Tag Archives: Kevin Hart

Go! Sit! Stay!

Manhattan menagerie has wild adventure in fetching family flick

2426_FPF_00412R

The Secret Life of Pets
Starring the voices of Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Lake Bell, Kevin Hart & Jenny Slate
Directed by Chris Renauld & Yarrow Cheney
PG

Like Toy Story did with playthings, this wildly imaginative animated family flick—from the makers of Despicable Me and Minions—starts with a very simple premise: What do our domesticated animals do when we’re away?

Quite a lot, it turns out!

In a Manhattan high-rise, we’re quickly introduced to Max, a well-groomed Jack Russell terrier (voiced by Louis C.K.); Chloe, the tubby tabby cat next door (Lake Bell); and Gidget (Jenny Slate), a prissy puffball of a Pomeranian down the street who has a crush on Max.

Max’s walking buddies include Buddy, a slinky dachshund (Hannibal Burress), and Mel, a squirrel-obsessed pug (Bobby Moynihan).

Things are sailing along fine for Max until his owner brings home a second pet, a big, slobbery, rescue-dog mongrel named Duke (Eric Stonestreet). Max and Duke don’t get along, and soon they’re in a real doggie dilemma, rounded up by Animal Rescue without their collars or tags—and about to begin an even bigger, wilder adventure.

2426_SMX_DS_S1230P0220_L_COMPO_RENDER_0127RThis involves even more colorful characters, including a Snowball, a gonzo white rabbit (Kevin Hart), leader of an underground activist group called the Flushed Pets—animals who’ve been “thrown away by our owners; now we’re out for revenge!” There’s Tiberius, a rooftop hawk (Albert Brooks) comically torn between his longing for companionship and hard-wired predatory instincts. Pops (Dana Carvey), an elderly basset hound, may be paralyzed in his back legs—but he sure knows how to get around town!

Director Chris Renauld, whose resume includes the Despicable Me franchise and The Lorax, and co-director Yarrow Cheney, a former production designer and animator, keep the jokes flying fast and funny and the plot moving at a brisk, lively trot as Max and Duke try to make their way home. Things get especially hairy when Snowball’s subterranean army—a motley crew of critters, from alligators, turtles and snakes to cats, a tattooed pig and “Sea Monkeys”—turns against them when they find out they’re really “domesticated” and not truly “liberated.”

2426_TP4_00079ARThere’s a chaotic traffic-jam cliffhanger on a New York City bridge, with a bus driven by a Max and Snowball (“You drive like an animal!”). In one dream sequence, hot dogs dance to “We Go Together,” the “rama lama lama ding dong” song from Grease. A poodle rocks out to heavy metal the second his owner is out the door. One tiny pooch, with a camera atop his head, films funny cat videos and uploads then to a Times Square jumbotron.

It’s all great, clever, whimsical fun, with a heartwarming, cuddly overlay of friendship and “family.” You may not (or may!) have a dog or cat as adventurous as Max, Duke, Gidget, Chloe, Buddy and Mel, but just about anyone can relate to the montage at the end of the movie—when all the pets exuberantly welcome their owners home to the tune of Al Green’s “Lovely Day.”

Any pet owner knows, and it’s no secret: That display of loyalty, love and affection from a pet—no matter where they’ve been or what they’ve done—makes it a positively lovely day, indeed.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Odd Size Spies

Kevin Hart & Dwayne Johnson are mismatched pair in comedy-action caper

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE

Central Intelligence

Starring Kevin Hart and Dwayne Johnson

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber

PG-13

If comedy is art, Central Intelligence wants to make sure the canvas is well covered—it’s got a big, tall brush, a short, little brush and some very funny painters.

Dwayne Johnson is Bob Stone, a formerly chubby, friendless high-school loser mercilessly bullied by his classmates and shown kindness by no one—except the school’s star football player, student council president and all-around over-achiever, Calvin “the Golden Jet” Joyner (Kevin Hart).

A cruel practical joke during a pep rally becomes a distant memory as the year pass. Joyner marries his high-school sweetheart (Danielle Nicolet) and settles into a dull job at an accounting firm, fretting that he peaked in 1996 and that his life is going nowhere. Stone, on the other hand, sheds his adolescent flubber, packs on the muscle and becomes a CIA agent—on a dangerous, rogue, off-the-grid mission.

CI-0117rWhen the two reconnect on Facebook, out of the blue, their reunion creates a spontaneous combustion of hilarity as Stone pulls Joyner onto a wild ride of slam-bang shoot-outs, dizzying double crosses and daring escapes in a race to track down a notorious international trader and stolen encrypted computer codes.

Very quickly, Joyner doesn’t feel like his life is a dead end anymore—even though he may not like where it’s taking him!

Writer-director Rawson Marshall Thurber knows a thing or two about comedy, as he demonstrated in Dodgeball and We’re The Millers. His fellow writers, Ike Barinholtz and David Stassen, honed their funny bones on television’s The Mindy Project and Madtv, and the script zips, zaps and zings with smart, sharp quips, clever set-ups and solidly crafted gags that often get extra bonus mileage when they pop up for a second—or third—laugh line.

Johnson and Hart make quite a pair, starting with the yin and yang of their odd-couple appearance. The former pro wrestler known as The Rock towers over his co-star by more than a foot, and they both find the hysterics as well as the humanity and the heart in their roles, and in the film’s anti-bullying subplot. The movie has some riotously funny scenes, like the one in which Joyner and his wife go to marital counseling, and another involving a stolen airplane, a picnic cooler and a hilarious spiel about an organ transplant.

Sprinkled around, like movie candy, are wily Hollywood meta-references and nods to other films. Stone thinks Joyner looks like “a snack-size Denzel.” Joyner tells Stone, whose attire of baby-blue unicorn tees and a fanny pack belies his lethal skills, that he’s a “Jason Borne in jorts.” There’s a great running Breakfast Club gag, riffs on Roadhouse and Jake Gyllenhaal, and a sly Goodfellas line.

And I won’t spoil things by revealing the pair of big-name stars in super-secret cameos. You’ll be pleasantly surprised—in vastly different ways—by both.

But the real reason to see Central Intelligence: Two very funny actors who might not be anywhere near the same size, but who are perfect alignment for this hilarious spy-spoof assignment.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , ,

Hardly Hilarious

GH_D28_131.dng

Putting two funny guys together doesn’t make a doubly funny movie

Get Hard

Starring Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart

Directed by Etan Cohen

R

The first thing you see is a close-up of Will Ferrell, sobbing uncontrollably. The camera holds the shot. This is a comedy, so a well-known comedic actor boo-hoo-ing must be funny…right?

Audiences will likely ask themselves that question, and more than once, as Ferrell and his costar, Kevin Hart, riff through a raunchy gauntlet of jokes built around a premise that certainly, on the surface, isn’t humorous at all: When an investment firm fat cat is sentenced to 10 years of hard time, he fears he’ll never endure the brutalities of prison life.

It helps in the humor department, of course, that Ferrell is a very funny guy. And Hart, who’s parlayed standup and TV success into a budding movie career (Ride Along, The Wedding Ringer) can be a manic ball of comedic energy. But two funnymen together doesn’t always add up to a doubly funny movie. For that, the finger of blame points to Etan Cohen, a screenwriter (Men in Black 3, Tropic Thunder) making his theatrical directing debut, and definitely not to be confused with Ethan Cohen of the Cohen Brothers, the Oscar-winning sibling duo who made No Country For Old Men, True Grit and Fargo.

GH_D32_381.dng

Alison Brie

Ferrell plays the investor dimwit, James King, as an offshoot of the family tree of clueless man-children sprung from Anchorman, Step Brothers, Elf, The Other Guys and other doofuses from his comedy hall of fame. James racks up $28 million with a single phone call; he’s engaged to the daughter (Alison Brie, from TV’s Community) of his firm’s owner (Craig T. Nelson); he sings along to Icona Pop’s I Love It as he drives his car with its vanity plate that reads IMA GAWD.

So it rocks his world when he’s arrested for an investment scandal, and the judge throws the book at him, making him an example of white-collar, one-percent-er crime. James, proclaiming his innocence, refuses to accept a plea deal and is given 30 days to set his affairs in order. In a panic, he turns to the only black person he knows, Darrell (Hart), the owner of the car wash that tends his vehicle every day. Wrongly assuming Darrell has served hard time, James begs him to impart his prison survival skills.

Although Darrell’s criminal record is, in fact, nonexistent, he needs $30,000 to move his family into a better home and get his young daughter into a safer school. So he names his price, pretends to be an ex-con, and agrees to school James in how to “get hard.”

This is—or could have been—some pretty edgy stuff, dancing around race and racism, class and social mobility, wealth and income distribution, and very real fears that most normal people would have about suddenly finding out they’re going to spend a decade behind bars. But director Cohen turns Get Hard into one long, smutty joke that keeps returning to one central topic, prison rape, as a punch line. There’s a particularly unfunny scene that stretches on long after its questionable humor has played out, in which Darrell and James go to a gay brunch spot so James can, shall we say, sharpen a certain skill set in which he’s lacking.

GH_D13_056.dngSome genuinely funny bits sneak through. A dinner-table scene, in which Darrell uses the movie storyline from Boyz n the Hood in place of his own, is a hoot. And the “training” scenes, especially when Hart impersonates a whole prison yard full of inmates, or faux-fights with Ferrell, feel like jolts of improv hilarity that show the two stars straining make humor however, wherever, whenever they can in a movie that frequently leaves them stranded.

But too often, and far too much, Get Hard settles for cliches, crudeness and stereotypes instead of anything original, clever or as scathingly funny as it might have been. Ferrell and Hart work tirelessly to stay on their feet as the comedic ground crumbles underneath them and their talent. They do seem to enjoy each other’s company, and they have a crisp, odd-couple chemistry that clicks and crackles, even as the movie clanks and crashes. Hopefully, this won’t be the last we’ll see of them together.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , ,

Ding-Dong Dud

The giggles come with groans in latest Kevin Hart comedy

1219803 – THE WEDDING RINGER

The Wedding Ringer

Starring Kevin Hart, Josh Gad & Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting

Directed by Jeremy Garelick

R

Kevin Hart is a funny guy, with chops honed from years in comedy clubs, manic energy and a rat-a-tat-tat sense of timing and delivery that turns even so-so punch lines into zingers. It’s just too bad he still hasn’t found a movie worthy of his skills and talent.

The Wedding Ringer, a raunchy bro-mantic comedy that had been bumping around several movie companies for over a decade before finally getting made and released, stars Josh Gad (the voice of Olaf the snowman from Frozen) as Doug, a workaholic tax attorney with wedding bells in his future and the depressing prospect of no best man and no groomsmen. Poor Doug is a likeable schlub, but he just doesn’t have any friends.

Who’s he gonna call? Well, lucky for him, there’s Jimmy Callahan (Kevin Hart), a professional best-man-for-hire who gives sad-sack grooms all the down-the-aisle fakery, including groomsmen, money can buy.

That’s the setup for a series of comedic pre-wedding misadventures, some of which seem awfully familiar (because we’ve seen them before), along with some other, more unique detours. Jock humor? Check. Gay jokes. Oh, yes. Bachelor party with a stripper? Of course. A gag involvingJosh Gad;Affion Crockett peanut butter, a basset hound and someone’s private parts? Uh-huh. Depending on your disposition, you’ll either be chuckling or groaning, and likely some of both.

Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, best known as Penny on TV’s The Big Bang Theory, plays Doug’s finance, Gretchen, whose sweetness soon turns sour, in a one-dimensional part that exists only to be steamrolled flat by the Hart-Gad comedy express. Here’s hoping she gets another crack at another, fuller, better role in another, better movie, soon.

But Cuoco-Sweeting gets first-class treatment compared to what happens to Cloris Leachman. The Oscar-winning actress, who appears as Gretchen’s elderly grandmother, literally goes up in flames during a family dinner. Here’s hoping she gets another part in a film that doesn’t roast her like a Thanksgiving turkey, and then keep joking about it for the rest of the movie.

Josh Gad;Kaley Cuoco;Mimi Rogers

Doug (Josh Gad) sweats out his predicament between his soon-to-be mother-in-law (Mimi Rogers) and his bride-to-be (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting).

The very idea of the movie is preposterous, but you can’t really bash it for that. Its most loathsome offense is its premise that neither men nor women are trustworthy, that both sexes are schemers and losers—a toxic taint of mistrust and misogyny that makes every joke, even the funny ones, land with a jaded thud.

If you’re in a generous mood, you might gravitate to the movie’s subtext of male friendships, or note the (relative) subtlety and sly grace of Olivia Thirlby, as Grechen’s younger sister, who almost susses out Doug and Jimmy’s ruse. And you might smile, and rightfully so, at the song-and-dance sequence into which Doug and Jimmy break when they crash someone else’s wedding party, with the camera circling around and over them, a joyous surprise outburst of moves, grooves and high spirits that seems to come…well, from some other movie entirely.

A better movie.

Here’s hoping that, for Hart and everyone else, their next projects, whatever they are, have better rings to them than this ding-dong dud.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

Tagged , , , , , ,

A Bumpy Road

Idiotic Ice Cube buddy comedy covers well-worn movie terrain

RA_1

Ride Along

Starring Ice Cube and Kevin Hart

Directed by Tim Story

PG-13, 100 min.

Ah, the buddy-cop action comedy—where would Hollywood be without it?

Well, we’d certainly be without this idiotic pair-up and its many better predecessors, from Beverly Hills Cop to Men in Black.

After all the “prestige” pictures, the heavy lifters, of any previous year are on their hopeful way to awards-ville, January is when Hollywood takes a load off and lets the dogs out, returning to a menu of table scraps and leftovers after the gut-busting big-screen excesses of the Thanksgiving-to-Christmas holiday season.

Ride Along stars rapper-turned-actor Ice Cube as a gruff, tough Atlanta cop trying to derail the engagement of his sister (Tika Sumpter) to a high school security guard (Kevin Hart) whose ambition is to become a real policeman.

RA_3So James (Cube) invites Ben (Hart) to “ride along” with him on a typical day to prove he’s got the chops to be a cop—and to become his brother in law. Wouldn’t you just know they encounter all sorts of hilarity…and manage to crack the case of an underworld criminal warlord that James has been pursuing for years?

If it sounds like you’ve seen it all before, you have. The script, a group collaboration that feels like a sampler platter of mismatched-partner ideas, checks off just about every cop-movie cliché in the book, walks into one predictable situation after another, and grabs for every low-hanging joke-fruit that comes within reach.

Everybody makes a crack about Ben’s diminutive size (“He’s about a chromosome away from being a midget,” grumbles James). There are “comedic interludes” outside a biker bar, inside a strip club and at a shooting range. The big, explosive showdown-shootout happens—where else?—in an abandoned warehouse.

Non-Stop

Kevin Hart

Hart’s a funny guy, although I can certainly see how his high-pitched, screechy, hyperactive, slapstick-y, infantile shtick might not be some people’s cup of tea. He’s clearly the star of the show, although Ice Cube might get the bigger billing.

Director Tim Story, who directed two Fantastic Four movies plus the comedies Barbershop and Think Like a Man, fares much better here with the humor than the action, which is clumsy and clunky in contrast to the film’s easier, more natural riffs and rhythms when Cube and Hart are playing off each other.

None of the people who hooted and howled at the screening I attended appeared to be the least bit troubled that Ride Along, its high-spirited ha-ha’s punctuated with gunfire and bullets, was released as the nation was absorbing news of the latest school shootings, in Roswell, N.M., and Philadelphia, Pa., and just a couple of weeks after one movie patron pulled out a gun and killed another in Tampa, Fla.

Laughter, it’s been said, can be a healing force. There’s nothing as lofty, or as noble, as healing in Ride Along—just a quick roll in a barrel of cheap, hollow laughs down a familiar, forgettable road that we’ve traveled many times before.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , , ,

Raging Bull Crap

De Niro, Stallone slug it out in clichéd boxing comedy

GM_09433.dng

Grudge Match

Starring Robert De Niro & Sylvester Stallone

Directed by Peter Segal

PG-13, 113 min.

What if the two boxers from two of Hollywood’s most iconic boxing movies of all time came together in one contemporary clash of the titans?

Well, Rocky and Raging Bull don’t show up, exactly, but you’ll have no trouble remembering the roles Sylvester Stallone and Robert De Niro played some 30 to 35 years ago watching them spar in Grudge Match, in which they both portray long-retired palookas lured back to the ring by the promise of a big payday—and the opportunity to settle a decades-old dispute about who’s king of the knock-outs.

Back in the day, “Razor” Sharp (Stallone) and Billy “Kid” Donnen (De Niro) were Philadelphia scrappers who battled their way to the top of the light-heavyweight heap, culminating in an epic slugfest that ended with a split decision. Razor called it quits, however, and announced his retirement before a tie-breaking rematch could be arranged, and Kid’s been obsessed with “what might have been” ever since.

GM_04119.dng

Kevin Hart (center) creates a major media event around the rematch of ‘Razor’ (Stallone) and ‘Kid’ (De Niro).

Now a motor-mouthed young promoter (Kevin Hart) sees an opportunity to make his name (and a lot of moolah) by setting up a long-overdue bout between the two rusty old steel-town foes and turning it into a major media event.

Will Razor agree to put on the gloves one more time? Will the Kid swap pancakes and scotch for salads and sit-ups? Will the press stop making cracks about Geritol and Life Alert necklaces? And who will the woman (Kim Basinger) who had to choose between Kid and Razor three decades choose this time around?

GM_04568.dng

Kim Basinger

Stallone mumbles, De Niro mugs. There are some funny bits, but director Peter Segal (50 First Dates, Anger Management, Get Smart) somehow manages to miss with most of his punches, comedic and otherwise. The jokes are lame and low; this is the kind of movie that thinks anything from the waist down is hilarious. The story trots out nearly every contrivance and cliché imaginable, and the performances are about as lazy as you can get in a movie that still requires people to get up and walk around.

GM_09872.dng

Alan Arkin

And walking around isn’t even required, at least not all the time, for Alan Arkin’s character, Razor’s “elderly” trainer, whose ability to self-ambulate comes and goes.

Ironically, one of the best moments of the whole movie happens after it’s finished. Stay for the credits and catch the snippet in which Hart’s promoter tries to tempt another couple of former boxing champs back inside the ring for his next Big Event.

By the time things get around to the “Grudgement Day” match you know is coming, you just want the scene—like the movie—to be over before either Stallone, 67, or De Niro, 70, gets hurt. If I had a towel, I’d have thrown it in long before the legacies of two great movies were slammed to the mat and ground into a crappy comedy like this one.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

Tagged , , , , , ,