The Films of Joe Dante
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The 'Burbs (February 27/17)
A fairly disappointing flop, The 'Burbs follows Tom Hanks' Ray Peterson as he and a neighbor (Rick Ducommun's Art Weingartner) become convinced that there's something shady going on with the new inhabitants on their pleasant cul-de-sac - which eventually prompts the men, along with Bruce Dern's Mark Rumsfield, to launch an investigation into the happenings within the creepy old house. It's a somewhat promising setup that's employed to progressively underwhelming effect by filmmaker Joe Dante, as the movie slowly-but-surely adopts a repetitive vibe that grows more and more tedious as the thin storyline unfolds - with the bulk of The 'Burbs' plodding midsection devoted to Ray and company's attempts at discerning the truth about their recently-arrived neighbors. The problem is, however, that exceedingly little of this is actually interesting; Dante, along with scripter Dana Olsen, delivers an episodic narrative that's rife with less-than-engrossing set-pieces and interludes, with the half-baked atmosphere compounded by an almost total lack of laughs and an incongruously flat Hanks performance. (The actor, for the most part, seems bored and uninvested, although he does manage to elevate a few routine sequences - including a high-water-mark moment in which he reluctantly eats a sardine atop a pretzel.) The over-the-top climactic stretch does the movie absolutely no favors, and it is, in the end, impossible to label The 'Burbs as anything other than a sporadically affable yet primarily tiresome misfire.
Gremlins 2: The New Batch
The Second Civil War
Warlord: Battle For The Galaxy
Looney Tunes: Back in Action (February 13/18)
Occasionally charming but predominantly exhausting, Looney Tunes: Back in Action follows Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck as they agree to help a stuntman (Brendan Fraser's DJ Drake) find his missing father (Timothy Dalton's Damien Drake) and prevent a diabolical villain (Steve Martin's Mr. Chairman) from taking over the world. It's ultimately clear that Looney Tunes: Back in Action is at its best in its relatively watchable first half, as filmmaker Joe Dante, working from a screenplay by Larry Doyle, does an effective job of integrating Bugs and Daffy into the movie's human landscape - although, even at this early stage, Dante's predilection for placing the protagonists in almost unreasonably over-the-top situations is a little tiresome (to say the least). Fraser's affable turn as the central character goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, initially, while the ongoing emphasis on amusing cameos and eye-catching set-pieces generally compensates for the geared-towards-small-children atmosphere. (There is, for example, a thoroughly engaging chase that makes its way through a series of famous paintings.) There's little doubt, though, that Looney Tunes: Back in Action's agreeable vibe takes a steep nosedive as it progresses into an increasingly frenetic third act, with Dante's decision to stress relentless, headache-inducing action ensuring that the movie fizzles out to a fairly disastrous extent - which is a shame, certainly, given that the movie had the potential to improve upon the equally forgettable Space Jam.
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Burying the Ex (February 27/17)
Quite possibly the worst film of Joe Dante's far-from-spotless career, Burying the Ex follows Anton Yelchin's affable Max as his efforts at breaking up with a controlling girlfriend (Ashley Greene's Evelyn) are thwarted by her untimely death - with Evelyn's eventual reemergence as a full-fledged zombie threatening Max's new relationship with Alexandra Daddario's Olivia. There's ultimately not a whole lot within Burying the Ex for even the most ardent Dante fan to embrace, as the movie suffers from an oddly low-rent sensibility that's compounded by relentlessly broad performances and an emphasis on thoroughly artificial elements (ie everything from the dialogue to the plot twists to the character relationships rings false and feels forced). Yelchin's ongoing attempts at transforming his less-than-three-dimensional character into a wholeheartedly compelling protagonist generally fall flat, while both Greene and Daddario find themselves trapped within the confines of almost ludicrously one-note figures (ie their major defining trait seems to be a continuing desire to sleep with Max in the face of decidedly unsexy circumstances). The extent of Burying the Ex's rampant incompetence is ultimately somewhat impressive given the level of talent in front of and behind the camera, and one can't help but wonder what drew folks like Yelchin and Dante to such substandard, subpar material.