Longtime admirers of Comedy Central's Inside Amy Schumer could easily be troubled by director Judd Apatow's Trainwreck, considering that by its finale, the wickedly smart, subversive, hysterical Schumer has morphed into a pretty standard rom-com heroine. (The transformation may be particularly dispiriting knowing that Schumer wrote the script.) As for me, I came to the party late, not having seen the star's sketch-series output until a few months ago, so I'm still living happily in the Amy Schumer afterglow, and was grateful for the oftentimes very funny Trainwreck at least being better than standard Hollywood rom-coms. Schumer's more die-hard fans may well bristle, but hey - I barely know the woman.
I do, however, wonder if Schumer's screenplay started out as truly dangerous and satiric before more sensitive or timid souls - maybe Apatow, maybe studio executives - convinced her to gently apply the brakes. In outline, Trainwreck is every Sandra Bullock or Katherine Heigl movie I never wanted to see, with a love-'em-and-leave-'em career gal enjoying her life of casual flings and copious wine consumption before falling head over stiletto heels for a sweet, patient guy who just might be The One. And for nearly half the film's length, Schumer, as both writer and performer, appears to have a blast tweaking, if not actively offending, everyone who traditionally enjoys those Bullock/Heigl flicks. Schumer's conveniently named Amy curses a blue streak (even in voice-over) and engages in sexual encounters to make the Sex & the City cast blush, and she's not shy about revealing her cultural ignorance, dislike of children, or offhanded bigotry. (When asked for evidence of the black friends she claims to have, Amy sheepishly produces a selfie of her, a white pal, and their black waiter.)
All of this is a mean-spirited riot, as are the scenes at Amy's men's-magazine workplace (lorded over by a tyrannical, unrecognizably spray-tanned Tilda Swinton), and the winning, rubber-faced Bill Hader is allowed to be goofier and more improvisational than most romantic foils to showcased comediennes. That's why it's so vexing when Schumer gives herself maudlin subplots involving Amy's ailing father (a good, gruff Colin Quinn) and disapproving sister (an excellent Brie Larson), and when Amy has to inevitably learn to Be a Better Person by admitting her faults and tossing out her booze and so forth. The finale, meanwhile, is pure wish-fulfillment kitsch, the sort of wildly improbable happy-ending spectacle that made at least a dozen patrons at my screening go "Aw-w-w-w!" Even given my limited exposure to her, I'd really hoped to never hear an "Aw-w-w-w ..." reaction to Schumer's comedy unless it was followed by " ... that's so-o-o-o gross."
There are other disappointments and dumb digressions, particularly those involving celebrity cameos; the clips from a spoofy Sundance hit featuring Daniel Radcliffe and Marisa Tomei are almost, almost, as stunningly ill-conceived as Amy's romantic "intervention" involving Matthew Broderick, Chris Evert, and Marv Albert. (John Cena and LeBron James - the latter playing himself - have hefty supporting roles, though, and their ace comic timing suggests they could have solid film careers after their WWE and NBA retirements.) Yet Schumer's talents and spiky charm are vast enough to outweigh most of Trainwreck's failings, and, especially in its first half, Apatow's latest is looser and more winning than anything he's done since Knocked Up - which, of course, was a rom-com starring Katherine Heigl. And the circle of life continues.
Among the Marvel Studios oeuvre, the only thing Ant-Man really has going for it is that it's funny, and it isn't all that funny. One can only imagine, with regret, what the film's original, replaced director Edgar Wright might've done with this origin tale for the world's tiniest comic-book hero (Paul Rudd), which does demonstrate a bit of agreeably loony, Wright-ian comic imagination in its perspective-shifting action climax and clever exposition montages. (Wright retains a co-screenwriting credit along with Rudd, Joe Cornish, and comedy savant Adam McKay.) But assigned director Peyton Reed is not a helmer of any discernible excitement or personality or style - his most impressive credit, if you can imagine, is 2000's cheerleader "classic" Bring It on - and so most of Ant-Man just lies there like a squashed bug on a windshield.
Rudd seems to have had all of his snarky, ironic wit surgically removed for his first crime-fighting lead, and the film's tepid excuses for humor are visible in everything from the jokey product placement for Baskin-Robbins to the ethnic second bananas played by Michael Peña, T.I., and David Dastmalchian. (The latter plays a stereotypically accented Russian who blames the Ant-Man costume's supernatural wizardry on gypsies, while Peña spends much of his screen time serving T.I. waffles. Oh, Marvel.) Michael Douglas, Corey Stoll, and Bobby Cannavale try to brighten matters - with Evangeline Lilly continually darkening them again as a dour ally with a really unfortunate pageboy - but Ant-Man remains a dully, aggressively formulaic franchise-starter not helped by its lackluster CGI or lack of narrative surprises. Or, at my Friday-morning screening, by the front-row patron who started snoring within the first 10 minutes, and proceeded to rouse himself, then begin snoring again, at regular intervals throughout. If he was intentionally trying to disrupt the proceedings, I say well done, but DC Entertainment really should find subtler saboteurs than that.
Follow Mike on Twitter at Twitter.com/MikeSchulzNow.