The Films of Tim Story
One of Us Tripped
The Firing Squad
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Taxi (October 5/04)
Taxi casts Jimmy Fallon as Officer Andy Washburn, a bumbling cop who loses his drivers license after causing thousands of dollars worth of damage while in pursuit of a suspect. En route to a bank robbery, Washburn hails a cab driven by Belle (Queen Latifah) - where the two encounter four criminals that just happen to look like supermodels. Washburn, unable to drive himself to various crime scenes, enlists Belle's help in pursuing the perps - despite the protests of Washburn's Lieutenant (played by Jennifer Esposito). It's clear that Taxi is going for a Stakeout sort of vibe, mixing action sequences with wacky hijinks. And though it'd seem all the right ingredients are in place - aside from Fallon, Latifah can be funny when given the right material - there's virtually nothing here that works. Director Tim Story - whose most notable directorial effort thus far is the Ice Cube comedy Barbershop - quickly proves to be the absolute wrong choice for this material, infusing the film with incredibly obvious choices and a sense of style that's beyond bland. Example: in the sequence where we first see the models, the soundtrack blares Tone Loc's Wild Thing while Story's camera lingers on their bodies (in slow motion, no less!) That sort of thing is indicative of Story's astounding lack of imagination, with the filmmaker, time and again, taking the safest route possible (though, to be fair, this isn't exactly cutting edge material). Unbelievably, it took three people to write this mess - Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, and Jim Kouf - and their script is peppered with dialogue that seems to exist only to further the tired storyline. Washburn perfectly exemplifies this, as it's impossible to believe a police officer could be this inept and keep his job for more than a few days out of the academy. Rather than use any actual police work to solve the case, Washburn instead relies on tips and suggestions garnered from friends and family (Columbo this guy isn't). And let's not even get into the plausibility of Belle, with her tricked-out taxicab (how on earth could a delivery person afford such a vehicle?) and ability to always be in the exact right place at the right time. Then again, it'd be easy enough to overlook such flaws if the film contained even one decent character (which it doesn't). The performances are generally of the sort of caliber one might expect from a movie of this sort, with Fallon delivering a grating, over-the-top performance that's absolutely devoid of charisma. (Latifah, on the other hand, isn't bad and deserves much, much better than this.) Taxi is, without a doubt, one of the worst films of the year and a disastrous start to Jimmy Fallon's movie stardom. If he's hoping for a career along the lines of Bill Murray rather than Chevy Chase, he'd better be a little more choosy in the future.
Fantastic Four (July 7/06)
One thing's certain: it would be a mistake to walk into Fantastic Four expecting another Spider-Man, X-Men, or Batman (the new Batman, not the Joel Schumacher Batman). While the film is essentially entertaining throughout, it never becomes anything more; unlike the aforementioned movies, Fantastic Four seems content to operate on the level of pure eye-candy. Michael France and Mark Frost's screenplay is packed with cheesy jokes and silly double entendres, ensuring that the film will likely play best among younger viewers - while adults with substantially lowered expectations just might find something here worth embracing. After a space mission goes disastrously wrong, four scientists - Reed Richards (Ioan Gruffudd), Ben Grimm (Michael Chiklis), Susan Storm (Jessica Alba), and Johnny Storm (Chris Evans) - along with an evil businessman named Victor Von Doom (Julian McMahon) return to earth with unexpected changes to their bodies. Reed becomes Mr. Fantastic, and receives the ability to stretch any part of his body, Ben turns into Thing, a big piece of rock; Susan is the Invisible Woman and can disappear on command, Johnny's ability to create fire transforms him into the Human Torch, and Victor can control electricity (his pseudonym: Doctor Doom). The bulk of Fantastic Four follows each of the five characters as they attempt to come to terms with their newfound abilities, along with the resulting consequences. Yet despite a midsection that's devoted to so-called character developing sequences (read: it becomes slow and talky), we don't really know much more about these people at the film's conclusion than we did at the outset. This is essentially the anti-Spider-man 2; where Sam Raimi's flick featured crackling dialogue and a heightened sense of realism, Fantastic Four is chock-a-block with wink-at-the-camera moments and an unmistakable air of puerility (eg one of Mr. Fantastic's first stunts is to reach across the hallway and grab a roll of toilet paper - while sitting on the toilet). Were someone to mention the words "comic book movie" about ten years ago - before the resurgence of the genre with 2000's X-Men - this is exactly the sort of film one would've expected. It's bright, colorful, and loud - while also lacking in the depth that filmmakers like Bryan Singer and Chris Nolan have brought to the table. Director Tim Story - best known for last year's horrid Taxi remake - tries his best to infuse the movie with a distinctive sense of style but proves to be completely incapable of such a feat. The performances are engaging but far from stellar; Evans, as the ultra-cocky Johnny Storm, is the film's only real stand-out. Alba isn't as terrible as everybody might've expected, though asking the audience to accept her as a scientist is admittedly a ludicrous proposition. Fantastic Four is essentially campy fun; this is the sort of movie Schumacher's Batman and Robin was trying to be. And while the movie's over-the-top modus operandi might be a tough swallow for audiences expecting something more complex and deep, there's no denying that the movie works as a mindless piece of summer entertainment.
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer
Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer is sure to infuriate those who disliked its predecessor, as the film essentially offers up more of the same; more bad jokes, more predictable plot twists, and more ill-conceived action sequences. Director Tim Story - working from a screenplay by Don Payne and Mark Frost - has infused the proceedings with an egregiously light-hearted and thoroughly bland sensibility that will frustrate even the most die-hard fan of the original, and it's clear almost immediately that the film has been designed to appeal to as wide an audience as possible (with small children clearly the target demographic). The storyline - which finds the titular heroes (Ioan Gruffudd's Mr. Fantastic, Jessica Alba's Invisible Girl, Chris Evans' Johnny Storm, and Michael Chiklis' Thing) forced to battle a mysterious entity known as The Silver Surfer - doesn't have a whole lot to offer in terms of thrills or creativity, while the performances are unimpressive at best and flat-out unconvincing at worst (Alba continues to personify the latter). And while the movie never quite morphs into the all-out bore it often threatens to become - something that's due primarily to the mere presence of The Silver Surfer, an intriguing character that certainly deserves better than this - one can't help but lament the overall and pervading vibe of silliness that's been hard-wired into virtually every aspect of the production.
Think Like a Man
Ride Along (March 18/14)
Ride Along marks filmmaker Tim Story's return to the buddy-cop landscape of his first major misfire, 2004's Taxi, and it's clear that the movie ultimately fares just as badly as that Jimmy Fallon/Queen Latifah comedy for many of the same reasons - with both films containing an egregiously over-the-top sensibility that's reflected most keenly in the grating and relentlessly broad efforts of its respective comedic leading men (Fallon in Taxi and Kevin Hart here). It's obvious immediately that Ride Along has been geared towards the lowest common denominator, as the familiar storyline, which details the off-the-wall escapades of gruff cop James Payton (Ice Cube) and wacky security guard Ben Barber (Hart), is little more than a clothesline from which Hart's painfully broad antics are dangled - with Hart's complete and utter inability to provoke a single laugh from the viewer ensuring that large swaths of the proceedings are nothing less than intolerable. Aside from Hart's relentless mugging, Ride Along has been saddled with a hopelessly generic (and completely forgettable) narrative that's overflowing with misguided elements - including a third act set within an abandoned warehouse that seems to go on forever. (Even a late-in-the-game appearance by Laurence Fishburne, cast as a sinister villain, can't liven up the movie's dead-on-arrival climax.) The paucity of buddy comedies within contemporary multiplexes makes Ride Along's massive failure especially disappointing, with the movie ultimately unlikely to appeal to anyone but the most die-hard fan of Hart's aggressively larger-than-life shtick.
Think Like a Man Too
Ride Along 2 (January 30/16)
A very slight improvement over the unwatchable first film, Ride Along 2 follows Ice Cube's James Payton as he's once again forced to partner up with Kevin Hart's Ben Barber on a dangerous case - with the target of the mismatched partners' attention this time around a vicious drug dealer named Antonio Pope (Benjamin Bratt). It's clear that Ride Along 2 benefits substantially from Hart's decision to tone down his over-the-top schtick, as the actor makes an ongoing attempt to deliver an actual performance rather than just mug and scream his way through the proceedings (though he predictably can't, from time to time, resist the urge to play for the cheap seats). The movie's massive downfall is due instead to Tim Story's lackluster direction and Phil Hay and Matt Manfredi's almost aggressively hackneyed screenplay, with, in terms of the latter, the narrative suffused with a preponderance of bland and thoroughly generic elements that ultimately wreak havoc on the film's tenuous momentum (ie the final stretch just seems to go on forever). Story's continuing efforts to cultivate a buddy-comedy, Lethal Weapon-like vibe, as a result, fall completely and totally flat, and it is, in the end, difficult to find much here worth wholeheartedly embracing (ie who, aside from undemanding teens, is the intended audience for these films?)