This past summer, while trying to confirm rumors of a Transformers 2 love scene between Megan Fox and Megatron, we came across a review by Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts over at AICN. While we were disappointed to learn nobody would be putting the "tro" in Megan, the review made us laugh. We reached out to him to see if he'd consider reviewing movies we barely give a shit about for Cracked. Instead, he sent this review of a goofy Matt Damon movie we were sort of considering giving a shit about. Enjoy.
The Informant! was not the movie I was sold. It's hard to say whether that's part of Steven Soderbergh's plan, considering the events of the movie, or whether it's yet another example of marketing selling pretty lies to make sure opening weekend is nice and fat. Like how X-Men: Wolverine and Muttonchops McGee was like, "Hey, Wolverine headbutts a helicopter and Ryan Reynolds is Deadpool! C'mon in, it'll be awesome!" We went in and it was more like, "Hey, some hairy crybaby was banging Sacajawea until Cotton Weary snuffed her, and then Ryan Reynolds wore red sweatpants for two minutes."
According to the trailer, The Informant! is a goofy farce about Fat Damon bungling while Sam Beckett facepalms every three seconds and mutters "ho boy!" It's most definitely not that. Much like Soderbergh's career, the film defies easy categorization, and is all the more rewarding for it. The only slot you can easily fit the film into is "Best Scott Bakula movie." Farewell and adieu, Necessary Roughness, you had a good run at the top.
Damon plays Mark Whitacre, a goofy biochemist with a pornstache, hair-helmet and 40 extra pounds hanging over his belt. He's a good enough guy, working a lucrative job in the corn industry. His ambitions steer him away from science and into the business side, where he finds corporate life to be unsavory. He decides to go to the feds about an international price-fixing scheme. But Mark Whitacre is not at all what he seems.
Because of that trailer--and Damon's puffy, ruddy appearance--some might expect the film to be Soderbergh comedically riffing on Michael Mann's The Insider, but what unfolds is a a smart, sprawling story, set in a 90s that looks like the 80s and sounds and feels like the 70s--complete with gaudy purple titles and a gleefully cornball score by Marvin Hamlisch. The score might as well be wearing its own hair helmet and a poor fitting suit with shoulder pads sewn because it might be the most effective character in the film.
There's plenty of low-key fun to be found beneath the orangey-brownish sheen of The Informant! just in case "Man, Marvin FUCKING Hamlisch piano'd the FUCK out of this movie SHIT YEAH" isn't the gavel-banger done-deal of a recommendation some (awesome) people might think it is.
One of Soderbergh's more interesting choices was to pepper the supporting cast with quality comedians, but cast them against type. Patton Oswalt isn't a raging, gravy-flecked gnome; Paul F. Tompkins isn't reviewing This Week in Britney Spears Vagina; Tony Hale isn't ... OK he's still pretty much Buster Bluth from Arrested Development.
Two different characters?
But the real surprise is The Soup's Joel McHale, who nails just the right tone of subtle astonishment and bemused sympathy. If there's any character the audience is going to identify with, it's going to be McHale.
(Quick side note: How is it that of all the hosts of Talk Soup, Skunk Boy John Henson is the only one who's yet to ascend to Hollywood stardom? The last time I saw him, he was reviewing Fergie's camel-toe at the Grammys on the TV Guide Channel. Dear Skunk Boy's agent: This is bullshit and you suck.)
Yeah, that sorta like being in a Soderbergh movie.
The Informant! is a funny film, in its own subtle way. That is to say if you thought Transformers 2: Car Car Binks and the Truck Nuts of Doom was clever for including a farting alien jet, you might want to stay home. For the rest of us, the face of the Bakula should make you laugh all by its hangdog lonesome. One minute he looks like a young Homer Simpson wearing Sam Donaldson's Hershey's Shell hairpiece. The next he looks like Bogart sucking a lemon made of farts.
The story goes in more than a few unexpected directions. A lot of the fun comes from discovering the twists as our befuddled FBI agents do. That's probably the film's neatest trick: The use of narration as something a little less than reliable. That's not to say Damon is openly lying to you whenever he starts in with the VO. But the banal, constantly derailing-train-of-thought he drives all movie long is fantastic, casually deceptive and accidentally enlightening. And when the film finally downshifts from light-and-fluffy to sad and pathetic, that VO is what provides the punch.
This isn't one of Soderbergh's greatest, but it might be among his most likable films. While people keep comparing it to The Insider due to the subject matter and the based-on-a-true-story nature of the story, it has more in common with the Coen Bros' Burn After Reading. It's not as relentlessly mean-spirited and brutal as that film, but it deals with hapless characters in way over their heads, struggling comically to stay above water. But unlike Burn, not everybody drowns miserably in their own mediocrity. It's essentially a feel-good flick about losers, spectacularly losing, with a wry little grin its face.
Check out more from Mr. Roberts, and listen to his radio show over at www.cortandfatboy.com.