Wednesday, June 10, 2009
Cinnamon...Tigers don't like Cinnamon
Contents: drug use, nudity, violence, and of course language, though not as pervasive as in an Apatow film.
I saw this trailer this spring before I Love You Man and the crowd laughed louder at the Tyson bit than anything in the film which followed. Yet, this is not one of those comedies which place all of its funny parts in the trailer. Nor is it what you'd expect from the writer of Ghosts of Girlfriends Past and the director of Old School (Todd Phillips). This is a grown up, smart, and well pieced together.
Comedic actors rarely get the due the deserve; though on the other hand often in these sorts of films, Old School included you get someone like Will Farrell running around in tightie-whities screaming to the audience "look I'm being funny!," or Adam Sandler doing his "when I talk all goofy like this you laugh." While the film has a nice set-up, it has its problems, its the actors, all playing it straight (except for cameos by Rob Riggle and Ken Jeong) which provide the comedy, pathos, and intensity which makes this a great comedy and an alternative to the elements all too prevalent in comedy today.
This is not a throw as many jokes as you can and see which stick film, or the loosey goosy improv feeling piece, or the shock and squirm style film you're used to seeing (while it is crude, and it's humor does come from surprise situations only two jokes are gross-out shocks, and one of those is in the credits). Nor is this a semi-sentimental Apatow-esque coming of age story (though it does have real feeling). Rather, this film gives us great characters, puts them in a pressure cooker situation, and lets us watch them react.
Doug (Justin Bartha of National Treasure) is taken by his two best friends Phil and Stu(Ed Helms of The Daily Show and the Office as the uptight Dentist and Bradley Cooper of Alias fame as the semi-wreckless teacher) and his future brother in law Alan (Zach Galifianakis of Tru Calling[the last two also working with comedy team Stella]) to Vegas for two days. Of course as you can probably tell from the trailer, they wake up with no memory of the previous night, and lots of bizarre clues which they try to piece together to find Doug, who's disappeared. All of the leads give terrific performances, though Galifianakis' stands out. He plays a character who is probably best described as a translation of a grown up Ralph Wiggum to the real world; a needy, perhaps damanded, may not be all there non-sequitor machine.
The lead characters are well developed, and done so quickly, in large part because they're barely exaggerations and the film is really about the playing out of their own issues, unrelated to the events their placed in, as they search for Doug. It may not be L'Aventurra but nonetheless we see Alan's insecurity and lonliness, Phil's lack of self-confidence from being the victim in an abusive relationship with his girlfriend, and Stu, who's trying to come to terms with the fact he's a teacher and has a wife and kid, and probably should start owning up to those responsibilities. None of this comes out directly. There's no direct moralizing, but these issues are addressed and signs of change come out of the humor, in the way these men react to insane situations. That said, the characters don't change much because they really wouldn't. That's a huge plus for this film, an advantage it has over many dramatic films; all of the characters' actions feel natural and real. They fit. This is even seen in small performances by the great Jeffrey Tambor as Doug's future father in law and Mike Epps as an inept but sincere drug dealer.
But that's all just icing on a great cake. This is a summer comedy, so you're probably wondering if its funny? Well, nearly every single joke works and I haven't laughed out loud as much in a movie theater since Borat.