Movie Review: “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates”

Starring
Zac Efron, Adam Devine, Aubrey Plaza, Anna Kendrick, Stephen Root
Director
Jake Szymanski

Raunch-com, we need to talk. We’ve been spending a lot of time together (11 years, by my count), and this relationship just isn’t working out for me anymore. Every time you start to tell me a new story, I get all excited, thinking, “This ought to be good,” only to discover that this story just cobbles together elements from the stories you told me a couple of years ago. Do you even recognize that you’ve told this joke before? There are times when I feel like Julianne Moore’s husband in “Still Alice,” if “Still Alice” was a pitch-black comedy. Funny, yet so not funny.

And yet, there are times when you can still bring the goods, though with your most recent story, “Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates,” your ass was saved by some expert casting. Aubrey Plaza? Genius move. it was economical as well, at 98 minutes. Way to get in and out before wearing out your welcome.

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) are dipshit party boy liquor salesmen who have a history of ruining family events with their brotastic shenanigans. The next family event is the wedding of their little sister Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard), so the parents give them an ultimatum: they must bring dates, and nice ones at that, so they will be encouraged to behave themselves. The boys are struggling with the concept, so in their infinite wisdom they decide to put out an ad, which quickly goes viral and catches the eye of party girl Tatiana (Plaza), who sees an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii as the perfect way to get her left-at-the-altar bestie Alice (Anna Kendrick) out of her tailspin. Alice and Tatiana’s ruse is to lead the boys into thinking that they don’t know who they are and are just meeting them by chance. It works, but not for as long as they had hoped.

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Movie Review: “Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Rose Byrne, Zac Efron, Chloe Grace Moretz, Kiersey Clemons, Beanie Feldstein, Ike Barinholtz
Director
Nicholas Stoller

The 2014 film “Neighbors” cost $18 million to make and brought in $270 million worldwide. That is a spectacular, “Saw”-like return on investment, so it makes sense that the studio would be interested in making a sequel. There’s just one teensy little problem: there was nothing about “Neighbors” that lends itself well to a sequel. (Also, no one appears to have been asking for a sequel, but that is apparently beside the point.) It’s a film where the main characters each win a battle, but lose what’s left of their dignity. No bonds are forged, and the attempt at a happy ending drips with sadness. One of the first film’s good points was that they didn’t seem concerned about tomorrow because they were having too much fun today. Then tomorrow came, panic settled in, and for God knows what reason, the decision to not make a second film wasn’t considered. This is a mistake.

“Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising” isn’t even remotely tethered to reality. If this took place in the real world, at least two people would be dead and one would be in traction. It requires “Horrible Bosses 2” logic in order to work, which dictates that if you’ve been badly burned in your personal or professional life, you will learn absolutely nothing from the experience and make the same mistake again. “Horrible Bosses 2,” for the record, was another movie that no one asked for, and it made half as much as the original. Universal should prepare themselves for a similar drop-off.

Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne, respectively), now with a two-year-old and another baby on the way, have decided to sell their house and move to the suburbs. They have a family who wants to buy, and the house is put in escrow. The Radners do not understand that the sale is not final until their realtor spells it out for them for the sake of the plot (and the audience); the buyers have 30 days to back out of the deal for any reason. When Mac and Kelly see that a group of rebel girls wants to start a new party-friendly sorority in the abandoned house next door (the house previously owned by the Delta Psi Betas from the first film), they ask the girls to tone it down until the sale goes through. The girls are already annoyed that sororities are not allowed to throw parties, but fraternities are. They are not receptive to this request.

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Movie Review: “Dirty Grandpa”

Starring
Robert De Niro, Zac Efron, Zoey Deutch, Aubrey Plaza, Julianne Hough, Dermot Mulroney, Jason Mantzoukas
Director
Dan Mazer

Dan Mazer cut his teeth as a writer on “Da Ali G Show” and other Sacha Baron Cohen projects like “Borat” and “Brüno,” so it comes as no surprise that his directorial debut relies just as heavily on that brand of inappropriate comedy. Though “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t quite as nuanced as some of Cohen’s work, it has such a laissez faire attitude that you have to admire just how far it pushes the limit of what you can get away with in a studio comedy. The movie feels like it’s trying a little too hard at times, but thanks to some committed performances from Robert De Niro and Zac Efron, “Dirty Grandpa” isn’t nearly as unpleasant as its material warrants.

Efron stars as Jason Kelly, an uptight corporate lawyer who has allowed his father (Dermot Mulroney) to control his life ever since college, including the arrangement of his upcoming marriage to the beautiful but bossy Meredith (Julianne Hough). When Jason’s grandmother dies from cancer and his grandpa Dick (De Niro), whom he used to be close with as a kid, needs someone to drive him to his Florida vacation home as part of an annual tradition, Jason grudgingly volunteers. But as he soon discovers, Dick has ulterior motives for their road trip – namely, to get laid – and persuades Jason to take a detour through Daytona Beach to soak up the spring break festivities after they bump into one of his former classmates (Zoey Deutch) and her rowdy friends (Aubrey Plaza and Jeffrey Bowyer-Chapman) along the way.

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Movie Review: “We Are Your Friends”

Starring
Zac Efron, Emily Ratajkowski, Wes Bentley, Jonny Weston, Shiloh Fernandez, Alex Shaffer, Jon Bernthal
Director
Max Joseph

For the first third of the movie, “We Are Your Friends” suffers from the exact same problem as its protagonist: it’s trying to combine too many disparate ideas, and is a disjointed mess. When it (thankfully) jettisons the “Entourage” angle of the story, along with the Denis Leary-narrated Ford F 150-style graphics (yep, every word spoken appears on screen, multiple characters do it, and it never works), the movie finally finds its, ahem, rhythm. It turns out, “We Are Your Friends” is “Magic Mike” with turntables, right down to the party scenes oozing with so much potential disease transmission that I wanted a shot of penicillin afterwards, and I’m allergic to penicillin.

Cole (Zac Efron) is an aspiring DJ, playing early sets in the club that his friends promote in exchange for cash, free drinks and, if they play their cards right, women. One night, he opens for popular DJ James Reed (Wes Bentley), and the two wind up partying together. James sees Cole’s potential, and pushes him to come up with a track that will make his name, offering him excellent advice (and free studio time) on how he can find his voice. Cole is grateful for all of this, but it does not stop him from developing feelings for James’ much younger, live-in romantic assistant Sophie (Emily Ratajkowski), even though he knows it could jeopardize his best shot at getting to the next level. Cole is also starting to realize how unambitious his friends are, but struggles with cutting the ties.

Emily Ratajkowski has been a model since she was 14 years old, so she’s presumably seen and heard it all, but even she had to have paused for a second or two when director and co-screenwriter Max Joseph may or may not have said to her, “I’m going to shoot a couple of slow-mo bits of you dancing, and the camera is going to be focused on nothing but your rack. You’re cool with that, right?” Clearly, she was cool with that, as the scenes are here (said rack received similar attention in “Gone Girl”), but it has to be disheartening as an actress when you’re trying to build a body of work, and the director spends a substantial amount of time not focusing on your face.

One of the things “We Are Your Friends” gets right is that most kids going out into the world, especially ones that have to fend for themselves right out of high school (the audience only meets one of the boys’ parents, so they are presumably on their own), are hopelessly naïve. Any adult can anticipate 90% of the film’s plot, because they’ve been there before. Cole, on the other hand, hasn’t been there before, and Efron does a nice job of portraying that lack of experience. Unfortunately, what that makes this film is the story of a kid making mistake after mistake until he figures it out. Even the party scenes have a sadness to them, as Cole and his mates remain those immature dopes who take unspeakable jobs for cash (working for a very well-cast Jon Bernthal) so they can continue Living the Lifestyle. They’re pathetic, and that’s the point, but they’re still pathetic.

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Movie Review: “Neighbors”

Starring
Seth Rogen, Zac Efron, Rose Byrne, Dave Franco, Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Director
Nicholas Stoller

Everything about “Neighbors” screams bro – had we been tasked with pitching the script to a producer, we would have said, “’Tin Men,’ with bros” – and then a funny thing happens: Rose Byrne comes along and wipes the floor with every man in the cast. She puts on a master class in comedy here, and in the process (unintentionally, for sure), she out-funnys the funny guy. This is okay, mind you, and in fact wouldn’t even be a problem if the movie had a coherent script, but it doesn’t. It’s a funny script, and it hits all of the right notes in the end, but the path it takes to get there is dubious, to be sure. Someone, anyone, should have gotten arrested.

New parents Mac and Kelly Radner (Seth Rogen and Byrne) have bought a new home, and love their idyllic grown-up existence. The house next door is up for sale, and to their horror, a fraternity moves in. Mac and Kelly, eager to maintain their youth while dealing with being new parents, try to play the part of the cool neighbors at first, but as the frat’s continuous late-night antics threaten to wake their baby girl, they call the police on them after their attempts to contact them go unanswered. The president of the fraternity, Ted (Zac Efron), declares war, and the two sides engage in a series of escalating stunts designed to put the other side down for good, yet they’re strangely chummy the entire time.

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