A struggling entertainer invents a character and catapults to underground success.
Directed by Craig Brewer
Starring Eddie Murphy, Da'Vine Joy Randolph, and Wesley Snipes
Review by Jon Kissel
Eddie Murphy’s had several attempts at comebacks in the 21st century, all of which peter out into an inability to capitalize on the reservoir of goodwill that keeps those comebacks alive. His wild onscreen choices and his offscreen antics keep prompting the need to go away and reemerge. Murphy was all set to win an Oscar in 2006 with his role in Dreamgirls, but that was supposedly blown by the release of Norbit in the midst of Oscar voting. He was awarded with the Mark Twain Prize for American Comedy in 2015 and later appeared on SNL’s 40th anniversary telecast, but he didn’t even crack a joke when the audience was thirsty to embrace him. The reception to Dolemite is My Name and the forthcoming sequel to Coming in America place Murphy at yet another turning point, where he can stay in the good graces of a public that so badly wants him around or capitalize on this moment by taking a bag full of money to do some hacky high concept comedy where he plays a dozen different roles.
I came upon an article through a link in a recent Atlantic or Slate article that I suspect Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, the writers of Good Boys, may also have read. The article, located at The Good Men Project, a clearinghouse for the expression of 21st century masculinity, reviewed a book about adolescent male friendships, friendships that the author categorized as affectionate and intimate in a way that no one would categorize older teen or adult friendships. Through hundreds of interviews across classes and races, the author was herself surprised at the language the boys used to describe their closest friends, and the review placed that plainly expressed love against the loneliness and resultant ‘deaths of despair’ that have lowered the US life expectancy for the first time in modern history. Both the review and the book redefine that loneliness as mourning for that childhood emotional intimacy, which for many men, isn’t replicated ever again. Is Good Boys a good or thoughtful enough movie to generate that kind of comparison or global psychological interrogation? Amidst all the dildos and dislocated shoulders, the answer is… sort of. Eisenberg and Stupnitsky, with the latter directing, effectively remake Superbad for the tween set, adding enough mournfulness to the foul-mouthed gags and making the resultant film deep enough to persist once the laughs have died down.
We discussed personal favorite World’s Greatest Dad a few years ago, and I praised that film to the rafters for its satirical, black-hearted take on dead teenagers and the survivors’ subsequent reactions. It turns out World’s Greatest Dad had an antecedent in Heathers, a film somehow blacker and more cynical than Bobcat Goldthwait’s black and cynical work. World’s Greatest Dad exists in a recognizable reality that acknowledges that everyone has their particular weaknesses and blind spots that can be exploited at will, but Heathers takes place in a heightened world where empathy is a foreign word and death and murder are meaningless outside of whatever personal gain can be wrung out in the aftermath. I thought Heathers was going to be some pointed teen comedy, like a sharper Clueless or Fast Times, but it stands alone in the (personally foreign) teen comedy genre.
The mileage one gets out of MacGruber is going to be directly proportional to how much the viewer appreciates Will Forte’s facial gymnastics. I personally love it every time his weird face scrunches up in agony or fury, so this is a movie that works on me. Jorma Taccone, away from his Lonely Island roots, essentially makes a straight action flick and staffs it with a character who not only is a ripoff of an absurd 80’s primetime detective but is also the direct antithesis of every bad-ass testosterone-fest from the same decade. A solid premise plus whatever Forte is doing with his eyes in any given moment makes MaGruber into one of the decade’s better comedies, and one more unjustified commercial flop on the Lonely Island’s collective resumes.
This one was a lot of fun. Lenny Abrahamson's Frank could have been an insufferable quirk-fest, but his story of a musician with a unique compulsion strikes the balance between oddity and pathos. Featuring a spectacular physical performance from man-in-the-head Michael Fassbender and a ridiculous soundtrack, Frank is loaded with meaty material that has kept me thinking about it long after the initial viewing.
JUST SOME IDIOTS GIVING SURPRISINGLY AVERAGE MOVIE REVIEWS.
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