Saturday, June 27, 2015

Let's Be Cops - 2014

"Let's Be Cops" - 2014
Dir. by Luke Greenfield - 1 hr. 44 min.

Official Red Band Trailer #2

by Clayton Hollifield

It's been a while since I've truly enjoyed a dumb comedy (and I'm using that term as a genre, ie. "dumb comedy," and not to slur a comedy by calling it dumb), but "Let's Be Cops" wasn't half bad.  When I saw the trailer last year, I kind of wanted to go check it out, but also knew I'd have one hell of a time convincing anyone to go see it with me.  So it slipped through the cracks, and I didn't get around to checking it out until last night, when I discovered it was hiding in the on-demand section of my cable box.  Here's the thing, dumb comedies won't cure what ails you.  At their best, you can check out for a couple of hours and laugh at some doofuses.  That's about it.  It's not fair to judge them on any other basis than whether you had a good time for a little while, perhaps when you really needed it.

Ryan (Jake Johnson) and Justin (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are a pair of losers (let's call them) underachievers who had moved to Los Angeles to pursue their dreams, and now that both are approaching 30, are starting to question whether it's worth it to keep trudging along, or better just to move back to Ohio and do whatever it is that people who move back to Ohio do.  Ryan was a star football player who had an injury derail his career, and Justin is a video-game designer without a spine or any confidence in himself.  They head to a reunion party dressed as cops, only to discover it's a masquerade (which is one of those parties where everyone wears feathered masks and suits and it devolves into "Eyes Wide Shut"), and feel the scorn of their peers, who judge them harshly.  Dejectedly, Ryan and Justin wander around town in their cop outfits, and discover that people actually think they're cops.  So they roll with it, have the night of their lives, and eventually decide to do it again.  And again.  Until they get into a spot of trouble.

One of the things I really enjoyed about "Let's Be Cops" was the work of Damon Wayans, Jr.  There was part of me that fully expected him to have that over-the-top hammy energy that some of the Wayans family possess; this was not the case.  Aside from the familial resemblance, his work was understated, well-timed, and just plain funny.  I feel like it's worth mentioning that he was funny (as was his co-star, Jake Johnson), and that the movie is funny, because there are a lot of things that are pretty stock (TM Lars Ulrich) in "Let's Be Cops," and if you want to enjoy it as a film, you're going to have to forgive some things.

The girl-shaped-object of the film, Josie (Nina Dobrev), is pretty inconsequential.  But, at the same time, history has proven that if you don't include a girl-shaped-object in a losers' redemption story, no one will go see it.  Partially, I believe that's because what defines an underachiever as a "loser" is not having a girl-shaped-object in his life, and that no one will believe that anything meaningful has changed in a characters' life unless he has someone on his arm.  Yeah, this film probably fails the silly Bechdel Test, as do 98% of dumb comedies, but that's because the basic structure of this type of film both requires the presence of a ridiculously hot, yet also attainable girl-shaped-object who also can't have any meaningful personality or influence on the main characters, because the story is really about friendship and directionless men getting their act together.  And, in the parlance of our times, obtaining access to the girl-shaped-object is more about leveling up than being involved in a emotionally meaningful relationship.  Put it another way: would anyone go see a movie where the goal is for some dork to get his life together not because he wants to impress some girl, but instead really wants a copy of Incredible Hulk #181, and this was the motivation the character's behavior hinged upon for the entirety of a movie?

Possibly, but probably not.  So, if you're seeing a film like "Let's Be Cops," you're going to have to check the expectations that there's going to be anything meaningful for women to watch or do.  But so what?  This is a dumb comedy.  The question is whether you laughed, not whether you advanced the cause of equal rights and screen time for women.  There are a lot of funny things here.  Yeah, it seems ridiculously easy to impersonate a policeman, and that the characters didn't even know it was illegal is pretty silly.  Getting a patrol car from eBay is pretty funny.  And the main duo do learn respect for police, beyond just people treating them differently when they're in uniform.  But the big thing is that if you want to watch "Let's Be Cops," don't think about it too hard.  It's a funny movie with funny people in it, but there's a lot of machinery that doesn't quite work propping up the surface of the film.  Also, beware that while the rating does promise nudity, it doesn't specify what kind (or from whom).

2.5 / 5 - TV

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Fluffy Movie: Unity Through Laughter - 2014

"The Fluffy Movie: Unity Through Laughter" - 2014
Dir. by Manny Rodriguez, Jay Lavender - 1 hr. 41 min.

Official Trailer #1

by Clayton Hollifield

I feel like there are a whole checklist of caveats I need to get to before I can really start discussing "The Fluffy Movie: Unity Through Laughter."  The main reason for that is that I was surprised by the second half of the film, and I feel like I need to explain where I'm coming from in order for that to make sense.  So, we'll get to the caveats in a minute here, and why I was surprised, but first let's have a light, refreshing recap to get us all up to speed?

"The Fluffy Movie" is a theatrical stand-up comedy concert film, starring Gabriel Iglesias, which is a rare beast these days.  The film starts off not with the comedy, but what you could probably explain as a short film that goes into how Iglesias' parents met, and how he stumbled across Eddie Murphy's "Raw" as a kid.  This segment feels longer than you'd expect; it's less of a framing device that comedy films usually employ, and more of a necessary foundation for what's to come.  Then, the concert itself, which was filmed in the Bay Area.

So let's get into why I wasn't expecting a lot out of "The Fluffy Movie."  First off, and this might sound awful, but I've never rated Iglesias highly as a comedian.  That's not to say that he's not funny (because he is), and that's not to say that I haven't watched some of his TV specials (because I have), but I usually don't change the channel when he's on because he's good at what he does, but what he does doesn't always require a lot of attention be paid in order to get it.  Put it this way, if it's Saturday night and I'm surfing the internet and maybe have had a drink or two, AND a Bill Hicks special came on Comedy Central, I've got to shut everything down and pay full attention.  Same with Richard Pryor.  Or any of a number of comedians.  But Gabriel Iglesias does work that I can keep on in the background and is broad enough where I'm not going to have to pay attention to catch the nuances of what he's doing.  This is the guy who got out of speeding ticket by offering the policeman fresh donuts, for crying out loud.  His material is not usually pointed social commentary.

Also, frankly, I hadn't intended to sit all the way through the movie.  I figured I'd probably watch about half an hour, shut it off, and finish it the next night.  I do that frequently enough with stand-up specials; a lot of times I'm just looking for something to kill a little time before I can go to bed.  I ended up watching "The Fluffy Movie" wire-to-wire, and I'm really glad I did.  The material in the first chunk of the concert is pretty broad - he talks about how people have pushed back on his attempts to get in better health, and he tells some good stories about exactly what that's like, and not to worry that he's going to change.

The second half of the concert, on the other hand, gets very, very real.  I had listened to Iglesias on Marc Maron's WTF podcast, so I knew a bit of the story, but when the short film at the beginning of the movie becomes the basis of Iglesias' material, his performance is absolutely spellbinding.  Long story short, Gabriel's father shows up at one of his shows, a man he's never met.  And to say that he's conflicted about this is a minor understatement.  It helps that he's such a likable character, because there is real anger present, and he doesn't handle things ideally.  But he reacts honestly, and tells the story honestly (with all of it's complications and angles), and for me, Iglesias goes from a cartoon of a performer (which isn't an insult when you're talking about a comedian) to a man, a real flesh-and-blood man.  Granted, maybe I felt this one a little more deeply because of my own background, but real recognizes real.

So maybe "The Fluffy Movie" is a little uneven, maybe it gets off to a slow start.  But the second half of the movie is worth all of it.  That extended segment, from where his father shows up at one of his shows, is one of the best, realest, most masterful pieces of comedy I've ever seen.  His ability to juggle heavy emotional content with the need to keep things palatable and the need to come across honestly (and stay likable) is something that I frankly never expected to see out of him.  Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention over my laptop, or maybe it really is the breakthrough that I didn't see coming.  It's easy to lash out at other people in comedy, but only the greats like Richard Pryor get to that same level with themselves and their own actions, with the perfect balance of honesty and humor.  Now, no one is as good as Richard Pryor, but for half an hour Gabriel Iglesias came to visit that level, which is half an hour longer than 99% of other comedians have.

4 / 5 - Streaming