The Films of John Hamburg
Safe Men (September 18/06)
With a cast that includes Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, and Paul Giamatti, Safe Men has the unmistakable feel of a late '90s quirky independent comedy - a vibe that's cemented by writer/director John Hamburg's distinctly off-kilter sensibilities. And although the movie is initially awfully aimless and silly, it's difficult not to ultimately be won over by the uniformly superb performances and Hamburg's emphasis on thoroughly strange bits of comedy. Rockwell and Zahn star as Sam and Eddie, a pair of inept singers who are forced to pull off a series of robberies after being mistaken for a notoriously efficient safe-cracking team (played by Mark Ruffalo and Josh Pais). Sam and Eddie must also contend with a Jewish mob boss (Michael Lerner) and his bumbling right-hand man (Giamatti), a quirky fence (Harvey Fierstein) and his beautiful daughter (Christina Kirk), and a diminutive but deadly assassin (Peter Dinklage). At the outset, Safe Men plays like virtually every other indie comedy that's come down the pike in recent years - as Hamburg eschews anything even resembling authenticity in favor of a far more odd and flat-out absurd sort of quality. There is consequently no denying that the movie takes an awfully long time to get going, and it's not until almost the halfway point that the viewer is finally able to look past some of the film's more outwardly bizarre moments (ie a discussion regarding the merits of raccoons versus pigs). If not for the distinctly entertaining performances - Giamatti and Ruffalo, in particular, are immensely engaging here - there's little doubt that Safe Men wouldn't fare nearly as well as it ultimately does. The palpable chemistry between Rockwell and Zahn certainly goes a long way towards keeping things interesting, and one finally can't help but be drawn into the amiable atmosphere proffered by filmmaker Hamburg.
Along Came Polly
I Love You, Man (October 28/09)
There's little doubt that I Love You, Man generally fares about as well as the majority of its post-Apatow comedy brethren, with the plotless, improvisation-heavy atmosphere occasionally resulting in big laughs but also ensuring that the movie possesses a stagnant feel that inevitably diminishes its overall impact. The storyline follows successful real estate agent Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) as he struggles to find a best man for his upcoming wedding, and although he eventually settles on a boisterous investor (Jason Segel's Sydney Fife), Peter's newfound friendship eventually threatens his coupling with wife-to-be Zooey (Rashida Jones). Director and cowriter John Hamburg has infused I Love You, Man with a freewheeling and downright affable vibe that proves instrumental in capturing the viewer's interest at the film's outset, with the uniformly charismatic performances effectively perpetuating the easy-going atmosphere (which, given the presence of scene-stealers like Andy Samberg, J.K. Simmons, and Jon Favreau within the supporting cast, isn't terribly surprising, admittedly). And although Rudd's surprisingly fearless work - ie his willingness to transform his character into a dork of the highest order is nothing short of astonishing - goes a long way towards initially compensating for the storyline's almost aggressively bare bones nature, there does reach a point at which the less-than-propulsive narrative becomes increasingly difficult to overlook (with the lamentable yet expected inclusion of several eye-rollingly melodramatic third act twists undoubtedly exacerbating this feeling). The final result is a terminally uneven endeavor that's often as hilarious as it is tedious, which is ultimately a shame given the talent both in front of and behind the camera.
A mostly interminable experience, Why Him? follows Bryan Cranston's Ned Fleming as he and his wife (Megan Mullally's Barb) travel across the country to meet their college-age daughter's (Zoey Deutch's Stephanie) older new boyfriend (James Franco's Laird) - with the movie subsequently revolving around the tedious clash that ensues between the uptight Ned and the freewheeling Laird. It's apparent right from the opening scene that Why Him? is operating at a level of sub-sitcom quality, as the movie, which kicks off with a disastrously unfunny Skype sequence, suffers from a series of desperate, laugh-free interludes that seem to have been improvised by the various performers - with, for example, a scene detailing Ned's encounter with a Japanese toilet scraping the absolute bottom of the barrel from start to finish. Beyond the movie's misguided sense of humor, however, Why Him? suffers from a dearth of compelling elements and plausible characters - with, in terms of the latter, Franco's Laird undoubtedly the sort of figure that could only exist in a lowest-common-denominator picture like this. It's all just so tedious and slowly-paced; there's absolutely no momentum at play here, and it remains completely (and consistently) impossible to work up an ounce of interest in the wafer-thin narrative's eye-rollingly broad happenings - with the movie, on top of everything else, concluding with an absolutely endless final stretch that might just be worse than everything preceding it. Why Him? is ultimately a total trainwreck that wastes the considerable talent of its various performers, and it is, in the end, impossible not to wonder just what filmmaker John Hamburg originally set out to do with this abomination.