Over the Christmas holiday I wanted to see Dreamgirls, The Good Shepherd and, if my city was selected (it wasn’t), Children of Men.
Instead, my family won and I saw Night at the Museum and Charlotte’s Web. Neither was that bad, certainly not as bad as I expected. But Night at the Museum was another example of an alarming trend that makes no sense to me whatsoever -- the sentimental dumb comedy.
The roots of this genre can be traced all the way back to Charlie Chaplin and Jerry Lewis, but their movies were sweet without seeming contrived or market-tested. Its phony modern-day incarnation was single-handedly invented by Adam Sandler.
After perfecting frat boy surrealism with the back-to-back classics Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore, he decided to appeal to the ladies and tried out a love story with The Wedding Singer. Then he got the brilliant idea to pair his poop jokes with the heartwarming glow of family togetherness and has been making the same worthless movie ever since.
Sandler’s career since Happy Gilmore has essentially been what the last minute of a South Park episode mocks: a nonstop barrage of farts culminating in “I learned something today.”
People allegedly like this crap; Big Daddy, Mr. Deeds and Click made nearly a half of a billion dollars between them. Sandler undeniably has the ability to be hilarious. I just wish he’d ditch the third act descent into schmaltz. Nobody likes it. Everyone agrees that sweet endings to crude comedies are just as ridiculous as romantic subplots in Jerry Bruckheimer movies (“I love you baby. Now I need to kill this rogue black ops agent!”).
The idea seems to be that women will only see a guy movie if there’s some family values message or sappy love story, but I don’t see studio execs clamoring for car chases and gun battles in romance films so that dudes will turn into Reese Witherspoon fans.
So back to Night at the Museum, wherein Ben Stiller – a brilliant performer whose eponymous show still stands as an edgy sketch comedy benchmark and who directed one of the darkest mainstream star vehicles ever with The Cable Guy – becomes family-friendly. This conversion is really nothing new, as he realized a long time ago that There’s Something About Mary and Meet The Parents pay a whole lot more than Flirting With Disaster and Zero Effect.
Night isn’t nearly as bad as those awful Adam Sandler movies; Ricky Gervais, Steve Coogan and Paul Rudd are hilarious in small roles, and the sight of seeing Dick Van Dyke and Mickey Rooney kickboxing is… unnerving but fascinating.
But there’s something sad about seeing one of the best comic minds of his generation mugging it up with Robin Williams. Is there a Bicentennial Man or, God forbid, a Jack on the horizon for young Stiller?
In music news, I’m tired of Lily Allen and it’s nearly a month until her album even comes out in this country.
When her breezy rocksteady-lite started making the MySpace rounds this summer, I tapped my foot to “Smile” like everyone else. But it’s about as flimsy and lightweight as a pop song can possibly be, and after about a half-dozen or so listens its charms are gone.
Nothing else on her record stands out, and her privileged background as the daughter of successful UK actor Keith Allen make her odes to crack whores and drug dealers ring hollow. Pair this with a ridiculous media onslaught in which every magazine I’ve opened in the past six months hypes her as Madonna’s heir apparent and you’ve got a perfect recipe for backlash.
If I had a dime for every time I’ve seen her blank stare and ugly haircut in a press photo and a nickel for every time I’ve read a “sassy” interview with her where she tells poor little rich girl stories about substance abuse and getting kicked out of boarding schools I’d have Ben Stiller’s salary from Night at the Museum.
And finally, I would like to apologize for dissing Midlake’s The Trials of Van Occupanther in my previous column. After a number of friends insisted I would like this absurdly-titled album that, according to The Onion AV Club, “sounds a bit like The Eagles” and “tells lush tales about stonecutters”, I gave it a listen and absolutely love it. My prejudice against The Eagles and stonecutters always gets the best of me.
Though the music is great, their generic name and stupid titles (including their first album, Bamnan and Slivercork) make them seem more like D&D geeks. I eagerly await their next record, which I hope is titled Glenn Frey and the Wildebeest’s Mage.
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