Friday, February 25, 2011

Quick Takes: Dinner for Schmucks, Get Low, Animal Kingdom, The Other Guys

A mixed bag for this week's rentals.

Paul Rudd is an endearing actor with impeccable comic timing. He elevates Dinner for Schmucks (2010), an amusing though not quite a laugh-out-loud comedy about an ambitious executive who begrudgingly participates in a dinner event that involves making fun of losers. Steve Carrell is one of those losers who simply does not have a clue. With its by-the-numbers plotting and sluggish pacing, it is not among the best of comedies this year. 2.5/5

Get Low (2010), on the other hand, is a small masterpiece. Robert Duvall is simply perfect as Felix Bush, a self-exiled curmudgeon who harbors a 40-year-old secret that nearly does him in. He arranges a funeral for himself so that he can finally come clean and die in peace. It's corny, all right, but there is so much warmth and subtle humor here that makes the film a real pleasure to experience. Bill Murray is a revelation as the funeral director, egregiously robbed of an Oscar nomination this year. He is the heart and soul of the film. Lucas Black, Sissy Spacek, Bill Cobbs and Gerald McRaney contribute beautifully to this wonderful, good-hearted drama. An auspicious debut by Aaron Schneider. 4.5/5

David Michod, another director making his feature debut this year, was not nearly as successful. Though critically acclaimed, I never understood the popularity of Animal Kingdom (2010), an overwrought Australian drama about a crime family falling apart at its seams. James Frecheville (Josh) is awful. The kid doesn't react to anything -- he simply stares into space as the chaos around him unfolds. His breakdown scene completely took me out of the movie. There is considerable tension in the last act, but the performances are so overdone that it was impossible to feel any genuine suspense. Jacki Weaver, nominated for an Oscar for her role as the matriarch, had no real opportunity to shine here. Very disappointing. 2/5

For Pete's take of Animal Kingdom in a special column, click HERE.

The second silly comedy this week, The Other Guys (2010), is far funnier than Dinner with Schmucks. I'm not a Will Ferrell fan, but he was easily tolerable here as a pencil pusher who is paired with the live-wire Mark Wahlberg. Together, they attempt to take down a Ponzi scheme, led by the hilarious Steve Coogan. The plot is serviceable but the actors look like they are having a blast. Wahlberg, especially, is terrific in a comic leading role. Samuel L Jackson and Dwayne Johnson have some very funny bits in the first act. Though it has a tendency to be loud and crude, The Other Guys is at least consistently funny. 3.5/5

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