Thursday, September 3, 2009

Two comedies; too few laughs

Sanrda Bullock leaps into badness in All About Steve.

Not enough laughs in Jason Bateman's factory.

With Labor Day weekend upon us, it would be nice to report that there are comedy treats to be had at the nation's multiplex. Sorry, not by my measure.

You might, however, take the weekend as an opportunity to lament the fact that so many Hollywood comedies are either lame or just not funny enough. Consider two new movies that open this weekend. All About Steve (abysmal) is a one-joke comedy that tries not to look like one. Extract, on the other hand, reveals the peculiar sensibilities of Mike Judge, who previously directed Office Space and who created the invaluable Beavis & Butt-Head. Judge isn't a formula guy, so Extract raises hopes, only to dash them with a comedy that ranges from mildly amusing to not at all funny.


When I tell you that Sandra Bullock stars in All About Steve, you immediately should know that the comedy (produced by Bullock) won't be groundbreaking. Bullock, who earlier in the year brought us The Proposal -- an abject formula job -- this time tries a change-of-pace, appearing as an obsessively geeky woman who designs crossword puzzles.

The "romantic" part of this exceptionally lame comedy kicks off when Bullock's Mary Horowitz goes on a blind date with a TV cameraman (Bradley Cooper). Cooper's Steve -- the character who supplies the movie with its title -- sends Mary clear signals of rejection. She promptly misreads them and winds up following him to a variety of news sites, blurring the line between infatuation and stalking. Steve probably ought to call the cops and have Mary hauled away. Lamentably, he doesn't.

Thomas Haden Church appears as a self-absorbed and shallow TV reporter (like we haven't seen that before) and the movie winds up in a category I'd call "embarrassing for all concerned." Bullock can act (see Crash and Infamous if you don't believe me), but she seems intent on sticking herself in a comic rut, trying to expand her repertoire of characters with each new picture. She's good at a comedy, but not so great at picking material.

This may come as a shock, but Bullock hasn't asked for my advice: If she did, I'd tell her it's time she started taking herself more seriously.


Mike Judge has a twisted sensibility, and he looks for comedy in places that are decidedly void of glamor. This time, Judge brings us a movie about a factory owner (Jason Bates) who's fed up with his life.

Bates' Joel seems to have two goals: He wants to sell his extract-making business and have more sex with his wife Suzie (Kristen Wiig). When Suzie makes it difficult for Joel to achieve his second goal, his eye begins to wander.

In order to ease his guilt about any possible philandering, a buddy (a heavily bearded Ben Affleck) suggests that Joel hire a male prostitute (Dustin Milligan) to seduce Suzie. If Suzie falls for the guy, Joel will be justified in pursuing his own extramarital activities.

In all, Extract is a sour comedy that that produces too few sweet laughs, although it does give us one of the most memorably annoying characters I've ever seen, a slow-talking but insistent neighbor (David Koechner) of Joel's who should earn a spot on any list of movie characters you'd most like to throttle.

There's no faulting Judge's cast, but the movie -- though full of Judge's bleak and sometimes knowing humor -- never quite engages. Mila Kunis has a nice turn as Cindy, a con artist who knows how to turn men's heads.

So two more comedies bite the dust, although Bullock's movie bites a whole lot more dust than Extract, which at least seems as if it was written by an individual rather than designed by a committee. Besides, in times of economic duress, it takes a certain amount of courage to set a comedy set in the workplace, in this case a factory that bottles extract flavors for use in cooking.

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