A PAIR OF JOK­ERS

Meet The Lego Bat­man Movie’s he­roes

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The week­end started off hi­lar­i­ous and just got bet­ter. Af­ter a land­ing that seemed about as trau­matic as a packet of marsh­mal­lows fall­ing on a du­vet to this proud son of Welling­ton city, but which had the rest of the – mostly Amer­i­can – pas­sen­gers white-knuck­ling the seat arms and con­vert­ing quickly and nois­ily to re­li­gion, I was on the ground at Los An­ge­les In­ter­na­tional and won­der­ing how much of a mort­gage I would need to raise to get a taxi to Bev­er­ley Hills.

I’d tried to down­load Uber or Lyft via the LAX free wi-fi, but the down­load speeds were about on a par with ru­ral New Zealand and I could have built my own car out of the dis­carded chewing gum and cig­a­rette butts on the side­walk by the time the app had in­stalled.

Then, just as I was re­sign­ing my­self to a US$100 ($142) cab fare, a man who looked more like an over­sized Jeff Koons sculp­ture of The

Mup­pets’ Fozzie the Bear than he did any hu­man be­ing I’ve ever met came bound­ing up to me with a grin like a milk tanker’s front grill and a mist of mar­i­juana vapour cling­ing to his ‘fro like clouds on the sum­mit of Mt Taranaki.

‘‘Hello friend! You need a shut­tle? Any­where for $30! I am Jorge!’’ was all it took.

Two min­utes later, we were hurtling down the LA Free­way in a clapped out Ford van with a cou­ple of two-seater couches bolted in the back. There was more rust than there was ac­tual body, but Jorge had at least found a big enough patch of sur­viv­ing metal to spell out ‘‘Air­port Shutle’’ – with one ‘‘t’’ – in red house­paint with a brush.

The only part of Jorge’s shud­der­ing heap that worked per­fectly was the sound sys­tem, which was pound­ing out a top­shelf se­lec­tion of ragga and dub while I sat in the back, grin­ning at the turns my life has taken since I de­cided to make my­self home­less and con­tem­plat­ing ‘‘lit­tle-known film critic per­ishes in fire­ball’’ as an obit­u­ary head­line when my fore­head bounced play­fully into my kneecaps and I fig­ured we had ar­rived at the ho­tel.

The concierge at the LA Mi­rage came to greet me with all the en­thu­si­asm he might have ex­tended to an Isis truck bomber. Which, to be hon­est, be­tween Jorge’s smok­ing, bel­low­ing heap and my usual slept-in-a-hedge mien di­alled up to 11 by the flight, the shut­tle ride and the farewell te­quila party in New York City the night be­fore, was a pretty fair call.

‘‘I’m on the Warner Broth­ers’ press jun­ket,’’ I said, and he vis­i­bly re­laxed. His whole ex­pres­sion soft­ened as he re­alised I was not an un­kempt, mother­less lu­natic with a his­tory of poor life choices be­hind him, just a film re­viewer.

Two hours later, partly re­stored by a hot shower and a nap, I’m decked out in my spe­cial best jan­dals and clean­est T-shirt and head­ing into a screen­ing of The Lego Bat­man Movie.

And the next morn­ing, I’m sit­ting in a room with three other film-writery types – one of whom I’ve looked up to for half my life – and won­der­ing just what I should ask the two lead ac­tors in the sec­ond-best film about an­i­mated plas­tic bricks I’ve ever seen.

Will Ar­nett and Zach Galifianakis play – or at least give voice to – The Bat­man and The Joker in The Lego Bat­man Movie. Both have been main­stays of Amer­i­can TV and film com­edy for years. They are old friends, fre­quent col­lab­o­ra­tors and pretty much ex­actly as you might imag­ine they would be to chat to.

Galifianakis comes into the room first. He’s look­ing a lot trim­mer than his defin­ing and break-out Hang­over days. The beard is neatly groomed, the shirt is tucked in and his shoes are done up. And yet, maybe be­cause of the roles we as­so­ciate him with, Galifianakis still looks like an ut­ter sham­bles. I wish I knew how he did it.

Out­side, maybe 30 me­tres down a plush ho­tel cor­ri­dor, we can hear Ar­nett’s voice al­ter­nately shriek­ing, growl­ing and gen­er­ally lay­ing waste to ev­ery­one and ev­ery­thing around him. What­ever he is say­ing seems to have ev­ery­one in hys­ter­ics. And none of the usual, fawn­ing, press-jun­ket laugh­ter you gen­er­ally hear when a star or di­rec­tor cracks some lame gag. This is a real no-stop-it-pleaseor-I’ll-pee howl­ing.

A mo­ment later, Ar­nett comes into the room like a labrador on meth. You read a lot about peo­ple ‘‘bound­ing’’ through doors, but Ar­nett ac­tu­ally does it. He is tall, tanned, has the teeth of an Os­mond and one of the most cul­ti­vated and ac­tor­ish voices I’ve heard this side of Ian McKellen. Ar­nett is fa­mous for that voice. He’s all over Amer­i­can TV flog­ging SUVs with it.

It’s also the voice of the ti­tle char­ac­ter – a washed up, bit­ter and al­co­holic for­mer celebrity horse – in the ut­terly cult and of­ten bril­liant an­i­mated se­ries Bo­jack

Horse­man. Even if you had never seen his work in Ar­rested Devel­op­ment, 30 Rock and a bunch of stand-out sup­port­ing roles on the big screen, then you could still pick out Ar­nett in a crowded bar just from hear­ing him or­der his drink. De­ployed as a cameo in 2014’s

The Lego Movie, Ar­nett’s Bat­man ran away with the show. I won­dered whether the suc­cess of the film – and par­tic­u­larly the ver­sion of Bat­man within it – had taken any­one by sur­prise. ‘‘Oh man, ev­ery­thing in this in­dus­try is a f...ing sur­prise. No-one knows what’s go­ing to hit and what won’t. But, I gotta say, Chris McKay (an­i­ma­tion di­rec­tor on The Lego Movie and di­rec­tor of The Lego

Bat­man Movie) ... we knew with him that the film was in great hands. He had a to­tal vi­sion for the film that was amaz­ing. So many di­rec­tors – and I’ll never men­tion names – don’t re­ally know what they’re af­ter un­til they see it, if then. But Chris had the whole thing in his head. And be­cause he had that, he had the con­fi­dence to let us goof around and im­pro­vise.’’ Which makes sense. A lot of

The Lego Bat­man Movie – and this is one of the film’s trump cards – re­ally does feel like Galifianakis, Ar­nett and Michael Cera’s Robin are in a room freestyling their re­la­tion­ship into an ever es­ca­lat­ing or­bit of sur­re­al­ity. The

Lego Bat­man pushes the code­pen­dency be­tween the char­ac­ters into places that only the graphic nov­els have gone be­fore. But it does it with a twist of glee and mis­chievous­ness that the last cou­ple of live-ac­tion Bat­man movies re­ally could have done with.

As Galifianakis says: ‘‘I think one of the great things about these films, for an ac­tor any­way, is that we are work­ing at a dis­tance from re­al­ity. So we can satirise and lam­poon the source ma­te­rial in a way that live-ac­tion could never get away with. So you know, some of it was just Will and me walk­ing around on a sound­stage and push­ing each other to see where we could get to’’.

‘‘We had a fan­tas­tic boom swinger,’’ Ar­nett chimes in, ‘‘he had the sup­plest wrists.’’ And so it goes.

Galifianakis telling us some­thing in­for­ma­tive and use­ful, in a slightly beard-muf­fled dead­pan drawl that was al­ways worth pay­ing at­ten­tion to and de­ci­pher­ing, while Ar­nett lurked around the edges of the con­ver­sa­tion, lob­bing in grenades of lac­er­at­ing wit when­ever his mate paused. In the film its Galifianakis’ Joker who gets the best lines – ‘‘oh man, I had never got to play the vil­lain be­fore’’.

‘‘It’s fan­tas­tic,’’ he says – while Ar­nett’s preen­ing and delu­sional Bat­man fin­ishes up as the straight­man, or at least the hu­mour­less and se­ri­ous one, with every other char­ac­ter crack­ing gags around him. How do you make that funny? ‘‘You to­tally got it. The Bat is the only one on screen who isn’t funny.

‘‘And of course that makes him the fun­ni­est thing in it. I mean, there’s this guy who’s been liv­ing in a cave with a teenage boy since 1966. Every night, he dresses up as a ro­dent. He has ab­so­lutely no sense of hu­mour, or aware­ness of how in­sane he is. And no one’s go­ing to tell him be­cause they’re all ter­ri­fied of him. You don’t need jokes to make that s... funny. All you have to do is play it straight. And loud.

‘‘Ev­ery­thing’s fun­nier when it’s loud.’’ With that, a young woman, with a PA’s ric­tus smile and more teeth than it ap­peared her neck could sup­port, stepped in and told us our time with the pair was up. Galifianakis and Ar­nett thanked us ef­fu­sively for what was ap­par­ently ‘‘a great time’’ and left. Galifianakis paused to take an­other minute to ex­pand on an an­swer he had given to one of my col­league’s ques­tions.

He wanted to make sure he had an­swered her prop­erly. Ar­nett mean­while was off down the hall­way. A full minute af­ter he left the room, I can still hear him on my record­ing. Laugh­ing. ❚ Ad­vanced pre­views of The Lego Bat­man Movie (PG) are tak­ing place in se­lect cine­mas this week­end be­fore the film opens na­tion­wide on April 6.

The Lego Bat­man Movie is set three years af­ter the events of The Lego Movie.

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