|Films I Neglected To Review: What You Get Is What You See
|by Peter Sobczynski
Please enjoy short reviews of "Bad Trip," "Shoplifters of the World," "Tina," "The Vault" and "A Week Away" and, as an added bonus, one of the worst puns I have ever inflicted on the general public.
"Bad Trip" was originally supposed to debut in theaters last year until it was pulled from release during the early days of the pandemic and eventually sold to Netflix, where it is now finally making its debut. This has proven to be a lucky break for the film because while the end result would be awful regardless of the circumstances of its presentation, what might have come across as an unforgivable ripoff in a situation requiring the forking over of the going rate of a night at the movies now merely seems like run-of-the-mill junk that is easily disposed of and forgotten. An offshoot of "The Eric Andre Show," a faux talk show that is largely an excuse for pulling wacky pranks on unsuspecting people, what passes for a plot is kicked off when Florida-based goof Chris (Eric Andre) happens to run into his high school crush (Michaela Conlin), who now runs an art gallery in New York City, and makes an impulsive and not-at-all-creepy decision to venture up there to pledge his love to her or something like that. To get there, he recruits his best friend, walking doormat Bud (Lil Rel Howery) to accompany him and, more importantly, to "borrow" the car belonging to Trina (Tiffany Haddish), Bud's insanely violent sister who has just been sentenced to a stretch in prison. Alas, she gets out, discovers that her car has been taken and goes off in pursuit of the two, who are having misadventures of their own, most of which feature the appearance of one bodily fluid or another--not always human in origin, it should be noted.
The conceit of the film is that all of the big comedy set pieces are, like on the show, elaborate pranks sprung on innocent people. I must confess that for the most part, watching people pulling elaborate and expensively staged pranks on other people has never ranked particularly high on my personal mountain of humor but "Bad Trip" manages to suck out what little fun there is potentially to be had in the first place for a variety of reasons. First problem--the pranks themselves are not very funny and too often try to cover up their lack of wit with an abundance of gross stuff. (When a character somehow gets trapped inside--and I do mean inside--of a Port-A-Potty that is inevitably tipped over and that isn't the foulest thing on display, that should say something.) Second problem--the pranks are so elaborately staged that they wind up working against the entire concept of the film because nothing about them, including the reactions, seem remotely authentic. (Yes, there are the usual array of end-credit outtakes with people looking shocked about how they have been had and even they seem kind of suspect.) Third problem--even if you happen to find pranks along these line amusing, watching a string of them for 90 minutes straight is likely to tax your enthusiasm a bit while sending those less enamored with them begging for relief. The only person who inspires anything close to genuine amusement here is Haddish, who throws herself into the mix with plenty of zeal but even her stuff doesn't quite work because she is famous enough at this point that watching her interacting with people who supposedly do not recognize her is frankly more distracting than funny. Formless, witless and intolerably stupid, "Bad Trip" is so excruciating to sit through that it almost makes me want to go back and apologize to the "Jackass" films, which were models of wit and cohesion in comparison to this.
Teenagers identify so strongly with the bands that they love that if a favorite group winds up breaking up, the news can be just as devastating to them as hearing that their parents are divorcing. (Trust me--it has been more than 30 years down the line and I still have not quite gotten over the breakup of The Bangles.) This is such a universal feeling that one would think that capturing it in the context of a film would be a breeze and yet "Shoplifters of the World" not only misses the mark, it whiffs it so spectacularly that there is an excellent chance that it will go down as the single most insufferable film of this still-young year. It takes its inspiration from a real-life incident in which a Denver teenager, bereft over the announcement in the fall of 1988 that British gloom-pop band The Smiths was breaking up, headed out to a local radio station with a gun and a plan to force the DJ at gunpoint to play nothing but their music. Although the kid abandoned the plan while sitting in the parking lot in real life, Stephen Kijak's film speculates on what might have transpired if it had as mildly angsty record store clerk Dean (Ellar Coltrane) successfully infiltrates the station and forces the metal-loving disc jockey (Joe Manganiello, who also served as one of the producers) to spend the night broadcasting the music of the Smiths into the night. Meanwhile, Cleo (Helena Howard), another Smiths fanatic and Dean's unrequited crush (he lets her shoplift tapes from the store), deal with the news over the band's demise by spending one long night crashing parties and coming to terms with their own personal problems, hidden secrets and dreams with the hijacked broadcast serving as the soundtrack.
Considering the awful press that onetime Smiths frontman Morrissey has engendered in the last couple of years regarding his inflammatory comments regarding race and immigration, this might not exactly be the most ideal time to offer up a movie positioning them as the one true shining beacon of hope for a better life to a bunch of kids looking for inspiration. However, the film itself is so cloddish, both in concept and execution, that one could completely ignore that particular aspect and still come away from it thinking it to be almost absurdly off-putting. Although the movie is theoretically attempting to illustrate the connection between a band and its fans, no matter how far the distance between them, what we get is nothing more than an exercise in empty-headed nostalgia that, despite the numerous attempts at throwing in references and song lyrics into the dialogue as a sign of authenticity, never rings true for a second. The conflicts between the kids as they face what may be their last night together all feel cobbled together from other teen films, the radio station stuff plays like a combination of the Wolfman Jack stuff from "American Graffiti" and "Airheads" that does neither one any favors and the whole thing feels about as deep, meaningful and resonant as a Zima commercial from back in the day. The only person who sort of manages to rise above the film's vapidity is Howard, who made one of the most stunning debuts of recent memory a couple years ago in "Madeline's Madeline" and who almost manages to sell the nonsense she is working with her by the sheer force of her personality and charisma. I suppose it is ironic that the band that once famously recorded an album entitled "Meat Is Murder" would inspire an especially rancid cinematic cheeseburger like "Shoplifters of the World" but my guess is that most fans of the band--or those who merely want to see something other than a cynically contrived, wildly self-important and dramatically anemic coming-of-age story--would rather choke down the ghastliest of fast-food offerings than to try swallowing this junk.
As a celebration of one of the greatest voices in contemporary music history, "Tina," a documentary on the life and work of Tina Turner is a perfectly serviceable work from Daniel Lindsay and T.J. Martin that recounts the singer's life from the horrific abuse that she suffered at the hands of her first husband and musical partner Ike Turner to her struggles to reestablish her career after finally leaving him with nothing more than her professional name to her stunning comeback with the 1984 "Private Dancer" album that made her one of the biggest pop stars in the world is perfectly fine. It is a slickly assembled work bringing together plenty of fascinating archival footage with new interviews from associate, famous friends and, most significantly, Turner herself, who has not been seen too much since making her well-deserved retirement from performing in 2009, and if that is all that you want, you will doubtlessly enjoy it. As an enormous fan of Turner's I also enjoyed it on some basic fundamental level but when it was over, I couldn't help but feel a little disappointment towards it. The basic problem is that Turner's tale of unimaginable brutality and eventual triumph has become such a fixture of pop culture mythology, thanks in large part to Turner's best-selling 1986 memoir "I, Tina" and the eventual 1993 film adaptation "What's Love Got to Do with It?," that it seems strange that the film is not particularly interested in doing anything other than rehashing the story once again. (It is especially odd since one gets the clear sense that one of the things driving Turner's departure from the public eye was her distaste at continually being asked about the dark times with Ike.) I also could have used a little more discussion of potentially intriguing point in her professional history, such as her memorable appearances in the films "Tommy" and "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (only the latter is mentioned and only briefly at that) and maybe a little less of the testimonials to her spirit and greatness from famous friends like Oprah Winfrey and Angela Bassett. Still, "Tina" is an eminently watchable and entertaining documentary that will entertain her devoted fans and serve as a good primer for those who are somehow unfamiliar with the woman and her legacy.
"The Vault" is a film that has a pretty neat idea at its center but never quite figures out how to make it into an exciting movie. Set in 2009-2010, the film revolves around a group of treasure hunters who uncover a collection of gold coins hidden by Sir Francis Drake--which secretly bear the directions to an even greater treasure elsewhere--only to have them seized by the Spanish government. When the group's leader, Walter (Liam Cunningham), learns that the coins have been stashed in a seemingly impenetrable vault in the basement of the Bank of Spain, he recruits Thom (Freddie Highmore), a brilliant engineering student who doesn't want to join the straight life laid out for him by his controlling father, to help him figure out how to get his people in and the coins out during a heist scheduled to be pulled off during the final game of the 2010 World Cup, which will presumably distract everyone, including the guards, as Spain is one of the teams playing. The conceit of timing a heist to a sporting event is undeniably appealing and potentially exciting but "The Vault" never quite makes anything of it. It goes through all of the usual heist movie paces but director Jaume Balaguero and the five credited screenwriters lets them unfold in the most generic manner possible and fails to give them any juice. Likewise, the actors are likable enough but they are also unable to liven things up in any real way."The Vault" is competently made but it is nothing more than that and it just lacks that final burst of inspiration that might have allowed it to really work.
As "A Week Away" opens, troubled-but-handsome-in-a-non-threatening-way teen Will Hawkins (Kevin Quinn) is running away from the cops after stealing a police car, the latest in a series of run-ins with the police and authorities that has seen him bouncing from one foster home to another. Instead of getting shot in the spine for his crime, he is sentenced to a potentially worse fate--a week at Christian summer camp run by David Koechner and Sherri Shepherd. Not surprisingly, he is not exactly thrilled with this development but over the course of the week, he makes a friend in his goofball bunkmate (Jahbril Cook), puts the aggressively PG-level moves on the camp owner's daughter (Bailee Madison) and gets involved in a low-grade war of attrition with the camp big shot (Iain Tucker), all of which require more singing and dancing than most people may feel necessary. (Hell, "Meatballs" managed to accomplish its own goals with only a fraction of either and I promise that "Making It" is a more profoundly inventive and meaningful tune than anything heard here.) The one odd and vaguely intriguing aspect is that the screenwriters evidently got a little tired and annoyed with the task at hand and apparently decided to have a little personal fun by working in references to other movies that would seem to be wildly at odds with its ecclesiastical underpinnings--at various points, Koechner dresses up like Mel Gibson in "Braveheart" (ouch) and Robert Duvall in "Apocalypse Now" and there is even an odd moment in which a film ostensibly centered around Christians appears to also be celebrating Haneke. Beyond that, "A Week Away" is, not surprisingly, pretty dumb and while those squarely in its demographic range will probably enjoy it to some extent (especially if they haven't already experienced the musical Sodom and Gomorrah that is the "High School Musical" franchise), pretty much everyone else will find it to be vaguely irritating nonsense whose chief asset is that it is simply too dopey to get particularly upset over when all is said and done.
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originally posted: 03/26/21 10:48:27
last updated: 03/26/21 11:10:23