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Amateurs, The
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by Erik Childress

"The Funniest, Most Unfortunately Handled Film Since Idiocracy"
4 stars

It’s common knowledge that films which sit on the shelf and have their release dates shuffled around more often than a poker dealer on crank are lacking somewhat in the quality department. Occasionally the studios try to slip ones by us, actually screening films like Hitman, Wild Hogs and The Reaping, but for the most part they know when they have a stinkbomb on its hands that will be received accordingly. Most famously, on the flip side recently, was the way Fox buried Mike Judge’s Idiocracy (not even cutting a trailer for it) only to watch critics glow, a cult following form and numerous write-ups wagging the fingers of shame at the studio. Take the case of one Philippe Martinez though; a French producer who formed his own distribution company and poised himself to be a major player in 2005 by snatching up title after title at film festivals. Once boasting his intentions the build the industry’s largest independent studio, financial constraints held up the release of one of the most tense films in recent memory, Harsh Times (which Christian Bale deserved a nomination for) and still holds the dimes on the Amy Heckerling comedy, I Could Never Be Your Woman (with Michelle Pfeiffer and Claire Danes) and crime thriller The Flock (with Richard Gere and Claire Danes.) Of all of them though, the one question I’ve heard the most is “whatever happened to that film where Jeff Bridges shoots a porno?” For the past several months I’ve thankfully been able to answer that First Look Studios has picked up the ball to give it a limited release before hitting DVD in February and even more thankful (and a little angry) that Michael Traeger’s comedy belongs in the same class as Idiocracy as one of the funniest, most unfortunately mishandled releases in modern memory.

Jeff Bridges is Andy Sargentee, a small town sap who seemingly has never found an avenue to make him anything but. His wife, Thelma (Jeanne Tripplehorn) feels sorry for him but needs more for their young son (Alex D. Linz). Andy spends his time moping around his standard table at the local pub where the entire community comes in and out of. One day while thumbing through the paper though, he has a brainstorm. With every piece of advertising selling sex, what’s the one thing that any amateur with a video camera and a few willing participants can put together for the enjoyment of others? Hell, if Pam Anderson and Paris Hilton can do it, how hard can it be?

Pitching his best friends on the idea, everyone jumps at the chance to create some movie magic. The affectionately named Some Idiot (Joe Pantoliano) offers his writing/directing skills, turning in a script with sexual set pieces worthy of a summer blockbuster. The self-named Moose (Ted Danson) offers his awkward expertise on the ladies despite everyone knowing he’s gay. Otis (William Fichtner) is eager to participate but asks for a job that involves just sitting around. (They make him executive producer.) Barney (Tim Blake Nelson) can barely focus on anything apart from his affection for town barfly, Helen (Glenne Headly) and video store clerk, Emmett (Patrick Fugit), will handle film and editing duties. Now if only they had some women.

The salacious aspect of the project that any eager male would anticipate in The Amateurs is kept in check and played mostly for laughs rather than titillation. A wise choice in maintaining its Capraesque underdog mentality even if it means at the expense of an encore of Lauren Graham’s Kris Kringle fetish from Bad Santa. (She’s the only one unfortunately left with little to contribute.) Keeping the T & A to a bare minimum allows Traeger to milk maximum laughs from the socially absurdist means in which horny guys will go to in order to get a glimpse of a female fantasy. Andy’s childlike enthusiasm in his proclamation of loving lesbians is a scream laugh countering his nonchalance at laying down the outline of various scenes that their film needs in order to please.

The never-ending brilliance of Jeff Bridges is evident in every comic situation Andy is presented with and achieves ethereal laughter in one of the funniest voiceovers this side of A Christmas Story; another tale of an innocent’s pursuit of the taboo. Traeger’s screenplay has fun with the naughty puns of the industry, but shields any potential creepiness from more conservative audience members by keeping its characters completely on the side of likable. Even Fichtner’s Otis at his most brutally honest arrives with a solid dose of humor and ends with the kind of bonding most males wouldn’t expect while involved with pornography.

Fichtner, in his funniest performance to date, is just one cog in a fantastic ensemble who each get their licks in. Danson delicately handles the potentially flamboyant role of Moose and brings unexpected depth to a man who so desperately wants to be one of the guys even if none of them can really cop to being men of the stereotypical variety. A scene in which he learns to join in reacting to dailies is one of many subtle throwaways (like Some Idiot’s day job) that’s funnier than most movie’s punchlines. Pantoliano overreaching his grasp on his directing duties or Nelson’s query as to the flaccidity of their actors (leading to a nicely written scene between Bridges & Isaiah Washington that further endears to us his grasp of common sense) keep the consistency of the laughter at a elevated level. Even when words fail the characters, like in John Hawkes & Brad William Henke (respectively named Moe & Ron – guess their nickname) big moment on set, it’s still liable to get viewers recalling afterwards how much they enjoyed the little moments along with the big picture.

The Amateurs turns out to be a mini-classic of sweet vulgarity, much in the vicinity if not the exact class of the recent spate of the Judd Apatow canon (The 40 Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Superbad). Despite a couple sour notes hit in the final stretch (including one awfully drastic consequence), Traeger never loses sight of how much he wants to see his characters succeed. The ultimate result of their efforts become a little muddled in the actual project they release, but what it leads to easily allows the smiles to be earned. Surrounded by the likes of the third act twist in 2004’s The Girl Next Door and the recently announced Kevin Smith film, Zack & Miri Make A Porno (cast with Apatow regular Seth Rogen), The Amateurs is currently leading the class of the behind-the-scenes Capraesque pornography genre. Certainly I have the confidence in Smith to create a funny and very successful film, but hopefully audiences will take the interim year until its release to discover The Amateurs the way they have Idiocracy.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=14146&reviewer=198
originally posted: 12/07/07 00:00:00
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Austin Film Festival For more in the 2006 Austin Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

6/02/13 Monday Morning Hey, it ain't Citizen Kane but just sit back & enjoy it - pretty funny, cool performances. 4 stars
1/07/09 CTT Interesting, just not all that funny 3 stars
8/12/08 ES Enjoyable 4 stars
3/07/08 tom Simple, feel good humor, small town humor. 4 stars
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  07-Dec-2007 (R)
  DVD: 12-Feb-2008



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