Older audiences deserve comforting, pandering crap as much as everyone else, so I probably shouldn't be too hard on The Intern, especially because, with Nora Ephron's passing, writer/director Nancy Meyers is pretty much carrying the torch for Hollywood's all-too-rare female-centric dramedies detailing the personal costs of Having It All. But I'm going to be hard on it anyway, given that Meyers' mildly insulting sitcoms about strong, successful career women who are only truly fulfilled after Finding the Right Man are usually buoyed by ace performances (Something's Gotta Give's Diane Kaeaton and Jack Nicholson; It's Complicated's Meryl Streep, Alec Baldwin, and Steve Martin), and this film just doesn't have 'em.
Heaven knows, though, that leads Robert De Niro and Anne Hathway at least try, and it's certainly refreshing to see The Intern's Right Man a platonic pal rather than a romantic ideal. The film's jokey premise - or rather, the premise that everyone on-screen initially treats as a joke - finds De Niro's 70-year-old retiree Ben assuming a senior-intern role for an online-shopping company led by Hathway's founder and CEO Jules. At first, the overworked, type-A Jules wants little to do with Ben, presuming the hand-holding he'll require will just slow her down. (Considering how slowly she pedals her bicycle, from meeting to meeting, throughout her warehouse offices, you can't imagine how he could.) Yet Ben's paternal grace and old-school wisdom gradually win the respect of his much younger co-workers, and before you can say, "Mornin', Miss Daisy!", he's won Jules over, too, serving as her chauffeur and business-trip traveling companion, and gently guiding the frazzled CEO through one professional and emotional dilemma after another. (Unlike Hoke Colburn, Ben never dusts his employer's light bulbs, but that's only because dust apparently ran screaming from every shiny, pristine, fastidiously art-directed surface.)
Based on the heartiness of the laughter at my Thursday-night screening, the routine coos of "Aw-w-w-w!", and the occasional applause, The Intern's intergenerational wish-fulfillment is clearly hitting some viewers right in the sweet spot. And I guess I can't begrudge them the affection they obviously feel for De Niro and Hathaway, the former with his soothing serenity and the latter with her grinning-through-tears vulnerability. But Jesus did this movie ever irritate me. A significant part of my annoyance stemmed from elements that were just too Nancy Meyers for words, from the distracting homogeneity of Jules' Manhattan workplace to the maudlin violin cues to the requisite scene of "comedic" panic in which someone witnesses another in flagrante delicto and instantly starts screaming. (This time around, a foot rub is mistaken for oral sex, and, in general, the slapstick here - as when Ben and his officemates break into the home of Jules' mom in the hopes of erasing an e-mail - is just slightly less inept and embarrassing than when Paul Blart attempts it.) I was greatly put off by the condescending, unfunny slaps at Generation Y - with Adam DeVine's wannabe-lothario needing Ben to tell him a text is not the way to apologize for sleeping with his girlfriend's roommate - and the indifferently cruel treatment toward the movie's female seniors, with poor Celia Weston and Linda Lavin made to look like dimwits.
But I was most bothered to see De Niro and Hathaway clearly trying to lend some complexity and thought to the proceedings, and to realize that The Intern was, itself, the enemy of complexity and thought. Hathaway strains to create a credible basket case, but instead emerges as a bastion of clichéd, harried-working-gal tics and neuroses; it's strongly implied that this woman's only real problem is that she hasn't had a kindly father figure around to tell her everything's gonna be okay. And while De Niro is nicely relaxed and has some terrific reaction shots, Ben is too perfect - so eternally patient, so wise and understanding - and the occasional flashes of his portrayer's wicked smile are the only things suggesting a human being under all that bland, deferential subservience. The depressingly mediocre The Intern is a waste of the actor's gifts, and I never felt worse for him than in the scene that finds saintly Ben quietly crying while watching An American in Paris on TV. If he were instead watching Taxi Driver or Raging Bull, would De Niro's reaction have been any different?
THE GREEN INFERNO
Before he made the Hostel movies, Eli Roth directed 2003's pungent little creep-out Cabin Fever, an evil-virus thriller suggesting that Roth totally understood the tenets of '70s/'80s shock cinema and knew (like Tarantino and Rob Zombie do) how to deliver low-rent exhilaration and nausea to 21st Century audiences. So I gave Roth's The Green Inferno - an homage to that era's notoriously vile cannibal flicks from Italy - the benefit of the doubt for as long as I could, even after two patrons bolted the auditorium upon witnessing the seasoning, tenderizing, and consuming of the movie's most empathetic character. And I admire the chutzpah it took to attempt this, and much of the skill evident in its execution. In the end, though, Roth's latest is a mess, and one not caused merely by the entrails.
With its actors (including Roth's wife Lorenza Izzo as our traumatized lead) all apparently hired for no particular talents beyond a shared ability to scream, the film finds roughly a dozen collegiate activists traveling to Peru on a human-rights mission and winding up imprisoned by a village of violent and very hungry cannibals. For the record: It's gross. Really, really gross. Hell, it's gross even before the cannibals do their damage, when Roth and his effects team pull off an unpleasantly accurate depiction of a man stumbling face first into a rotating airplane propeller. But while the bloody shenanigans and slow-roasting of cast members are impressively repellant, The Green Inferno's true horror lies in its inability to find a consistent tone. Roth's and co-screenwriter Guillermo Amoedo's honorable yet rather halfhearted social critique mixes awkwardly with the subtext-free revulsion, and every time the tension appears to be mounting, some bit of completely inappropriate and senseless "comedy" massacres the mood. I thought the movie hit its nadir when Kirby Bliss Blanton's captive was mocked for her wholly understandable gastronomical issues, and then thought it bottomed out when the activists' leader and resident psychopath (Ariel Levy) took their imprisonment as a fine time to masturbate, arguing to his aghast comrades that it would "clear his mind." But I wasn't prepared for events to sink even lower into the ludicrously unfunny, as they did when our heroes managed to get the entire native tribe high off a dime bag of weed, causing the ravenous Peruvians to attack an activist while the kid shrieked, "They've got the munchies! They've got the munchies!" The movie is a frequently solid stab at genre depravity, but unfortunately, for far too much of its length, the all-over-the-place Green Inferno also feels like the product of filmmakers with the munchies.
HOTEL TRANSYLVANIA 2
The animated Hotel Transylvania, with its lead vampire voiced by Adam Sandler and several Happy Madison cronies providing vocal support, was released in 2012, and at the time I was amazed at how not-bad it was. Now there's a sequel, and I'm positively dumbfounded: Hotel Transylvania 2, somehow, is even not-bad-er. The rare case of a comedy that saved its best gags for the movie and didn't spoil them in the trailers, director Genndy Tartakovsky's goofy, inventive, colorful lark is chock-full of riotous bits: the stretching rack used for yoga; David Spade's invisible man faking an equally invisible girlfriend; Mel Brooks' elderly vampire referring to Keegan-Michael Key's mummy as "talking toilet paper"; Megan Mullally and Nick Offerman just doing what they do. There are, admittedly, more than a few groaners sprinkled throughout. But the hilarious throwaways pop up with such regularity, and with such a hearty success rate, that Hotel Transylvania 2 actually gets you thinking that maybe all of Sandler's movies would be hysterical if their jokes landed as speedily as this one's. Maybe.