Louis C.K., Eric Stonestreet, Kevin Hart, Ellie Kemper, Jenny Slate, Albert Brooks
Chris Renaud & Yarrow Cheney
Illumination Entertainment showed such great promise with their debut film “Despicable Me.” It wasn’t quite Pixar-esque in terms of greatness, but the movie had its heart in the right place, delivered some quality laughs, and included great jokes for the adults that were also appropriate for kids (“Bank of Evil, Formerly Lehman Brothers.”) They’ve responded to the success of the first film by exploiting Gru’s minions like they were a limitless supply of programmable Olsen twins. The minions dominated “Despicable Me 2,” much to that movie’s detriment, and they finally got their own film, which to date is the worst film in Illumination’s history (yes, it made over $1 billion worldwide, but so did “Alice in Wonderland,” and that movie is a hot mess). Worse, they even appeared in costume form in “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising.” They’re like alien spores, hell-bent on consuming all life on Earth.
This brings us to Illumination’s latest film, “The Secret Life of Pets,” which does not take place in the minions’ universe, yet contains three references to them: the word ‘Illumination’ in the studio’s title card flickers so that only the letters spelling ‘minion’ are visible; a character dresses up as a minion for a party; and there is a short film starring the minions before the main feature (to be fair, that bit is somewhat amusing, and proves that the minions are funnier when administered in smaller doses). That might sum up Illumination’s problem better than anything: they care more about branding than they do about the quality of their films.
Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Amy Ryan, Danielle Nicolet, Aaron Paul
Rawson Marshall Thurber
There is a really good movie just within reach of “Central Intelligence.” The casting is impeccable (no joke, Dwayne Johnson has never been better), and the premise is a strangely beautiful marriage of “Grosse Pointe Blank” and “True Lies,” with a few jabs at Facebook for good measure. They even used their PG-13, one-time-only F-bomb to tell Mark Zuckerberg to, well, you know.
Unfortunately, the dialogue reads like it was written by horny tweens who are really, really into toilet humor. It also falls prey to the age-old movie cliché that the most highly skilled soldiers in the world happen to all be lousy shots. No, no, no.
It is 1996, and Calvin Joyner (Kevin Hart) is riding high as a high school senior and multi-sport all-star. In the middle of his speech at the last assembly of the year, Robbie Weirdicht (Johnson), an awkward, overweight, overlooked kid, is thrown into the gym, naked as a jailbird, by a group of bullies. Calvin offers him his letterman jacket so he can cover himself up, and Robbie is eternally grateful. Twenty years later, Calvin is an accountant but frustrated that he, in his mind, peaked too soon. A day before his 20-year high school reunion, Calvin receives a Facebook friend request from a Bob Stone and accepts it. Bob Stone turns out to be Robbie, only now he’s tall and ripped, and he hasn’t forgotten that Calvin offered to help him during the most humiliating experience of his life.
Will Ferrell, Kevin Hart, Alison Brie, Craig T. Nelson, T.I.
“Get Hard” feels like the filmmakers are playing a prank on the audience. It has all of the beats and clichés of an ‘80s-era buddy cop action comedy, right down to the innuendo-laden one-liners, the score (just above porn quality) and the off-color jokes, which are ‘holy shit they did not just say that’ offensive. That seems to be the point – love ‘em or hate ‘em, a lot of the jokes in the ‘80s action films are in very poor taste – but that is also what makes the movie feel like a con. Are they merely trying to cast an unflattering light on the films from that era in order to show how tacky they are, or are they trying to trick modern-day audiences into laughing at a series of tasteless jokes, when deep down the audience knows that it shouldn’t? Either way, the movie isn’t playing fair, and even if it had played fair, it wouldn’t have mattered; there’s a condescension to it all that undercuts every barrier-pushing joke. Had they respected the audience, this could have been a much better movie. But they didn’t, and here we are.
James King (Will Ferrell) is a very successful hedge fund manager, engaged to the smoking hot daughter (Alison Brie) of his boss (Craig T. Nelson). He is living the dream, until he is arrested for a litany of fraud charges (of which James proclaims his innocence), and the judge throws the book at him, sentencing him to 10 years at San Quentin. James knows he’s a dead man walking in a prison like that, so he asks Darnell (Kevin Hart), who runs a small-budget car washing service that James uses, to teach him how to toughen up, to “get hard.” Why does James ask Darnell this? Because Darnell is black, and courtesy of his sabermetric expertise, James concludes that Darnell has spent time in jail. Darnell, of course, has not spent time in jail, but he needs cash to put a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood, so he takes James’ money and fakes it the best way he can. This plan will go horribly wrong for all concerned.
Kevin Hart, Josh Gad, Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alan Ritchson, Olivia Thirlby
The premise for “The Wedding Ringer” has a blind spot the size of Texas. If someone were to actually do what Kevin Hart’s character does here, it would not be long before they ran into one of their former clients’ spouses, or a girl they hooked up with after the reception, or a family member of the wedding party (you get the idea), while pretending to be the new character. Not to mention, the movie wrings laughs out of a scenario where men spin a hideous web of lies to their wives-to-be as a means of impressing them, which is the worst possible way to start a marriage. It’s a house of cards, with a near-zero level of plausibility, and yet, “The Wedding Ringer” works in spite of all of these things. Hart and Josh Gad have great chemistry, the script is surprisingly smart for such a broad comedy (they don’t stoop to making the supporting characters dunces in order for the plot to work), and there is an underdog mentality to it that is intoxicating.
Doug Harris (Gad) has a problem. He’s about to get married to out-of-his-league Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting), but he doesn’t have any friends, and therefore no best man or groomsmen. The wedding planner sniffs this out (Gretchen, conveniently, is still in the dark about this), and suggests that Doug meet Jimmy Callahan (Hart), who runs a business providing services for men who need a best man. Doug, however, doesn’t just need a best man: he needs a best man and a whopping seven groomsmen, something Jimmy has joked about but never executed before. The groomsmen Jimmy recruits are less than ideal, but Doug goes along with it given the circumstances. As Doug and Jimmy get to know each other – Jimmy has a strict ‘This is a business arrangement, and we are not friends’ policy – and as Gretchen’s family gets to know Jimmy, lines get blurred.
As the new TV season rolls out, let’s take a look back at a few series that never actually made it on the air. Not that there aren’t plenty such series every single year, but sometimes you look back and wonder, “How could a show with all of these talented people not get on the schedule?” Not that we have an answer to that question, you understand, but at least we can all be mystified and annoyed together.
Starring: Bob Odenkirk, Fred Armisen, Zach Galifianakis, Brian Posehn, Nick Swardson What you missed out on: After Bob Odenkirk and David Cross decided to put a bullet in their HBO sketch comedy series, “Mr. Show” (that’s right, it was their decision, not the network’s), the guys attempted to go their separate ways, with Odenkirk setting up shop at Fox with a pilot for a new sketch comedy series. If you think the above names are impressive, consider that several other “Mr. Show” alumni were in tow as well, including Jerry Minor, Jay Johnston, and Jill Talley, with Patton Oswalt also participating in some capacity or other. And, yes, if you’re wondering, Cross made an appearance in the pilot, too. So what happened? Apparently, Fox basically flipped a coin to decide which new sketch comedy series they’d add to their lineup, and “Cedric the Entertainer Presents” won the toss. Oh, what might’ve been…
North Hollywood (2001)
Starring: Jason Segel, Amy Poehler, Kevin Hart, and Judge Reinhold as himself What you missed out on: Judd Apatow has never been ashamed to admit that the only reason that this pilot ever came into existence is that Fox refused to let him cast Jason Segel as his lead in the short-lived but highly-regarded “Undeclared,” but you can’t say he didn’t do his best to surround Segel with top-notch talent. Segel, Amy Poehler, and Kevin Hart played roommates, with Segel a struggling actor, Hart a struggling actor/comedian, and Poehler serving as Judge Reinhold’s personal assistant. There’s a more detailed look at the pilot here, but the long and the short of it is that, although Apatow admits that he really didn’t know if there was a decent series to be had in “North Hollywood,” he thinks the pilot’s pretty decent, but its tone didn’t match the sitcoms filling ABC’s lineup at the time, so they took a pass on it.
Saddle Rash (2002)
Starring: H. Jon Benjamin, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, Mitch Hedberg What you missed out on: Created by Loren Bouchard, best known to animation fans as one of the creative forces behind “Home Movies,” “Saddle Rash” seemed to have all the elements necessary for a successful Adult Swim series, so why didn’t it make it beyond the pilot stage? Was it that westerns weren’t exactly in vogue at the time? Was there some sort of stigma attached to the project because they brought in country artists to continued voice work (including Waylon Jennings as a very special guest in the pilot)? Whatever the case, the pilot got aired – no doubt mostly because Adult Swim has a tendency to air just about every pilot it orders, whether it actually ends up going to series or not – but that was the end of the trail for the series.