Funny for no obvious reason
IN the opening pages of High Concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood Culture of Excess , author Charles Fleming details the drugs that were found in 1980s Hollywood uber- producer Don Simpson’s body at his autopsy. It was a list that would humble Elvis.
Whether, like Simpson, Judd Apatow feels compelled to show up to his high school reunion in a helicopter with two Playboy playmates as his dates remains to be seen, but they do have two things in common.
The first is that, like Simpson and his one- time producing partner Jerry Bruckheimer, Apatow is that rare thing in Hollywood: a producer with marquee appeal. Since producers are basically the money men and women, they’re even less likely to be noticed by the average filmgoer than a director whose surname isn’t Spielberg.
But just as Simpson and Bruckheimer’s names denote a high- octane music video of an action flick, an Apatow film suggests a certain style of comedy, some of which he directs ( Knocked Up, The 40- Year- Old Virgin ) but mostly he produces ( Pineapple Express , Superbad , Forgetting Sarah Marshall ).
And the other thing that Apatow shares with Simpson is a love of excess. But instead of excess in his personal life ( as far as we know; maybe Apatow also calls his assistant in LA from a New York hotel room in the middle of the night demanding a bagel be ordered from room service), it’s up there on the screen in the I- can’tbelieve- they- went- there insults the characters hurl at each other, the crude jokes and the ridiculous plot developments.
Luckily, beyond the supremely dirty jokes and antics, Apatow’s films also have a heart, with characters you can’t help but like and a message that is far nicer than the bawdy content would suggest.
Apatow’s Step Brothers re- teams Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby director Adam McKay with its stars Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly. Taking the over- parented, indulged generation and the veneration of the man child to its ludicrous extreme, the pair play Brennan ( Ferrell) and Dale ( Reilly), two unemployed, Star Wars - loving 40- somethings who still live at home and find themselves sharing a bedroom when Brennan’s mother Nancy ( Mary Steenburgen, who looks awfully young for the role) marries Dale’s father ( Six Feet Under ’ s Richard Jenkins).
The joke — that these grown men act like 13- year- olds — is one note, but the pair play it so well that even though you may wonder how they’re going to sustain a whole movie on this premise, it’s easy to go along for the ride. They both do petulance so well. Particularly amusing is Reilly’s ability to capture that crying child who is so inconsolable their words come out in breathless bursts.
It’s not so much a comedy as an assault on your funnybone — a friend described it as laughing almost against your will — and it’s clear that much of what is on the screen is there because writers Ferrell and McKay found it funny, not because it serves the plot. Step Brothers also paints itself into a corner, because clearly the pair have to grow up, but not so much that they lose their charm.
Because of that and because, no matter how fanciful this movie is, you still can’t quite believe the parents are willing to allow their sons’ behaviour, I wouldn’t recommend this movie for people new to Apatow. Something like Superbad is much more accomplished.
But fans should enjoy what they’ve come to expect from these movies: gross- out humour, clever pop culture references — including Billy Joel and Vanilla Ice — cameos from his regular players such as Seth Rogen and Ken Jeong, and things that are funny for no discernible reason. I don’t know why ‘‘ F . . . ing Catalina WineMixer!’’ is amusing, except that it is.
And while Ferrell and Reilly’s performances make Step Brothers worth watching, special props go to Adam Scott as Brennan’s successful younger brother Derek. His portrayal of the oily, name- dropping spiv channels Tom Cruise in his scary stare- down salesman mode and almost steals the show. No mean feat when you’re up against Ferrell and a drum kit.
* * * OF all the crimes that Paris Hilton and her ilk have inflicted on the world, forcing me to have to defend owning a chihuahua ranks at the top of the list.
It’s the breed’s unfortunate costume- wearing, handbag- dog status that’s the focus of Disney’s Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Chloe ( voiced by Drew Barrymore) is a white chi with surprisingly un- bulgy eyes whose owner Viv ( an under- used Jamie Lee Curtis) pampers her beyond the dreams of most humans.
When Viv, who runs a successful cosmetics empire, heads overseas on a business trip, she leaves Chloe in the hands of her unreliable niece Rachel ( Piper Perabo), who not only skips Chloe’s spa treatments but feeds her — gasp — dog food and takes her to Mexico, where she is improbably kidnapped by a dog- fighting gang. They soon realise she may be worth more for ransom.
Making her escape with the help of a protective alsatian ( voiced by Andy Garcia), Chloe must outrun the dog- fighting villains and find her way home, while Rachel, Viv’s landscaper Sam ( Colombian Manolo Cardona in his first English- language role) and his pet dog, the nonpedigree chihuahua Papi ( voiced by George Lopez) try to find her.
The result is passable kiddie entertainment. The computer- generated imagery varies from decent to obvious and the subplot involving the talking rat and iguana feels like cuteness overkill in a movie about talking dogs.
The predictable story may be enough to keep dog- obsessed children entertained, assuming they don’t get distressed by the pups- in- peril aspects, but for adults it’s only sporadically entertaining. Dialogue such as ‘‘ talk to the paw’’ is at least five years past the point of being vaguely funny, but the movie works best on the grown- up front when it parodies the conventions of traditional action movies using dogs. The scene featuring the chihuahua uprising is rather charming as well.
Then there’s the ethical issue of making a children’s film glamorising a breed of dog that is too fragile and temperamental for small owners. Perhaps trying to avoid another 101 Dalmatians — some animal rescue groups reported a 25 per cent increase in surrendered dalmatians in the year after the film’s release as the rambunctious breed’s unsuitability for children became apparent — Disney has put a disclaimer at the end of the film encouraging people to research the breed and be prepared to make a lifelong commitment before adopting any dog.
But a few words on the screen and the film’s message that the breed is not a plaything is unlikely to diminish the pester power of a little one who has just seen the adorable chihuahua army run through Aztec ruins. And for that reason, this could be the worst thing since a certain hotel chain heir to be inflicted on the breed.
Parents trapped: Perpetual adolescents Will Ferrell, left, and John C. Reilly share a bedroom in Step Brothers
Predictable story: Piper Perabo, Chloe and Jamie Lee Curtis in Chihuahua