This week: Adam Clarke supports magic, makes elf confessions and offers Die Hard rip-off suggestions.
The Incredible Burt Wonderstone is a comedy that’s bombing so badly it might as well have been titled “Flaming Dogshit Minstrel Show”. On the surface, it’s a journeyman comedy about a guy who gets famous, acts like a dick and eventually learns that not being a dick wins you friends and Olivia Wilde. But on a deeper level… …No, it’s a formulaic comedy with a few nice gags and strong performances.
In the film, bullied boy Burt grows up to be dingus magician Steve Carell. Fame having gone to his head, Burt Wonderstone’s behaviour gets in the way of his only friendship (with his onstage partner Steve Buscemi) and the woman he sorta loves (Olivia Wilde). Soon, his Vegas show is cancelled when it can’t compete with the more extreme acts of street magician Steve Gray (Jim Carrey, of The Number 23 fame). When his jerkass ways leave him with nothing, Wonderstone reaches out to his childhood idol (Alan Arkin) and learns humility in the process.
Ordinarily I hate films about magic that use CGI in place of actual magic tricks, but this movie has different aims than The Illusionist. Carell, Buscemi and Wilde are enjoyable in their stock roles and manage to make the moldy plot structure seem fresher than it is. The real highlights of the film are the appearances by a man named Rance. Rance is played by Alan Arkin, who is exactly the person you want to play a curmudgeonly ex-magician. An early sequence, in which a young Burt watches Rance’s how-to VHS tape, is easily the movie’s best moment. His scenes are like a bridge to another, better movie.
Wonderstone‘s a thoroughly undemanding script livened up by some nice performances. Even Jim Carrey, so irritating when misused onscreen, is perfect for his role as Not Criss Angel. Yes, the movie seems to think the term “brain rapist” is much, much funnier than it actually is, as it’s repeated constantly, but I have a feeling this film will have a decent life on cable. The only thing incredible about Wonderstone is that it’s not as bad as its marketing suggests.
It’s no Hot Fuzz, but I’ll take it in the age of Identity Thief.
Moving on, this week saw the release of “Die Hard in the White House” film Olympus Has Fallen, so you know what that means…
It’s time for me to talk about the 1997 Patrick Stewart-Vincent Kartheiser vehicle, Masterminds!
Look at that poster. It’s like Go-Gurt commercial expelled technicolour diarrhea on and around Patrick Stewart’s head. Believe it or not, that previous sentence pertains to the denouement of Masterminds.
Masterminds is Die Hard in a school. Just as John McClane had to thwart terrorists at the Nakatomi Plaza, our unbearable hero, Ozzie (Vincent Kartheiser, an actor who’s been mostly bearable, post-Angel) thwarts terrorists at a prep school. Ozzie’s a genius and a hacker. Since we’re told the former and it’s 1997, it’d be safe to assume the latter. Nonetheless, the opening scene shows Ozzie infiltrating a security system, an act which resembles dicking around in a lame Doom mod rather than hacking. One assumes the director just saw Hackers before filming began and thought, “yeah, I get what this whole hacking is about with the kids these days.”
Masterminds is directed by Roger Christian, who would later direct Battlefield Earth in hope of making humanity forget Masterminds. It’s got all the trappings of your average Die Hard rip-off and, like most of those rip-offs, fails to deliver. Yet the results are mesmerizingly bad even for the Die Hard rip-off subgenre.
The best performance in the film is care of Annabelle Gurwitch, then fresh from Dinner & A Movie, as Ozzie’s mom. No one else escapes unscathed from Masterminds. This film could be used as proof that even the seemingly untouchable Patrick Stewart, as Masterminds‘ very poor substitute for Hans Gruber, can be the worst actor in a movie.
You feel Stewart’s pain to a certain degree. Not every actor can be like David Warner and maintain dignity in films with “Ooze” in the title. By the end of Masterminds, the iconic Stewart is in a go-kart covered in raw sewage. In a way, it’s no different than acting in a go-kart beside Brent Spiner in Star Trek: Nemesis.
Alas, unlike Olympus, Masterminds has disappeared from the public eye. Don’t worry, though. It’s not too late to sign a petition to release the film that’s so bad it was never released on DVD.
I’m not going to see Olympus Has Fallen. Are you nuts? Instead, I offer the following suggestions for Hollywood’s next Die Hard rip-off. These things write themselves, so I expect a WGA card and story credit:
[*]Die Hard in Vatican Square
[*]Die Hard in a Minivan
[*]Die Hard in a Werewolf in a Girl’s Sorority
Speaking of things too slim to adapt into a full screenplay, The Hobbit hit DVD shelves this month. Despite some drubbings from fans, it’s a likable little romp. I’m actually looking forward to the two future instalments.
First, it’s confession time: I’ve never been an elf guy. I like sword and sorcery films, but the idea of a three hour elf movie didn’t thrill me. I enjoyed The Hobbit for the same reason I wasn’t that invested in the The Lord Of The Rings films. These movies aren’t taking it very seriously. There’s a much-needed sense of whimsy on display here. If you’re going to make a movie about magical wizards and the friendship of a race of overeating dwarf people, you might as well have some damn fun with it. The Hobbit is a less epic story than the Rings trilogy, but it’s a much more enjoyable one.
There’s an excellent cast assembled here, including the majority of The Lord Of The Rings cast and even Dame Edna Everage. My own favourite Doctor Who and one-time Bilbo Baggins candidate, Sylvester McCoy, is terrific as an animal-loving wizard covered in birdshit. Sure, people complained about Elijah Wood’s literal walk-on cameo, but Frodo’s not an interesting character, so I enjoyed his minimal appearance. I’d like to think Wood walked off camera and straight to the set of Wilfred or the upcoming remake of William Lustig’s Maniac.
There may be multiple endings, as per Peter Jackson’s earlier Middle Earth films, but that expectation works to this film’s advantage. The predictable scene in which Bilbo (Martin Freeman) rejoins the quest and brings the movie to a close is interrupted by the film’s best scene: the escape from the king of the goblins (Barry Humphries). Humphries is great and the scene results in the movie’s best action set piece, but what really won me over was the king’s tiny goblin messenger twirling about in the air via a system of ropes. I could watch that tiny goblin messenger scurrying to and fro for an entire three hour movie of his own. That guy’s the best.
This first part of The Hobbit is available on DVD now, but is sure to be re-released in a 10 hour version any month now. Still, it’s not a bad start to a film trilogy I was immensely skeptical about.