|by Peter Sobczynski
While waiting in the extended lines to see ''Tulip Fever,'' please enjoy short reviews of ''Goon: Last of the Enforcers,'' ''I Do. . . Until I Don't,'' ''Jackals'' and ''The Layover.''
''Goon,'' for those of you unfamiliar with it, was a 2011 sports comedy about a bar bouncer in possession of a kind nature and a skull of steel who finally found his purpose in life as a player on a minor-league hockey team charged primarily with pounding the crap out of the opposing players. Although little more than a minor variation on the great ''Slap Shot'' (1976), it contained a few good laughs and a disarmingly charming performance by Sean William Scott in the central role but even its most ardent fans would have been hard-pressed to say that there was an absolute need for a sequel, as ''Goon: Last of the Enforcers'' quickly proves. This time around, Doug (Scott) is forced to step away from the game after an especially brutal beating and takes a stab at settling down with his pregnant girlfriend (Allison Pill) and taking a dead-end job in an insurance agency. It isn't long, however, before he once again succumbs to the siren song of minor-league hockey and finds himself returning to his former team and going hea—to-head with the hotheaded new captain (Wyatt Russell) who is not only the coach's prodigal son but the very same guy who administered that decisive beatdown to him in the first place. Although Scott is still good as demonstrating the weird mix of viciousness and niceness that is Doug, the rest of the film, which marks actor Jay Baruchel's directorial debut, is forced and contrived in a way that makes ''The Bad News Bears Go to Japan'' seem fresh and unique by comparison. There are too many plot threads that go nowhere, too many ancillary characters who are dropped in for no apparent reason and, perhaps worst of all, too few genuine laughs on display. Perhaps some of the devotees who made the original film a minor cult favorite may find it to be more amusing than I did but most people would be better off giving the Warren Zevon classic ''Hit Somebody!,'' perhaps the greatest pop song ever written about hockey, a spin or two instead--it only runs about four minutes but it contain more wit and insight in them than both ''Goon'' films combined and it even includes better cameo appearances to boot.
Remember a couple of years ago when some members of the film press decided that actress-turned-filmmaker Lake Bell was some kind of indie auteur, a conceit inspired as much by the absurd overreaction to her middling debut film ''In a World. . . '' as her willingness to pose in her underwear in magazine profiles to promote it? If you still persist in this belief, then her sophomore effort, ''I Do. . . Until I Don't'' should quickly and definitively disabuse you of that notion. A painfully unfunny exploration of martial discord and ethics in documentary filmmaking, it concerns itself with a pretentious filmmaker (Dolly Wells) whose new project is based around her theory that mankind's extended lifespans have made the traditional idea of matrimony an outdated concept that should be replaced with marriages that last seven years with an option to renew. To bolster this theory, she films three couples--a young hippie-dippie duo (Amber Heard and Wyatt Cenac) whose open marriage promises some sex appeal, an older couple (Paul Reiser and Mary Steenburgen) whose all-but-imminent divorce should provide drama and an aggressively bland couple (Bell and Ed Helms) who will presumably be willing to do anything to continue being part of the project. Whatever minor creative sparks Bell demonstrated in her previous film are nowhere to be found here--the storyline is a mess that isn't funny or insightful and seems bizarrely intent on exploring the documentarian’s dippy thesis at length before coming to the conclusion that (Spoiler Alert) maybe there is something to traditional marriage after all. Unless you have a strange yearning to watch the longest and dullest episode of ''Love, American Style'' ever produced, just say ‘’I Don't'' if someone suggests going to see it
On the other hand, if you have instead been yearning for 90 minutes of semi-stylish nihilism in which a group of isolated and largely helpless people are picked off and slaughtered in gruesome fashion by masked intruders, perhaps ''Jackals'' is more your speed. I certainly cannot think of anyone else who might be willing to sit through this vicious and painfully derivative take on the home invasion thriller, set in 1983 (for no other reason than the fact that the story only works in a pre-cell phone/Internet era) in which a young man (Ben Sullivan) who has run off to join a cult is grabbed by his estranged father (Jonathan Schaech) and a deprogrammer (Stephen Dorff) and taken to an isolated cabin in the woods where they, along with his mother (Deborah Kara Unger), brother (Nick Roux ) and ex-girlfriend (Chelsea Ricketts), hope to break the brainwashing. Turns out, however, that the cult is anything but benign (as we see via a bloody prologue that shows that director Kevin Greutert can rip off--sorry, pay homage--to the beginning of ''Halloween'' with the best of them) and they turn up en masse to retrieve their brother while murdering everyone else in the process. That is pretty much the whole shebang and since it fairly certain once the premise is established that none of the family is likely to get out alive, it just becomes a grisly and unpleasant slog that is further undone by uninteresting characters and enough lulls between the stabbings, beatings, burnings and throat-slittings to make viewers wonder why the family doesn't just cut their losses and give up the singularly obnoxious twerp in the first place. Stick with ''Straw Dogs'' instead and I think that this may be one of the very few times when one could be referring to that terrible remake and it would still be the better choice by far.
And yet, as awful as the cinematic pickings are this particular Labor Day weekend, all of the above films comes across as borderline competent in comparison to the likes of ''The Layover,'' a film so tasteless, misogynistic and desperately unfunny that it begins to exude a strange fascination after a while by forcing viewers to contemplate whether it can possibly get worse as it goes on. (Spoiler Alert--I fear it can and does.) Alexandra Daddario and Kate Upton play Kate and Meg, a pair of lifelong friends--the former timid and reserved and the latter wild, impulsive and irresponsible--who impulsively decide to take a trip to Florida to decompress for a few days. Before leaving, however, Meg takes a minor swipe at Kate by saying she is not aggressive enough to win over a guy, a comment that she understandably resents. Therefore, when a blandly handsome hunk (Matt Barr) winds up sitting between them on the plane, she decides to beat her friend at the flirtation game and when the plane is diverted by a hurricane to St. Louis, the two find themselves willing to trash their lifetime friendship for the dubious prize of boning an off-brand Peter Horton whose last name they don’t even know. Watching their various attempts to one-up and embarrass each other--which begin subtly enough but quickly devolve into attempted druggings, throat punching and locking someone in the American equivalent of the toilet from ''Trainspotting''--I was dumbfounded that anyone could have found any aspect of the screenplay by David Hornsby and Lance Krall worthy of bringing to the screen. The jokes are not funny, the insights into female friendship are nonexistent and the ending is almost too appalling to be believed. Granted, Daddario and Upton may not be top-line actresses (the latter demonstrates a sense of comedic timing that is in inverse proportion to her beauty) but even they deserve much better than the sub-''Bride Wars'' antics on display. Most baffling of all, I am at a complete loss that a screenplay this dramatically dubious and insanely sexist could inspire the great actor William H. Macy to think, ''Yes, I want to direct this.'' (Given the slapdash results, one could argue that he hasn't.) He had just better hope that Felicity Huffman never sees this movie (and the odds may be in his favor in that regard) because if she does, I hope that any time they have an argument, she will at some point respond ''Yeah, well at least I didn't make ''The Layover.''
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originally posted: 08/31/17 22:49:14
last updated: 08/31/17 22:56:21