Four Comedies from Anchor Bay
30 Days Until I'm Famous (April 16/11)
30 Days Until I'm Famous casts Sean Patrick Flanery as Cole Thompson, a slick music executive who makes a bet with his boss (Udo Kier's Barry Davis) that he can transform just about anybody into a successful pop singer - with the wager set into motion after Barry selects a mouthy, rough-around-the-edges delivery girl (Camille Guaty's Maggie Moreno) for the challenge. Cole subsequently sets out to teach his reluctant pupil how to walk, talk, and dance like a pop star, with the pair's efforts building to an important music competition that will pit Maggie against Alanna Ubach's fearsome Daisy Fresh. Director Gabriela Tagliavini has infused 30 Days Until I'm Famous with a pleasant, consistently peppy sensibility that proves instrumental at initially compensating for the hackneyed setup, with the relatively affable atmosphere heightened by the stellar work from both Flanery and Moreno. It's only as the movie marches into its surprisingly sluggish midsection that boredom starts to set in, as scripter Laura Angelica Simon places an almost oppressive emphasis on the protagonists' ongoing efforts at preparing for the big show (ie the movie effectively devolves into a series of training sequences and montages). By the time the fake break-up phase - which is tedious even by the standards of this notoriously needless plot device - rolls around, 30 Days Until I'm Famous has firmly established itself as a sporadically passable yet hopelessly underwhelming piece of work that's unlikely to pass muster with even the most easygoing of romcom fans.
Though it boasts a fairly promising setup, Demoted ultimately establishes itself as a hopelessly unfunny and thoroughly tedious comedy that grows more and more tedious as it progresses and squanders the efforts of its talented cast. The movie follows a couple of unlikable tire salesmen (Sean Astin's Mike and Michael Vartan's Rodney) as they're demoted to secretaries after their nemesis (David Cross' Ken Castro) becomes their boss, with the narrative, for the most part, detailing the pair's efforts at adjusting to their new responsibilities. (It's not a spoiler to reveal that Mike and Rodney eventually, and perhaps inevitably, begin a steady campaign of revenge against Cross' mean-spirited character.) It's clear immediately that Demoted's biggest problem is the obnoxiousness that's been hard-wired into the two central protagonists, as both Mike and Rodney come off as vulgar, misogynistic jerks with little in the way of redeeming or even sympathetic qualities - which effectively does prevent the viewer from working up any interest in or enthusiasm for the duo's ongoing exploits. Compounding matters is the decidedly (and palpably) conventional bent of Dan Callahan's screenplay, as the scripter places a consistent emphasis on plot developments of a hopelessly familiar and hackneyed nature - including such stale tropes as the fake break-up and the character-mistakes-their-boss-for-an-underling device. Far more problematic is the film's surfeit of disastrously unfunny jokes and gags (eg Rodney is forced to stare at his intimidating father-in-law's penis during a verbal dressing down), with the pervasive lack of laughs ultimately cementing Demoted's place as a pointless and seriously misguided piece of work.
A typically uneven fake documentary, The Grand follows several off-kilter figures as they assemble in Las Vegas for a pivotal poker tournament that'll leave the winner $10 million richer - with the film, for the most part, detailing the exploits of the various players and their ongoing efforts at qualifying for the final competition. Filmmaker Zak Penn has infused The Grand with a meandering sensibility that does, at the outset, prevent the viewer from wholeheartedly embracing the material, with the movie's less-than-engrossing feel compounded by Penn's decision to stress dialogue of an obviously improvised nature (ie as is the case with Christopher Guest's comedies, there's too much here that simply feels like unfunny filler). It's clear, then, that the film benefits substantially from the efforts of its impressively eclectic cast, with the presence of such inherently charismatic folks as Woody Harrelson, Chris Parnell, Judy Greer, and Richard Kind certainly going a long way towards compensating for the otherwise pervasively uneven atmosphere. (As strong as those performers are, however, there's little doubt that the movie's MVP is Werner Herzog; cast as an intimidating figure known only as The German, Herzog puts an often hilarious spin on his idiosyncratic persona that proves impossible to resist.) And although the narrative has been suffused with sequences of a palpably needless nature (eg several characters bicker at a fancy restaurant), The Grand does boast a handful of admittedly suspenseful and engaging sequences set at the poker table - with the final hand far more tense than one might've initially suspected. (Of course, Penn virtually negates the effectiveness of this moment by chasing it with a seemingly endless epilogue.) The end result is a passable piece of work that could (and should) have been so much better, although it does seem entirely likely that viewers with an interest in poker might be more susceptible to the film's charms (ie despite his best efforts, Penn isn't entirely able to open the game up to neophytes).
High School follows straight-laced student Henry Burke (Matt Bush) as he submits to the prodding of his stoner buddy (Sean Marquette's Travis Breaux) and reluctantly agrees to sample marijuana for the first time, with problems ensuing as his school's principal (Michael Chiklis' Leslie Gordon) announces that anyone caught with drugs in their system will immediately be expelled - which forces Henry and Travis to take the rather extreme step of getting every single student at the school high (ie if nobody passes the test, Henry will be free and clear). It's an outlandish yet promising setup that's employed to consistently underwhelming effect by director John Stalberg, as the filmmaker, working from a script cowritten with Erik Linthorst and Stephen Susco, has infused the proceedings with a routine and conventional feel that's compounded by a pervasive emphasis on hopelessly stale elements (eg Chiklis' square, stodgy character could've come from a template for movies of this ilk). And although the movie briefly picks up as Henry and Travis initially come up with their preposterous plan, High School suffers from an increasingly stagnant, wheel-spinning midsection that triggers its transformation from passable comedy to interminable disaster. Of course, such concerns would be easy enough to overlook were any of this actually funny - with Stalberg's inability to elicit even a single laugh ultimately cementing the film's place as a fairly worthless endeavor.