Sisters is about two 40-something siblings (Tina Fey and Amy Poehler) who, on the eve of its selling, decide to throw one last, big, balls-out get-together in the Orlando home of their youth. And the movie feels like some debaucherous parties that you might've thrown: It's awesome at the start, intermittently enjoyable while it's happening, and the people who showed up don't seem to understand when it's time for them to just leave already. As with such parties, you're not all that upset that they decided to stick around - you're happy they came. But less of them, and their being less wasted, would've definitely been more, just as director Jason Moore's two-hour comedy would've likely been a stronger, more satisfying entertainment if it clocked in at 90 minutes, and had given us fewer scenes with Fey and Poehler in hostess mode.
I say this as someone already bemoaning the duo's absence from next month's Golden Globes. Ricky Gervais can be a hoot, but his mean-spirited shtick doesn't hold a candle to Fey's and Poehler's peerless emcee duties on the last three telecasts, where the performers' natural ease, rapport, and sweetly vicious throwaways brought to mind those kindhearted friends of yours who, after a few cocktails, are ready to tell you what they really think. Yet Sisters incrementally falls apart once Fey's brassy Kate (at one point, she actually states, "I'm brassy!") and Poehler's goody-two-shoes Maura welcome their old high-school pals, and random others, into their folks' home. What begins as a hilariously sad gathering of middle-aged parents and lonely singles morphs - with the aid of a rallying cry, tequila, and John Cena's briefcase full of drugs - into a loud, raucous free-for-all that would shame the teens of Project X. (That film merely submerged an expensive car in the backyard pool; here, the pool is obliterated by a sabotage-induced sinkhole.) There's only one problem: It isn't very funny. John Leguizamo gets increasingly hands-y, Rachel Dratch becomes morbidly unhinged, a cartoonish Maya Rudolph crashes the festivities, Samantha Bee takes her top off (twice), Bobby Moynihan snorts coke and sexually assaults a can of paint ... and none of it is as dementedly risqué as the genial participants appear to hope it'll be. Distracted by their characters' own issues, Fey and Poehler sail through unblemished, but Sisters' cray-cray party is mostly a bummer, and it lasts roughly half the movie.
That's too bad, because the other half is a lot of fun. Fey and Poehler are, of course, confident, quick-witted comedy partners who prove immediately (if not genetically) believable as temperamentally opposite sibs who are also the best of friends. Thanks to their camaraderie, it makes perfect sense when, in Paula Pell's script, Fey and Poehler divert from their sitcom caricatures and fall helplessly into one another's shared performance rhythm, which is both more endearing and spikier than anything any screenwriter could devise - though a lot of Pell's raunchier retorts are admittedly riotous. James Brolin and the eternally magical Dianne Wiest play the stars' exasperated parents, and are so funny that you kind of long for a version of this story told from their perspectives. (Barring a couple of wonderfully relaxed conversations between Poehler and Ike Barinholtz, who plays Maura's potential beau, it's also Wiest's contributions that make the strongest argument for an actual human being on director Moore's premises.) And even though Sisters' house-destroying blow-out is mostly a drag, it's hard to argue with who got an invitation: 30 Rock alums Chris Parnell, John Lutz, Sue Galloway, Matt Oberg, and Pell herself; Saturday Night Live's Kate McKinnon; Spotlight's Brian d'Arcy James. Plus Greta Lee, Daniel Breaker, Heather Matarazzo, Madison Davenport ... . It's a hell of a guest list. If only it made for a hell of a bash.
ALVIN & THE CHIPMUNKS: THE ROAD CHIP
By chance, do any of you have West Coast friends who've appeared in the Alvin & the Chipmunks movies as extras - those background figures who dance and whoop it up while the rodents sing helium-filled renditions of top-40 hits? If so, have you ever asked them if they were as embarrassed to be there as they looked? On at least four occasions in the new Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip, I couldn't take my eyes off the grown men and women shaking their booties while Alvin and company delivered ear-splitting harmonies suggesting a Glee soundtrack performed exclusively by boiling tea kettles. I can't decide if their collective expressions read as "This is the stupidest thing I've ever done" or "I'm too drunk to know what's going on," but either way, the extras' frenetically edited "joy" in response to the novelty crooning resembles nothing so much as humiliation. It was bad enough witnessing their frozen grins and glazed "Is this really happening?" euphoria at an L.A. house party and in a southwestern country bar. But once the theoretical euphoria made its way to New Orleans, I wanted to weep. Hasn't that poor city been through enough?
Regardless, The Road Chip isn't terrible, just as its three predecessors weren't terrible, even though I've entered every single one thinking, "This is going to be terrible." It's bad, to be sure. Director Walt Becker's manic kiddie comedy, which concerns a trek from California to Florida as the Chipmunks hope to prevent caretaker Dave (Jason Lee) from proposing to girlfriend Samantha (Kimberly Williams-Paisley), is expectedly overrun with dopey puns, lame slapstick, and the requisite unfunny fart, pee, and poop jokes. It might also be the final nail in the coffin of Jason Lee's once-healthy career, considering the man doesn't even pretend to be enjoying this anymore. (When the 'munks jump up for a hug, Lee has to wrap his arms around himself and sway back and forth and feign adoration for the CGI critters, and the sight is literally painful.) But the movie is just diverting enough to not be actively offensive. There are several snappy one-liners and a surprisingly entertaining scene with Samantha's teen son (Josh Green) trying to smuggle Alvin and Simon past airport security; one especially amusing bit, with Uzo Aduba as a dryly harried TSA officer, finds Alvin forced to pose as a stuffed-animal version of himself. And in his role as a psychotic air marshal holding a major grudge against the Chipmunks, Tony Hale - I have to admit - made me laugh out loud on at least a half-dozen occasions. With his singular comic hysteria that can switch instantaneously from shrieking apoplexy to somnolent muttering, the actor gives adult patrons without kids no reason to feel mortified for sitting through Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip - or, at least, little reason. It's also nice to see Hale picking up the mantle from the series' previous baddie played by David Cross. I can only presume Will Arnett is next on deck.
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