetry has left on culture across the world, his subsequent work on a wide range of cult classics including the likes of The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth has meant the transition into film-making has always been one of great success, one which has revelled in a genre of storytelling which has always catered for the younger viewer in terms of tone and sensibility. With The Happytime Murders however, Henson’s takes a turn to the dark side with an overly crude and obnoxiously vile R-rated work of trash which sees the staggeringly woeful talents of Melissa McCarthy (Life of the Party) team up with Bill Barretta’s Phil Phillps in order to solve a number of puppet-related murders within a Los Angeles which has learnt to co-exist with puppets and humans alike. Cue awful elongated sexual gags involving crazed imagery and out of control bodily fluids, unnecessary swearing and simply terrible dialogue, Henson’s foray into the darkness is a hollow, vacuous and totally despicable work of awfulness. The horror, the horror.
Whilst the likes of Team America: World Police has shown that puppetry and X-Rated comedy can indeed go hand in hand to very successful ends, Trey Parker’s 2004 comedy is The Godfather of modern comedy in comparison to The Happytime Murders, a so-called “film” which seems absolutely thrilled with the fact that puppets have been allowed to say swear words and have demonic-esque sex upon the big screen for an audience who undenaibly deserve more than just immature filth which happens just for the sake of it without any real purpose or justification for its’ existence. With McCarthy continuing to baffle and perplex regarding just how such an awful actress seems to continue to get constant work, and even with the likes of Life of the Party and The Boss in her awfully sterile back catalogue, nothing is close to the sheer suicide-inducing rankness of her latest venture in which once again she uses overly rude slapstick to attempt to raise laughs from an audience who in my particular screening were completely silent throughout. On the upside, the one saving grace of The Happytime Murders is that I am not alone in my utter disdain for a movie which deserves the utmost disrespect and derision from everyone who pays money to see it. Complete and utter worthless nonsense that doesn’t even deserve to be written about.
Overall Score: 1/10
“Some Bad People Are After Me And Now They’re After You…”
Mixing together the comedic talents of Kate McKinnon (Ghostbusters) and Mila Kunis (Bad Moms), an actress whose sensual, dramatic performance in Black Swan feels strangely historic considering her own personal penchant for the genre of American comedy since, The Spy Who Dumped Me, directed by Susanna Fogel, a returning filmmaker with her first release since 2014’s Life Partners, sees the duo as best friend partnership, Audrey and Morgan, who become embroiled in a murderous terrorist plot after being “dumped” by Justin Theroux’s (Mulholland Drive) suave super spy, Drew Thayer. With McKinnon unfortunately being the type of actress who so far in her career seems to have been handed a selection of raw deals when it comes to getting the best out of her natural flair for comedy, with Ghostbusters and Office Christmas Party being no more than solid examples of the genre, the same annoyingly can be said for The Spy Who Dumped Me, a surprisingly violent and tonally manic action comedy which falls much too heavy on a reliance for gunshots and action over genuine laughs within a screenplay which makes Rampage look like the most intelligent film of the year by an elongated mile.
With ineffective time jumps utilised at various points of the movie as an attempt to establish some form of characterisation, albeit in its’ most restricted format, the movie takes no time in establishing the layout of the narrative, using awfully constructed moments of naff dialogue to exercise the inevitable exposition before resorting back to endless action set pieces which begin in enjoyable fashion but then end up becoming tedious after the cycle of the movie becomes increasingly obvious come the sixty minute mark. With the film’s two hour running time overstretched by at least forty five minutes, the saving grace of the movie is ultimately its’ leading female stars, with McKinnon and Kunis working expertly well as a kooky double act caught in the cross-hairs of government conspiracy and double crossing international secret agents, and with the added involvement of the always magnanimous Gillian Anderson (The X-Files), girl power at least stops the movie from falling into the black hole of awfulness it may have gone without them. With a few chuckles but no full laughs, The Spy Who Dumped Me is full-on flash without any residue of substance or memorability, but with committed performances and likeable leading stars, the end result is messy but not exactly intolerable.
Overall Score: 5/10
“I Just Want To Go Home, Have A Proper Shower And A Poo…”
Whilst the huge success of The Inbetweeners television series brought national fame in abundance to the show’s leading four stars and is undoubtedly still a show which can be watched time and time again without wearing out, the transition from small screen to the cinema in the two feature length movies which followed ultimately failed to adhere to the same level of consistency which was evident in the series. Returning to similar roots once again, director Iain Morris, one of the co-creators of The Inbetweeners, re-unites with Joe Thomas in The Festival, a similarly crude, coming-of-age and undeniably British comedy which utilises the backdrop of the UK’s muddy festival scene for rampart teenage mischievousness and absurd cringe-laden set pieces, and whilst Morris’ latest does indeed suffer at times from a similar effect to The Inbetweeners movies by being a feature length film which stretches its’ central idea a little too far and may have benefited more by remaining on the small screen, is still a thoroughly charming and exceedingly funny one hundred minutes spent in the company of talented actors who know how to present the trials and tribulations of youth in the best way possible.
With Thomas essentially playing a lesser gelled incarnation of his character from The Inbetweeners in the form of Nick, a recently dumped, awkward graduate whose path to redemption comes in the form of a trip to an un-named festival alongside best friend, Hammed Animashaun’s (Black Mirror) in an attempt to cure him of his newly found romantic blues, the opening exchanges of the movie play in a very familiar fashion, evidenced with the added inclusion of Hannah Tointon (The Inbetweeners) as Nick’s love interest, with rather inappropriate sexual and bodily fluid gags all resulting in the sense of embarrassment audiences felt watching similar events on The Inbetweeners the first time around. As soon as the action begins to unfold in the titular wasteland of illegal drugs, annoying kooky campers and bass-drive music however, the scenario slightly changes for the better, adding in familiar feelings of bohemian peril for those privy to the ways and means of like-minded festivals which result in a wide range of laugh-out loud situations which are boosted by the natural chemistry between the fictional friendship between Thomas and Animashaun. When the movie does eventually begin to falter around the hour mark, resulting in a concluding forty minutes which lessen on the hit-rate of jokes and focus instead on more of a redemptive arc for the leading duo, the narrative weaknesses do unfortunately rear their heads, but thanks to the willingness of the film’s leading stars to show their private parts and be thrown in mud when asked on cue, The Festival is the ideal partner to kick off the annual summer delights of warm cider and sweaty teenagers.
Overall Score: 6/10
“We Lose! He Beat Us! The Game Is Over..!”
Beginning his big-screen career with a collection of Hollywood stars and a mildly comedic central gag to play with, debutante director, Jeff Tomsic, adapts Russell Adams’ 2013 article, “It Takes Planning, Caution To Avoid Being It”, an account of a true story published in The Wall Street Journal which focused on a group of life-long friends who spend one month each year playing the titular game of tag with overly dedicated and sophisticated measures in order to succeed. With a band of usual American comedy suspects including Ed Helms (Father Figures), Hannibal Buress (Blockers) and Jake Johnson (21 Jump Street), Tomsic’s movie follows the reunion of four particularly immature friends as they team up in order to finally “tag” Jeremy Renner’s (Captain America: Civil War) swaggering, soon-to-be married Jerry before his self proclaimed retirement at the end of their chosen month in which the game takes place. With a handful of child-like slapstick set pieces, seething bromantic chemistry and an overarching sensibility which relies on its’ audience to be as similarly immature as its’ leading characters, Tag is indeed a solid comedic winner, one which although suffers slightly from a violently overstretched central gag and a couple of strange narrative add-ons, works due to a likeable array of personalities and sharp, well-timed gags which managed to make even this hard chestnut giggle with childish amusement.
With an opening act which introduces the central relationship between Helms’ Hogan Malloy and Jon Hamm’s (Baby Driver) Bob Callahan, a successful businessman who hides his inner paranoia and low self-esteem behind sharp suits and formal haircuts, the movie’s first set piece in which Malloy takes a job as a janitor at Callahan’s place of work in order to tag him pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the movie, with the zippy one hundred minute runtime being crammed with slapstick inspired chase sequences which move from golf courses to wedding receptions as particular characters attempt to evade the embarrassment of being it. With Renner as the self-proclaimed master of the game whose transition from child to adult has remained free of ever being tagged, his planned wedding is the battleground for one last attempt, and whilst Renner is only used sparingly at times in favour of the core quartet of friends, his performance is joyously entertaining, with Renner clearly embracing the sheer nonsensical nature of the script which he is working with. With a concluding attempt to pull at the heartstrings, the movie does finish on surprisingly rank terms, particularly when the tone of the movie pretty much throughout is utter silliness, but within the rather middling genre of contemporary American comedies, Tag is trashy fun which passes the time rather neatly.
Overall Score: 6/10
“Somebody’s Mum Just Enrolled In College..!”
Following on from the release of the Amy Schumer led I Feel Pretty this week, America’s second favourite female comedian of the moment, Melissa McCarthy (Spy) feels the need to grace us with her presence upon the big screen too within Life of the Party, a morbidly unfunny back-to-school drama which sees McCarthy’s recently divorced mum Deanna Miles feel the need to attend her daughter’s college in order to finally complete her degree after dropping out previously in order to care for her family. Cue dance offs, excessive drinking and sleeping with minors of an uncertain age and what we have with Life of the Party is yet another swing at attempting to create the legacy and enjoyment of a film such as National Lampoon’s Animal House albeit with a narrative twist which attempts to showcase every child’s living hell when their respective parent drops in uninvited at a party, jumper and rucksack in toe, and with contemporary coming-of-age comedies such as Richard Linklater’s Everybody Wants Some!! an example of smartly written and successful on-screen American frat house debaucheries, McCarthy’s latest manages to at least capture that sense of awkward family reunions by being a film which no-one in their right mind really wants to admit to having enjoyed let alone be a part of.
With McCarthy one of the many contemporary U.S based comic actors who have failed to ignite any sense of interest thus far thanks to less than spectacular performances within the likes of The Boss and Ghostbusters, her reunion with husband Ben Falcone once again proves that her supposed potential has been put tragically to waste, with Life of the Party a soulless, cringey and overly annoying attempt at a comedy which aside from one stand-out set piece, is rather quite unbearable from beginning to end. With a whiny, screechy voice and totally awkward sensibility, McCarthy’s Deanna holds solid ground for most annoying character of the year in film, with the first hour in which we see her attempt to embed herself within the college lifestyle simply torturous to endure, and with the younger actors, particularly Molly Morgan’s Millie and Gillian Jacobs’ Helen, not only much more interesting but universally more entertaining and comedic than their elder leading star, there is indeed a somewhat successful movie embedded within the action, but just one that doesn’t happen to feature McCarthy in any shape or form. With a shock-tastic set piece towards the latter end of the movie offering the one real taste of interesting implausibility, by the time it gets around the damage has unfortunately already been done, with Life of the Party failing pretty miserably as both an example of contemporary American comedy and a project for McCarthy to thrive within, something of which backfires rather spectacularly.