Tuesday, June 15, 2010
I Should Be Drinking A Toast To Absent Friends...
Brain Candy, written by and starring The Kids in the Hall (Dave Foley, Scott Thompson, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney and Bruce McCulloch) (1996): Critics pretty much universally panned Brain Candy when it came out, and it is indeed a bit of a mess. I do think it's quite funny at times -- the satire of Big Pharm, while a bit obvious, is pretty much spot-on, maybe moreso now than in 1996.
There's very little plot: scientists invent, but don't test throughly, a drug that makes the clinically depressed happy ("It's like the temperature inside your head is always 72 degrees!"); the drug, dubbed Gleemonex, becomes so successful that the pharaceutical company successfully gets it turned into an over-the-counter drug that pretty much everyone on the planet starts taking; civilization as we know it comes to an end ("Crime is down. So is tourism, surprisingly.").
The Kids play pretty much every major character male and female -- never has any comedy troupe, including Monty Python, been so deliriously drag-happy as the Kids in the Hall. Scott Thompson's ridiculously repressed Family Man homosexual provides the most sustained laughs of any of the stories-inside-the-main-story, though Bruce McCulloch's Danzig-meets-Trent-Reznor rock star also shines, especially when he takes the drug and turns into a Dayglo Made-for-TV hippie right out of The Monkees or Laugh-In.
The bottom line is that if you never found the Kids in the Hall funny, you won't find this movie funny. If, on the other hand, you can hum along to "These are the Daves I Know" and can explain why you're the guy with the good attitude towards menstruation, you'll enjoy seeing this. It's aged remarkably well. Brendan Frasier appears in an unbilled cameo, and Janeane Garafalo is apparently somewhere in a crowd scene. Recommended.
Funny People, written and directed by Judd Apatow, starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill (2009): Movies about stand-up comics don't appear all that often. Funny People, like Punchline before it, may demonstrate why: it's impossible to make a comedy about stand-up comics that doesn't suck. Scorsese's The King of Comedy was actually pretty good, but any humour in it was the humour of unease and embarrassment, and had nothing to do with the routines of the characters: Robert DeNiro's aspiring comic, Rupert Pupkin, was just a couple tics off Travis Bickle, while Jerry Lewis was astoundingly, intentionally, caustically unfunny as an unsympathetic prick of a talk-show host.
Funny People focuses on Adam Sandler as a stand-up comedian who's now a hugely successful movie star. But he's dying of a rare disease and, additionally, suffers from writer's block. So he frequents comedy clubs, looking for young comics who could both write material for him and hang out with him. Because Sandler's character has no friends! And he pines for the love of his life who's now married to an Australian businessman. Sandler hires Rogen's struggling comic to be his buddy, and hilarious and touching life lessons are learned.
Actually, they really aren't, and the sudden about-face of Sandler's character seems tacked on by studio insistence, probably immediately after they realized that Apatow had delivered a $70 million comedy with almost no laughs in it. Or good lines. Or drama. Or likeable characters. It's like someone gave Broadcast News a frontal lobotomy and changed its focus from TV news to stand-up comics. It's hard to believe that the guy who made The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up made this.
Well, not so hard -- pretty much everyone who always appears in a movie by Judd Apatow (and occasionally in movies only produced by Judd Apatow) appears here, and as with Apatow's two previous hits, brevity remains a problem: the movie's made too long by scenes that either needed serious editing, or to be seriously edited right out -- Sandler and Rogen's visit to the long-lost love seems to go on about half-an-hour longer than it should have, and a Thanksgiving scene just sits there, both dramatically and comically inert. None of the actors are particularly bad in the movie -- it's just that there's nothing much for them to work with, a problem that seems to lead Sandler to ad-lib penis jokes whenever possible. Not recommended.