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Four Comedies from MGM

College (February 22/09)

A laugh-free, thoroughly unpleasant comedy, College follows high-school senior Kevin (Drake Bell) as he and two friends (Andrew Caldwell's Carter and Kevin Covais' Morris) arrive at a local university's freshman orientation weekend hoping to score with as many women as possible. The three buddies eventually find themselves drawn to a trio of down-to-earth sorority sisters, yet their efforts at spending time with them are consistently thwarted by a handful of scuzzy frat guys (including Nick Zano's Teague and Gary Owen's Bearcat). It's immediately apparent that the dynamic between the central characters has been blatantly modeled after the heroes within 2007's Superbad, with Bell's everyman Kevin mirroring Michael Cera's Evan, Caldwell's sarcastic Carter an eerily apt stand-in for Jonah Hill's Seth, and Covais' nerdy Morris resembling Christopher Mintz-Plasse's McLovin both in appearance and personality. The pervadingly derivative atmosphere quickly proves to be the least of College's problems, however, as screenwriters Dan Callahan and Adam Ellison place an ongoing emphasis on comedic interludes that couldn't possibly be more unfunny (ie the gang mistakenly attends a gay frat party, where they're forced to do body shots off of an unreasonably hairy individual). The uniformly smug performances ensure that the viewer is left with nobody to root for, while the laughably melodramatic third act - which features a whopping three fake break-ups - plays an instrumental role in the movie's transformation from dull time-waster to endless ordeal. It's subsequently difficult to imagine that even the most forgiving viewer will find much of anything worth embracing here, as College's place as bottom-of-the-barrel entertainment is cemented early and perpetuated throughout.

out of

Dead Like Me (April 4/09)

A fitting send-off for the cult Showtime program, Dead Like Me follows the show's reapers (Ellen Muth's George, Callum Blue's Mason, Sarah Wynter's Daisy, and Jasmine Guy's Roxy) as their humdrum lives are shaken up in the wake of a slick new boss' (Henry Ian Cusick's Cameron Kane) emergence - with the bulk of the proceedings subsequently detailing their individual efforts at coping with Cameron's laid-back modus operandi. Director Stephen Herek - working from Stephen Godchaux and John Masius' script - does a nice job of capturing the feel and tone of the all-too-short-lived television series, although his sporadic efforts at infusing the film with a more cinematic vibe generally fall flat (ie enough with the slow motion, already). It's worth noting that the absence of Mandy Patinkin's Rube Sofer is ultimately not as problematic as one might've expected, as the character's disappearance effectively allows Godchaux and Masius to take the picture in an entirely different direction from its serialized predecessor (ie the movie rarely feels like just an extended episode of the show). And while the film's midsection is perhaps not quite as enthralling as one might've liked - ie there reaches a point at which one begins to actively miss the series' comparatively lighthearted sensibilities - Dead Like Me benefits substantially from an increasingly affecting third act that boasts a number of genuinely moving sequences (with George's decision to reveal herself to her sister certainly proving instrumental in the film's undeniable turnabout). The end result is an uneven yet worthwhile endeavor that's clearly been designed to appeal to both ardent fans and neophytes alike, although it does go without saying that the show's followers will have an easier time overlooking the movie's sporadic deficiencies than newcomers.

out of

Take This Job and Shove It (July 2/09)

Though billed as a comedy, Take This Job and Shove It primarily comes off as a low-key drama detailing a slick executive's (Robert Hays' Frank Macklin) efforts at modernizing a small-town brewery - with complications ensuing as Frank, who grew up in the area and remains on friendly terms with many of the company's employees, is forced to make some tough decisions as part of the cost-cutting process. Director Gus Trikonis has infused the proceedings with a laid-back atmosphere that generally complements Barry Schneider's breezy screenplay, with the ongoing emphasis on the locals' day-to-day activities effectively perpetuating the movie's unapologetically easygoing sensibilities. Hays' likeable (if unspectacular) work is matched by a strong supporting cast that includes, among others, Barbara Hershey, Tim Thomerson, and David Keith, while Schneider does a nice job of peppering the film with a number of surprisingly poignant moments (ie Frank encounters an illiterate employee). The increasingly meandering narrative proves instrumental in securing the movie's downfall, however, as it becomes awfully difficult to look past the inclusion of sequences that are downright aggressive in their needlessness (ie Frank and two friends participate in a monster truck race, Frank and his buddies stage an impromptu football match within the confines of a bar, etc). It's consequently worth noting that the expectedly raucous finale doesn't quite pack the rousing punch that the filmmakers are clearly going for, with the end result an uneven piece of work that almost earns a recommendation based solely on the myriad of familiar faces within its cast (ie Seinfeld's Uncle Leo even pops up!)

out of

Without a Clue (July 3/09)

Starring Michael Caine and Ben Kingsley, Without a Clue follows Sherlock Holmes (Caine) and John Watson (Kingsley) as they attempt to solve a mystery involving counterfeit five-dollar bills - with the twist being that Holmes is actually a two-bit actor named Reginald Kincaid and Watson is actually the brains behind the outfit. It's a high-concept premise that's initially employed to promising (if somewhat stagy) effect by director Thom Eberhart, as the filmmaker - armed with Gary Murphy and Larry Strawther's off-kilter screenplay - generally does an effective job of emphasizing the unabashedly irreverent dynamic between the two central characters. The movie's less-than-compelling storyline is consequently not as problematic as one might've suspected, with the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious comedic interludes - ie Holmes' inept efforts at finding a clue within villain Moriarty's name - going a long way towards cultivating an atmosphere of affable amusement. There's little doubt, however, that Without a Clue slowly but surely runs out of steam as it progresses; Kingsley's prolonged absence within the film's third act only exacerbates this feeling, while the needlessly noisy climax ensures that the whole thing ends on as unmemorable a note as one could envision. Still, it's impossible not to derive some pleasure out of Caine and Kingsley's effortless chemistry with one another - to such an extent that it's generally easy enough to look past the movie's myriad of deficiencies.

out of

About the DVDs: Though Take This Job and Shove It and Without a Clue arrive on DVD without any bonus features, College comes armed with an extended, unrated cut, while Dead Like Me boasts a commentary track and a behind-the-scenes featurette. It's also worth noting that Without a Clue has been denied the widescreen treatment, with its full-screen presentation nothing less than shameful.
© David Nusair