Mini-Reviews: The Watch, Ice Age: Continental Drift, Step Up: Revolution
Akiva Schaffer, director of The Watch, seems to understand several things that a lot of comedy filmmakers don’t. He understands that in a sci-fi comedy, the emphasis shouldn’t be on the sci-fi… it should be on the comedy. The jokes pour in non-stop, and I found myself laughing consistently throughout. He understands that Vince Vaughn is at his best with an R rating. Vaughn has been stuck post Wedding Crashers playing frustrated or misunderstood nice guys, when really he’s at his best sleazy and excited about sleaze. Finally, Schaffer understands how to time a comedic scene, which ones to stretch out (he did this beautifully in his blissfully silly debut, Hot Rod) and which ones to let pass quickly. The Watch feels messy due to the remnants of “actual plot” within– something about Stiller trying to have a baby and Vaughn’s relationship with his daughter. However, the bottom line is five very funny people– Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade, and Will Forte (not to mention a hysterical “what is he doing here?” cameo from Billy Crudup)– are in their element, and the imperfections are outweighed by the sheer number of laughs.
Ice Age: Continental Drift:
Outside of the Harry Potter franchise, I can’t think of a single series of films that improved so dramatically from the first and second installments to the third and fourth installments. Just like the previous installment, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, the newest entry is exciting and witty with terrific use of 3D. The newest one starts slowly and breaks no new ground in terms of conflict (the daughter wants to hang out with the cool kids, er, mammoths, but the dad is overly protective), yet once chunks of their glacial homeland break off, separating our hero from his family, things kick into high gear. I understand why no one I know wants to see these films, as the first two were underwhelming both in terms of animation and amusement. Yet the animation, while still below Pixar’s level, uses 3D better than Pixar ever has, allowing action sequences to slide, fly, and fall in inventive fashions. The visual gags are more or less non-stop, especially with Scrat, one of my favorite animated characters of the last fifteen years– his scenes are consistently the best part of the series, and this time around he has a couple of doozies (the film’s finale had me embarrassed by how loud I was laughing). With Peter Dinklage added to the mix as a vengeful pirate and Wanda Sykes as a senile grandmother, the new characters make up for the loss of Simon Pegg’s crowd pleaser last installment. Ice Age: Continental Drift is your basic pro-family storyline, told with frenetic pacing and visual wit. In the early 2000s, I never would’ve thought I’d endorse the last two Ice Age films higher than the last two Pixar films… but here we are.
Step Up: Revolution:
Certainly the most timely if the most ridiculous of the Step Up quadrilogy, Step Up: Revolution makes a few good choices that make it one of the most enjoyable of the bunch– more dancing than ever, creative use of 3D, and minimal time spent on character. Their characters are nothing but attractive archetypes– to some degree, the series’ characters always are, but this time they accept this fact early on and keep things moving. The hunky bad boy from the Miami streets (Ryan Guzman) meets the rich daughter (Kathryn McCormick) of a wealthy real estate developer (Peter Gallagher!!) in a club. The daughter is upset with her father because he doesn’t respect her career choice to become a dancer. The community is upset with her father for trying to tear down the buildings and homes that have been there their whole lives. The bad boy is part of a dance flash mob trying to get Youtube hits when the daughter suggests they use their talents for activism– protest dancing. You can guess where it goes from there. I found the choreography to be exciting and the flash mobs invigorating if slightly overwrought. Cars with hydraulics and dancers on bungees make for great 3D effects, and the dances keep coming and coming. (Fun fact: the cinematography is credited to someone who goes only by “Crash.”) If you dig the franchise, this might be your new favorite. If you don’t, why in the world would you see this one? This revolution isn’t for you.