Blockers 2018 ***

blockersAnother decent revival for Netflix, Kay Cannon’s Blockers is a low-brow comedy which was something of a secret success on initial cinema release; without making too many headlines, this Seth Rogen-produced romp made nearly $100 million worldwide on what looks like a fairly frugal budget. Rogen’s influence is apparent in the way the film quickly lapses into sophomoric humour, but there’s also traces of his Rabelaisian wit and deft approach to coming-of age. And what’s specifically interesting about Blockers is that it’s a sex comedy that focuses on the parents who want to stop their children having sex after their prom night; sympathies have turned upside down since the sex comedies of the 80’s (Porky’s, Ricky Business).

Leslie Mann is Lisa Decker, a mother horrified when she realises that her daughter has a pact with two other friends to lose her virginity. Lisa pals up with Mitchel (John Cena) and Hunter (Ike Barinholtz), a comic who looks like a Mark Wahlberg that’s been left out in the rain, and who projects an ideally dishevelled persona for this kind of hi-jinks. If Superbad was about how difficult it is to cause mischief, Blockers is much more interested in the suppressive efforts of the parents than the teenagers themselves; cinema in 2018 is more about re-enforcing the status quo than challenging authority.

Blockers is carefully gender balanced, but that doesn’t stop Mann and Cena giving stand-out star performances, the best in their careers to date.  And while Rogen has been accused of falling back on cameos rather than jokes, as many comics do when the ideas run thin, the cameos from Gary Cole and Gina Gershon hit the right, dirty tone. Blockers is a easy watch, full of crude slapstick, but with it’s heart in the right place. Cannon graduates from the 30 Rock/Pitch Perfect universe with some skill here; Rogen’s trio-adventure format may be wearing thin, but Cannon deserves credit for managing to casually tap into the comedy audience that the far more accomplished Booksmart failed to capture.

Drillbit Taylor 2008 ***

drill1_606Netflix has to up its game in terms of film curation; job lots will only get more expensive, and all streaming services have to look for accessible, marketable movies that audiences haven’t already seen to death. Step forward Drillbit Taylor, a 2008 comedy starring Owen Wilson and directed by regular Adam Sandler collaborator Steven Brill. A comedy drama about a homeless veteran who agrees to protect three precocious high-schoolers from bullying is hardly a must-stream event, right?

Yet Drillbit Taylor has a more interesting pedigree that the above summary might suggest. The pseudonym on the story credit, Edmond Dantes, hides John Hughes, master of the teen movie via The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. His later work moved towards such family-fare as Home Alone, Uncle Buck and Baby’s Day Out, but Drillbit Taylor certainly makes an effort to recapture the school elements so well drawn in his best films. It’s also one that returns to the bullying theme featured in films like Weird Science, and features a notable bad-egg turn from Alex Frost, all John Bender-style confrontation; it’s notable that the hero, Taylor, says ‘I don’t like confrontation,’ cementing the different attitudes of the adversaries.

There’s also a strange novelty about seeing a John Hughes high school that references You Tube and 8 Mile. The modernity comes from this being an early Judd Apatow entry, with Seth Rogen one of the script-writers; the three boys Drillbit Taylor takes under this wing seem to be prototypes for the Superbad kids. But it’s not immediately clear whose authorial voice created sub-plots like Taylor getting mistaken for a supply teacher and making whoopee with English prof in the staffroom; this film has a tricky tone by dint of its ‘kids in peril’ scenario, and that perhaps led to a stony response at the box-office.

‘Have it your way; there’s a reason why that’s the army’s slogan’ says Taylor to the kids, only to be met with the response ‘Isn’t that Burger King?” ‘And where do you think they got it from?’ replies Taylor. Exchanges like this make Drillbit Taylor something of a missing link between 80’s comedies and the Apatow production line; with a positive message about growing up, it’s a sunny, silly film that’s as diverse, confused and amusing as it’s hero.

 

Long Shot 2019 ***

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When Seth Rogen first appeared in a puff of dubious smoke, he offered a new type of male lead for the 2010’s. A slob, a stoner, but also a decent guy and a buddy, someone to pal around with, Rogen’s charms worked well in Knocked Up, Pineapple Express and Bad Neighbours, but less so when squeezed into vehicles like The Green Hornet. Long Shot is a romantic comedy set in the world of politics, re-uniting Rogen with director Jonathan Levine, who worked with him on 50/50. The role of Fred Flarsky, a shambolic political activist/journalist who ends up writing speeches for Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron) suits Rogen fine, but more problematic elements let Long Shot down.

Probably the biggest issue here is that 2019’s political landscape is so extreme that fiction can hardly keep up; a throwaway line about ‘gay marriage causing earthquakes’ is about as close at Long Shot gets to addressing Donald Trump’s tenure. Instead, there’s a very weak joke about the president (Bob Odenkirk) wanting to give up the White House to re-ignite his acting career; such quaint vanities are not the ones an audience will likely recognise as current. As Fred and Charlotte navigate various foreign backdrops and put aside their differences to fall in love, there’s little satire or commentary, just some fairly goofy rom-com antics. Things liven up when corporate forces attempt to blackmail Charlotte into dumping Fred, and a positive message about truth just about gets out. But the equation of Fred’s enthusiasm for self-stimulation with the hidden mistresses of US presidents feels like a stretch, and repeated use of Roxette’s It Must Have Been Love from Pretty Woman suggests a bald attempt to push the audience’s buttons by evoking ancient glories in the rom-com genre.

Worse still, a sequence in which Charlotte has to defuse a potentially life-threatening hostage situation while ‘accidentally’ under the influence of molly is exactly the kind of tired, contrived wackiness that Rogen’s blunt approach once seemed to be the perfect antidote to. Two likable stars keep Long Shot watchable, but it’s a shame the script goes low when it should be soaring high.

Sausage Party 2016 ****

sausageparty-frank-excitedSeth Rogen’s work can be an acquired taste; the shambolic nature of This Is The End or Observe and Report are hard texts to get excited about. Perhaps animation has brought the best out of him; although Sausage Party has an all-star cast, they seem more tightly reined in than usual, and the animation, while hardly Pixar, is watchable enough. But it’s the unusual high-concept that’s the big selling point here; the story of a sausage (Rogen) who seeks to escape from the supermarket, Sausage Party manages to mix low comedy with clever satire, as the various consumables and perishables are viewed as a microcosm of society, allowing for plenty of politically incorrect humour. Sausage Party is rude, crude and funny; even the musical sequence at the start is executed with on-point gusto.