Top That: Five Movies I Probably Shouldn’t Have Paid to See

I just can’t help myself. I’m debating whether or not to go see The Impractical Jokers Movie in theaters. It seems like this should be an easy ‘no,’ right? Especially when there are some good options out right now (The Lodge; The Photograph; The Invisible Man). Yet I’m having trouble resisting.

For those who don’t know, Impractical Jokers is a hidden-camera, prank-based show that debuted on TruTV back in 2011 and features a group of lifelong friends — Joe Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano — who basically go around making fools of themselves in public. The half-hour long show is structured as a kind of game wherein the guys challenge each other to do all kinds of ridiculous things in public, often involving random strangers who happen to be nearby. It’s pass or fail. Whoever ends up with the most failed attempts at the end of the day gets put through one final round of humiliation. It’s all in the name of good, silly fun of course. How they’re going to pull this off in a full-length feature film I’m not sure. I like these guys but do I enjoy their antics enough to sit in a theater for 90 straight minutes of it? Better question: Can I not just wait until this thing comes on TV? Aren’t these shows best enjoyed from the comfort of your couch?

This has spurred me into thinking about some of the other poor decisions I have made when it comes to choosing what to see in theaters. So here is a Top That! post dedicated to this very concept. We’re going to keep this simple, limiting my “mistakes” to a top five rather than ten. Tell me — what was the dumbest thing you’ve spent money on at a theater?


Jackass: The Movie (that’s 1, 2 and 3) (2002; ’06; ’10) You’d think I would have gotten my fill after one or two, but no. I did the trifecta (and I consider these all the same movie pretty much so this all counts as one item). Sometimes I really do miss being in high school. Back then it was fun to gather a crew together and go laugh at these buffoons basically destroying themselves in the name of low-brow entertainment. Even then though I found the law of diminishing returns quickly setting in as we got to 3. I still find it amazing how out of all of this nonsense Johnny Knoxville actually emerged with his body and brain intact enough to go on to have minor success acting in actual movies, some of which really play to his “strengths” as an “actor,” others surprisingly managing to contain him. The same cannot be said for the others, though. Like, I wonder if Chris “Party Boy” Pontius is still running around in his banana hammock.

The Spongebob Squarepants Movie: Sponge Out of Water (2015) All I remember about this sequel to the 2004 Spongebob Squarepants Movie is that the 3D design is the stuff of nightmares. And yet they made this weird design not just a part of the experience, but pretty much the movie’s raison d’être. The story culminates, as you might have guessed, in Mr. Squarepants and friends venturing out of their comfort zone and breaching the ocean surface as they track down Antonio Banderas’ “diabolical” pirate Burger Beard, who has stolen the secret formula for Krusty the Krab’s famous Krabby Patty. A girl I used to live next door to had all kinds of Spongebob posters on her bedroom wall, so it would have made sense if we had seen this thing together. But no, I made the really bad call of tripping out to this one on my lonesome. Why would I ever do this again?

The Simpsons Movie (2007) This totally unnecessary extension of America’s longest-running sitcom apparently came out in 2007. That means I was about 20 years old when I saw this in theaters — old enough to know better. To know my extremely casual fandom of the show probably means I won’t be getting much out of the movie. The plot finds Homer doing Homer things, polluting Springfield’s water supply and causing the EPA to put the town under quarantine. The Simpsons are subsequently labeled fugitives. The only thing I remember about this utterly forgettable event is Homer riding a motorcycle up the glass dome the EPA encases the entire town in, and dropping an explosive device in the very convenient opening at the very tippy-top. Hey, I may not have really cared for the movie but it was a major success, grossing $530 million worldwide and becoming, at the time, the highest-grossing film ever based on an animated show. There’s a happy ending for ya.

Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) In my review of this rather flaccid romance/mystery thingy, I described it as a car wreck. Well, I described the critical response as a car wreck. This really dull movie was the car. The notoriously troubled production bore itself in the final print. The performances are as stiff as Morning Wood. Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as Anastasia Steele have zero chemistry. The drama is listless and is paced like a snail. I went to see the cinematic adaptation of the book that had gained “global phenomenon” status because . . . well, I was curious. Needless to say, I didn’t do that again. I heard the sequels were even worse.

Movie 43 (2013) Arguably the worst movie I have seen since starting this blog in 2011, and among the first handful of reviews I posted. (Check it out here, if you dare.) The intensely negative buzz surrounding its release was not enough to stop me and a buddy from checking this out. Not for nothing, but this absolute dumpster fire of an “insult comedy,” one that inexplicably attracted a massive cast, became a conversation piece. “Can you believe how terrible that movie was?” I still can’t, actually, no. I lost respect for a lot of the actors involved here. I think we all did.


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Photo credits: Distractify; Amazon; IMDb

Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa

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Release: Friday, October 25, 2013

[Theater]

In this episode, Johnny Knoxville is back as Irving Zisman, the vulgar old man with a big fake. . . well, you know where this is going.

Only this time around, instead of interacting with one of the worst-looking grannies ever (Spike Jonze never ceased to amaze me in those skits in the show) Zisman has been saddled up with his grandkid, whose mother just got sent to prison on drug charges. Now Irving finds himself with no other option but to drop young, impressionable Billy (a surprisingly entertaining Jackson Nicoll) off at his pop’s place, all the way across the country in Raleigh, North Carolina.

Along the way Irving will get his genitals caught in a vending machine, hit on black male strippers, kill a penguin and crash a funeral, a wedding and a beauty pageant. 90 percent of what I just listed can be seen in the trailers, but should you assume that there will be more, perhaps better skits throughout the movie, indeed you won’t be letdown. (Oh yes, and for those who are local, how’d you like that shot of the Henley Street underpass heading into downtown Knoxvegas??)

I got giddy over a two-second clip of my home town because it was far more than what was expected. And speaking of, this movie was actually quite good. Not only are the stunts suitably hilarious with this tandem of old-gramps with a cute, “innocent” little kid working together, but their hidden camera road trip is outfitted with a somewhat heartfelt story as well.

Where plot and prank combine in this outrageous film, this is where Bad Grandpa manages to rise above something more than the montages of ball-busting, stomach-wrenching skits that somehow called for three full-length motion pictures. (Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for what these guys are doing. . .sort of. I just have always been amazed they managed to put together three such films, on top of the show they had been doing for some time.) Really, it’s pretty impressive to see Knoxville’s 42-year-old body (in an 86-year-old man costume of course) jettisoning through a store window on a coin-operated kiddie ride.

At first Irving can’t stand the thought of having Billy clinging to his side now. After his wife has passed away, Irving’s finding himself a free man for the first time in over forty years. Not even the strongest of Viagra formula is going to be of assistance to him, now that he’s got a grandkid by his side. There’ll be no chatting up the honeys with Billy around. . . or will there be? As the story and journey unfold, Irving and the kid begin to bond over a series of ridiculous situations and you can’t help but find yourself enjoying their camaraderie. The fact that you’ll be feeling something else other than the pee in your pants might surprise you, too.

The other element that Bad Grandpa benefits generously from is the heavy usage of reaction shots. Unlike the other Jackass films, where all of the comedy was confined within the group, this expedition relies heavily on how innocent bystanders take to Zisman’s “parenting” skills. True, there’s always been a few skits here and there where Knoxville will harass some random people for a minute or two, but here’s a movie that completely runs away with that concept. And it works brilliantly. I’d even argue that this film is far funnier because of the way certain people respond to what goes on. Some are so good you want to believe they were directed to act a certain way. But the end credits sequence will reveal that in fact, no one is in on the joke other than Knoxville, Nicoll and the camera crew.

Taken altogether, with clever camera placements, a good performance from the very young Nicoll, and a premise written by fellow jackasses Preston Lacy and Jeff Tremaine that actually enhances the selected stunts, Bad Grandpa is one of the better conceits the crew has concocted. Consider it the ultimate “big” prank, similar to how their other films always concluded in some elaborate scheme — only this time with a lot more loose skin.

sorry-as-hell

3-5Recommendation: This section should be pretty self-explanatory this time! You’ll either be there laughing your fool head off or you’ll be at home, skipping over channels that are showing the previews for this thing. Very little I can say or do to convince the latter kind, which is completely understandable. I’m just relieved this movie actually worked.

Rated: R

Running Time: 92 mins.

Quoted: “You are sorry, you’re sorry as hell, Mister!”

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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com 

The Last Stand

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Release: Friday, January 18, 2013

[Theater]

If there were a chopper in this film, yes we would all be getting to it!!! I guess the closest thing we have is the schoolbus. But in some ironic twist of fate, Aahhnullld turns even THAT into a weapon. Which is why you need to see this movie.

Arnold Schwarzenegger makes his debut back to the big screen for the first time in a decade with The Last Stand. (I don’t really count his cameos in The Expendables.) He has a much more important mission in 2013 here: to protect his town, and look good while doing it. And will somebody bless this man already, because his accent just becomes more and more iconic with each role he turns in, it seems — no matter how those individual roles stack up in the grand scheme of everything. In the grand scheme that is his acting career, perhaps nothing has defined him more than that Austrian accent of his. Not even his arms that are wider than my head.

Regardless of the man’s age or his more dignified career as of late as the Governator, he is back at it in a surprisingly hilarious shoot-em-up that at once makes fun of as well as pays homage to the old westerns of the 50s and 60s. Replace the horses with some badass cars (the Corvette ZR-1 gets more than its fair share of product-placement ops); the ‘hills o’er yonder’ with Las Vegas; Billy the Kidd is now some guy named Gabriel Cortez, one of the most feared druglords in the world at this moment. Most noticeably, a good amount of the weapons here won’t fit into the gun holsters of the old days. The Last Stand is essentially a John Wayne classic with a contemporary veil thrown over it, then splattered with blood.

It focuses on a town and its heroic law officials — headed up by a more humbled Arnold Schwarzenegger as Sheriff Ray Owens and his seemingly inept deputies (Luis Guzman as Mike, Zach Gilford as Jerry, and Jaime Alexander as Sarah) — as they try to fend off a recently escaped and mercilessly cruel drug cartel boss by the name of Gabriel Cortez (played by I swear to God, Pau Gasol of the Los Angeles Lakers, but really it’s Eduardo Noriega). He is using the Sheriff’s sleepy little nook of Sommerton Junction, Arizona as a gateway into Mexico. How’s that exactly? Well I’m glad you asked.

The lone drug dealer ain’t alone. He never is. In this case, Cortez has the help of a group of technology-savvy thugs led by a shadowy figure named Burrell (Peter Stormare) to create his perfect escape route out of the United States and back into Mexico. The mob’s function is to build a temporary bridge for Cortez to cross a particularly narrow section of a gorge near this town, and since they are his most realistic shot of getting away a free man, they also become a major fixation in this film. Indeed, they stir up a lot of dust and fire a lot of lead at innocent people. But the Sheriff ain’t gonna let all this go down without him fighting back. Not on his Austrian wristwatch.

One thing that really grabbed me with The Last Stand was its ability to balance what was to become obvious later as a bloodletting farce, with a good deal of laughs. Leave out one element and you no longer have a Schwarzenegger film. Leave out both, and well, you’d just be a loser. I’m not going to sit here and say that this was the most brilliant plot ever concocted — no, in fact there were some moments that were as cliché as cliché has ever been — but I’d be remiss in not acknowledging director Kim Jee-Woon‘s eye for capturing all the things that made Arnold endearing to us before he went on his political walk.

The Last Stand is a ridiculous plot. Ridiculous. You can’t tell me there aren’t at least thirty different places along this river valley outside the town of Sommerton Junction that this villainous drug bandit and his crew could have gone where they wouldn’t need to encounter other people — even if the ones they do end up stumbling upon seem to be unable to efficiently defend themselves. I guess if that were the case though, there’d be no movie. But there are other areas of flimsiness in the script: aside from some passion delivered by the consistent Forest Whitaker (who plays Schwarzy’s “higher-up” as an FBI agent) the dialogue is not impressive. It’s funny. But it’s not sophisticated enough to ultimately make us truly afraid of what faces the Sheriff and his town.

But perhaps that’s a good thing. I hope I speak for more than myself here but I had a great time watching the movie. It is a very, very fun action movie that does not take itself too seriously. I believe a lot of critics are having issues with where the FBI and small-town hero story merges: it all comes to a head in a rather anticlimactic fashion, but bullets sure are flying and bodies are dropping. The town is once again safe, and all the people you want to have survived, well….they survive. What more does one need to expect from a Schwarzenegger film? If one does need more, then they are S.O.L. in this film because we do get the bare-bones.

What sells this film over it’s elementary dialogue and character developments (one formerly imprisoned guy — Frank — gets redemption when Sheriff Owens realizes he’s short-handed to face the oncoming mob, as he frees him from jail and then deputizes him) is the film’s wonderful acting chemistry. Frank (Rodrigo Santoro), along with the local gun-nut Lewis (Johnny Knoxville) are brought in to the fold to help defend the town. Together with the clumsy Jerry, the teddy-bear Mike (Guzmán), and the only female deputy Sarah, they form what comes to be a rather likable bunch of representatives of this blip on the map. Actually, it’s so small it may not even be that. But this only adds to the hysterically comedic effect that this movie maintains successfully, one that will largely be overlooked or under-appreciated. Arnold Schwarzenegger as a Sheriff of a town of this size? Really?

_________________< (Your reaction goes there.)

The Last Stand is not a fraud of a movie. It delivers simply what it promises to deliver: a “no-strings-attached” experience where you get to see Arnie doing just what he did before, coupled with some pretty vicious action sequences complete with the blood and guts, not to mention with some awesome car chases that end in some pretty interesting places. There is certainly plenty of bang for your buck in this welcome-back role for the big man.

"I'm the Sheriff."

“I’m the Sheriff.” You’re goddamn right you are!

3-5Recommendation: Fans of Schwarzenegger are apt to be taken easier than non-fans. Still, the very foundation of what going to see a movie is about, is very much there. I absolutely had a lot of fun watching it, getting to see Schwarzenegger interact with Johnny Knoxville and a new set of young actors. Knoxville is definitely there doing his usual thing, but it still fits this film without being obKnoxious. I wouldn’t say this is a ‘feel-good’ film, but it’s as close as you’re going to get with this many bullets.

Rated: R

Running Time: 107 mins.

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited. 

Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com