THE PITCH: Napoleon Dynamite director Jared Hess's new Mexican wrestling comedy stars Jack Black, from a script written by Hess and School of Rock's Mike White!
THE PAYOFF: It's entirely plausible that something hilarious and interesting happens after the one-hour mark. We've just never met anyone who's managed to stay awake that far. Hypothetically, then, the last twenty minutes is the funniest comedy you will ever see in your life. (But probably not.)
THE PROBLEM: Directing a movie to be intentionally meandering works in a film like Dynamite, since the gags were meant to skewer life in the rural midwest. Unfortunately, Hess pulls out the same trick here, learning the hard way that the last thing you want to do when you've got an actor as high-energy as Jack Black, in a sport as frenetic as Mexican wrestling, is turn the volume down to two and take the slow, scenic route with the windows down. Nacho Libre's concept promises crazy scenes packed with adrenaline. Instead, Hess frustratingly delivers a movie filled with quiet moments, like how amusing tight pants can be (still more amusing when Jack Black calls them "slacks"). The fact that more screen time is given to Black's ongoing crisis of faith in a monastary than to his wrestling scenes should tell you where Hess's priorities are here.
THE PITCH: The Farelly Brothers, the geniuses behind There's Something About Mary, reunite with their Dumb & Dumber star Jim Carrey for another offensive, hilarious romp!
THE PAYOFF: One scene involving Carrey repeatedly trying (and failing) to put a cow out of its misery by shooting it reaches the dizzying comedic levels of Mary and Dumber. More often, though, the circuitry behind the Farelly Brothers Comedy Construct-o-Matic 5000 starts to show for the first time. Retarded people dart in and out of scenes, F-bombs are used as punchlines and bizarre physical comedy appears every other minute. But we've seen it all done better in other films. Irene feels like the Farellys swept up everything they left out of There's Something About Mary and tried to stitch it into a new movie.
THE PROBLEM: Putting aside the displeasure any audience innately feels when forced to endure Rene Zellweger's pinched, lemon-sucking facial expressions for an hour and a half, the real fault here lies with Jim Carrey's split personality roles in the film, Charlie and Hank. In any good comedy duo, there's the straight man and the crazy guy. The Farellys not only make the mistake of ensuring their straight man and crazy guy occupy the same body, but then have the crazy guy be so violently, unenjoyably sociopathic that anything he does looks more frightening than funny.
Carrey's been down this road before, in the equally unenjoyable The Cable Guy. The fact that he was willing to force the same unlikable character down our throats twice is evidence he'd already switched his focus to more dramatic roles by this time, and was happy to phone in performances in bad comedies in between the films he genuinely cared about.
THE PITCH: Wes Anderson, the writer/director behind such brilliantly touching and intellectual comedies as Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, returns with another cast of thousands, this time in a funny send-up of Jacques Cousteau starring Bill Murray, hot off the success of Lost in Translation!
THE PAYOFF: All the elements of a classic Anderson comedy are in place: the large, quirky cast of misfits and eccentrics; the signature camera angles and cuts; the goofy dialogue spoken straight-faced. But around the one-hour mark, a sneaking suspicion creeps into your head. These people... they're all, well, unbelievable morons, aren't they? Do you know anybody who talks and acts like this?
THE PROBLEM: Since Aquatic has close to an identical cast and crew to far superior efforts Rushmore and Tenenbaums, looking for a reason why this one wasn't better is as easy as looking for who sat it out. In this case it's Owen Wilson, who-while he does star in Aquatic- for the first time doesn't share any writing duties. Anderson might be a savant when it comes to smugly giggling at misfits and eccentrics, but it looks like it was Wilson who took the time to make them sympathetic. In Aquatic, we're laughing at these people, not with them. If we're not being given a chance to care about these idiots, how can we get invested in what happens next?
THE PITCH: British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen takes his runaway hit character Ali G to the big screen for the first time, in a movie sure to gain him the American audience he's long deserved!
THE PAYOFF: It's not a bad film, but it is dumb, and the laughs force themselves down your throat with the subtlety of a White Castle slider. Almost all of the set-ups present themselves clumsily enough that you're looking at your watch, waiting for the punchline to arrive like it was a late bus.
For instance: Ali G's standing next to a fence blindfolded with his pants down! Wait, now an old man's walking slowly towards him, polishing the steel bulbs of the fence! Wait, now a busload of nuns has parked itself right in front of Ali G! If you're unable to connect the dots as to what happens next, congratulations: you're the target audience of this stupid movie.
THE PROBLEM: Sacha Baron Cohen's comedic style depends on him being the only guy up on screen who's in on the joke. Whether disguised as Borat, Ali G or Bruno, the biggest laughs come from the unsuspecting flustered straight men he forces his characters onto in real-life situations. Indahouse is criminally negligent in ignoring Cohen's not-that-difficult-to-understand formula for success, choosing pre-scripted scenes, paid actors and a paint-by-numbers comedy plot over hidden cameras and embarrassed onlookers.
Given the runaway success of Cohen's follow-up, Borat, which did understand the formula, Ali G Indahouse should be a sad testament to what could have been from the gifted Cohen-a reminder that he could have invaded America four years ealier if he'd had his shit together.