THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE
Like many adults, I tend to bemoan the prevalence of easy fart, poop, pee-pee, and mucus jokes in animated kids’ movies – conveniently forgetting, of course, that when you’re a kid, those jokes tend to be hysterical. Well, this past weekend brought with it The Angry Birds Movie, and I guess I don’t have to tell you that it, too, boasts a fair share of gross gags for the pre-teen set. But I should perhaps mention that when a giant eagle voiced by Peter Dinklage took a full minute to urinate, visibly and loudly, and a trio of birds stared at the repellent sight with unblinking, slack-jawed disgust, I would’ve better registered the audience’s delight if I myself weren’t laughing too hard to hear them.
None of us “needed” an Angry Birds film, and we definitely didn’t need one to land at least five years after the franchise was successfully co-opted by most grandparents. (My own 74-year-old mother has been known to ignore incoming calls because her iPhone game took precedence.) As long as we have one, though, I’m at least glad that it’s as amusing and refreshingly meaningless as directors Clay Kaytis’ and Fergal Reilly’s CGI lark, one in which the fundamental moral for children appears to be “Don’t get mad; get even.” The avian-themed puns, and there are loads of them, are mostly groaners, and it’s a little strange that Jason Sukeikis’ squat protagonist Red is less angry than merely snide. But screenwriter Jon Vitti has expanded the simplest of video-game premises with a clever, commendably disturbing narrative that finds those awful green pigs absconding with the birds’ unhatched eggs to eat them (yikes!) – a setup that makes you happily itchy for the mass destruction sure to come. And this fast-paced, vibrantly colorful outing is given added hues of personality by the winning ensemble of Josh Gad, Danny McBride, Maya Rudolph, Bill Hader, Keegan-Michael Key, Tony Hale, Tituss Burgess, Kate McKinnon, Hannibal Buress, and even Sean Penn, the latter cast as a behemoth bird who communicates entirely in grunts. It all ends, predictably, with a dance number, and an unfortunately lame song selection, to boot. (“I Will Survive”? Really?) Still, The Angry Birds Movie’s formulaic leanings are mostly forgivable given its inspired spoof-ery, from the nod to Quicksilver’s X-Men: Days of Future Past kitchen race to the porker named Jon Ham to the wholly unexpected sight of creepy twins standing in a hallway muttering “Redrum.” I think even Kubrick might’ve cackled.
THE NICE GUYS
Director/co-writer Shane Black’s slapstick noir The Nice Guys is like a swinging-’70s take on L.A. Confidential, and it has Russell Crowe and Kim Basinger on hand to prove it. But instead of Crowe’s investigative bruiser grudgingly teaming with Guy Pearce for this particular tale of the SoCal sex industry, political chicanery, and murder, we instead get Ryan Gosling, and it’s entirely possible that the actor has never before been this enjoyable on-screen. Co-written by Anthony Bagarozzi, Black’s movie is altogether quite good. While its plotting is overly convoluted (I’m still not certain where Basinger’s Justice Department official fits in the grand scheme of things), the dialogue is consistently punchy, the action choreography is sensationally witty, and Crowe offers a forceful dry-comic turn with the bonus treat of one priceless spit take. Gosling, however, is nearly all (figurative) spit takes as a fellow PI, his empathetic and riotous deadpan portrayal graced with bursts of explosive, joyous silliness. Perusing his film and TV credits, it’s impossible to tell where Gosling received training for the kind of madcap clowning he pulls off so effortlessly here. But the guy performs pratfalls like a master, and delivers hilariously panicked moments in a men’s-room stall, a glass elevator, and, especially, next to a rotting corpse that you’d be happy to watch GIF-like for hours on end. Gosling is stellar in scenes with the marvelous Angourie Rice as his daughter, a 13-year-old gumshoe-in-training with whom he shares a tenderly spiky rapport. He’s even better when allowed to release his inner goofball, which is blessedly often. At one point in the film, the latest of a dozen über-violent skirmishes again fails to kill him, and an astounded Gosling shouts, “I think I’m invincible!” Seeing him in The Nice Guys, it’s tough to disagree.
NEIGHBORS 2: SORORITY RISING
For a long time, and despite his charisma and song-and-dance talents, the eternally winsome, eternally vacuous Zac Efron was a movie-star joke. That joke is so much funnier now that Efron himself is in on it. Director Nicholas Stoller’s Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising is exactly what you’d expect – Neighbors with fewer Y chromosomes – and probably as underwhelming as you’d expect, with the vile pranks between Seth Rogen’s and Rose Byrne’s harried and doltish suburbanites and the young louts next door (led by Chloë Grace Moretz) increasingly labored and tedious. But while there are random laughs throughout (Byrne’s attempt to bribe Lisa Kudrow’s college dean with pocket change is a particularly hearty one), it’s Efron, cheerfully serving himself up as prime beefcake, who’s the central draw, his man-child Teddy an uproarious and shockingly touching depiction of post-collegiate aimlessness and confusion. Neighbors 2 isn’t great, but Efron totally is, and so sweetly, deeply in-character that it took me a full five seconds to realize the hilarity of Teddy’s enlightened admonishment when his old frat pals disparage sorority girls: “Don’t call them ‘hos.’ It’s not cool any more.”
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