Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Goods & The Time Traveler's Wife (movie reviews)

I made it out to two movie screenings this week, and reviewed both films for Las Vegas City Life.

Generally speaking, my expectations were met:

I'm not exactly part of the target audience for the romantically inclined The Time Traveler's Wife (review here), starring Eric Bana's buttocks and Rachel McAdams' infectious smile.

And The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard (review here), not unlike The Hangover, is funnier than anyone might have expected, although the presence of the reliably manic and riotous Jeremy Piven, of HBO's "Entourage," probably offered a clue as to the over-the-top brand of comedy on display in the new movie. Both of the latter films, by the way, feature cast members from The Hangover -- Ed Helms of "The Office," still the funniest thing on television, and Ken Jeong.

Here's the "director's cut" (longer version) of my review of The Goods:

The Goods: Live Hard, Sell Hard.
Stars Jeremy Piven and Ving Rhames.
Directed by Neal Brennan.

Movies about used-car salesmen by definition are all about the hard sell, and that goes for manipulative directors as well as the sleazy characters populating the scripts. It's an approach that holds true at least all the way back to Jack Warden's battling identical twin car-lot owners in Robert Zemeckis's determinedly wacky Used Cars, in 1980, and, a decade later, Roger Donaldson's overeager Cadillac Man, which injected an armed, jealous husband into the mix. The prospect of watching slick salesmen cajole consumers into trading their cash for clunkers always brings out the zany in filmmakers.

The Goods, the feature-film directorial debut from Neal Brennan ("Chappelle's Show"), is no exception. It's jammed to overflowing with gay-panic sequences and purposely politically incorrect jokes made at the expense of Asians, the mentally infirm, obese people, the elderly, boy bands, relatives of the rich and famous, and other easy targets.

All the gags are delivered at lightning speed. Some are laugh-out-loud funny, and many are D.O.A. Female nudity is plentiful, and sexual innuendo rains early and often. The overexposed Will Ferrell, one of the film's exec producers, even pops by for an inspired bit as an angel with mutton chops, whose every utterance is echoed and commented on by a pair of soul-singing female angels in tow. Did I mention the dildos falling from the sky, the alligators on the loose, the Uncle Sam on stilts?

Ben Selleck (James Brolin), the tanned, silver-haired owner of a failing California car dealership, recruits a quartet of mercenary super salesmen, led by Don Ready (Jeremy Piven), to save the operation from extinction. The aptly named Ready and his multiracial, coed team (Ving Rhames, David Koechner, Kathryn Hahn) are rude, crude, aggressive, and results-driven, and they vow to sell all of the dealership's 211 cars over the July 4th weekend.

Will Ready fall in love with Ben's cute blonde daughter Ivy (Jordana Spiro)? Will her ditzy husband-to-be (Ed Helms) muck up the works and assume ownership of the lot, along with his slick dad (Alan Thicke)? These are the burning questions.

Here's my review of The Time Traveler's Wife:

The Time Traveler's Wife
Stars Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams.
Directed by Robert Schwentke.

Adapted from the popular romance novel of the same name, The Time Traveler's Wife raises myriad metaphysical questions, including these, unexplored by the film but suggested by a closing sequence: If a time-tripping man were to travel to a point some years beyond his death, and made physical contact with his still-grieving wife, would he be able to impregnate her? And would the resultant child be a human, or a ghost?

The logic of the movie, penned by Bruce Joel Rubin, the same screenwriter who explored a frustrating beyond-the-grave love affair in Ghost, and directed by Robert Schwenke (Flightplan), isn't quite airtight. But the script does stay true to the rules guiding its time trekker, Henry (Eric Bana): 1) He can freefall through the time-space continuum at a moment's notice. 2) When visiting the past, he can't change the future, so there's no "butterfly effect." 3) He can't bring his clothes on his journeys, the better for Bana to show his naked backside, repeatedly.

In another story, the sci-fi element would be the entire focus. Here, though, the time jumping is designed merely to complicate and intensify the love affair between Henry, a research librarian in Chicago, and visual artist Clare (Rachel McAdams). She's known him all her life, because, as a child, Clare was regularly visited by the much older Henry, who knew that she would one day marry him.

Despite that slightly creepy set-up, and Henry's comically frequent vanishings -- one moment he's there, the next he's vanished, leaving a pile of clothes behind -- Schwenke manages to push the narrative along with enough urgency to draw viewers into the drama. Bana is starry eyed, McAdams is dewy, the kids are cute, and supporting actors Ron Livingston, Arliss Howard and Stephen Tobolowsky perform admirably. Profoundly moving? No. Entertaining? Close enough.

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