The Films of Jay Roach
Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery
Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me
Meet the Parents (December 19/10)
Meet the Parents follows Ben Stiller's Greg Focker as he agrees to finally meet his girlfriend's (Teri Polo's Pam) mother (Blythe Danner's Dina) and father (Robert De Niro's Jack), with wackiness ensuing as Greg goes to increasingly absurd lengths to win the couple's approval. It's an inherently appealing premise that is, at the outset, employed to winning effect by Jay Roach, as the director offers up an appealing opening half hour that's anchored by the stars' uniformly likeable work and the inclusion of several genuinely hilarious instances of comedy (ie the now infamous cat-milking bit). There does reach a point, however, wherein the emphasis is predominantly placed on jokes and gags of an eye-rolling desperate nature - ie Greg, a Jew, attempts to say grace to unreasonably (yet predictably) broad effect - which ultimately ensures that large swaths of the proceedings feel as though they'd be more at home within a garden-variety sitcom. And while the charisma of the various performers proves instrumental in cultivating a relatively watchable atmosphere, Meet the Parents is ultimately unable to overcome the pervasive artificiality that's been hard-wired into Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg's screenplay - with the pointlessly melodramatic third act cementing the film's place as lamentably disappointing misfire.
Austin Powers in Goldmember
Meet the Fockers (May 30/05)
In a way, Meet the Fockers is an ideal sequel; the film is just as mediocre and gratingly unfunny as its predecessor, leaving little doubt that fans of the original will love this one as well. The story picks up shortly after the events of the first film, with Greg (Ben Stiller) embarking on a road trip with fiancee Pam (Teri Polo) and her folks, Jack (Robert De Niro) and Dina (Blythe Danner), to meet his own parents, Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) and Roz (Barbra Streisand). Upon arriving, much wackiness ensues as stuffy Jack must adjust to Roz and Bernie's laid-back and overtly sexual behavior. That Meet the Fockers essentially feels like a carbon-copy of Meet the Parents doesn't come as much of a surprise, given that the film reunites much of the creative team behind that film (including director Jay Roach and writers Jim Herzfeld and John Hamburg). But despite a fairly promising premise, the film feels curiously inert; there's nothing here worthy of enthusiasm, either positive or negative. It certainly doesn't help that De Niro delivers as ineffective a performance as one might expect, something that would've been surprising about ten years ago but is now commonplace. Hoffman, on the other hand, dives into his character with an uninhibited sense of glee; while the actor's performance could never be considered anything other than over-the-top, there's no denying that Hoffman is generally the best thing about the film. Meet the Fockers is now ranked as the highest grossing comedy of all time, an appalling statistic given that the film just isn't funny. Worse still, it's overlong and occasionally boring; if ever there were a needless sequel, this is it.
Dinner for Schmucks (August 4/10)
Based on a comedy by Francis Veber, Dinner for Schmucks follows up-and-coming executive Tim (Paul Rudd) as he agrees to participate in a dinner celebrating the idiocy of its guests - with problems ensuing as Tim's pick, Steve Carell's Barry, unknowingly begins to wreak havoc on his life. It's a relatively workable premise that's employed to underwhelming and sporadically infuriating effect by filmmaker Jay Roach, as the director, working from a screenplay by David Guion and Michael Handelman, places an all-too-consistent emphasis on elements of an unreasonably over-the-top nature - with this vibe most aptly reflected in the painfully broad work from co-stars Zach Galifianakis, Lucy Punch, and Jermaine Clement (ie Clement's irritating turn as a pretentious artist is in itself reason enough to avoid this stinker). Even if one were willing to overlook the movie's terminally unfunny atmosphere, Roach's uncinematic and claustrophobic modus operandi - the entire thing seems to transpire primarily within one location - ensures that Dinner for Schmucks becomes an increasingly difficult and flat-out oppressive sit as it progresses (and this is to say nothing of Guion and Handelman's obnoxious penchant for shoe-horning random instances of sentimentality into their aggressively bloated screenplay). By the time the expectedly larger-than-life (yet thoroughly unfunny) dinner rolls around, Dinner for Schmucks has certainly established itself as one of the most disastrous would-be comedies to come around in quite some time - which is a shame, really, given that Rudd and, to a lesser extent, Carell are both quite likeable here.
Game Change details the circumstances surrounding Sarah Palin's (Julianne Moore) selection as John McCain's (Ed Harris) running mate during the 2008 presidential election, with Palin's obvious incompetence inevitably concerning everyone involved in McCain's campaign - especially top strategist Steve Schmidt (Woody Harrelson). It's an inherently compelling premise that is, for a while, employed to consistently watchable effect by filmmaker Jay Roach, with the engaging atmosphere heightened by the frequently spellbinding performances. Leading the charge is, of course, Moore's creepily accurate portrayal of Palin , as the actress becomes the former Alaskan governor to a degree that's often nothing short of astonishing - with Moore's award-worthy turn mirrored in the efforts of her various costars, including Harrelson, Harris, Sarah Paulson, and Peter MacNicol. It's also worth noting that Game Change generally succeeds as an irresistible fish-out-of-water story, as scripter Danny Strong places an ongoing emphasis on Palin's attempts at blending into a world that couldn't possibly be further from her own. There's little doubt, however, that the film takes a palpable hit as it moves into its meandering midsection, with the repetitiveness of Strong's screenplay - ie yes, Palin is incompetent, but what else? - resulting in a decidedly repetitive vibe that grows more and more problematic as time progresses. By the time the relatively tedious we-created-a-monster third act rolls around, Game Change has definitively established itself as a sporadically entertaining yet overlong and uneven piece of work that could've used a few more passes through the editing bay - which is too bad, really, given the strength of Moore's undeniably mesmerizing performance.
The Campaign follows Will Ferrell's Cam Brady, a slick Congressman seeking his fifth term, as he finally faces some real competition in the form of Zach Galifianakis' sweet and naive Marty Huggins, with the movie, for the most part, detailing the increasingly contentious battle that ensues between the disparate characters. It's a seemingly can't-miss premise that is, at the outset, employed to entertaining effect by director Jay Roach, as the filmmaker, working from a screenplay by Chris Henchy and Shawn Harwell, has infused the proceedings with a pervasively agreeable feel that's heightened by the charismatic performances and sporadic inclusion of hilarious bits of comedy. (In terms of the latter, there is, for example, a laugh-out-loud funny scene wherein Marty's family, by his own request, divulges their biggest secrets to progressively horrifying effect.) The slapdash narrative is, as a result, initially not quite as problematic as one might've feared, yet it's hard to deny that the film does, after a certain point, begin to to demonstrably go off the rails - with the increased emphasis on unfunny and hopelessly misguided sequences triggering the movie's palpable downfall (eg a terminally stupid interlude in which Cam comes under attack for creating a socialist paradise called Rainbowland as a small child). Henchy and Harwell's subsequent reliance on unreasonably over-the-top elements cements The Campaign's place as a hit-and-miss comedy that's ultimately more miss than hit, and the viewer can't help but walk away from the movie feeling as though the filmmakers have squandered a setup with limitless potential.