Mini Reviews (May 2005)
Kicking & Screaming, Madagascar, The Longest Yard, The Program
Kicking & Screaming (May 12/05)
While Kicking & Screaming isn't necessarily a bad film, there's no denying that it's utterly and almost painfully routine. There's nothing going on here that we haven't seen countless times before, usually to far better effect. The movie stars Will Ferrell as Phil Weston, a mild-mannered vitamin salesman who becomes an aggressive and ultra-competitive monster after volunteering to coach his son's soccer team (a transformation spurred on by a newfound addiction to coffee and a life-changing bet with his equally merciless father, played by Robert Duvall). Kicking & Screaming follows the familiar formula established by other, better movies like The Bad News Bears and The Mighty Ducks in which a ragtag team must overcome obstacles of ineptitude to become champions, although the film focuses more on Ferrell's character than the clumsy players (no big surprise there, given Ferrell's considerable box office appeal). As a result, Kicking & Screaming revolves around Ferrell and his over-the-top, seemingly improvised antics - to the extent that the stuff involving the ragtag team feels like an afterthought.
Madagascar (May 27/05)
It's hard to work up any enthusiasm for Madagascar - either positive or negative - because the film is just so bland; it's competently made and entertaining enough, but there's absolutely nothing distinctive or remarkable about it. Following the exploits of four pampered zoo animals that must fend for themselves after being dumped on a tropical island, Madagascar features a brisk pace, colorful look, and an emphasis on broad, relentlessly silly jokes - so it seems fairly clear that small kids are the intended audience for the film (ie Toy Story this isn't). Having said that, it's hard not to be impressed by the movie's visual style; this is a rare animated film that actually looks and behaves like an animated film (ie it's cartoonish). And the voice acting is stellar all around (David Schwimmer's performance as a neurotic giraffe is certainly the highlight), with Chris Rock being the sole exception (even as just a voice, the man is obnoxious and irritating). Still, there's no denying that the whole thing is lackluster from start to finish - despite the presence of four scene-stealing penguins (it's impossible not to wish the entire film had revolved around their exploits).
The Longest Yard (May 28/05)
That The Longest Yard is considered something of a classic is baffling; while it's not exactly terrible, the film never quite becomes anything more than a mildly entertaining sports romp (the leaden pace and severe overlength only serve to exacerbate matters). Burt Reynolds stars as Paul "Wrecking" Crewe, a former pro-football player who finds himself sent to prison after stealing (and destroying) his girlfriend's expensive car. Shortly after arriving, he's told to assemble a football team consisting entirely of inmates - in preparation of a big game against the prison's various guards. The Longest Yard essentially fuses two seemingly disparate genres - the prison movie and the ragtag-team-makes-good sports flick - to less-than-stellar effect. It certainly doesn't help that the film is populated with cliches (ie the sadistic guard, the wise old inmate, the evil warden), though they're even more one-dimensional than one might expect. And because these characters are scarcely developed (with one or two exceptions), it becomes virtually impossible to care about the outcome of the pivotal football game. This soon proves to be particularly disastrous, given that said match goes on for over 40-minutes (!); you've got to be some kind of football superfan to actually remain engaged throughout this inordinately long third act, which is almost as tedious as an actual football game. Reynolds is admittedly quite good in the central role, and the scenes in which he must train the inept prisoners are easily the highlight - though, as a comedy, the film fails completely (there are one or two jokes that actually work).
The Program (May 29/05)
With its emphasis on dialogue and performances rather than plot, there's something oddly refreshing about The Program. Writer/director Irin Evers has fashioned a story that's dependent on behavior of its central characters to propel it forward, a risky move given the necessity for better-than-average performances and screenwriting. Fortunately, The Program succeeds on both counts. Matt (Matt Samson) and Sally (Susie Ross) are Americans working in Mexico, each for their own reasons (which are divulged as the film progresses). One day, Matt receives word that his grandfather has died and left him a computer disc - contents unknown. Because they both live in rural Mexico, Matt and Sally must journey into the city to check out the disc. Along the way, the pair find themselves embroiled in a series of frank discussions about a variety of subjects (ie the meaning of life). The Program has clearly been shot on a miniscule budget, yet director Evers does a nice job of imbuing the film with a subtle, unforced sense of style. Samson and Ross deliver natural performances that are enhanced by Evers' keen ear for dialogue that sounds authentic, and as a result, it's hard not to get wrapped up in The Progam's low-key but effective vibe.