The Films of Rawson Marshall Thurber
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story (June 17/04)
Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story casts Ben Stiller as White Goodman, a gym owner trying to strong-arm his closest competitor out of business. Said competitor, Peter La Fleur (Vince Vaughn), is ready to give up and give into Goodman when his regulars come up with the idea to participate in a Dodgeball tournament. There's not much here worth taking seriously, and that's exactly why Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story works as well as it does. Thurber fills the movie with oddball and inexplicable moments of humor, and, as a result, some viewers will likely be scratching their heads wondering just what's supposed to be so funny. It's clear that Thurber's been influenced by shows like The Simpsons and Family Guy, given his predilection for obscure celebrity cameos and quick cutaways to a recalled event. The film's cast has a lot of fun with the material, though none are quite able to keep up with Stiller and his antics. Vaughn is very good as the film's hero, effectively stepping into the shoes of a leading man for the first time outside of a drama. It wouldn't be a Vaughn performance without sarcastic comments and witty asides, and the actor certainly doesn't disappoint on that level. The supporting roles have been filled by an eclectic mix of performers, including Rip Torn as a grizzled coach and Alan Tudyk as an athlete that thinks he's a pirate. As good as they are, the film's scene stealers are undoubtedly Gary Cole and Jason Bateman as mismatched announcers (Cole plays a legitimate broadcaster, while Bateman's character seems to be on drugs). The bottom line is that Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story is just silly fun, and it's also one of the more entertaining films to be released this summer.
The Mysteries of Pittsburgh
We're the Millers (September 15/13)
We're the Millers follows Jason Sudeikis' David Clark, a small-time drug dealer, as he reluctantly agrees to smuggle a huge shipment of marijuana for his affable boss (Ed Helms' Brad Gurdlinger), with the film detailing the over-the-top wackiness that ensues after David hires three people (Jennifer Aniston's Rose, Emma Roberts' Casey, and Will Poulter's Kenny) to pose as his straight-laced family. Filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber, working from a script by Bob Fisher, Steve Faber, Sean Anders, and John Morris, has infused the early part of We're the Millers with a pervasively appealing feel that's perpetuated by Sudeikis' charismatic turn and a smattering of laugh-out-loud funny moments, and it does go without saying that the movie's novel premise is initially employed to strikingly, irresistibly entertaining effect. (Aniston's wet blanket of a performance is consequently, at the outset, not as problematic as one might've feared.) It's only as We're the Millers progresses into its midsection that one's interest first begins to wane, as the narrative adopts an increasingly stagnant feel that's compounded by an emphasis on hackneyed, uninteresting elements (eg the obligatory yet boring romance between Sudeikis and Aniston's respective characters). The less-than-subtle bent of the paint-by-numbers script - ie Sudeikis' David learns a series of lessons by movie's end - ensures that We're the Millers peters out significantly in its rather endless final stretch, which confirms the movie's place as a promising comedy that ultimately succumbs to the worst and most needless conventions that Hollywood has to offer.
Central Intelligence (June 17/16)
Another underwhelming, less-than-hilarious comedy from Rawson Marshall Thurber, Central Intelligence follows forensic accountant Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) as he's approached, out of the blue, by a former high-school friend named Bob Stone (Dwayne Johnson) - with the pair's harmless bonding quickly giving way to something far more deadly after the reveal of Bob's treacherous career. There's little doubt that Central Intelligence starts with an impressive amount of promise, as Thurber, along with cowriters Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, opens the proceedings with a poignant flashback sequence that gives way to an appealingly low-key stretch detailing Calvin and Bob's initial reunion - with the effectiveness of this first act heightened by the charismatic efforts of stars Johnson and Hart. (It doesn't hurt, certainly, that the latter delivers a refreshingly toned-down performance.) The movie's sharp turn into tedium, then, comes as Bob's true identity comes into play and the action-heavy narrative kicks into gear, as Thurber delivers a midsection rife with larger-than-life set-pieces that are neither funny nor exciting - with the far-from-engrossing vibe compounded by the director's newfound willingness to allow his stars to improvise (ie Hart finally does become as grating and annoying as one might've feared). There's ultimately just no getting around the aggressively generic feel that's been hard-wired into most of Central Intelligence, as the movie increasingly resembles any number of similarly-themed buddy comedies have emerged over the last several years (including, of course, Hart's own Ride Along series). And although one's boredom is alleviated somewhat by a handful of amusing celebrity cameos, Central Intelligence, which closes with a seriously anticlimactic third act, is unable to establish itself as anything more than just another disposable, forgettable bit of summer escapism.
Skyscraper (July 13/18)
A disappointing actioner, Skyscraper follows security specialist Will Sawyer (Dwayne Johnson) as he's forced to charge into a burning building to save his wife (Neve Campbell's Sarah) and two children (McKenna Roberts' Georgia and Noah Cottrell's Henry) from certain doom - with Will's efforts complicated by a crew of criminals, led by Roland Møller's Kores Botha, bent on massive destruction. Filmmaker Rawson Marshall Thurber has infused Skyscraper with a super-slick feel that is, at the outset, somewhat difficult to resist, with the brisk pace and agreeable setup, coupled with a typically commanding and charismatic star turn by Johnson, ensuring that the movie certainly holds plenty of promise in its early stages. It's only as Thurber begins emphasizing elements of a decidedly tedious nature that one's interest begins to wane, as the writer/director has populated Skyscraper with a series of supporting characters that couldn't possibly be less interesting - with this especially true of the film's bland, one-dimensional villain (and good luck trying to figure out what his motives are and what he's actually after). And while Thurber has admittedly peppered the proceedings with a very small handful of compelling, exhilarating sequences (eg Sarah and Henry attempt to cross an incredibly precarious chasm), Skyscraper is dominated by action sequences that are drained of their excitement by incoherent visuals and an overuse of computer-generated special effects - with, in terms of the latter, the videogame-like atmosphere ensuring that the entire climactic stretch is unable to pack the visceral punch Thurber has surely intended. The end result is a woefully ineffective Die Hard homage that's rarely, if ever, as engaging as Johnson's sturdy turn, which is a shame, certainly, given the massive potential afforded by the seemingly foolproof premise.