The Films of Jake Kasdan
Zero Effect (May 6/18)
Jake Kasdan's directorial debut, Zero Effect follows private investigator Daryl Zero (Bill Pullman) and his exasperated assistant (Ben Stiller's Steve Arlo) as they look into a case of blackmail involving a prominent, wealthy businessman (Ryan O'Neal's Gregory Stark) - with the eventual arrival of Kim Dickens' Gloria Sullivan on the scene complicating Daryl's ongoing efforts to finish the job. Filmmaker Kasdan, working from his own screenplay, delivers a lackadaisically-paced drama that remains entertaining throughout, certainly, and yet Zero Effect never quite manages to attain the engrossing heights one might've anticipated - with the movie's myriad of positive attributes ultimately unable to coalesce into something above average. It's worth noting, regardless, that the picture is rife with appealing elements that set it apart from its similarly-themed brethren, with, especially, the strong, consistently-compelling work from leads Pullman and Stiller playing a significant role in keeping things interesting throughout (and it's worth noting, too, that Kasdan has elicited solid performances from an eclectic supporting cast). The almost two hour running time is, in the final analysis, the most problematic aspect of Zero Effect, as Kasdan delivers a hit-and-miss narrative that's weighed down by needless subplots (eg both protagonists' romantic exploits) - which does confirm the movie's place as a solid yet erratic first film that would've benefited from a few more passes through the editing bay.
Orange County (August 12/02)
While Orange County, the sophomore effort from director Jake Kasdan, isn't quite at the level of his debut, Zero Effect, the film is nevertheless an effective and surprisingly funny teen comedy. Colin Hanks stars as a bright teenager who's forced to embark on a road trip after a guidance counselor (Lily Tomlin) accidentally submits the wrong transcript to Stanford University, with wackiness ensuing as Hanks' character encounters a whole mess of quirky figures along the way. Orange County's been called Ferris Bueller's Day Off for the new millennium, and while it's not quite that good, it's certainly a giant step above the majority of teen flicks as of late. Written by Mike White, the film doesn't rely on gross-out jokes to provoke laughter from the viewer; instead, like the John Hughes flicks of the '80s, the laughs come from quirky character motivations to which people can relate. When the film was released earlier this year, a lot was made out of the fact that the two leads (Hanks and co-star Schuyler Fisk) and the director are the children of established Hollywood talent. But it doesn't matter, as the trio easily prove that they're worthy of standing on their own merit. Hanks, in particular, is a standout as an affable everyman. The character of Shaun has to be determined without becoming obnoxious, and Hanks ensures that never happens. As Shaun's girlfriend, Fisk is something of a breath of fresh air. She doesn't possess the supposed "perfect looks" so many female actresses are required to have; she just looks normal. And it doesn't hurt that Hanks and Fisk have great chemistry together. Among the supporting cast, which is rife with celebrity cameos, Jack Black is easily the most entertaining. As Shaun's well-meaning but lazy brother, Black steals each and every scene in which he appears. Other cast members such as Catherine O'Hara and Harold Ramis give equally impressive performances (there's only one instance of someone being placed just for name value - Chevy Chase - but the rest fit into their roles quite well). Orange County is easily a cut above most flicks featuring teens in central roles, and for that reason alone, it's worth checking out.
The TV Set
Based on filmmaker Jake Kasdan's real-life experiences, The TV Set revolves around small-screen writer Mike Klein's (David Duchovny) efforts at shepherding his personal teleplay from the development stage into a pilot for the fictional Panda network. Problems ensue as Mike finds himself confronted with an exceedingly clueless executive (Sigourney Weaver's Lenny) who insists on making a myriad of needless changes, while the production itself is plagued with a whole host of complications (including a thoroughly incompetent lead actor and a director with delusions of grandeur). Though one imagines that some of the film's elements have been exaggerated for dramatic (and comedic) effect, The TV Set nevertheless comes off as an intriguing, occasionally horrifying look at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans within the network-television world. Kasdan's disdain for the process is evident virtually from the word go, as the filmmaker peppers the movie with numerous instances of cringeworthy and soul-crushing stupidity among various periphery characters. Weaver's Lenny is clearly the most obvious example of this (eg after Mike mentions that he's going for an original vibe, she responds, "original scares me a little"), though even folks on Mike's side - ie Ioan Gruffudd's helpful Richard - ultimately wind up choosing the potential for profit over respecting the fledgling writer's vision. Kasdan's penchant for superfluous subplots - ie Richard's crumbling marriage - sporadically drags down the proceedings and there's no denying that the whole thing does feel awfully slight, and yet The TV Set benefits from the inclusion of several laugh-out-loud bits of comedy and an expectedly charismatic performance from Duchovny.
Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story
While there's little doubt that Walk Hard has been designed to act as an all-encompassing parody of music biopics, it's just as clear that primary inspiration has been drawn from James Mangold's recent Johnny Cash flick - as the movie possesses (and suffers from) the same sort of structure that ultimately caused Walk the Line's downfall. John C. Reilly stars as Dewey Cox, a talented singer whose rapid ascent to the top of the charts is inevitably followed by a booze-and-drugs spiral into oblivion. Director Jake Kasdan - working from his and Judd Apatow's screenplay - has infused Walk Hard with precisely the sort of lush visual sensibility that one has come to expect from such a film, and there's no denying that Reilly's expectedly flawless performance initially carries the proceedings through its sporadic lulls and distinct dearth of laughs. That being said, there does come a point at which it becomes increasingly difficult to overlook the familiarity and tediousness of the story - with the relentless emphasis on Cox's downfall ensuring that the latter half of Walk Hard is almost entirely devoid of elements designed to hold the viewer's interest. Even some of the film's seemingly can't-miss attributes - including cameo appearances by Jack Black, Justin Long, Paul Rudd, and Jason Schwartzman as The Beatles - wind up going absolutely nowhere, and one's ability to muster any real enthusiasm for the movie slowly-but-surely wanes as Walk Hard limps to its forgettable conclusion.
Directed by Jake Kasdan, Bad Teacher follows foul-mouthed, gold-digging teacher Elizabeth Halsey as she attempts to land a rich husband - with the character's efforts eventually leading to a wealthy watch-fortune heir (Justin Timberlake's Scott Delacorte). Filmmaker Kasdan, working from a script by Gene Stupnitsky and Lee Eisenberg, does a nice job of initially cultivating a watchable (if unspectacular) atmosphere, as the movie opens with a series of amusing sequences that effectively (and seemingly) set the stage for a tongue-in-cheek, unabashedly irreverent comedy. It's only as the film charges into its increasingly uneven midsection that one's interest begins to wane, with Kasdan's emphasis on comedic set pieces of a desperate, hopelessly unfunny nature - eg Elizabeth's encounter with an off-kilter state tests representative (Thomas Lennon's Carl) - triggering Bad Teacher's transformation into a disappointingly tedious piece of work. The underwhelming vibe is exacerbated by the less-than-subtle efforts of several supporting cast members, with Lucy Punch's painfully broad turn as a rival teacher bringing the proceedings to a complete and utter stop every time she appears on screen. (It's also worth noting that the otherwise reliable Timberlake fares just as poorly, as the likeable performer has been saddled with a one-note character that grows more and more obnoxious as time progresses.) By the time the anticlimactic, seemingly endless final half hour rolls around, Bad Teacher has certainly established itself as a failure of dishearteningly monumental proportions - which is too bad, really, given that Diaz is actually quite good in the title role.
An extremely mild improvement over Jake Kasdan's previous effort, 2011's dull Bad Teacher, Sex Tape follows Jay (Jason Segel) and Annie (Cameron Diaz) as they attempt to spice up their marriage by filming a sex tape - with problems ensuing as said video makes its way onto a wirelessly-connected network. There's little doubt that Sex Tape opens with a tremendous amount of promise, as Kasdan, working from a script written by Segel, Nicholas Stoller, and Kate Angelo, kicks things off with a thoroughly engaging montage depicting the progression of Jay and Annie's relationship - with the pair moving beyond their initial sex-heavy coupling to a suburban, child-centric existence. It's only as it dives into the meat of its subject matter that Sex Tape begins to lose its hold on the viewer, with the premise's decidedly thin nature paving the way for an episodic midsection that's often as miss as it is hit. The film's high point, then, is a lengthy sequence detailing Jay and Annie's larger-than-life exploits at her boss' (Rob Lowe's Hank) palatial estate, as this stretch's energetic and over-the-top feel stands in sharp contrast to the passable yet uninspired nature of most everything else within the proceedings (ie this is, without question, the centerpiece of the movie). The end result is an uneven yet watchable effort that benefits from the enthusiasm of its stars and a refreshingly brisk running time, with the movie nevertheless a far cry from Kasdan's initial run of better-than-average comedies (Zero Effect, Orange County, and The TV Set).
Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle
A direct sequel to 1995's Jumanji, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle follows four teenagers as they're unwittingly sucked into the title video game and subsequently forced, in the respective guises of their avatars (Dwayne Johnson's Smolder Bravestone, Kevin Hart's Franklin "Mouse" Finbar, Karen Gillan's Ruby Roundhouse, and Jack Black's Sheldon "Shelly" Oberon), to complete a perilous mission involving a mythical jewel and a sinister bad guy (Bobby Cannavale's Van Pelt). Director Jake Kasdan has infused Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle with a very slick, very fast-paced sensibility that is, for the most part, rather difficult to resist, with the pervasively affable atmosphere perpetuated by a fun, tongue-in-cheek storyline and a raft of better-than-expected performances - with, in terms of the latter, the four stars delivering stand-out and often hilarious work that elevates the proceedings on a scene-to-scene basis. (Black, playing a stereotypical teenage mean girl, remains a highlight from start to finish.) It's just as clear, however, that the movie's overlong running time paves the way for a decidedly erratic second half, as the inclusion of a few comparatively needless and padded-out sequences wreak havoc on the picture's momentum and ultimately diminish the effectiveness of the action-packed climax (although the heartwarming final few minutes do manage to pack a more emotional punch than one might've anticipated) - with the end result is a decent sequel that's generally right in line with its watchable yet far-from-flawless predecessor.