Tag Archives: C-

DADDY’S HOME 2

Producer: Will Ferrell, Adam McKay, Chris Henchy, John Morris and Kevin Messick
Director: Sean Anders
Writer: Sean Anders and John Morris
Stars: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Linda Cardellini, John Lithgow, Mel Gibson, Scarlett Estevez, Owen Vaccaro, Didi Costine, Allessandra Ambrosio and John Cena
Studio: Paramount Pictures

C-

Proof positive that in today’s Hollywood it’s not only great minds that think alike. Just a couple of weeks after “A Bad Moms Christmas,” we’re offered a movie with the same basic premise, though with a gender reversal. Where the earlier movies were about mothers plagued by the arrival of their mothers for the holiday, “Daddy’s Home 2” is about fathers who are thrown for a loop when their own fathers show up for Christmas. The outcome might be summed up with a slight change to Santa’s traditional exclamation: Ho-ho-hum.

Actually the younger guys are the feuding father and stepfather from the first picture, macho Dusty Mayron (Mark Wahlberg), the ex-husband of Sara (Linda Cardellini), and her new hubby, wimpy Brad Whitaker (Will Ferrell). By the end of the first movie they’ve buried the hatchet and have become best buds and agreed to become “co-dads” to Dusty and Sara’s kids Dylan (Owen Vaccaro) and Megan (Scarlett Estevez). Dusty has also remarried, to Karen (Alessandra Ambrosio), and himself become a stepfather to Adrianna (Didi Costine), Karen’s daughter.

All seems fine within the extended family—indeed, they’ve just decided to celebrate Christmas together rather than having two distinct sets of festivities—until Dusty gets the news that his gruff father Kurt (Mel Gibson) is coming for the holiday, though they haven’t seen one another in years and are obviously estranged. Brad’s parents are supposed to drop in too, but in the event only his father Don (John Lithgow) shows up, explaining that Brad’s mother is attending to a sick relative.

Don is predictably even more of a wuss than Brad is, and Lithgow, with some of the best timing in the business, gets a few laughs playing him, though writer-director Sean Anders repeatedly makes his ultra-effete persona an object of icky disdain (as when he greets his son with a kiss on the lips). Still, Lithgow plays along, even when in the latter stages of the movie there’s a revelation (a predictable one, to be sure) that causes a rift between Don and Brad.

Kurt is another matter. When the screenplay was written some time ago, the idea of presenting him as a shark-eye, sexist womanizer and a raging bundle of cynical machismo posturing might have seemed a good idea, but after the recent explosion of news about sexual harassment and misconduct, it comes across as a crude stereotype whose time has definitely passed, especially where in the end he mellows ever so slightly to merit a degree of sympathy. In the present conduct it really doesn’t help that Gibson, depending on his bad-boy reputation as a sort of crutch, is so convincing in the part. In fact, it makes it all the worse.

But that’s hardly the only trouble with “Daddy’s Home 2.” The picture is episodic, of course, and the slapstick interludes in which Ferrell can do his knockabout shtick—an encounter with a voice-activated shower, a disastrous ride down a ski run, and especially a ludicrously overextended sketch involving a runaway snow blower and a bunch of Christmas decorations—are comparatively flat affairs. But a bit in which Karen’s shoplifting is dismissed as harmless fun, and one in which Adrianna and Megan get drunk, are actually in pretty bad taste. An “uplifting” family outing to a bowling alley, where Dylan sort of overcomes his wimpiness (complete with a cheering crowd of onlookers), is a bust. And the big finale, which goes for sentiment big time when everybody (including Karen’s first husband, a bruiser named Roger played by John Cena) is trapped by an avalanche at a snowbound multiplex and join together in a crowd sing-along to “Do They Know It’s Christmas”—which of course resolves the terrible rift between Dusty and Brad that Kurt has been egging on—is utterly shameless.

Still, some people will laugh at the sight of Ferrell, Lithgow and Gibson going through their paces (Wahlberg, by contrast, is pretty much wasted), and the physical production is on a par with other Ferrell vehicles. But overall this is a movie that, like so many of Hollywood’s recent Christmas-themed pictures, offers little holiday cheer.

SUBURBICON

Producer: Grant Heslov, George Clooney and Teddy Schwarzman
Director: George Clooney
Writer: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen, George Clooney and Grant Heslov
Stars:  Matt Damon, Julianne Moore, Oscar Isaac, Glenn Fleshler, Alex Hassell, Marah Fairclough, Megan Ferguson, Noah Jupe, Michael D. Cohen, Jack Conley, Diane Dehn, Tim Neff, Gary Basaraba and Emily Goss
Studio: Paramount Pictures

C-

Joel and Ethan Coen are clever fellows in more ways than one. When then pen a really good script, they direct it themselves. When an effort turns out to be mediocre, they pass it along to somebody else. That’s the case with George Clooney’s “Suburbicon,” a misfire in virtually every respect.

The screenplay is basically a film noir spoof of the sort that the brothers managed so well in “Blood Simple” and “Fargo.” Unfortunately, it’s ineptly handled here. That overarching plot, however, is—at least in this version, which is also credited to Clooney and his writing partner Grant Heslov—combined with a story about opposition to racial integration in the late 1950s. The two halves are meant to comment on each other—familial duplicity juxtaposed against the larger context of social discord—but the two, unfortunately, aren’t effectively blended.

The domestic side is anchored by little Nicky (Noah Jupe), the adolescent son of Gardner and Rose Lodge (Matt Damon and Julianne Moore), who live in the sterile, candy-colored but lily-white planned titular community, clearly modeled on Levittown and its imitators. Blonde Rose is in a wheelchair as the result of an auto accident in which Gardner, an executive in a financial firm, was driving.

Rose’s twin but dark-haired sister Margaret (also Moore) is visiting when the house is invaded by a couple of quietly menacing intruders (Glenn Flesher and Alex Hassell), who tie the family up before chloroforming them. Ruth dies as a result of the assault, and Margaret moves in with Gardner and Nicky to help them over the rough patch.

But all is not as it seems, since when given the chance Gardner fails to identify the perpetrators in a police line-up. Meanwhile Margaret has dyed her hair blonde to look like Ruth. Even Nicky’s raucously gregarious, good-natured uncle Mitch (Gary Basaraba) can’t do much, though he’s concerned about what’s happening. This is basically told from Nicky’s point of view—rather like in Bob Balaban’s underappreciated dark comedy “Parents”—though, of course, there are plenty of scenes outside his immediate perspective (and no intimations of cannibalism, expect perhaps of a metaphorical sort).

Simultaneously the neighborhood is wracked when an African-American couple, the Meyers (Leith M. Burke and Karimah Westbrook), along with their son Andy (Tony Espinosa), move in next door, their backyard abutting the Lodges’. The outrage of virtually the whole town is immediate, and before long the residents have become an angry mob trying to drive the Meyers out—ultimately with a gruesome spasm of violence. The sole saving grace in the mayhem is that Nicky and Andy become friends.

The sad truth about “Suburbicon” is that neither of the two major plot threads works. Apart from Nicky, nicely played by Jupe, the entire Lodge story is pretty much a bust. Gardner is little more than a poor cousin to William H. Macy’s inept Jerry Lundegaard from “Fargo,” and Damon plays him as a dull, lethargic fellow, while Moore makes surprisingly little of her dual role. The remainder of the cast, while adequate, isn’t a patch on the colorful performers with whom the Coens filled the films they directed on their own. Oscar Isaac brings things briefly to life as a smooth-operating insurance agent, but the promising “Double Indemnity” subplot peters out quickly, and a series of twists in the last reel feel formulaic, at least as staged by Clooney.

And that’s the fundamental problem with the picture. Other comedies that have played off film noir—including those penned by the Coens—were done up with some style. Think of what Danny DeVito managed with “Throw Momma from the Train,” or Jim Abrahams and the Zucker brothers with “Rotten People.” Neither was of the quality of “Fargo,” but both were enjoyable because they were staged with energy and verve. By contrast Clooney’s work is stodgy and pedestrian; he’s unable to make the obviously goofy parts funny or even quirkily engaging, and can’t achieve a proper balance between dark humor and simple unpleasantness in the grimmer episodes. Tonally the picture is a mess rather than a satisfying blend of disparate moods.

There is some pleasure to be gotten from the technical side of things. James D. Bissell’s production design and Jenny Eagan’s costumes are high-glow fifties period, complete with clips from old TV shows and metal children’s rides outside the local supermarket (with its racist manager). Robert Elswit’s camerawork casts everything with a glow, even when it’s not terribly appropriate. And Alexandre Desplat’s score works overtime, switching from style to style in a rather desperate attempt to mesh with the movie’s shifting moods.

The effort is wasted, though, in view of the lumpy, misshapen script and clumsy direction. Perhaps the Coens, or Tim Burton, could have molded “Suburbicon” into a winning blend of dark comedy and old-style thriller. Clooney doesn’t.