The Films of Ivan Reitman
Meatballs (June 10/07)
There's little doubt that Meatballs' extremely mild success is due entirely to Bill Murray's incredibly charismatic and thoroughly entertaining performance, as the film surrounding him is essentially plotless and predictable. Murray, who has clearly improvised the majority of his lines, elevates the proceedings to something that's almost watchable, though there's certainly no denying that one's interest wanes considerably whenever he's not on screen. The egregiously thin storyline - which revolves around the wacky hijinks that ensue at a low-rent summer camp - has been peppered with a number of melodramatic subplots, with most of the characters saddled with overly obvious arcs that simply aren't all that interesting (this is particularly true of the lonely, put-upon kid that Murray's Tripper Harrison takes under his wing). And while director Ivan Reitman - working from Len Blum, Daniel Goldberg, Janis Allen, and Harold Ramis' screenplay - does a nice job of infusing the film with an appropriately silly and light-hearted atmosphere, Meatballs is ultimately just not able to live up to its inexplicable reputation as a minor cult classic.
Ghost Busters (July 14/16)
Perhaps not quite the legitimate classic it's been built up to be, Ghost Busters follows Bill Murray's Peter Venkman, Dan Aykroyd's Ray Stantz, and Harold Ramis' Egon Spengler (and, eventually, Ernie Hudson's Winston Zeddmore) as they open their apparition-fighting business and find themselves confronted with a host of spooky scenarios. There are plenty of elements contained within Ghost Busters to embrace and love, certainly, as filmmaker Ivan Reitman, along with scripters Aykroyd and Ramis, does an effective job of cultivating an affable atmosphere that's perpetuated by the thoroughly charismatic work of the movie's stars - with, especially, Murray's justifiably iconic performance enlivening virtually every single scene he's in. It is, as such, not surprising to note that Ghost Busters fares best in its loose, easygoing first half, with the narrative's almost episodic bent placing the protagonists in one entertainingly over-the-top scenario after another (eg the team is confronted with the ghost known as Slimer, Venkman attempts to help and sleep with Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett, etc). It's rather disheartening to note, then, that the movie's momentum takes a palpable hit around the one-hour mark, as it's around that point that the emphasis shifts to the introduction of a new threat in the guise of both a smarmy EPA agent (William Atherton's Walter Peck) and a malevolent being bent on world domination/destruction. The film subsequently spends far too much time preparing for the (admittedly stirring) climactic battle and it's difficult not to wish certain segments of the third act had been trimmed down or excised completely, which, in the end, confirms Ghost Busters' place as an erratic yet consistently entertaining summer blockbuster (ie the movie probably works better in chunks than as a cohesive whole).
Legal Eagles follows dueling attorneys Tom Logan (Robert Redford) and Laura Kelly (Debra Winger) as they team up to defend a beautiful heiress (Daryl Hannah's Chelsea Deardon), with the film detailing the pair's ongoing efforts at solving the crime that their client has been accused of committing. Filmmaker Ivan Reitman has infused Legal Eagles with a pervasively lighthearted feel that does, for the most part, prevent the viewer from connecting with the material, which is a shame, certainly, since Redford delivers as engaging and charismatic a performance as one might've expected. The movie's pervasive lack of substance - ie there's just no hook here - grows increasingly problematic as the thinly-plotted narrative unfolds, with the plodding atmosphere compounded by a central case that is, after everything is said and done, simply not that interesting. (It doesn't help, either, that scripters Jim Cash and Jack Epps Jr attempt to compensate for the lackluster mystery by flooding the proceedings with increasingly convoluted elements.) And although the film has been sprinkled with a handful of standout sequences - eg Tom's opening remarks at Chelsea's trial - Legal Eagles primarily comes off as a lazy and fairly pointless vanity project that squanders the talents of everyone involved.
Ghostbusters II (July 19/16)
A rather underwhelming sequel, Ghostbusters II follows the title characters (Bill Murray's Peter Venkman, Dan Aykroyd's Ray Stantz, Harold Ramis' Egon Spengler, and Ernie Hudson's Winston Zeddemore) as they come out of retirement to battle an ages-old entity known as Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg). It becomes apparent, eventually, that Ghostbusters II feels more like a direct remake of its superior predecessor than a followup, as the movie, written by Ramis and Aykroyd, features (or suffers from) a narrative that often takes a distressingly similar path as 1984's Ghost Busters (eg Venkman woos Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett, the gang are detained just prior to the final showdown, etc, etc). The movie's pervasively smug atmosphere is perpetuated by an ongoing reliance on self-referential elements - why, for example, does the sign on the Ghostbusters' building feature the symbol for two? - and there's generally no avoiding the feeling that the movie wouldn't exist had the original flopped (ie most elements in the story come off as forced and inorganic, especially the underlying emphasis on the Ghostbusters viewed as villains rather than heroes). It's clear, then, that Ghostbusters II benefits substantially from the still-irresistible chemistry between the central characters, with Murray's completely affable performance anchoring the proceedings and, in general, offsetting its more questionable elements. The finale, which doesn't really work, ultimately ensures that the whole thing ends on a decidedly lackluster note, and it's not difficult to see why Ghostbusters II has amassed the reputation of an inferior work in the years since its 1989 release.
Six Days Seven Nights
Evolution (June 5/01)
Evolution is an ideal example of how to do a summer movie right, as it boasts plenty of funny one-liners, a few genuinely exciting sequences, and a cast of likeable characters. The film, which follows two friends (David Duchovny's Ira and Orlando Jones' Harry) as they find themselves embroiled in an alien encounter, is precisely the sort of larger-than-life endeavor that one might've expected from the director of Ghostbusters - with film marking Ivan Reitman's attempt at aping the popularity and success of that 1984 blockbuster without actually making a direct sequel. Evolution possesses many of the same elements (wisecracking heroes, scary monsters, etc) but the movie is ultimately unable to achieve that perfect balance of horror and comedy that Ghostbusters had. And although Duchovny is the best he's been outside of The X-Files, it's inevitably Jones who walks away with the title of MVP. A geology teacher with delusions of grandeur (and a part-time coach for a women's volleyball team), Harry is an ideal showcase for Jones' ample comedic talent. Whether he's bugging his eyes out after being invaded by an alien or just making a snarky comment about a military attache, the former Mad TV performer is certainly the breakout star of Evolution. Julianne Moore, cast as a clumsy scientist, is good (as always), but a little out of place. It seems fairly obvious that the actress is trying her darndest to match the wackiness of her costars, but she's never entirely able to pull it off. And unfortunately, if you've seen any one of the three (!) trailers, you've probably seen most of film's punchlines. The end result is an entertaining comedy that admittedly does suffer from cookie-cutter characters and an emphasis on familiar plot elements, yet it's inevitably easy enough to overlook such problems as a result of the movie's pervasively fun and easygoing atmosphere.
My Super Ex-Girlfriend
Though it features an admittedly out-there premise - a guy falls for a bona fide superhero - My Super Ex-Girlfriend possesses virtually all the beats and plot twists of a standard romantic comedy (including, of course, the requisite fake break-up). Luke Wilson stars as Matt Saunders, a personable architect who begins dating a mousy woman named Jenny Johnson (Uma Thurman). Despite the lack of chemistry between the two, Matt decides to stick with the relationship after learning that Jenny is actually legendary superhero G-Girl - though it's not long before G-Girl's arch-nemesis Professor Bedlam (Eddie Izzard) arrives on the scene. My Super Ex-Girlfriend has been directed by Ivan Reitman, who infuses the movie with a bland and curiously dated sense of style (ie stripped of its many insipid pop songs, the film could easily pass for a product of the 1980s). Don Payne's screenplay does contain a few clever jabs at various superhero cliches, while the performances are charming and engaging (Rainn Wilson, playing Matt's sleazy colleague and friend, easily steals every single one of his scant scenes). And although the whole thing never quite adds up to much, My Super Ex-Girlfriend is generally a fun (albeit entirely forgettable) piece of work.
No Strings Attached
Directed by Ivan Reitman, No Strings Attached follows Adam (Ashton Kutcher) and Emma (Natalie Portman) as they attempt to sidestep issues of intimacy by engaging in a purely physical relationship - with problems ensuing as Adam begins to develop romantic feelings for Emma. It's clear right from the outset that Reitman, working from Elizabeth Meriwether's screenplay, isn't looking to offer up a typically slick romantic comedy, as the filmmaker has infused the proceedings with an edgier sensibility that initially holds some promise - with Kutcher and Portman's charismatic work heightened by an impressively eclectic supporting cast that includes Kevin Kline, Cary Elwes, and Greta Gerwig. It's only as the movie progresses into its unusually sluggish midsection that one's interest begins to flag, and it's clear that Meriwether's increasingly episodic sensibilities are compounded by her ongoing reliance on eye-rollingly familiar romcom clichés (ie Adam and Emma's unreasonably wacky friends). The incongruously dramatic bent of the film's final third - the fake break-up makes an especially needless appearance - cements No Strings Attached's place as a consistently underwhelming piece of work, although Reitman does deserve some credit for avoiding the slickness that seems to be part and parcel with the genre nowadays (ie a typically empty Katherine Heigl or Kristen Bell vehicle this isn't).
Draft Day follows Kevin Costner's Sonny Weaver as he attempts to assemble a team for his professional football organization during the titular event, with the movie primarily concerning itself with the wheeling and dealing that transpires over the course of one very long day. It's clear immediately that director Ivan Reitman and scripters Scott Rothman and Rajiv Joseph have little interest in opening the proceedings to football neophytes, as Draft Day, particularly in its early sequences, unfolds in a whirlwind of sports-related references and terminology that's nothing short of baffling - with the pervasively inside atmosphere preventing the viewer from working up any real interest in Sonny's continuing exploits (ie it's hard to care what he's doing when one doesn't quite know what he's doing). The lack of an entry point is alleviated to a small degree by the ongoing emphasis on Sonny's relationship with a coworker (Jennifer Garner's Ali), as the conventional yet entertaining subplot goes a long way towards infusing the narrative with bursts of much-needed humanity. (It doesn't hurt, either, that the film's supporting cast boasts a revolving door of familiar faces, including Chi McBride, Denis Leary, Terry Crews, and Frank Langella.) And although there are few football-related elements here that partially work - eg a player (Tom Welling's Brian) pleads with Sonny to keep him on the team - Draft Day, which suffers from a growing emphasis on the dull minutia of the protagonist's endeavors, ultimately establishes itself as a weak, non-inclusive drama that's been geared solely towards an extremely specific demographic (ie non-fans need not apply).