Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Wait … where’s the guy with the bowler hat and umbrella? What a rip-off … : “The Avengers”

Yeah, I know theaters are billing it as “Marvel’s The Avengers.” But Daddy doesn’t play the branding game, especially at the expense of a lame joke in the headline.
Joining the hordes who have been foaming at the mouth for this since Ian from “Weird Science” first did his Jack Haley impression four years ago, I recently caught a viewing of this little indie film. I fully admit the trailers made it look like grand fun, and there was a natural curiosity about how well each of these heroes who had carried his own movie would play together. Imagine “The Breakfast Club” with everyone jacked up 10 times as much as Andrew/Sporto. (“WIN! WIN! WIN!”)

Our story is not that simple. We open with some business about aliens wanting to conquer Earth and retrieve the Tesseract, that glowing cube we last saw in "Captain America: The First Avenger." For this, they enlist Loki, the Norse god and villain from "Thor." Then we're off to Earth and the gradual assembly of the only heroes who could stop a powerful alien army. Iron Man is the notorious Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), firmly in the public eye (after two solo movies) and loving every minute of it. Taking a more subtle approach is Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), whom you may recall was a WWII hero with the misfortune to end up encased in ice in the Arctic until ... last Tuesday? Recently, in any case.

As those two get to work under the direction of Nick Fury (Samuel L. "You'll Know It's My Eye-patch Because It Says 'Bad Motherf*cker' On It" Jackson), we also meet the human helpers -- not just ever-present Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) but the nimble Black Widow (Scarlett "Extra Booty, Please" Johansson) and arrow-obsessed Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And once Loki (Tom Hiddleston) is engaged, the other freaks come on line -- Loki's brother and our favorite blonde-tressed diety Thor (Chris Hemsworth), plus The Guy You Wouldn't Like When He's Angry, Bruce Banner (Mark "Eff You, Bana and Norton" Ruffalo).

If it sounds a little busy, it's ... not, actually. No, really. There was a genuine danger of all these guys getting thrown together and one or more getting shortchanged. But give director Joss Whedon and writer Zak Penn credit. Then strike just the right balance between giving each character adequate time while not getting bogged down. I really can't complain about the pacing.

And once all of friends are together, there's plenty for them to do. First we have a big battle on a flying aircraft carrier -- yes, you read that right -- and then there's the epic alien invasion of New York. But before that fun, Whedon and Penn allow plenty of occasions for ego clashes, which are quite fun.

Sure, you have Stark/Downey with the Sarcasm Meter set to Level 243. And that's mostly funny. But I was pleasantly surprised by the attention given to Captain America's fish-out-of-water experience coupled with his innate desire to serve and vanquish evil. Even better was the torment that Banner deals with, as evidenced by his reluctant references to "the other guy." I have to say I wasn't sure about Ruffalo after Norton did a decent job. But it was easy to feel more sympathy than fear. That is, until he got his green on. About the only hero who comes up a bit short is Thor, but even he has the family struggle with Loki (and Hiddleston is a good villain). That also gives the Hammer Hurler one of the best throwaway lines: "He's adopted."

Yeah, I have to say the movie did a nice job of bringing along all these strong personalities -- to say the least -- and ultimately getting them together. Add that to the action -- which you knew would be solid -- and "The Avengers" was well worth the price of seeing on the big screen, even if they ignored my suggestion of having Uma Thurman tussle with Scarlett over who gets to wear the catsuit. Shame.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Ocean's 5.5. Maybe 7.33: "Tower Heist"

I know George Clooney. George Clooney is my bro. You, Ben Stiller, are no George Clooney ...

In the continuing annals of "What Does Redbox Have That Both My Wife and I Would Borderline Enjoy?", we ended up with "Tower Heist." I recalled the trailer being somewhat amusing, and along with Frank Costanza's kid we had a (Triple-A) All-Star cast of fun actors. Should be OK, right?

And it was ... OK, that is. Our story isn't so complex. Stiller is the chief of staff at a luxury condo tower in New York. Did I say "luxury?" They. Cover. Everything. And Benny boy prides himself on it. Unfortunately, his fawning over the elite gets him in serious trouble, as it turns out the penthouse resident (Alan Alda) is a Madoff type who loses all of the staff's retirement funds. Whoopsie!

With Faux Madoff unrepentant and the Feds -- led by (Lipton) Tea Leoni -- not giving two sh!ts, either,  Zoolander starts rounding up people to break into the bad man's roost and rip him off. A-ha! This gives the ensemble cast a chance to ... well, not shine, really. Maybe shimmer? Glisten? Whatever. We have Precious, Ferris, Michael "Man, I've Been in a Lot of Movies the Last Few Years" Pena, Ben Affleck's More Skilled Brother and even Alex from "Taxi." Like I said, good actors, although not anyone you'd hang a movie on by him/herself.

Oh, and then there's the other big star, one Edward Regan Murphy. Yeah ... Stiller and Eddie in the same movie. And the chemistry ... wow! And by that, I mean, "meh." They're fine, sure, but even with the odd couple pairing -- Murphy is a thief who happens to live near the straight-arrow Stiller -- it's really kind of paint by numbers.

And that's the rub with this whole affair. While the story gets the Brett Ratner treatment and has some whiz-bang-pop, there's still not a lot there, even with the twists at the end. I submit that no matter how the principals might insist this movie stand on its own merits, it's darn near impossible to think about how this was all so much more fun when Clooney, Pitt and Damon were in cahoots. And not that Andy Garcia is all that fierce, but Alan Alda as a villain? Was Michael Gross not available?