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COLUMN: Comedies slow, forced, like life

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By ERIC HARRIS
Film Review

Those of you who regularly read my reviews know I have a hard time reviewing comedies. In all honesty, I have a hard time reviewing all movies, because what’s “good” or “bad” is completely up to the individual. I have such a hard time with them that I have, with the exception of “Ted,” not written a review over the last group of comedies I’ve seen. So I figured instead of grinding out full reviews for those films I would just write a recap over all of them. Here are my thoughts on “The Watch,” “That’s My Boy,” “American Reunion,” “The Five Year Engagement,” “Friends with Kids,” “21 Jump Street,” and “Wanderlust.”

I’ll begin with the most recent film: “The Watch.” The new Ben Stiller film had promising previews but the film was very disappointing. The alien invasion plot had promise, but the film was instead a slow-moving comedy that couldn’t decide if it wanted to be an action-comedy or a dramedy. It just felt like a mess. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. When you get guys like Stiller, Jonah Hill and Vince Vaughn together some of it has to be funny. And Richard Ayoade, famous in comedy nerd circles and hopefully more famous now, was amusing throughout. But they can’t carry the film past its weak, meandering script.

Next up is “That’s My Boy,” which should be out on video soon. This Adam Sandler comedy took a beating from most critics, but I found it to be ridiculous and hilarious, even if it does run a bit long. Every joke doesn’t work, but the sheer onslaught of the comedy broke through for me. I totally understand why some people hate the movie, though. Sandler’s voice is simply annoying and the film is one of the dumbest things I have seen this year. But it’s a comedy, and comedies are allowed to be stupid. There’s no excuse for Sandler’s voice, but most of his antics make up for it. And, as usual, there’s a diverse supporting cast to pick up the slack. If you skipped this one because of bad word of mouth, give it a chance anyway. Be warned, though: this is not your standard family-friendly Sandler. This one definitely earns its R rating.

“American Reunion,” out now on video, seemed like a forced film. I wondered if the cast had some dirt on a studio exec and blackmailed him or her to get this made. I was pleasantly surprised by the latest entry in a franchise I had written off. Sure, you get some weak jokes – references to Stifler’s mom and band camp –  but for the most part it’s a good chunk of nostalgic fun. There are a few random elements that cracked me up, as well. Not to give it away, but John Cho’s short scenes stuck out to me as the funniest. I’m still not sure why, though.

“The Five Year Engagement,” on video Sept. 4, was a film that failed at the box office, proving that Jason Segel doesn’t automatically guarantee money. It’s a shame, too, because this is one of the better comedies about relationships out there. I bring this one up mainly because more people should see it, but also to point out that it’s a bit stranger than it appears. This movie delivers on the title and when time elapses Segel’s character gets pretty weird and it made for the funniest parts of the film. Definitely look for this when it hits Netflix, Redbox, Video on Demand or similar services.

Speaking of relationship comedies, “Friends with Kids,” on video now, is a more cynical look at the joys of parenting. It’s not a condemnation of child-bearing or anything, though. It just looks at how kids affect relationships. At times it’s uncomfortable, depressing, uplifting, funny – you know, like life; which is why this film is so good. While the concept of the film, platonic friends agreeing to have a child, is fairly unrealistic, the portrayal of couples with children struck me as spot on and hilarious.

This next film needs to be championed by me least of all of these comedies. By now, you’ve either seen “21 Jump Street” or someone has already told you that you “have” to see it. I loved this movie and it is a very close second on my funniest of the year list. This is how you reinvent a dead franchise. Embrace the ridiculousness of the premise and go crazy with it. So if you haven’t seen it, you should listen to those around you and listen to me: watch this movie. Oh, and this is the film that turned me around on Channing Tatum. Turns out the dude can be funny and can act a little.

Finally, I wanted to bring up my favorite comedy of the year, “Wanderlust,” out now on video. This one definitely needs to be championed by me and anyone else who loved it because it is criminally under seen at the moment. To be fair, this comedy is not for everyone. It’s definitely edgy, as it does take place at a new age commune in which drug use, nudity and free love are in full effect. The edgy stuff isn’t what made the film for me, though. It’s the weirdness of it all.

“Wanderlust” is made by the same guys who made “The State” on MTV and cult classic “Wet Hot American Summer.” Those are two properties that pushed boundaries to say the least. “Wanderlust” is a bit more straightforward, but there are moments that acknowledge filmmaking that are quite hilarious and there’s just this great, loose feeling to the film that I loved. Some will wonder how in the world I found this better than “Ted” and “21 Jump Street,” and it’s understandable if people like those movies more. But Paul Rudd put me over the top with this one.

If anything, just watch one scene from “Wanderlust” in which Rudd gives himself a pep talk in a mirror. If it makes you chuckle a bit, you might want to watch the rest of it. If it makes you flat out lose it, then definitely watch the rest of this great comedy.

So that’s that. Hopefully I’ve changed your mind about checking out some of these comedies or at least made you rethink your own viewpoints on some. Or maybe I’ve mentioned a couple of movies you haven’t even heard of. If that’s the case, check some of these out and my mission will have been accomplished.

A Cannelton resident, Harris is a movie buff and blogger who posts reviews of films at www.canneltoncritic.com.