Zombieland: Double Tap review

For F*** Magazine

ZOMBIELAND: DOUBLE TAP

Director: Ruben Fleischer
Cast : Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, Abigail Breslin, Zoey Deutch, Rosario Dawson, Avan Jogia, Luke Wilson, Thomas Middleditch
Genre : Horror/Comedy
Run Time : 99 mins
Opens : 31 October 2019
Rating : M18

Ten years ago, a scrappy zombie-comedy called Zombieland was released. The film’s tongue-in-cheek tone, likeable characters and creative world-building won it fans, and ever since then, a sequel has been in various stages of development. Said sequel has finally arrived.

Just as in real life, ten years have elapsed since the events of the first film. Tallahassee (Woody Harrelson), Columbus (Jesse Eisenberg), Wichita (Emma Stone) and her sister Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) have settled into the abandoned White House. The makeshift family grows apart, with Little Rock (Abigail Breslin) running away with hippie Berklee (Avan Jogia) and Wichita feeling too tied down by Columbus. Tallahassee and Columbus meet the ditzy Madison (Zoey Deutch), who has been living in a mall. Tallahassee pursues his lifelong dream of visiting Elvis’ home Graceland and encounters the tough-as-nails Nevada (Rosario Dawson) along the way. In the meantime, a new breed of faster, more vicious and more impervious zombies dubbed the “T-800s” menaces our heroes.

Zombieland: Double Tap is frequently funny. There’s a comforting sense of familiarity in seeing the gang all back together, even though the four stars have gone on to varied, successful careers in the intervening decade. It’s a high school reunion attended by people you want to see, even those whom you didn’t expect would come. Director Ruben Fleischer and screenwriters Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick have also returned, meaning that Double Tap retains much of the tone of the original. Fans of the first movie will already be invested in the characters, and the developments and changes they undergo in this movie stay true to what was established in the first go-round. There’s a very comfort food-esque quality to the movie, and while its humour is largely sardonic and cynical, there is heart here too.

Much of the novelty of the original Zombieland has been diluted because the formula of fourth wall-breaking narration, an overall smart-alecky tone and graphic violence was done in Deadpool, which reached a wide audience. Reese and Wernick also wrote the two Deadpool movies.

The film’s romantic subplots are hit-and-miss: while the rocky relationship between Columbus and Wichita was already set up, the relationship between Tallahassee and new character Nevada feels kind of tacked on.

There is a bit of the feeling of this being too little too late, because plot-wise, this is a slight, insubstantial film that mostly coasts along on the personality of its characters and its joke-laden script. The intensity of the feeling of “we’ve waited ten years for this?” will vary based on how charitable one is feeling.

Harrelson seems to be enjoying himself and Eisenberg is on his “charmingly neurotic” setting rather than his “aggressively obnoxious” one. While Stone doesn’t seem as into this as her other co-stars, she is still very watchable. Breslin doesn’t get a lot to do, but the surrogate father-daughter relationship between Tallahassee and Little Rock does give the movie a degree of emotion. Zoey Deutch is a hoot as the airheaded Madison – it pretty much is just one long dumb blonde joke, but she is so capable a performer that Madison becomes endearing rather than merely annoying.

Summary: One of the key elements of the Zombieland mythos is Columbus’ rules. Zombieland: Double Tap largely plays by the rules, delivering more of the same. It is fun hanging out with this cast of characters and plenty of jokes land, which mitigates the feeling of this being a re-tread. The movie works if you’re a fan of the original and want something that’s entertaining but not necessarily memorable. Stick around for a hilarious mid-credits scene which pays off the setup of a peculiar film poster glimpsed in a mall earlier in the film.

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Why Him?

For F*** Magazine

WHY HIM?

Director : John Hamburg
Cast : Bryan Cranston, James Franco, Zoey Deutch, Megan Mullally, Griffin Gluck, Keagan Michael-Key
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 1h 51min
Opens : 29 December 2016
Rating : NC16 (Coarse Language And Sexual References)

why-him-posterIt’s every father’s nightmare: your daughter falls in love with (dramatic pause) James Franco. The father in this case is Ned Fleming (Cranston), who owns a printing company in Michigan. While studying at Stanford, Ned’s daughter Stephanie (Deutch) falls for Laird Mayhew (Franco), a Silicon Valley billionaire. Laird invites Ned, his wife Barb (Mullally) and their son Scotty (Gluck) over for the holidays. Ned is shocked by Laird’s over-the-top antics and lack of a filter, creating endless awkwardness. Ned flies into a panic when Laird tells Ned his plans to propose to Stephanie. As the rest of the family begins to warm to Laird, Ned takes drastic measures to prevent Laird from becoming his son-in-law.

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Why Him? is directed and co-written by John Hamburg, who co-wrote the Meet the Parents series of films. There’s not a lot of originality in the premise of Why Him?, which pits a strait-laced dad against a free-spirited, outrageous potential son-in-law. The film’s brand of humour is crass and unsophisticated, awash in scatological jokes and an abundance of coarse language. Why Him? also possesses several traits seen in many recent big studio comedies, such as falling back on celebrity cameos for laughs, and attempting to offset wanton ribaldry with sweetness. However, it is frequently funny, thanks to extremely effective casting.

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Cranston has proven to be a gifted performer in both comedic and dramatic roles. Even when doing as little as looking aghast or wringing his hands, Cranston is a thoroughly entertaining presence. Ned is a boring family man: to hammer this home, we see that his 55th birthday party is being held at an Applebees restaurant. He’s also expectedly protective over his daughter. The ways in which Ned and Laird come into conflict are mostly predictable, but Cranston doesn’t phone it in at all here.

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We’ll come right out and say it: Franco has a reputation for being at least a little weird. He’s an Oscar-nominated multi-hyphenate with a prolific list of credits both in front of and behind the camera, but he can’t help being the target of parody and accusations that he’s an attention-seeker. This seems like a part that’s tailor-made for Franco, and he has great fun with the goofy role. Franco and Cranston share palpable comic chemistry, and they power through the hackneyed jokes and toilet humour to deliver the laughs.

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Deutch is an exceedingly appealing actress, it’s just a pity that she’s popped up in so many cringe-inducing comedies as of late. As with Cranston and Franco, this is casting that just works. Deutch looks sensible and intelligent, so we’re meant to question “why him?” alongside Ned. Since the bulk of the movie is about Ned and Laird’s rivalry, it means that Deutch’s part isn’t as substantial as it should be. Mullally and Gluck are good as Ned’s wife and son respectively. Mullally gamely works her way through a scene in which Barb, high on marijuana, aggressively comes on to Ned (that’s not how weed works). Scotty is business-savvy and focused on self-improvement, but is swayed by the lavish trappings of Laird’s lifestyle all the same.

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Why Him? pokes fun at Silicon Valley excesses via Laird’s contemporary art collection, his parties deejayed by Steve Aoki, fancy-pants haute cuisine served up by Top Chef alum Richard Blais, and a Siri-like smart home system named Justine, voiced by Kaley Cuoco. While material like this is done much better on HBO’s Silicon Valley, there are still laughs to be had from the culture shock that Grand Rapids native Ned experiences when confronted with Laird’s California tech elite lifestyle. Keagan Michael-Key steals the show as Gustav, the German-accented manservant who springs surprise attacks on Laird so Laird can improve his self-defence skills.

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Why Him’s lowbrow jokes are punctuated with semi-inspired visual gags and even though some of the set pieces go on for too long, the acting is just enough to sustain in. The subplot of Ned’s I.T. guy Kevin Dingle (Zack Pearlman) having a creepy, perverse obsession with Stephanie that’s played for laughs is particularly distasteful.

Why Him? is far from the best use of its talented cast and its cynicism and crassness won’t sit well with some audiences, but it’s almost as funny as it is stupid. We mean this in the best way possible.

Summary: Inelegant and vulgar but entertainingly acted by its excellent cast, Why Him? showcases energetic performances overcoming a tired script and some tasteless jokes.

RATING: 3 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Good Kids

For F*** Magazine

GOOD KIDS

Director : Chris McCoy
Cast : Nicholas Braun, Zoey Deutch, Israel Broussard, Mateo Arias, Demian Bichir, David Coussins, Virginia Gardner, Tasie Lawrence, Ashley Judd
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 86 mins
Opens : 6 October 2016
Rating : M18 (Sexual Scenes)

good-kids-posterWe’ve all seen that triangle diagram: the three corners are labelled ‘good grades’, ‘social life’ and ‘enough sleep’, and the centre of the triangle bears the imperative ‘choose two’. This comedy revolves around a group of friends who have devoted their whole lives to being well-behaved, academically successful students. It’s the summer before they each leave for prestigious colleges, and Andy (Braun), Nora (Deutch), Spice (Broussard) and The Lion (Arias) make a pact to enjoy all they’ve been missing out on. Andy begins having sex with Gabby (Judd) and the other wealthy married woman who patronises the country club where he is a tennis coach; Nora starts a relationship with Erland (Coussins), her colleague at an aquarium lab; The Lion partakes in a variety of drugs; and Spice goes off in search of ‘sexual release’. In the meantime, Andy continues communicating with a girl from India he’s met online who may or may not actually exist, while he attempts to come to terms with the feelings he’s had for Nora all this while.

Good Kids is written and directed by Chris McCoy, who makes his feature-film debut here. The screenplay landed on the 2011 Black List of most-liked scripts making the rounds in Hollywood. Sure, there have been plenty of Black List scripts that were turned into bad movies, but this case seems particularly puzzling, because there’s nothing special about Good Kids at all. It seems to be the product of typing the command ‘write teen sex comedy’ into some automated screenwriting program. The jokes are tired and mostly unfunny and the characters are all very recognisable archetypes and largely difficult to sympathise with. Beyond that, the underlying attitudes are retrograde, with the veneer of raunchiness serving to obfuscate its lack of originality.

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Braun’s lankiness is often remarked upon, and his gangly proportions do lend themselves to an awkward nerd character. Alas, he’s trying way too hard to come off as awkward, with the results bordering on obnoxious. The character’s sudden success with the ladies and the large amounts of sex he winds up having smack of cheap wish-fulfilment, and when it comes down to it, Andy isn’t even all that endearing. Arias is the generic stoner while Broussard doesn’t get all that much to do, getting the least screen time of the four main characters. It’s kind of weird to see Oscar nominee Demian Bichir in an over-the-top appearance as Andy’s boss Yaco, while Judd seems to be having a degree of fun in full vampy cougar mode.

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Deutch is the best thing about Good Kids by a mile. She has emerged as an elegant presence with fine comic sensibilities and a keen wit. She also seems intent on making a name for herself despite having somewhat famous parents to fall back on, appearing in no less than seven films being released in 2016. Her radiance is an appealing complement to the film’s sun-kissed, idyllic coastal Massachusetts setting.

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Good Kids is produced by Paul and Chris Weitz of American Pie fame, and it does come off like the reheated leftovers of that and any number of teen sex comedy flicks. Unlike American Pie, Good Kids won’t spawn any catchphrases or enter the pop culture lexicon. There’s plenty to say about millennials experiencing pre-college anxiety and getting caught in between the paper chase and revelling in youthful indiscretions, none of which Good Kids mines. The locale in which the story is set means it’s often quite pretty to look at, but the predictable plot trajectory and uninspired humour make it a bit of a chore to sit through, even given its lean 86-minute runtime.

Summary: Drugs? Check. Booze? Check. Sex? Check. Originality, humour or warmth? Look elsewhere.

RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong

 

Dirty Grandpa

For F*** Magazine

DIRTY GRANDPA

Director : Dan Mazer
Cast : Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Adam Pally, Jason Mantzoukas
Genre : Comedy
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 28 January 2016
Rating : M18 (Coarse Language and Sexual References)

You mess with the bull, you get the horns, and Robert De Niro’s a pretty darn horny (r)aging bull in this comedy. De Niro plays Dick Kelly, a retired army veteran who’s ready to let loose after his wife of 40 years passes away. Dick cons his grandson Jason (Efron), a strait-laced corporate lawyer at his dad David’s (Mulroney) firm, to drive Dick down to Daytona Beach for Spring Break. Jason is getting married next weekend and his fiancé Meredith (Hough) is constantly haranguing him about the wedding planning details. While dragged on a drunken, drug-fuelled rampage through Daytona Beach by his grandpa, Jason finds himself drawn to former classmate Shadia (Deutch). Dick has lascivious designs on Shadia’s friend Lenore (Plaza), designs that Lenore is more than happy to oblige. Over the course of their misadventures, which include running afoul of the police and a local gang, some unlikely grandfather-grandson bonding unfolds.



            It’s pretty much all there in the title Dirty Grandpa – this is a comedy built on the premise of a septuagenarian behaving badly. It’s hardly the first movie mining comedy from a dirty old man partying down; it’s practically impossible not to think of 2013’s Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa on hearing the title ‘Dirty Grandpa’. The jokes pretty much write themselves, and because of its predictability and heavy reliance on one-dimensional stock characters, Dirty Grandpa comes off as lazy and limp rather than raucously shocking. The moment certain characters show up; it feels like we’re supposed to be filling out a bingo card. “There’s the fiancé with arms akimbo, there’s the friendly local merchant who’s really a drug dealer and there’s the old army buddy who’s wasting away in a nursing home. Bingo!”

            It’s somewhat funny that De Niro and Efron are playing grandfather and grandson here, since Efron’s character in Bad Neighbours threw a De Niro-themed costumed party, dressing up as Travis Bickle. Neither De Niro nor Efron are terrible in the leading roles, mostly because there just isn’t any nuance and they don’t have to stretch themselves at all. Beating out Michael Douglas and Jeff Bridges to the title role, De Niro does seem believably crass and grizzled, but it’s difficult to laugh along and cheer the character on when he’s as sociopathic as he is. We’re meant to root for Jason to loosen up and be less of a square, but what his grandpa seems intent on doing is essentially unravelling his whole life. It’s the day after his wife has died, and Dick exclaims “I want to f*** f*** f*** f***!” while air-thrusting. That’s not a character who’s “endearingly debauched” or deserving of the audience’s sympathy. Also, show us a guy that stereotypically uptight and that fond of sweater vests who has Zac Efron’s physique.

            The moment Hough’s Meredith shows up bugging Jason about the colour of his tie for the wedding rehearsal bunch and similar minutiae, it’s obvious that we’re meant to root for the couple to break up before the end of the film. Sure enough, a rival for Jason’s affections arrives in the form of Deutch’s Shadia, a conservationist who hangs out with hippies. Deutch’s ethereal beauty suits the role and an awkward/romantic karaoke duet will bring on the High School Musical flashbacks big-time. While Plaza is better known for her droll, sardonic humour, she’s still pretty funny as the overtly libidinous, promiscuous Lenore, whom it seems will stop at nothing to sleep with Dick. The thought of Aubrey Plaza and Robert De Niro getting it on is supposed to be so knee-slappingly hilarious that a disproportionate number of jokes are derived from it. It’s not “gross, ha ha!” It’s just “gross”.



             Dirty Grandpa lives up to its title in that seeing Robert De Niro drool over college-aged girls for two hours might well make you want to take a long shower. Even then, it doesn’t push the boundaries of R-rated comedy, there’s nothing inventively out there or that hasn’t been done by similar movies before. By the time the sappy acoustic guitar music plays as Dick and his grandson have a heartfelt chat about Dick’s mortality, Dirty Grandpa certainly hasn’t earned the right to try pulling on any heartstrings.

Summary:Crass, tired and always going for the most obvious joke, Dirty Grandpa is an old dog desperately in need of learning some new tricks.

RATING: 1.5out of 5 Stars

Jedd Jong