Movie Review: “Zootopia”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Ginnifer Goodwin, Idris Elba, Jenny Slate, Bonnie Hunt, J.K. Simmons, Octavia Spencer
Director
Byron Howard & Rich Moore

“Zootopia” might be the cleverest bait-and-switch Disney has ever pulled. All of the teaser ads and promotional materials are pushing the adorable Judy Hopps and her very funny encounter with the sloths running the DMV. What they conveniently leave out is that the movie is an on-point commentary about prejudice and racism, their origins, how they’re used as a weapon for political gain, and how we’re all guilty of them in one form or another. In fact, it’s tempting to resent the film a little, because it explains these subjects to children better than most parents ever could.

The film opens with an expository children’s play that explains how predator and prey in the animal kingdom have found a way to co-exist without, you know, one eating the other (though what the predators eat instead is never mentioned, outside of doughnuts). One of the stars of that play is the idealistic bunny Judy Hopps (Ginnifer Goodwin), who announces on stage that she intends to be the world’s first bunny police officer, and many years later, against all odds and her parents’ wishes, she succeeds. She is transferred to the big city of Zootopia, where Sergeant Bogo (Idris Elba) assigns her to…parking duty. Ouch.

The urge to fight crime is strong, though, and Judy zones in on a seemingly untrustworthy fox named Nick Wilde (Jason Bateman, whose character bears an uncanny resemblance), only to become a victim to one of his many cons. Judy is desperate to prove herself to Bogo, and agrees to take on the missing case of an otter against Bogo’s wishes. Bogo initially fires her for insubordination, but instead gives her 48 hours to find the otter, after which Judy must resign if she fails. Judy leans on Nick – whom she has under her thumb because she has enough evidence to have him locked up – to guide her through the big city, even though Nick tends to cause more problems than he solves.

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Movie Review: “The Gift”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Rebecca Hall, Joel Edgerton, Busy Philipps
Director
Joel Edgerton

There is a reason that stalker thrillers fell out of vogue: in terms of story structure, even the good ones have a lot in common with the bad ones. It’s a rigid narrative, which means it’s virtually impossible to surprise the audience. Joel Edgerton’s “The Gift” (in which he also stars) falls victim to the same trappings as stalker thrillers past, but only for the first half of the movie. From there, the movie breaks from tradition, offering several pleasant surprises in the process. There are no ‘boo’ moments in the score, and Edgerton’s script is transparent in ways that these films are rarely allowed to be. It’s almost unfair in how the movie is able to have its cake and eat it, too. And the ending will have people buzzing, and most likely wanting to take a shower.

Simon (Jason Bateman) and his wife Robyn (Rebecca Hall) have recently moved to California for Simon’s new job. As the two are shopping for furnishings, Simon runs into Gordon (Edgerton), a high school classmate that Simon hasn’t seen since they were teenagers. “Gordo” goes out of his way to be helpful to Simon and Robyn, and leaves multiple gifts for the two at their front door. Robyn is touched by Gordo’s generosity, and can relate to his social awkwardness, but Simon isn’t comfortable with the affection that Gordo lavishes on Robyn, and asks Gordo to leave them alone. Gordo does, but in doing so, he leaves a clue for Robyn that suggests that Simon is not being forthright about his and Gordo’s shared past.

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Movie Review: “Horrible Bosses 2″

Starring
Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, Charlie Day, Chris Pine, Christoph Waltz, Jamie Foxx, Jennifer Aniston, Kevin Spacey
Director
Sean Anders

The basic rule for sequels is to make everything bigger than the original. For action movies, that makes sense, even if it’s often unwise. For comedies, it makes no sense whatsoever, and “Horrible Bosses 2” is the proof. The three leads go from likable bumblers in the 2011 original to complete idiots here. Jennifer Aniston’s character has been grossly compromised, emphasis on “grossly.” Kevin Spacey is the only returning actor whose character survives with his dignity intact, but his character is an even bigger square peg than Aniston’s. The movie’s most egregious offense, though, is that it’s lazy. Not only is the plot a “22 Jump Street”-type rehashing of the original, but the opening scene would make the cast of “American Pie” blush. Really, guys, you’re sending love letters to “American Pie”? You’re better than that, or at least you used to be.

Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day) have decided that the best way to avoid having a boss is to be the boss, and the three launch a new product that attracts the interest of global shipper Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz). Bert and the boys agree to a deal where they will supply his company with a huge order of their product, but Bert double-crosses them after they’re up to their eyeballs in debt, with the intention of stealing the product from them for pennies on the dollar. After ruling out a few extreme ideas, the three decide to kidnap Bert’s son Rex (Chris Pine), and hold him for enough ransom to make up their expenses. Much to their surprise, Rex is down with the plan, and encourages them to raise both the ransom and their game in return for a larger cut. The boys quickly realize, though, that Rex causes more headaches than the ransom money will solve.

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Movie Review: “This Is Where I Leave You”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Adam Driver, Corey Stoll, Jane Fonda, Rose Byrne, Timothy Olyphant, Connie Britton
Director
Shawn Levy

Shawn Levy wants a do-over. The man who carved out a very successful career as a director that, as the Onion A/V Club once joked, you didn’t know you hated, now wants people to take him seriously. Levy actually turned some heads with the underrated “Real Steel” (his best movie by a country mile), but then followed that with last year’s “The Internship” (you had already forgotten about that one, didn’t you?), and in two months, he unleashes a third “Night at the Museum” film upon a public that thought two “Night at the Museum” films was more than enough, thank you. He’s typecast, and he doesn’t like it one bit. In other words, he now knows how it feels to be nearly every actor or actress who’s ever appeared in one of his films.

Levy’s latest attempt to rebrand himself is “This Is Where I Leave You,” a dysfunctional family dramedy that is filled with rapid-fire jokes (funny ones, too) and boasts a pitch-perfect cast. The biggest problem with the movie, sadly, is Levy himself. He seems out of his depth, and derails the momentum at odd times, lingering too long on a shot here and overdoing the camera work there. A director more experienced with the genre would have fared only marginally better, yes, but Levy had a chance to prove himself here, and he comes up short.

Judd Altman (Jason Bateman) is not having a good year. Not long after walking in on his wife cheating on him with his boss (Dax Shepard), his sister Wendy (Tina Fey) calls to inform him that their father has died. The family isn’t close – their mother Hilary (Jane Fonda) aired the kids’ dirty laundry in the form of a best-selling novel – so the news that their father’s dying wish was for the family to sit Shiva, keeping all four siblings and their significant others in the same house for seven days, is not warmly received. In those seven days, hearts mend, hearts are broken, sibling rivalries both real and imagined rear their ugly heads, and Hilary talks way too openly about, well, everything.

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Movie Review: “Bad Words”

Starring
Jason Bateman, Rohan Chand, Kathryn Hahn, Allison Janney, Philip Baker Hall
Director
Jason Bateman

If the trailer for “Bad Words” reminds you a lot of the 2003 comedy “Bad Santa,” only set in the world of spelling bees instead of shopping mall Santa Clauses, you’re not alone. But while the comparisons are inevitable – and to a certain extent, completely warranted – “Bad Words” isn’t nearly as crude or edgy as the holiday cult classic. That’s not to say that Jason Bateman’s directorial debut doesn’t have a mean streak, because it relishes every opportunity it gets to be naughty, but the film also feels like it’s playing it safe at times so as to not completely alienate its protagonist. That results in a much less memorable movie, although one that’s still fairly entertaining thanks to Bateman’s involvement on both sides of the camera.

The actor stars as Guy Trilby, a middle-aged loser who discovers a loophole in the spelling bee bylaws permitting anyone who hasn’t graduated past the eighth grade to participate. After winning his regional tournament, Guy is begrudgingly invited to the prestigious Golden Quill national spelling bee, much to the dismay of its buttoned-up administrators (Allison Janney and Philip Baker Hall), who feel that their sacred competition has been tainted. Sponsored by an ambitious journalist (Kathryn Hahn) who’s been promised the exclusive rights to tell his story and the reason why he’s risking infamy to win, Guy refuses to be bullied into quitting or distracted in any way. So when precocious 10-year-old contestant Chaitanya Chopra (Rohan Chand) tries to befriend him, Guy swats him away like an annoying gnat, eventually giving in to the incredibly persistent loner when he learns that his father has left him (and his hotel minibar) alone for the weekend.

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