(I apologize in advance for the strange formatting at the beginning. Something’s weird with the html shit))
For a long time I had been excited about Dinner for Schmucks. Austin Powers/Meet the Parents director, Jay Roach had been trying to get it made for a long time with lots of different actors attached, at one point even Sacha Baron Cohen. When I learned that they had finally pinned down Steve Carrell and Paul Rudd I was thrilled. Two of the biggest, best comedic actors in a can’t lose premise directed by one of the best comedy directors around. Then the cast list kept growing–Zach Galifianakis (remember him?), Jemaine Clement (Flight of the Concords), Kristen Schall (FOTC), Nick Kroll, and David Williams (Little Britain) had all signed on and as they did, I kept thinking that this movie was only going to get better and better. . But then I started to hear buzz about the movie being bad. Apparently tons of editing had to be done and the movie date was pushed back a few times so they could do reshoots etc. This is never a good sign. Then the movie came out. LA Times’ Kenneth Turran summed it up best, “Against all reason and expectation, the result is a distinctly unfunny film.” His opinion was seconded by some of my most trusted movie advisers.
So after all my anticipation and excitement, I never saw the film. I didn’t want to be disappointed. How could this movie turn out so bad? With all that talent, what happened? Well, no one knows. Maybe they used bad takes, maybe they tried appealing to the least common denominator, maybe the edited it poorly, maybe the script wasn’t strong to begin with. Maybe remakes never work, and this was a remake of a French film which itself was flawless. The truth is, no one really sets out to make a bad movie. Since 1997, Jay Roach has directed the 3 Austin Powers movies, 2 Meet the Parents, this Russell Crowe hockey movie called “Mystery, Alaska,” and the HBO movie Recount. That’s it. He doesn’t spend his time doing stupid shit. Clearly he wanted to make a great movie. But the pieces didn’t come together. This isn’t the first time that’s happened. Here now are a list of comedies that should have been great:

1) Dinner for Schmucks— We discussed.

2) Year One– Directed by Harold Ramis, produced by Judd Apatow, written by two guys who used to write for The Office, and starring a quality comedy cast of Jack Black, Michael Cera, David Cross, Paul Rudd, McLovin, Oliver Platt, Bill Hader, Kyle Gass, and Paul Scheer. The product? One of the worst comedies I’ve ever seen. When I bought my ticket for this movie, something happened to me that has never happened to me. The woman at the ticket counter said, “Are you sure you want to see that?” I said, “I’d heard it was bad but I wanted to see for myself.” She said, “It’s really bad. You really shouldn’t see it. Go see Transformers or something.” I’ve never been discouraged to buy a ticket before, and I’ve never been told that Transformers was the BETTER option. Harold Ramis came to Wash U last year and someone asked him why the movie was so bad. His reasoning was that originally the leads were written for Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, but when they dropped out they had to rewrite the whole script. Also–the screenwriters apparently hadn’t even read the “Old Testament.” Are you shitting me! You’re doing a movie about the Bible and you don’t read THE BIBLE! Bad script. Bad movie. Real disapointment.

3) Funny People– Written and Directed by Judd Apatow. Starring Adam Sandler, Seth Rogen, Jonah Hill, Jason Schwartzman, Leslie Mann, Eric Bana, Aziz Ansari and a million other hilarious comedians. I get it–Judd wanted to do a real James L. Brooks dramatic picture that got people to think about their lives. He also wanted it to be funny, but honest. Here’s the problem: For a movie about stand-up comedians, the stand-up in the movie isn’t funny at all. It’s all dick jokes, sex jokes, and self-deprecating. There was nothing particularly thoughtful. I know the whole comedians and dick jokes thing was addressed in the movie by a funny James Taylor cameo, but still, that’s not an excuse. And I get that Seth Rogen’s character Ira was an up and coming stand-up comic, so his material wasn’t supposed to be that great. But that doesn’t make for a fun movie going experience. Having said all that, the first half of the movie was good and filled with interesting insights about comedians. But the second half of the movie felt like a different movie entirely. It was still about the selfish George Simmons, but it was about him trying to break up a family with its own problems. I love Leslie Mann and I think she was great in the movie, but for me the plot was a little too off target.  And how many shots of Judd’s kids playing do we need? I get it. They’re cute. That one girl can sing well. I know you’re making a personal film, but do you have to show America your family videos? I think Judd attempted to make a great film, and in some ways he succeeded, but overall it didn’t hold together. I think in this case, no one had the balls to tell the (deservedly) great Judd Apatow that he needed to make edits and not release an 2 1/2 hour dramedy.

4) Bruno– Directed by Larry Charles, everything else by Sacha Baron Cohen. “Borat” was one of the best comedies of all time. It touched on so many nerves–xenophobia, anti-Semitism, racism, male-chauvinism, and more. “Borat” was a portrait of America. What does genius Sacha Baron Cohen do for his next project? Of course make a film out of his third HBO character, Bruno. Expectations were sky-high. Universal won the rights to distribute Bruno by paying something like $25 million in advance. Unfortunately, upon its release, “Bruno” just revealed that people don’t like getting lap dances from a very tall, flamboyantly dressed gay man. I don’t think it exposed anything we didn’t already know. No one likes getting a dick shoved in their face in front of a camera crew. That doesn’t mean that everyone is homophobic, it just means that they don’t like being groped. Also, the Bruno from the TV series pointed out a lot of hypocrisies and humor in the fashion industry. This Bruno didn’t really do that. The only scene that touched on anything but sexuality was the one where he interviewed parents who wanted their children to be in the baby calender. Coming on the heels of cultural touchstone “Borat,” “Bruno” was a disappointment.

5) The Invention of Lying– Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matthew Robinson. Starring Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Jonah Hill, Rob Lowe, Tina Fey, Louis CK, Jeffrey Tambor and John Hodgman. With cameos by Phillip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Bateman, Ed Norton and Christopher Guest. Ricky Gervais is the creator of one of the best television series’ of all time, The Office. Extras was also fabulous. Ricky is a phenomenal writer with great wit and clever insights. And he’s assembled one of the best comedy casts you can find. He also hit on a great premise–what if everyone only told the truth? What kind of world would that be? And what if you were the only person on Earth who could lie? For the first half of the movie, the payoff was big. The actors were funny, the jokes were spot-on and the premise was getting a lot of great mileage. But then the movie turned into a stupid romance. Ricky fell in love with Jennifer Garner who, although she liked him, didn’t want to be with him because he had poor genes(?). What a stupid turn, especially since it had nothing to do with the premise. So overall–real disappointment.

6) The Producers– Directed by Susan Stroman, written by Mel Brooks. Starring Nathan Lane, Matthew Broderick, Will Ferrell, Uma Thurman, and Jon Lovitz. Based on the Tony Award winning Broadway Musical which was based on the Academy Award winning film. The musical won the most Tonys in Broadway history and was fabulous. So let’s punch up the cast with some movie stars and make a movie out of it. They did, and it sucked. Why did it suck? The musical numbers felt static, the punchlines were unfunny, and everything that was great about seeing a live show was sucked out. The director, Susan Stroman, was the director of the Broadway show and had never directed a film before. It showed. There was nothing cinematic about the film at all. It was like watching a two-dimensional, boring tape of a Broadway show. Real disappointment.

7) Envy– Directed by Barry Levinson, written by Steve Adams. Starring Ben Stiller, Jack Black, Rachel Weisz, Amy Poehler and Christopher Walken. Great cast, great director. Let’s hear about the premise: Tim and Nick are best friends, neighbors and co-workers, whose equal footing is suddenly tripped up when one of Nick’s (Jack Black) harebrained get-rich-quick schemes actually succeeds: Vapoorizer, a spray that literally makes dog poop, or any other kind for that matter, evaporate into thin air. Tim passes on the opportunity to invest in the product and watches as Nick gets super rich. This makes Tim more and more envious until he goes crazy. This premise sounds so crazy it just might work. But it doens’t. The film is insufferable. It’s boring, plodding and is all together painful to watch. Oh. And it’s not that funny. Disappointment.

8- Chairman of the Board– Directed by some guy and written by other guys. Starring Carrot Top. When this movie first came on Hollywood’s radar it was produced seismic waves. “Renowned prop-comic actor Carrot Top is starring in his own movie! How do I invest? When do I get my Oscar ballot to fill out? I am in no way exaggerating when I say that it was possibly the most anticipated movie event since Star Wars: Episode I. And with a $10 million budget, how could it not make a profit?! Well unfortunately after two weeks in the theaters it had only made $300,000. But Carrot Top had the last laugh because now he is known as the greatest comedian of all time.

What are some of your biggest disappointments? Write in or text Dreidel to 5556.

FINAL BIT:

Two different movie trailers just came out. One for “No Strings Attached,” a romantic comedy about two friends who decide they want to have a “friends with benefits” relationship and just have sex. But is it possible? Another for “Friends with Benefits,” a romantic comedy about two friends who decide they want to have a “no strings attached” relationship and just have sex. But is it possible? No Strings Attached stars Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Friends with Benefits stars Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis. Which one would you rather see? Personally I’d like to see them swap and watch the one with Justin Timberlake and Natalie Portman.

A couple weird connections with these two movies.

1) Natalie Portman and Mila Kunis are in a new film together called Black Swan. Its about rival ballerinas. Do you think on set they were talking–“Hey let’s both do the same movie?” BTW–There is a make out scene between both actresses in THAT movie. Sweet.

2) Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher were a “couple” on That 70s Show. Do you think they were on set talking–“Hey, in ten years when we’re the only ones from this show with solid careers, should we do the same movie but with different romatic leads?

And by the way, the whole “Friends with Benefits” thing never works. Havent you seen that Seinfeld episode? If Jerry and Elaine can’t pull it off, no one can.

Until Tomorrow—