Thursday, April 28, 2011

My Summer Started Earlier Than Yours: A Look At FAST FIVE and BRIDESMAIDS

Everybody always complains about how holidays seem to start earlier and earlier each year... Valentine’s Day stuff appearing in stores before Christmas, Christmas decorations popping up in September, etc. Well, now the same can be said about the summer movie season, which typically begins the first weekend in May. But this year, they’re kicking things off a week early with a sure-fire blockbuster, FAST FIVE -- the fifth (!) installment in the startlingly-popular FAST/FURIOUS series.

Fast-FivePersonally, I’ve never been a big fan of these films. It’s not that I have anything against the concept of the lowest-common-denominator popcorn flick, but this series just doesn’t do it for me. In fact, I hadn’t even seen an installment since the second one, so I’m no expert -- but I CAN tell you while FAST FIVE is, at its core, more of the same mindless fast car chases and explosions and stock characters and paper-thin story Scotch-taping it all together, there IS a smidgen more substance this time around. This is due to what appears to be a genre shift: Think FAST/FURIOUS meets OCEAN’S 11, albeit with a plot that makes the latter film seem like it was directed by David Lynch. They dipped into the archives, dug up pretty much everyone that’s ever been in one of these films and brought them all together for One Last Job: a mega-heist to steal $100 million from the most powerful crime lord of Rio de Janeiro.

Leading the way, of course, are Vin Diesel and Paul Walker, who have settled into their signature roles for the rest of their careers. (Which, for Diesel, may be a shame, seeing as how he actually once showed some promise in films like SAVING PRIVATE RYAN and PITCH BLACK before embarking on a lifetime of slumming). Of course, these films may not be high art, but they have made these men exceedingly rich, so I’m sure they’re not complaining. Included in their supergroup of fast-driving criminals are Jordana Brewster (from films #1 & 4), Tyrese Gibson (#2) Ludacris (#2), Sung Kang (#3 & 4), Matt Schulze (#1), Tego Calderon (#4), Don Omar (#4) and crazy-hot Gal Gadot (#4). Maybe some other guys, too; I can’t keep track. Standing in their way is none other than Dwayne Johnson as an federal agent intent on bringing Diesel & Co. to justice. The Rock is in his element in this film diesel-rockand it makes a big difference. It’s easy to make jokes about how he & Diesel have both resorted to making crappy kiddie films at one time or another... but when the Pacifier and the Tooth Fairy finally go head-to-head in an epic smackdown, you WILL mark out. The action set pieces are intricately choreographed and pretty impressive, the cars are shiny and go real fast, and mindless though the proceedings may be, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t entertained. Probably not enough to go back and watch the installments I missed, or to ever pay money out of my pocket to see the inevitable next installment... but still... it’s a step in the right direction.

bridesmaidsNow, while FAST FIVE may be the first testosterone-fueled manly-man extravaganza of the summer, don’t worry, ladies -- a couple of weeks later you’ll be rewarded with a raunchy comedy to call your very own. BRIDESMAIDS, produced by Judd Apataow, is a film that proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that girls are no slouches when it comes to the wacky toilet humor. The ad campaigns make it seem like a female version of THE HANGOVER, but that is overly simplistic and misleading. It’s actually a critique of the entire process of being deemed Maid of Honor and the trials and tribulations and insanity that go along with that. I think it actually more closely compares to THE 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN, which also featured a genre-defying mix of raunch & sweetness and an outstanding ensemble cast led by a comedic genius who took a big step towards superstardom.

Kristen Wiig stars as Annie, whose life is in a bit of a shambles. Her career as a baker has fizzled, she’s broke and she has shitty luck with romance. So when she is asked to be the Maid of Honor at her lifelong best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) wedding, it gives her a sense of purpose. Unfortunately, that feeling is short-lived once the drama kicks in and hijinks ensue. The bridesmaids bridesmaids1are an oddball group, portrayed by some great actresses who work very well together. There’s sweet-but-naïve Becca (THE OFFICE’s Ellie Kemper... love her so much)... Rita (RENO 911’s Wendi McLendon-Covey), a foul-mouthed wife & mother who hates her life... the wildly inappropriate loose cannon, Megan (GILMORE GIRLS’ Melissa McCarthy in a breakout, Galifiankis-esque performance). And then there’s the rival: a rich, beautiful, party planner named Helen (Rose Byrne), who thinks SHE is Lillian’s new best friend and tries to pull the rug out from under Annie’s feet and take over the Maid of Honor duties for herself. Annie and Helen engage in an escalating battle of wills -- but Annie has neither the resources nor the know-how to succeed, resulting in a series of very unfortunate events. Not helping her mental state is a humiliating fuck-buddy relationship with a sleazy jerk (Jon Hamm, chewing the scenery) and an unhealthy living arrangement with bizarre British siblings. Even when Annie meets a nice guy (Chris O’Dowd as a friendly Irish cop), it’s more difficult than it should be.

(Come to think of it, some of the character descriptions also lend to the idea that this movie rips off THE HANGOVER. Ellie Kemper = Ed Helms, McLendon-Covey = Bradley Cooper, etc. But that’s really as far as the similarities go. I would, however, love to see a crossover in which the Wolf Pack faces off against the Bridesmaids in a raunchy free-for-all. Fingers crossed!)

BRIDESMAIDS is not exactly a great film -- at nearly two hours, it’s too long and episodic and occasionally bogged down by overplotting. But it is funny more often than not, and the hard-R-rated raunch factor is very high -- these ladies are game for anything and there is at least one gag that might make even the filthiest male comedians blush. As is the case with most Apatow films, there’s also an underlying sense of sweetness and humanity. More than bridesmaids-kristen-wiiganything, though, the film is a veritable showcase for Kristen Wiig’s vast talents.  It’s a dominant, fearless performance, with comedy ranging from slapstick to subtle -- further proof that she is the funniest woman alive at the moment. Whereas the aforementioned 40-YEAR-OLD VIRGIN was Steve Carell’s springboard to movie-stardom, this could very well be Wiig’s vehicle. (Let’s just hope she doesn’t decide to leave Saturday Night Live TOO soon, because that would be tragic.)

FAST FIVE opens this Friday, April 29, and BRIDESMAIDS follows on May 13. I hope this whets your appetite a bit, but stay tuned for my COMPLETE Summer Movie Preview -- coming soon to a blog near you (namely, this one)!

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