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Three stooges and a baby: (l-r) Galifianakis, Cooper and Helms in The Hangover.

Vegas; Baby

By John Brodeur

The Hangover

Directed by Todd Phillips

Once in a while you actually get what you ask for. And moviegoers have been asking, in not so many words, for a movie that combines Three Men and a Baby and Dude, Where’s My Car? with the raunch of Old School (and maybe a dash of Jackass). Here it is: The Hangover is the most satisfying R-rated comedy picture in years.

The soon-to-be-married Doug (Justin Bartha) and his three buddies go to Vegas for his bachelor party; the next morning, Doug’s missing, the room is trashed, and there’s a tiger in the bathroom. (And a baby in the closet.) Except for a small amount of scene-setting, Hangover follows the three men as they retrace the steps of their wild night and get into a series of sticky situations. So most of the picture is “Dude, Where’s My Dude?” In a different film this would shift the onus onto the shoulders of its stars, but one of the successes here is that the leads are not stars. There’s no reason to give a crap about these characters, which makes it all the funnier when they get Tasered.

Director Todd Phillips, whose Old School was an awesome mashup of buddy- and college-comedy conventions (despite occasionally turning into a Will Ferrell showpiece), finds a lot of funny in what is essentially one long caper/chase scene. This is something of an accomplishment; the real action takes place off-screen, so the actors spend most of the film reacting to being told what a bunch of dicks they’ve been. This also sets up a series of cameos, from Heather Graham (as a kindly stripper) to Mike Tyson (as a concerned tiger owner named Mike Tyson) to an unfortunately—but understandably—underused Jeffrey Tambor (as the bride’s father.)

Because the groom is the nucleus of this group, his early removal leaves an odd combination of people with no real chemistry. There’s Phil (Bradley Cooper), a schoolteacher and a smug prick; Stu (Ed Helms), a tightly-wound dentist; and Alan (Zach Galifianakis), the bride’s very strange and possibly unstable brother. Helms does a great job of keeping his character from being just the geeky pushover who comes into his own, and gets a lot of mileage out of a missing tooth. Cooper’s comic skills are questionable (too often he smirks through his lines) but he holds his own.

But Galifianakis just eats up the screen. His presence is such that it’s hard to pay attention to what anyone else is doing when he’s on the screen. Alan is a unique balance of awkward and weird and bizarrely confident, and played without so much as a smirk. Where Ferrell would have mugged and shouted, Galifianakis keeps his voice down and lets the absurdity soak in. (Hey, it’s funny enough if the fat guy isn’t wearing pants. There’s no need to yell.)

A bunch of the jokes are borrowed, the actors are all but nameless, the premise is thin. It’s rude, vulgar, borderline nonsense. And it’s wickedly funny. The Hangover is everything you didn’t know you were looking for in a comedy.

Too Cool

The Limits of Control

Directed by Jim Jarmusch

Remember the sequence in Point Blank where Lee Marvin waits (and waits and waits) for the mob bagman to show up at his late wife’s apartment? Jim Jarmusch’s The Limits of Control is that scene stretched out to feature length, and its star, Isaach De Bankolé, is as laconic as Marvin.

You haven’t seen Point Blank? It’s a revenge-driven existential drama about a man (Marvin) who wants the money that was stolen from him by a former friend—a mobster. He doesn’t need to understand the way the film’s corporate-style mob works; he just wants his money. He is implacable and imperturbable. He is laid-back almost to the point of being catatonic, and single-minded to the point of monomania.

It’s worth going into this much detail about John Boorman’s 1967 masterpiece because Jarmusch has named his production company for this movie PointBlank Films, and is a member of the secretive “club” called the Sons of Lee Marvin. And because The Limits of Control seems like an endless riff on Point Blank, Lee Marvin, and the moral reasons for taking action—any action. It’s as slow-moving as a glacier and just as mysterious.

It’s the kind of movie that reminds you of other movies. (A naked woman in a see-through raincoat made me think of the chorus girls “in cellophane” in the ’30s musical International House. The last scene reminded me of similar scenes in, um, Soylent Green, Blade Runner and a dozen other films.)

If you don’t like Jim Jarmusch movies, you will absolutely hate The Limites of Control. If you like his films, you may enjoy it quite a bit.

Here, the Lone Man (De Bankolé) meets two sinister men in a European airport lounge. They speak in riddles. He accepts their “assignment.” He goes to Madrid, as per instructions, and waits. He sits in the same café everyday. People stop by, talk to him. He doesn’t contribute much to these conversations. Matchboxes are exchanged; after reading the message in each box, he eats the slip of paper it’s on and washes it down with an espresso.

One day he returns to his room, and finds a naked woman (Paz de la Huerta) on his bed. She asks, “Do you like my ass?” Given the prominence with which Jarmusch introduces said ass into the picture, one doubts that the Lone Man is actually neutral on the subject—but, as he is “on the job,” he keeps his own counsel. (And his pants on.)

Later, he takes a train to another part of Spain. More encounters, more matchboxes, more espresso. Eventually, he carries out his assignment.

The conversations are cryptic. The visitors—Tilda Swinton, Youki Kudoh, John Hurt—are entertaining. Gael Garcia Bernal is the “Mexican.” Bill Murray is the “American.”

It’s that kind of movie.

—Shawn Stone


I got a feeling you’re fooling: (l-r) Brody, Weisz and Ruffalo in The Brothers Bloom.

Quaintly Hatted Scoundrels

The Brothers Bloom

Directed by Rian Johnson

In The Brothers Bloom, there are two brothers but only one Bloom; Bloom’s older brother is Stephen. Bounced from foster home to foster home, the boys, especially Stephen, become pint-size swindlers, partly out of necessity (bomb pops cost money) and partly for escapism. It’s Stephen who decides they’ll become “gentlemen thieves,” and Bloom, a shy romantic, goes along for the ride. The high-speed prologue (narrated by Ricky Jay) is a flashback from 25 years ago, as the brothers are now in postwar Berlin, or perhaps a particularly well-preserved section of Berlin (the art direction is deliberately ambiguous). Stephen (Mark Ruffalo) and Bloom (Adrien Brody) are succeeding in their profession of thespian con men, though they sometimes refer to their mysterious Russian mentor (Maximilian Schell) with dread and awe.

The film literally wears its eccentricities on its head: All the characters wear black hats, bowlers, fedoras, panamas, throughout. Written and directed by Rian Johnson (Brick), this traditional crime-caper film is driven by a madcap sense of style (most of the interiors look like shabbily genteel dance halls) and an absurdist narrative that owes a bit of this to Charlie Kaufman and a bit of that to Wes Anderson. When the brothers visit a zoo, a camel follows them out and eats Stephen’s cell phone for no other reason than . . . maybe camels are visually amusing?

Stephen has an “assistant” they call Bang Bang (Rinko Kikuchi) who almost never talks but who fills in the odd-job character parts that Stephen scripts for their scams, as well as serving a mannequin for the film’s retro fashion sense (the soundtrack does a better job of evoking continental intrigue from decades past). The brothers have been acting out their cons for so long that Bloom isn’t sure who he is anymore, if he ever knew at all. “I want an unwritten life,” he complains to Stephen, and Stephen complies with one last big score, involving the largest private residence on the Eastern seaboard and a secluded heiress, Penelope (Rachel Weisz), with a ludicrous amount of liquid assets.

More self-consciously zany than inherently funny, Bloom has a hermetic feel to it, similar to Penelope’s self- contained mansion, where she practices bizarre hobbies in total isolation. Some of the contrivances are rather arresting, as when Stephen runs away from a petty larceny through a meadow, or the sight of Brody’s storklike legs pumping like pistons while he clutches his bowler like a mechanized Magritte. The only breath of spontaneity in Johnson’s overly art-directed machinations, however, is Penelope, whom Weisz gustily plays like a waifish Kiki. Stephen counts on her having a desire for adventure when he writes the scam, which involves smuggling a priceless book out of Prague for a black-market collector in Argentina. Handwritten title tags announce each “act,” such as “Telling the Tale” and “Springing the Trap,” to which Penelope responds with more enthusiasm and bravado than either of the brothers anticipate. Bloom ignores Stephen’s warning not to fall in love with her, explaining, in the script’s most interesting line, “You tell her something, and she knows everything.” Penelope gets what she deserves in the best sense—the plot may be contrived, but it’s clever—but what Weisz’s character really deserves is a better movie.

—Ann Morrow

H.R. Crapnstuf

Land of the Lost

Directed by Brad Silbering

If any of these comic situations seem tantalizing, then Land of the Lost is for you: Will Ferrell bathing in dinosaur urine; Will Ferrell, covered in ketchup, passed out on the floor in a fast-food coma; Will Ferrell licking his chops at the prospect of slow-roasting his little primate friend, Cha-Ka (Jorma Taccone), “until the Cha-Ka meat falls off the bone.”

The last, you have to admit, is funny.

The new Will Ferrell comedy has the two ingredients one has come to expect from a Will Ferrell comedy: a lead character with a grossly oversized sense of accomplishment and/or entitlement, and a plethora of bodily fluid-related jokes.

It also has some amazing special effects; one suspects that the cost of one Sleestak (lizard man) costume would have covered the budget for an entire season of the lovable, craptacular Sid and Marty Krofft 1970s TV show from which this has been, um, “adapted.” The T-rex, aka “grumpy,” is amazing, as are the Sleestaks themselves. Upgrades for the lizard men include multiple rows of sharp, pointy teeth, and the ability to have hot Sleestak sex.

Gross.

What’s missing is a character to balance out Ferrell’s screaming egomaniac, Rick Marshall. Yes, Danny McBride (as trailer-park comic relief Will) is his usual funny self, but the best Will Ferrell comedies have a character that’s either crazier or dumber than the lead. In Blades of Glory, it was Craig T. Nelson’s batshit crazy figure-skating coach. In Talladega Nights, it was John C. Reilly’s numbingly stupid fellow NASCAR driver. In Anchorman . . . in Anchorman, every character is insane. (Remember Steve Carell’s weatherman? “I killed a guy with a trident!”) With no one to counterbalance Ferrell’s look-at-me hijinx, Land of the Lost is a lot of self-indulgent flailing about.

Still, it has its moments, as when the ice-cream truck falls from the sky, and the Good Humor man is devoured by dinosaurs; or when Rick gets a mess of his blood sucked out by a mega- mosquito; or when Ferrell tells Today host Matt Lauer to “suck on it.”

Slick TV hosts need to hear that a lot more often.

—Shawn Stone


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