This week, Joe McCulloch has your Green Lantern while Tucker has your Bad Teacher.
Bill Finger: unwelcome in opening credits for almost seventy years, 2011
There’s been a lot of complaints about this one -- and, unfortunately, I agree with basically all of them-- but even beyond the stuff lobbed out a hundred times already, I feel the need to articulate a very fundamental sinking feeling I got from so elephantine a summer mega-production: this thing looks shockingly cheap. I mean, like they seriously ran out of money at some point. The first 10 or so minutes in particular are just totally artless, crashing between abbreviated action sequences, pace or build up be damned, looking for all the world like an ugly CG cartoon with only enough resources at hand to put together the high points of set pieces, maybe in the hopes of attracting investors to fund the connecting fiber. That really shouldn’t feel like a problem with Green Lantern, yet the whole movie seems filled with weird cut corners, from the would-be dramatic flashback of Hal Jordan witnessing his father’s death-- populated with a small handful of spectators planted in an open space and lil’ Hal running up towards the fatal explosion completely alone -- straight on through to the grown Space Cop’s final struggle with dread Parallax (presented as a gigantic black snake firework, or maybe a writing mass of burning turds) abandoning its kinda-cool city battle stage after a scandalously brief period to leave poor Ryan Reynolds flailing suspended in chroma key space orbit and reacting alarmedly to animation elements for the rest of the climax.
It looks low-rent, is what I’m saying, and while it could be that a particularly heroic pre-production period racked up costs to the point where the quoted $200 million before-advertising budget wasn’t nearly what was available to work with -- remember the Jack Black comedy iteration of the mid-‘00s? -- I’m wondering if there wasn’t some very fundamental post-production shenanigans going down, possibly locked into the death spiral of simplifying the subject matter to protect against escalating costs, thereby running costs up further. The risk/reward ratio on withholding information for the purposes of suspense or wonder or whatnot in super-big movies gets badly skewed, apparently enough so here that an opening voiceover is presented to detail background information in anticipation of spelling it out again via expository dialogue after approximately one hour.
A really assertive personality at the helm can cure this state, but I can’t imagine Martin Campbell was quite Christopher Nolan, or even Zack Snyder; the result is a film about a man with a wishing ring that can do anything, wherein the vast majority of miraculous feats he performs are flat recaps of stuff he either witnessed earlier or was specifically taught to do, right down to his observation of a slot car racetrack in his nephew’s bedroom improbably moving him to rescue a falling helicopter by transforming it into a giant slot car and sending it zipping around a massive playset he’s willed into the middle of a bustling party with dozens of people standing around - it might not make a lick of sense in terms of logical motivation, given the circumstances of the threat, but at least it squelches the slightest opportunity for even one audience member to go “hey, how’d he do that?” and thereby feel a slight twinge of anxiety or helplessness over having had something potentially inexplicable occur in this story of the limitless potential of human will.
Still, there’s some blessed relief to be had in the form of Peter Sarsgaard, splendidly playing a version of evil researcher Hector Hammond made over in the manner of Dr. Forrester from Mystery Science Theater 3000. Basically, he’s a huge, awkward nerd, and his storyline -- uneasily positioning him as a sort of accidental herald of Parallax, despite his actions having virtually no applicability to the villain’s arrival --affords Sarsgaard all kinds of opportunities for odd twitches and eccentricities and little bursts of anger and that bending over to sip at a really full drink thing you see people do and maybe do yourself - all the itch oflife.
Naturally, this is pitted against movie-smooth, sneering, handsome Reynolds, who in one scene heroically beats the shit out of angry blue-collar workers whose livelihoods he’s ruined (which isn’t a political statement, mind you, it’s just another means of connecting the scene to something, anything from earlier inthe movie, so nary a soul might wonder “but why is Hal Jordan being attacked?” and thus feel uncertainty’s sting in this fable of mighty emotions in a vast cosmos) - needless to say, Sarsgaard stands absolutely no chance, because that’s how this airtight world is built. Yes, yes, Reynolds comes to a nominal realization that being nice is good, and extends the hand of friendship and use of the magic ring to the fear-consumed Sarsgaard, so full of self-loathing over his unattractiveness to lovely Carol Ferris and the political favors his father has done for him - except, it’s a trick! Hector Hammond can’t really use the magic ring, because the concept of Green Lantern as presented here requires Hal Jordan to be at-heart superior, elite - CHOSEN. He’s just better, the very universe knows it!
I ask you - who wouldn’t soak in nihilism given that scenario? Truly it’s Sarsgaard that’s the film’s tragic hero, its true (if accidental) source of light and heat and sound, the lattermost element specifically being the beating of millions of awkward folk’s knuckles against their desks as they lament how irreversibly crap this Earth can be while imagining that everything beyond our atmosphere is much the same, only bigger and gaudier and more dubiously composited. Christ, no wonder this thing hasn’t cleared $150 million!
More Fake-raham Lincoln Please, 2011
This isn't getting the best shake of it from our nation's film critics, and that's no surprise: it isn't a very good movie. From the very beginning moments, when an after the fact recording of dialog is slapped atop a scene built out of shots of the back of whomever is supposedly speaking all the way to the very end, when the same lame attempts at punch-up make the concluding moment of expected romance look more like a homemade Vimeo drama than it does a movie, with movie stars, Bad Teacher never lets you pretend that what you're seeing was figured out long before you arrived. Being a mostly school based comedy, there's multiple fill-in shots of the same extras in different clothes, the same shot of one slack-jawed kid confusingly used twice, and the conspicuous lack of dialog amongst all but four of the school's children. (As soon as they talk, you gotta pay them more.) Of course, flaw-picking isn't novel enough to be more than a time-killing game, and while Bad Teacher provides plenty of sport, lambasting it in advance of the unknown IMDb heroes who will eventually fill out its "Goofs" section provides little pleasure.
In a depressing twist, the movie actually didn't necessarily have to be this bad, and there's even some moments of genuine greatness that shine through it's unnerving failures. Jason Segal's impossibly good-natured attempts at shlubby seduction seem to have been dropped in from a far better film, and there's some wonderfully absurdist anti-comedy (the stuff that Adult Swim traffics in) roaming around in the middle of a few scenes. (Cameron's best line--"better get yourself good and hard, cuz I'm gonna suck your dick like I'm mad at it" is unfortunately dumped too early in the film, but her evil replication of teenage peer pressure makes for a close second.) The good of it isn't enough to overplay the bad, and yet it's essentially a harmless film: entertaining, dumb and mean. If only it could have been so in equal measure.
-Joe McCulloch, Tucker Stone, 2011