Three Comedies from Alliance
Four Christmases (November 24/08)
Infused with eye-rolling instances of melodrama and a pervadingly over-the-top sensibility, Four Christmases instantly joins the ranks of such hopelessly ineffective similarly-themed contemporary efforts as Surviving Christmas, Fred Claus, and Christmas with the Kranks. The storyline follows happily-unmarried couple Brad (Vince Vaughn) and Kate (Reese Witherspoon) as their seemingly perfect relationship slowly-but-surely begins to unravel after they agree to visit their various relatives in a single day, with the characters forced to confront childhood humiliations and long-buried secrets at the hands of their uniformly stereotypical kin. It's a reasonably intriguing premise that's squandered virtually from the word go by director Seth Gordon, as the filmmaker - working from a screenplay by Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson, Jon Lucas, and Scott Moore - consistently places the emphasis on comedic set-pieces that are almost painfully unfunny (ie Brad wrestles his rough-and-tumble brothers, Kate is trapped within a Bouncy Castle, etc). The movie's admittedly impressive roster of supporting performers - which includes, among others, Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Jon Favreau - subsequently find themselves powerless to infuse their broadly-conceived characters with anything even resembling authenticity, while Vaughn and Witherspoon primarily indulge in the most obnoxious aspects of their respective onscreen personae (ie he's a fast-talking rebel and she's an uptight conformist). Exacerbating matters is the undercurrent of far-from-subtle sentimentality that's been hard-wired into the proceedings, with Gordon's third-act efforts at transforming the film into feel-good holiday fare falling entirely flat. An amusing cameo by Gordon's King of Kong star Steve Wiebe notwithstanding, Four Christmases - having been geared to the lowest-common-denominator crowd - generally comes off as an interminable would-be comedy that'll leave most viewers feeling like the Grinch.
Buoyed by Steve Coogan's unapologetically go-for-broke performance, Hamlet 2 ultimately manages to overcome its rampantly inconsistent sensibilities to establish itself as a charming (and sporadically hilarious) comedy/musical. Coogan stars as Dana Marschz, a hopelessly optimistic struggling actor whose inability to find more than a hemorrhoid commercial leads him to accept a job as a drama teacher at an Arizona-based high school. There, Dana must rally his ragtag students after learning his department is in danger of being shut down over a lack of funds - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently revolving around his efforts at raising money by putting together a self-penned sequel to Hamlet. While it's hard to deny that Hamlet 2, with its emphasis on a character who seems to exist in his own little world, owes more than a little to Napoleon Dynamite, there's little doubt that the film ultimately fares slightly better than that 2004 sleeper - as director Andrew Fleming has effectively populated the proceedings with a myriad of compellingly oddball figures (including Elisabeth Shue as Elisabeth Shue and Catherine Keener as Dana's long-suffering partner). It's hard to deny, however, that the stop-and-start pace inevitably results in a wildly uneven midsection, with Coogan's admittedly engrossing work only able to carry the movie so far. The third-act transformation from indie comedy to flat-out musical proves instrumental in re-capturing one's interest, and while some of these songs are more successful than others (ie it's impossible to walk out of the film without humming "Rock Me Sexy Jesus"), Hamlet 2 possesses a cult-classic-in-waiting feel that effectively cements its place as an amiable piece of work.
Love Wrecked (November 25/08)
While there's certainly no faulting the appreciatively wacky premise, Love Wrecked quickly establishes itself as a low-rent comedic misfire that seems to have been geared exclusively towards teenaged girls. The movie - which follows Amanda Bynes' Jenny as she tricks her pop-star crush (Chris Carmack's Jason Masters) into believing that they're marooned on a deserted island (when they are, in fact, mere feet away from a posh Caribbean resort) - has been infused with an almost egregiously bubbly sensibility by director Randal Kleiser, as the filmmaker's consistent emphasis on woefully lighthearted elements (ie musical montages, cutesy scene-transitioning wipes, etc) effectively highlights the various deficiencies within the production. Stephen Langford's simplistic screenplay has been jam-packed with pointless interludes that go absolutely nowhere, with the eye-rollingly hackneyed subplot revolving around Jenny's smitten best friend (and his tireless efforts at winning her over) certainly standing tall above the film's myriad of cookie-cutter attributes. The inclusion of several lowest-common-denominator instances of humor (ie Jenny's aforementioned pal loses his watch while massaging a portly guest) only compounds the movie's problems, and one certainly can't help but lament Langford's inability to properly capitalize on the inherently off-the-wall premise (an admittedly chuckle-worthy scene in which Jenny must distract Chris from a pair of windsurfers ultimately comes off as the exception rather than the rule). It's a shame, really, as Bynes is undeniably a charismatic performer who surely deserves far better material - although there's little doubt that she's going to find herself on increasingly thin ice if she keeps cranking out nonstarters like this (as well as such underwhelming past efforts as She's the Man and Sydney White).