The Films of Adam Shankman
The Wedding Planner
A Walk to Remember (January 24/02)
A Walk to Remember is easily a candidate for worst film of the year, and it’s not even February yet. Pop princess Mandy Moore makes her starring debut as Jamie, a deeply religious young girl whose father just happens to be the town preacher. Shane West stars as Landon, a badass with an attitude (how do we know he’s a badass? He wears his headphones askew and sneers a lot). As the movie opens, Landon and his “homies” (read: badass friends) have goaded an idiotic freshman to take a belly-flop off an impossibly high platform into a lake. The kid goes unconscious and the cops show up; Landon is sentenced to appear in the school play. Though he initially scoffs his way through rehearsals, his bad-boy exterior begins to crumble as he finds himself getting closer to Jamie. A Walk to Remember is clearly intended for undiscriminating 11-year-old girls – the sort who find Harlequin romances too complex. Like the similarly awful Here On Earth, A Walk to Remember assumes that its audience has never seen a romance picture before (or any movie, really). The film plays out exactly as one might've anticipated, with Landon initially “too cool” to hang out with Jamie. But her blandly polite exterior stirs something in him, and he drops the bad-boy façade ridiculously fast. Gone are the leering stares and passive-aggressive put downs – the new Landon builds telescopes and fills Jamie’s porch with flowers. The performances range from pretty bad to downright awful. In the latter category sits Mandy Moore, who apparently fancies herself a contemporary Doris Day – except without any of the charm or acting ability. She rarely falters from her one expression of angelic kindness, and when she attempts an actual emotion, she comes off worse than Madonna did in any of her movies. Moore even gets the chance to sing an entire song, and surprisingly enough, she proves to be inept at lip-synching (a skill you’d think she would’ve honed during her day job). Her co-star, Shane West, doesn’t fare quite as badly – if only because his lackluster acting is semi-obscured by Moore’s train wreck of a performance. West appears to have based his character upon Luke Perry’s Dylan from Beverly Hills, 90210 – with a splash of Jason Priestly’s Brandon thrown in for good measure. Rounding out the cast are two veterans – Peter Coyote and Daryl Hannah – who look thoroughly embarrassed (well, Coyote does anyway. Hannah just looks weird – her dyed hair and Barbara Hershey-esque lip job have turned this previously attractive actress into a creepy cautionary tale). A Walk to Remember might be entertaining if given the Rocky Horror Picture Show treatment – it takes itself so seriously that audience put-downs and flying toast could only make it better.
Bringing Down the House (March 6/03)
Though Bringing Down the House is a tremendously uneven comedy - some scenes are quite funny, while others are deathly dull - the ample charisma of all the leads (and even a few supporting performers) ensures that the film always remains watchable. Steve Martin stars as Peter, a recently divorced tax attorney who's been courting a woman online. When the time comes for them to meet, Peter shocked when Charlene (Queen Latifah) - a large black woman that's just been released from prison - shows up at his door. Despite his best efforts to remove her from his life, Charlene keeps popping up and refuses to leave until Peter agrees to help her with her case. Because he wants to impress an important client named Mrs. Arness (played by Joan Plowright), Peter reluctantly offers Charlene his services - if only to ensure that she'll stop embarrassing him. Bringing Down the House has been directed by Adam Shankman, whose track record thus far is simply awful. His first feature-length film, The Wedding Planner, was one of the worst romantic comedies ever made - while his next, A Walk to Remember was just laughably bad all around. Since he's never been given a decent script to work with - all three of his films, including this one, have been rife with clichés - it's hard to discern whether their failure is mostly his fault. One thing's for sure: the man needs to learn how to slice and dice his movies. Bringing down the House runs much longer than it should, probably by a good half hour, and the inflated running time means that a lot of sequences eventually become dull (even those that started out with promise). And then there are scenes that should have been excised completely. A good example of this would be a dinner party that comes late in the picture, with Charlene forced to act as Peter's cook while he attempts to woo Mrs. Arness. The underlying joke in this sequence has to do with Charlene's attempt to get back at Mrs. Arness (she's a bit of a racist, you see) by sneaking some laxative onto her food - but wouldn't you know it, Martin's character winds up with her plate. Shankman (not to mention screenwriter Jason Filardi) surely thought this would equal comic gold, but with such a tired concept, the only thing it equals is boredom within the audience. But what ends up saving sequences like that are the above-average performances, led by Martin and Latifah. The film is peppered with familiar faces in small roles (including the criminally underused Michael Rosenbaum and Steve Harris), and the stars are often called upon to elevate the mediocre script. There's no denying that the odd couple chemistry between Martin and Latifah works, and the fish-out-of-water culture clash that ensues as he's introduced to her world (and vice versa) definitely propels the film forward. And though Betty White pops up as a racist neighbor of Peter's, her subplot never comes to the resolution we'd expect (she either should've gotten her comeuppance courtesy of Charlene or started talking in Ebonics)...or any resolution at all, for that matter. Like last month's Old School, Bringing Down the House manages to remain entertaining in spite of the lackluster script. It really comes down to the charisma and charm of the actors, and since Martin rarely appears in comedies nowadays, the film might just be worth a look for him alone. And hey, there's something to be said for a film that features Joan Plowright (an Oscar winner best known for playing stuffy upperclass types) getting high with a couple of black dudes in a strip joint.
The Pacifier (June 17/05)
It's clear that The Pacifier marks Vin Diesel's attempt to soften his image, similar to what Arnold Schwarzenegger did in the late '80s and early '90s. And while The Pacifier isn't even remotely as engaging and enjoyable as something like Kindergarten Cop, there's no denying that the film is breezy enough and wacky enough to warrant a very mild recommendation. Diesel stars as Navy S.E.A.L. Shane Wolfe, whose latest mission takes him to the suburbs - where he is to protect the family of a dead scientist. The wife of said scientist, Julie (Faith Ford), must travel overseas to explore the contents of a safe deposit box, leaving Wolfe in charge of her five kids. A variety of predictably comedic situations ensue, as Wolfe must learn how to change a diaper, feed a duck, relate to a little girl, etc, etc, etc. The Pacifier's been directed by Adam Shankman, a filmmaker who's steadily building a career out of mindless, inane comedies (among his previous efforts: Bringing Down the House and The Wedding Planner). His inoffensive and colorful sense of style has thus far been matched with equally moronic screenplays, something that's certainly the case here. And though the movie has clearly been fashioned to appeal primarily to small children, Shankman (along with screenwriters Thomas Lennon and Ben Garant) does provide older viewers with the occasional gag that'll undoubtedly fly right over the film's target audience. But really, one's ability to enjoy The Pacifier depends almost entirely on one's tolerance of Diesel. Though the actor's never appeared in an all-out comedy before, Diesel seems remarkably comfortable in such a silly environment. It probably doesn't hurt that he's been surrounded by an adept cast, including Brad Garrett as an obnoxious vice principal and Lauren Graham as the requisite love interest. In the end, The Pacifier doesn't have a whole lot to offer - though there's no denying that the movie remains somewhat entertaining throughout. It's the kind of movie that's perfect for less-discriminating viewers, and those who just want a 98-minute respite from using their brain.
Cheaper by the Dozen 2
Hairspray (July 17/07)
Based on John Waters' campy '80s comedy, Hairspray follows a festively plump '60s teen (Nikki Blonsky's Tracy Turnblad) as she successfully tries out for a local TV dance show and consequently takes up the fight for integration. John Travolta co-stars as Tracy's fussy shut-in of a mother, while folks like Amanda Bynes, Christopher Walken, and Michelle Pfeiffer pop up in supporting roles. Stylelessly directed by Adam Shankman, Hairspray is admittedly a lot of fun for a while; the various musical numbers are poppy and energetic, while cinematic newcomer Blonsky delivers a charismatic performance that's occasionally more compelling than the film itself (that Travolta manages to turn his character into a surprisingly sympathetic figure doesn't hurt, either). Screenwriter Leslie Dixon's reliance on individual musical numbers to propel forward the wafer-thin storyline becomes increasingly problematic, however, as there reaches a point at which such sequences start to take on repetitive and superfluous qualities (ie the film's climactic show-stopper just seems to go on forever). And despite the inclusion of a genuinely moving, late-in-the-game cry for racial equality (led by Queen Latifah's Motormouth Maybelle), the relentlessly uneven vibe ultimately ensures that Hairspray is unlikely to win over neophytes (fans of the Broadway musical should be pleased, though).
It's worth noting that although the film does suffer from an increasingly uneven atmosphere, Bedtime Stories ultimately comes off as the most entertaining Adam Sandler comedy to hit theaters since 2004's 50 First Dates - which isn't saying much, admittedly, given the presence of such entirely underwhelming laughers as 2006's Click and 2007's I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry within the actor's recent filmography. The movie casts Sandler as Skeeter Bronson, a lovable hotel handyman who is stunned to discover elements from his niece and nephew's bedtime stories popping up in his day-to-day life and it's subsequently not long before the ambitious blue-collar worker begins using his newfound powers to his advantage. Director Adam Shankman - working from a script by Matt Lopez and Tim Herlihy - effectively infuses Bedtime Stories with an irresistibly lighthearted atmosphere that serves the high-concept premise surprisingly well, with the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious interludes (ie Rob Schneider turns in a cameo appearance that's actually funny) perpetuating the affable vibe and ensuring that the movie ultimately holds appeal for both kids and older viewers. There inevitably reaches a point, however, at which one's interest begins to wane, as the breezy opening hour slowly but surely gives way to an almost egregiously melodramatic third act that's been punctuated with bursts of needlessly over-the-top action sequences. Sandler's personable performance - as well as the uniformly strong work from the supporting cast (which includes Guy Pearce, Russell Brand, and Keri Russell) - goes a long way towards ensuring that Bedtime Stories remains tolerable even through its overtly hackneyed stretches, with the end result a pleasantly watchable Disney comedy that's as entertaining as it is familiar.
Rock of Ages
Based on the Broadway musical, Rock of Ages follows several characters - including Julianne Hough's wide-eyed Sherrie Christian, Diego Boneta's ambitious Drew Boley, and Tom Cruise's world-weary Stacee Jaxx - as their lives intersect over the course of a few especially tumultuous days. There's little doubt that Rock of Ages benefits substantially from its fast-paced and thoroughly energetic opening few minutes, with the compulsively watchable feel of this stretch immediately drawing the viewer into the proceedings and cultivating an atmosphere of peppy fun. It's just as clear, however, that the film subsequently experiences a demonstrable lull that does, in the final analysis, last for much of its midsection, as scripters Justin Theroux, Chris D'Arienzo, and Allan Loeb place an ongoing emphasis on paper-thin characters and hackneyed plot developments that slowly-but-surely drain one's interest - with the less-than-compelling vibe compounded by jokes and gags of a decidedly over-the-top and hopelessly unfunny nature. (It doesn't help, either, that too many of the '80s rock songs feel as though they've been shoehorned into the proceedings with little thought to context or appropriateness.) And while there are a few memorable moments sprinkled here and there - eg an impressively raunchy duet between Stacee Jaxx and Malin Akerman's Constance Sack set to Foreigner's "I Want to Know What Love Is" - Rock of Ages doesn't wholeheartedly begin to gather momentum and improve until it enters its climactic stretch (ie there's too much within the movie's middle that just comes off as padding, including Sherrie's tedious stint at a sleazy strip club). The film's palpable turnaround is heightened by a number of unexpectedly engrossing musical numbers towards the end, with the final result a passable piece of work that would've been far better off had it topped out at 90 minutes.