The Films of Peyton Reed
The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes
The Love Bug
Bring It On
Down with Love (May 15/03)
Down with Love, inspired by the Rock Hudson/Doris Day films of the 1960s, follows notorious womanizer Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor) as he tones down his playboy schtick to win over a prickly author (Renee Zellweger's Barbara Novak), with the idea being that Catcher, in the guise of his newly-created alter ego, will be able to make Barbara, who doesn't believe in love, fall in love with him. The first half of Down With Love is so delightful and fun that when the movie does eventually become tiresome, it's a real disappointment. A big part of the film's downfall is sheer overlength. Running close to two hours, the movie just doesn't have enough story to propel itself forward for that long. Had it been trimmed down to 80-minutes, there's no doubt it would've been far more effective. Though Down With Love certainly doesn't lack in the characters department - some of the most engaging portions of the film are courtesy of the supporting players - the screenplay runs out of steam somewhere around the midway mark and becomes almost endlessly repetitious. Once Catcher becomes Zip, the film settles into a predictable routine - Barbara wants nothing more than to sleep with Zip, so he does everything he can to put her off until she falls in love with him. It's not necessarily a bad setup, but this aspect of the film goes on for so long that it really becomes monotonous after a while. But Down with Love still warrants a look, mostly because of the fantastic acting and stunning set design. The two leads are perfect in their roles, with McGregor in particular a lot of fun as both Catcher and Zip. The real scene stealer here, though, is David Hyde Pierce as Catcher's editor at Know magazine. Leaving all traces of Niles behind, Pierce essentially assumes Tony Randall's patented wacky-best-friend role to great effect (Randall even cameos as the owner of the magazine). His would-be relationship with Barbara's editor (Sarah Paulson) is certainly a welcome respite from the occasionally dull main storyline. Kudos have to go, of course, to the folks behind the look of the film. Director Peyton Reed keeps things light and fun (even if he doesn't know when to call it quits), and the various outfits worn by the characters couldn't possibly be more colorful. The painted backdrops and use of rear-screen projection certainly helps add that '50s feel to the film (even the logo for 20th Century Fox has been changed to its old-school look), and Reed makes good use of long-since-forgotten cinematic tricks (such as the split-screen during phone calls). However, the inclusion of some decidedly risqué moments amid the innocent goings-on (during said split-screen, Reed poses Catcher and Barbara in a variety of sexual positions) seems completely out of place. As this is supposed to be an homage to the romances of the '50s, such contemporary additions serve only as a distraction (as though Reed and the cast are winking at us). Provided you're willing to look past the film's extreme overlength, Down With Love is bubbly and fun. And it should serve as a decent introduction to past romantic comedies for a whole new generation.
The Break-Up (June 1/06)
Much like 1999's The Story of Us, The Break-Up forces its two charismatic stars to behave unpleasantly for the majority of its running time; as such, there's just no getting past the distinctly awkward and uncomfortable vibe that pervades almost every aspect of the film. The movie starts out promisingly enough, however, with an admittedly charming meet-cute between Gary (Vaughn) and Brooke (Aniston) at a baseball game. Time passes, and we see that Gary and Brooke have settled into a comfortable routine - with Brooke generally forced to pick up the slack from Gary's lazy and self-centered ways. Since neither Gary nor Brooke is willing to move out of their expensive apartment, the two are forced to become roommates - a situation that results in many, many fights and arguments. Because both Vaughn and Aniston are essentially just riffing on their previously-established personas, with Vaughn once again stepping into the shoes of a fast-talking jerk and Aniston channeling her Friends character, Jeremy Garelick and Jay Lavender's screenplay doesn't contain a whole lot in the way of character development. That the break-up is entirely Gary's fault is particularly indicative of this, as the two characters essentially come off as stereotypical, one-dimensional figures that would fit right in on an episode of Dr. Phil (ie Gary is a sports-loving lout who'd rather play videogames than help out with housework, while Brooke is patient and loving and has virtually no faults). And although the movie is being marketed as a comedy, there's a serious lack of laughs here - a problem that's exacerbated by the fact that virtually every single humorous bit has been spoiled in the film's trailer. The dramatic elements within Garelick and Lavender's script admittedly feel authentic - a typically brainless Hollywood romcom this is not - but such moments are simply out of place amongst the broadly comedic sequences and the overly quirky periphery characters. Having said that, it's hard not to enjoy the presence of folks like Jon Favreau, Cole Hauser, and Vincent D'Onofrio (!) in small but effective supporting roles. The Break-Up is surely going to go down as one of summer 2006's more notable disappointments, particularly given just how promising that laugh-out-loud trailer was. But audiences expecting another Wedding Crashers are in for quite a shock, as there's nothing terribly compelling about watching likable stars argue for close to two hours.
Though hopelessly uneven and eye-rollingly sentimental, Yes Man nevertheless establishes itself as Jim Carrey's most entertaining comedy since 1997's Liar Liar - which, given the presence of such underwhelming efforts as Bruce Almighty and Fun with Dick and Jane within his recent filmography, isn't exactly high praise, admittedly. The movie casts Carrey as Carl Allen, a dull banker whose decision to say yes to every opportunity that comes his way substantially changes his life for the better (ie he meets and falls in love with Zooey Deschanel's quirky hipster). It's a high-concept premise that's generally employed to positive effect by director Peyton Reed, as the filmmaker - working from Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel's script - does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with a number of overtly wacky and unapologetically silly interludes. Carrey has clearly been given free rein to indulge in his every comedic whim, and - depending on one's tolerance for the actor's particular brand of humor - it's subsequently worth noting that the joke-to-laugh ratio remains surprisingly high during the film's opening hour. The stellar supporting cast - including, among others, Terence Stamp, Bradley Cooper, and John Michael Higgins - effectively (and effortlessly) perpetuates the downright affable vibe, while the romance between Carrey and Deschanel's respective characters is actually pretty sweet and charming (despite their obvious age difference). There reaches a point, however, at which the movie jettisons its light-hearted modus operandi and morphs into something that's as eye-rollingly sentimental as one might've feared, with the inclusion of several frustratingly melodramatic plot twists effectively bringing the proceedings to a dead stop. And while the astoundingly underwhelming third act does prove a test to one's patience, Yes Man ultimately manages to just skate by based on the strength of everything that preceded it - with Carrey's go-for-broke performance certainly standing as an obvious highlight.
The latest in an increasingly long line of disappointing Marvel movies, Ant-Man follows Paul Rudd's Scott Lang as he becomes the title character after encountering a disgraced scientist (Michael Douglas' Hank Pym) and his skeptical daughter (Evangeline Lilly's Hope). There's little doubt that Ant-Man fares best in its impressively (and almost incongruously) low-key first half, as director Peyton Reed, for the most part, stresses smaller, character-based moments over the sort of larger-than-life action set-pieces that generally define movies of this ilk. It's equally clear, however, that the palpably overlong running time prevents the film from achieving any real sense of momentum, with the erratic pace wreaking havoc on the mid-movie emphasis on the protagonists' efforts to plan an intricate heist. (And it really doesn't help that this portion of the movie is littered with overlong and superfluous sequences, including a tedious training montage and a pointless sojourn to the new Avengers compound.) The absence of a wholeheartedly compelling protagonist only exacerbates Ant-Man's less-than-engrossing atmosphere, as Rudd is never entirely able to comfortably slip into the shoes of his bulked-up, heroic character (ie Rudd is certainly not bad here, but the actor can't quite make the seamless, Chris Pratt-like transition from comedic performer to leading man). There's also, it has to be noted, a distinct lack of exciting action-oriented moments, as such sequences are drowned in CGI-based special effects that essentially drain them of their impact - although, to be fair, it's hard to deny the entertainment value of a miniaturized fight that occurs within a little girl's train set. Stirring interludes like that are few and far between the usual dumbed-down nonsense one has come to dread from comic-book fare, ultimately, and it's becoming more and more apparent that Marvel simply has no idea what they're doing within the blockbuster genre.
Ant-Man and the Wasp (August 3/18)
A mild improvement over its lackluster predecessor, Ant-Man and the Wasp follows Paul Rudd's Scott Lang as he agrees to help Michael Douglas' Hank and Evangeline Lilly's Hope rescue Michelle Pfeiffer's Janet from the Quantum Dimension - with the trio's efforts consistently stymied by a new villain named Ghost (Hannah John-Kamen). There's little doubt that Ant-Man and the Wasp improves considerably as it progresses, as the movie suffers from an opening stretch that almost feels like a total reboot - with filmmaker Peyton Reed's decision to emphasize needless conflict between the three leads certainly perpetuating this vibe. It's a bizarre choice that doesn't really work and ultimately pads out the running time, with the viewer's efforts at connecting to the material subsequently falling flat on a fairly consistent basis - although, by that same token, it's clear that the inclusion of several overtly engaging sequences buoys one's interest even through the picture's less-than-successful stretches. (There is, for example, a tremendously entertaining interlude in which Michael Peña's Luis is interrogated with truth serum.) There's little doubt, then, that Ant-Man and the Wasp benefits considerably from an increasingly propulsive midsection, and it's clear, too, that the movie receives plenty of mileage from the almost impossibly charming work of its star (with Rudd's magnetic turn certainly matched by Douglas, Lilly, and especially Peña). And although, in typical Marvel-movie fashion, the film's climax runs far longer than necessary, Ant-Man and the Wasp boasts a fairly strong third act that contains a number of genuinely thrilling sequences (eg an exciting car chase through the streets of San Francisco) - which ultimately ensures that the movie ends on a relatively positive note and cements its place as a better-than-expected comic-book sequel.