The Films of Joe and Anthony Russo
Welcome to Collinwood
You, Me and Dupree (July 13/06)
You, Me and Dupree casts Owen Wilson as Randolph Dupree, a perpetual loser who - following the loss of his job and apartment - moves into the home of best friend Carl (Matt Dillon) and new wife Molly (Kate Hudson). As expected, Dupree's sloppy hijinks begin to cause problems within Carl and Molly's marriage (Carl's tenuous relationship with his father-in-law, played by Michael Douglas, only exacerbates the situation). Screenwriter Mike LeSieur infuses You, Me and Dupree with some of the hoariest romantic-comedy cliches one could possibly imagine, and there are consequently very few surprises to be had throughout the movie's overlong running time. The predictable character arcs (ie Carl stands up to his overbearing father-in-law, Dupree learns responsibility, etc, etc) and thoroughly routine plot points (including, natch, the dreaded fake break-up) are augmented by Joe and Anthony Russo's bland directorial choices, as well as the exceedingly erratic pacing with which they've imbued the movie. The film's three leads deliver competent yet thoroughly uninspired performances, with Wilson offering up the latest variation on his laid-back, cool-guy persona (though he's still a personable, charismatic figure, his schtick has long-since lost most of its appeal). And while Hudson and Dillon are cute together, they're not given a whole lot to work with; they are, for the most part, trapped within the artificial confines of LeSieur's distinctly unimpressive screenplay. Periphery cast members such as Seth Rogan and Harry Dean Stanton (the latter of whom is wasted in a two-line role) generally fare better than their above-the-title brethren, but the bottom line is virtually everyone here deserves better than this. You, Me and Dupree is ultimately as ineffective and underwhelming as recent comedic efforts such as Click and The Break-Up, which is certainly a shame given the presence of some genuinely talented folks both in front of and behind the camera (even the Russo brothers have shown some promise in the past, thanks to their work on the now-defunct Fox sitcom Arrested Development). And while it seems likely that the film will appeal to the increasingly indiscriminating populace (how else can one explain the monstrous success of Dead Man's Chest?), there's little here to keep even the most forgiving Wilson fan entertained.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
A substantial disappointment after 2011's better-than-expected Captain America: The First Avenger, Captain America: The Winter Soldier follows Chris Evans' title character as he embarks on a quest to clear his name after he's branded a traitor by certain dark forces. It's clear immediately that directors Joe and Anthony Russo aren't looking to replicate the old-fashioned feel of Joe Johnston's first film, as Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens with a generic action sequence that could've been pulled from any number of contemporary thrillers (ie the rapid-fire editing and shaky camerawork lend it an incoherent, unexciting feel). The film does, thankfully, improve past that point, as scripters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely offer up a propulsive narrative that's been augmented with a number of agreeable elements - with the conspiracy-based storyline certainly far more entertaining and compelling than one might've expected. It doesn't hurt, either, that the movie boasts a raft of charismatic performers within the supporting cast, with, in particular, Robert Redford's engaging turn as a senior S.H.I.E.L.D. official standing out as an obvious highlight. And although the opening hour contains a handful of impressively exciting set-pieces (eg Cap must take down an elevator full of villains), Captain America: The Winter Soldier begins to lose its grip on the viewer in the rather tedious midsection and buildup to the third act - with this vibe ultimately compounded by an almost interminable final stretch that's rife with over-the-top, overblown action sequences. (And, typically, most of this stuff feels as though it'd be more at home in a video game than in a movie.) It's a shame, really, given the effectiveness of Captain America: The First Avenger and the central character's likeable, appealing nature, with the film, in the end, establishing itself as just another mindless product geared towards teenage boys.
Captain America: Civil War (May 5/16)
As tedious and uninvolving as its immediate predecessor, Captain America: Civil War follows Chris Evans' title character as he's forced to battle fellow Avenger Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) over a political dispute involving the forced regulation of superheroes. There's ultimately little within Captain America: Civil War's ridiculous 146 minute running time that wholeheartedly works, as directors Joe and Anthony Russo, working from a screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, have suffused the proceedings with one half-baked, less-than-engrossing subplot after another - which ensures, to an increasingly distressing extent, that the movie suffers from an almost total lack of forward momentum (ie it clumsily lurches from one broadly-conceived action set-piece to the next). It is, as such, not surprising to note that the efforts of an extremely capable cast fall flat, with most of the movie's performers trapped in the confines of one-dimensional, hopelessly underdeveloped characters. (This is especially true of the film's unwarranted emphasis on Sebastian Stan's tedious Winter Soldier.) Captain America: Civil War's lackluster vibe is compounded by the Russos mishandling of virtually all of its action sequences, as the filmmaking siblings' obvious discomfort with such moments (eg shaky camerawork, rapid-fire editing, etc) drains them of both their impact and their coherence. The much-ballyhooed battle royale that occurs around the halfway mark is admittedly quite spectacular, although it is, in retrospect, fairly obvious that the entire sequence could've been lifted out of the narrative with little negative impact. (This is to say nothing of the shoehorning-in of Tom Holland's Spider-Man.) And while the climactic fight between Evans and Downey Jr's respective characters is understated and intelligible, Captain America: Civil War has long-since confirmed its place as just another loud, overblown Marvel misfire - with the continued failure of these movies especially disappointing given the potential afforded by the larger-than-life characters.
Avengers: Infinity War (May 14/18)
A minor improvement over Avengers: Age of Ultron, Avengers: Infinity War follows a variety of superheroes as they band together to fight and defeat a fearsome villain named Thanos (Josh Brolin). Filmmakers Joe and Anthony Russo have infused Avengers: Infinity War with a predictably erratic feel that persists for the duration of its insanely overlong running time of 149 minutes (!), with the movie's almost total lack of momentum perpetuated (and compounded) by a fragmented storyline that arbitrarily lurches from one sequence to the next (ie there's a palpable randomness to the placement of the movie's many, many subplots). The patchwork atmosphere ensures that the movie is rarely able to wholeheartedly sustain one's interest, with the Russos' less-than-impressive directorial choices (eg most scenes are bathed in a darkness that quickly becomes off-putting) rarely alleviating the mostly underwhelming, unimpressive vibe. Having said that, Avengers: Infinity War has been suffused with a handful of overtly positive elements that ensure it remains, at the very least, watchable throughout - with the movie benefiting substantially from Brolin's surprisingly textured work as the completely computer-generated villain (ie the actor does a superb job of elevating Thanos above his one-note, Marvel-antagonist brethren). The smattering of agreeable attributes is ultimately crushed beneath the weight of a progressively excessive narrative, with, especially, the third act's preponderance of tedious, dimly-lit action interludes threatening to cancel out the marginally-effective nature of what came before (although, to be fair, the picture does end with an impressively low-key stretch that's probably more compelling than anything in this entire misbegotten series) - which finally does confirm Avengers: Infinity War's place as just another run-of-the-mill and somewhat irrelevant comic-book extravaganza.