Friday, April 18, 2008

"Forgetting Sarah Marshall" -- I'm trying

Summary: "Forgetting Sarah Marshall" is on its way to becoming another hit from the Judd Apatow repertory company. I managed to control my enthusiasm. As for "Forbidden Kingdom," and "Where in the World Is Osama Bin Laden"? Restraining myself was even easier. One is mediocre; so is the other. "88 Minutes?" It's a stinker.

As I watched “Forgetting Sarah Marshall" I wondered how much fuss this latest addition to Judd Apatow's rapidly growing repertoire would kick up. It didn’t take long to find out. On April 13, The New York Times’ Sunday editions carried an interview with Jason Segel, the movie’s 28-year-old star and writer, a young man who wastes little time establishing his credentials: He shows what he’s got – via full frontal nudity – in the movie’s first scene. It’s a declaration of sorts: We are bold. We are unashamed. We want attention.

Segel hails from Apatow’s TV days (“Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”), as does the movie’s director, Nicholas Stoller. Most moviegoers expect good things from these guys because they know Apatow is responsible for hits such as "The 40 Year Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up."

Maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but I don’t share the enthusiasm that has greeted Apatow and his comic associates. It should be pointed out, though, that the Apatow–directed and Apatow-produced movies have created a mini-genre, comedies that have been praised for blending raunchy humor and genuine human emotions.

I'm inclined to put it more cynically: These movies are a bit like the guy who has too much to drink, throws up on your expensive rug but apologizes profusely once he sobers up and realizes that he's exceeded his consumptive capacities. When he leaves, you're still a little appalled, but you may also think, "Maybe the guy wasn't so bad after all."

In this comedy, Segel’s Peter Bretter suffers an indignity common to many comic heroes. Sarah Marshall -- a TV actress played by Kirsten Bell – dumps him in the movie’s first scene, the one in which Segel bares all.

On a recuperative trip to Hawaii, Peter winds up staying at the same hotel as his ex, who happens to have checked in with her new boyfriend, a rock star played by British comic Russell Brand. Brand’s Aldous Snow quickly establishes himself as an unashamedly lecherous fellow for whom displays of ego have become second nature.

Snow's apparent competence with women contrasts with Peter's hapless fumbling. Poor Peter. He can’t seem to turn the corner on his romance with Sarah, who stars in a TV crime show for which Peter writes the music.

No one familiar with romantic comedy formula will be surprised to learn that another woman helps Peter shed his depression. Rachel (Mila Kunis) works the desk at the hotel, and eventually presents herself as a possible love interest for Peter.

Now I’m not saying that “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” is a dim-witted dud. Segel tries to tell us that Sarah had good reasons for leaving Peter; Kunis’ Rachel isn’t exactly the saintly type, and the finale – an unveiling of Peter’s dream project, a musical version of Dracula performed by puppets – is a small parodic gem.

So, yes, I laughed here and there, but I’m tired of comedies about schlubs who are self-absorbed to the point of annoyance. Right from his overexposed, full-frontal start, I felt as if I’d seen enough of Segel. I relented a bit as the movie progressed, but never totally changed my mind.

A footnote: Those keeping score should recognize such Apatow stalwarts as Paul Rudd (who plays a stoned-out surfing instructor) and Jonah Hill (who appears as a waiter with show-business aspirations). Both are good for a few chuckles.

“The Forbidden Kingdom” – a middling martial arts fantasy about a young man (Michael Angarano) who saves the universe – could be considered a martial arts movie for people who don’t particularly like marital arts movies. The movie’s main achievement involves the teaming of Jackie Chan and Jet Li, warriors of a different stripe who wind up helping Angarano’s character negotiate his way through various adventures, many set against beautiful Chinese backdrops that seem wasted in this trivial exercise. Clearly, money was spent on “Forbidden Kingdom,” but mostly it bought a movie in which Chan and Li receive some special effects help and in which cliches seem to outnumber thrills.

As for Morgan Spurlock’s “Where in the World Is Osama bin Laden?” I’m one of those people who thought that Spurlock’s breakthrough documentary -- “Super Size Me” – was hardly worth commenting on. It was slick, Michael Moorish, obvious and gimmicky. The same can be said of Spurlock’s second effort, a movie that has him traveling to dangerous places in search of Osama bin Laden. Spurlock hopes to make the world safer for the baby his wife is about to deliver. This pseudo-doc is a little less flippant than expected, but not especially revealing. Oh well, we do eventually get to see Spurlock's new baby. It might have been a whole lot cheaper, though, had he just sent out announcements.

I was planning to write something about "88 Minutes," a thriller starring Al Pacino as a hot-shot forensic psychiatrist. I was going to wonder out loud about why Pacino has been in so many really bad movies -- "Bobby Deerfield" and "Revolution" to name only two. I intended to talk about a preposterous plot that has Pacino's character being threatened by an unseen enemy. The mystery caller plans to kill Pacino's Dr. jack Gramm in 88 minutes. I was going to say the movie is dumb, offensive and poorly acted. That was my plan, but I decided it just wasn't worth the trouble. Pacino, whose face looks as if it's melting, spends nearly the entire movie running around with a cell phone pressed to his ear. I hope he used it to call his agent.


Cilicious said...

Yikes, how discouraging.
Guess I'll just stay home and watch my Deadwood dvds.

Anonymous said...

I saw this yesterday. The previews made it look hilarious. Richard Roeper loved it. He also loved "Superbad", which I thought had about 4 good laughs and was 45 minutes too long.

Anyways, I was disappointed. There are a few good laughs. I emphasize the word few. Our hero is such a self absorbed crybaby that I did'nt care if he found love or happiness or whatever. The movie makes it clear that no one sane would have stayed with him.

Weak plot with way too many accidental meetings. Again, too long with a sappy ending. It either needed to be raunchier for the guys or sweeter for the gals. It has just enough of both to turn off either gender.