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Super Troopers (2001)
Can we put these "Troopers" behind bars for this?
Using a slew of stale gags for comedy, a downright bad script, and all-around untalented deliveries, the 'Broken Lizard' comedy team offers one unfunny yarn with "Super Troopers." The movie follows a gang of Vermont highway patrolmen, who love pulling pranks on whoever they pull over. To save their outfit from being shut down by the governor, they try and out-do the local police station in solving a big-time crime, and inevitably lots of gags ensue and everyone finds the time to get drunk. Embarassingly unfunny, somebody needs to retire the Broken Lizard team before they do any more theatrical damage.
Graphic for its time, brilliant even today
Violent 1973 portrait of Depression-era gangster John Dillinger, the relentless effort by the FBI to stop him, and the "folk hero" essence that surrounded his glory days. Warren Oates is flawlessly accurate as the title villain, and Ben Johnson is equally alluring as Melvin Purvis, the agent bent on getting his man, rounded out by finely portrayed supporting characters (such as Richard Dreyfuss as "Baby Face" Nelson and Steve Kanaly as "Pretty Boy" Floyd). Masterful combination of old-school Hollywood action and new-generation graphic depiction. The perfectly photographed locations add to the character's (and the film's) essence. John Milius's directing is casually brilliant.
Casualties of War (1989)
The Vietnam War at its worst
As the poignant tagline says, "Even in war, murder is murder." Based on a true even that occured during the Vietnam War in 1966, DePalma's gritty psychological drama depicts the capture, molestation, and eventual execution of a Vietnamese citizen by a US army squad, and the struggle within the ranks between the low-down squad leader (Penn) and the lone soldier who refuses to go along with the awful deeds of the rest of the group, Fox, who proves his ability at delivering a solid dramatic performance, while the former is frightening and excellent as the antagonistic sergeant. One of the grittiest Vietnam War films ever, the audience is constantly aware the violence and insanity of war and its worst events. Among the best of the 1980s line of Vietnam War dramas.
Quick cash-in on the success of "Friday"
You've heard of movies that are merely rip-offs of other movies, but now here's a movie with a plot ripped off from just a few scenes in another movie. In a rehash of Eddie Murphy and Arsenio Hall's oddball characters from a barbershop in the hit "Coming To America," we see the same thing here, except that's the entire movie. Producers were quick to place rapper/self-proclaimed actor Ice Cube in another "day-in-the-hood" comedy-drama as soon as copies of the equally drab "Friday" and its sequel hit sales racks. Here, the viewer is given a look at the day in the lives of characters in a south side Chicago barbershop (hence the clever title). Cedric the Entertainer is embarassingly annoying as an oddball barber ripped off from "Coming To America," and the rest of the cast is no help whatsoever. Comedically cliched and hopeless, if you've seen "Friday" there's no need for this junk.
Van Wilder (2002)
Pitiful rehash of "Animal House"
The National Lampoon magazine folded during the filming of their "Loaded Weapon 1" movie back in the 90s, and since then they've dished out nothing but weak remakes of earlier classics, and "Van Wilder" proves to be no exception. Ryan Reynolds is typically annoying as the title character who frees his college from studying and the ideal to better oneself and turns it into a party-zone with the help of recycled gags, predictable one-liners, and a slew of bad supporting actors and actresses. You probably liked this better however, when it featured John Belushi and was called "Animal House."
Mr. Deeds (2002)
Haven't we seen this before?
Yes, we have. Sandler is typically funny-for-a-few-gags in this tale of an ordinary guy flung into the millionare lifestyle when he inherits billions. "Mr. Deeds" is little more than the standard Sandler fare, with the standard Sandler characters - "normal Joes" put into unlikely situations (think "Big Daddy" and "Happy Gilmore"). Ryder is unusually unwatchable, but Turturro saves many scenes as the butler. A few funny moments, but not worth watching the whole thing.
Loaded Weapon 1 (1993)
Ineffectual combination of good and bad humor
The last film from the National Lampoon factory before the magazine folded, "Loaded Weapon 1" is essentially a so-so parody of "Lethal Weapon" and other buddy movies. Emilio Estevez and Samuel L. Jackson make an unlikely onscreen pair and at times it works, and other times it doesn't. "Loaded Weapon 1" contains plenty of fresh and clever jokes (like Jon Lovitz's reference to Esetevez's brother Martin Sheen's work in "Hot Shots!"), but it also relies on plenty of material that's just plain stale and dumb, and the result is ineffectual and drab. William Shatner is hilarious as the main villain however, and look for cameos from Bruce Willis, F. Murray Abraham, and Charlie Sheen.
Die Hard 2 (1990)
Quite exciting if one ignores the first film
Despite a hokey promotional title of "Die Hard 2: Die Harder," this sequel to the 1988 smash holds up quite well on its own terms. New York City cop John McClane once again finds himself in a mess of terrorists and one-liners as he battles bad guys at a Washington, D.C. airport. The change of venue is fresh, and the action sequences here are every bit as exciting as in the original, though the plot drags in between. John Amos is entertaining as the head terrorist, and Dennis Franz gives a decent performance as a desk cop whose feelings for McClane are anything but respectful. Obviously implausible, but when one ignores the first film, "Die Hard 2" does quite well on its own.
Die Hard (1988)
Finally an action flick the makers can be proud of
In an easy candidate for the greatest action movie ever released, Bruce Willis plays John McClane, a New York City cop invited by his separated wife (Bonnie Bedelia) to her place of work in L.A., a forty-story skyscraper, for the company's Christmas party. In an ironic, almost implausible, but very entertaining twist of events, the building is seized by thieves under the guise of terrorists, led by German Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman in one of his most unforgettable roles). And of course, Willis evades the submachine-gun wielding antagonists throughout all forty floors, enduring pain, thrilling near death experiences, and shootout after shootout as he is pitted against the nastiest thieves ever to hit L.A. Aside from the obvious shoot-em-up thrillride, "Die Hard" boasts believable acting, and a plot that roots itself deeper and deeper into the audience's attention as the movie goes on. Willis's ability to make wisecracks amidst bullets and bombs is classic, and his tension with the L.A.P.D. and the F.B.I., locked outside and doing as little as they can to help, is dramatic and entertaining. Inevitably followed by two worthy sequels.
Deserves seven out of ten
Despite the fact that "Mystery Science Theater 3000" is one of the most creative, hilarious comedies of the past decade, this "feature film" version is essentially an ordinary episode of the series on tape, despite some added fun and no censors (though they're hardly ever needed anyway). Mike Nelson and robot pals Tom and Crow are marooned on the Satellite Of Love (SOL. Get it?) and forced to watch awful B-movies by the mad Dr. Forrester. This time it's "This Island Earth." Great wisecracks throughout, and fun with audience participation. But "MST3K: The Movie" is pretty much a single episode of the series packaged as a feature presentation.
Great comedic entertainment
Though not in the same vein as some of Ed O'Neill's funnier work, "Dutch" is harmless as good comedic entertainment. O'Neill plays working class goof Dutch Dooley, about to embark on the road trip from hell as he clashes with his girlfriend's snobby son (Ethan Randall), whom he was sent to pick up from an upper-class private school for Thanksgiving. There are plenty of hilarious and dare one say touching moments throughout the film that provide great, harmless entertainment while never becoming too soppy with the sentimental material. O'Neill flexes his working class characters without resorting to immitations of his Al Bundy character. Aside from good comedy, "Dutch" reminds the audience, "Nothing burps better than bacon."
Uncommon Valor (1983)
Held up by strong, believable performances
Gene Hackman plays Colonel Rhodes, a frustrated veteran who rounds up a gang of the roughest men he can find, all to lead an invasion of a Vietnamese Prisoner of War camp at which he believes his son is still held captive. Seemingly far-fetched plot isn't as overblown as one might think, while the cast gives great, solid, and most of all believable performances, including Patrick Swayze, Fred Ward, and Randall "Tex" Cobb. Includes a high energy action-filled climax. Recommended for fans of gritty war-dramas. Besides, it's always interesting to see Tex Cobb doing a ballet improvisation.
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
One of the more realistic family films of the 20th century
A composite of the too-familiar child custody battle, Oscar winner "Kramer Vs. Kramer" profiles Ted, Joanna, and young Billy Kramer (Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, and Justin Henry). Selfish, deadbeat mom Streep leaves on a quest to "find herself," leaving Hoffman to care for young Henry, until she returns, bringing an ugly custody battle with her. Explores the points of view of all camps involved in the legal war, and shows with realism the underhanded legal tactics of Joanna's lawyers. Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep garnered Oscars for their enduring, believable performances, and young Henry earned a Best Supporting Actor nomination. A flawless screenplay and great acting rounds out one of the greatest, most realistic family films of all time, complete with a believable and satisfying ending.
An embarassing dud of a movie
In George McCowan's disastrous film about vengeful toads (what made the producers think that would lure the movie patrons?), a photographer visiting an island near Florida interrupts a rich man's birthday party (somehow that has something to do with the plot). Things get bad (could they get worse after a dreadful opening scene full of frogs?) when the cast realizes that the local frogs are attacking people and out for revenge. In one of the most implausible storylines of the early seventies, this embarassing dud of a movie contains bad acting (Sam Elliott's talent was especially wasted), poor script, and of course an even worse director. Pitiful environmentalist's revenge fantasy...think "Death Wish" but with a frog as Charles Bronson.
Zabriskie Point (1970)
Cinematic values wasted in every aspect
In Michaelangelo Antonioni's epic hippie flick "Zabriskie Point," the viewer follows the standard cynical and hopeless views of two teenagers as they engage in several orgies, as Antonioni crams a few explosions and sprawling sexual scenes in there too. An uninspiring look at late-sixties America leaves nothing that no other director hadn't already done, while adding things that are pointless and only more embarassing. Its combination of surreal imagery and swirling music only makes things confusing. Everything was wasted cinematically, including great bands that provided the soundtrack. The grainy photography didn't help either. "Zabriskie Point" is yet another low in Antonioni's career, which has very few perks indeed, much like this film.
In the Heat of the Night (1967)
Compelling crime drama, not overloaded with morality tales
In this Oscar-winning crime drama that spawned one of the best series of the 1980s, "In the Heat of the Night" profiles the murder of an industrialist in a small Mississippi town and the tense investigation that follows. Poitier plays Virgil Tibbs, a black homicide expert paired with white city police chief Steiger. The film explores the strained teamwork between the two, Steiger's resentment at Poitier's Tibbs, while giving fresh insight into the crime drama as a whole. Despite an underlying theme of the folly of racism, "In the Heat of the Night" doesn't bear the viewer with a morality tale. Won many awards, including Oscars for Best Picture and Best Actor (Steiger), and nominated for many more.
Training Day (2001)
A twisted buddy-movie fails in many aspects
In a twist on the generic buddy movie, Ethan Hawke is a naive rookie narcotics officer paired for the day with veteran rogue Denzel Washington. Throughout one twenty-four hour period, Hawke finds himself involved in scandals and corrupt business, all the fault of dirty cop Washington. Fair for its grit and tension between the two lead characters, but unapplausable for its generic approach. Denzel Washington won an Oscar for his role, and it sure shows, and not in a good way; it seems overly obvious that the lead man crafted his role not to entertain, but to obtain a gold statue. His Alonzo Harris character is obviously a corrupt rip-off of Popeye Doyle (from "The French Connection"). Hopeless in some places, while Hawke and a slew of other minor characters save the day in a supporting manner.
Half Baked (1998)
Not an original (or funny) bone in its body
In a pitiful glorification of marijuana, Dave Chappelle and his stoned buddies steal and sell experimental pot to bail their friend out of jail. An easy candidate for one of the worst comedies of the 1990s, "Half Baked" contains bad acting, an obviously pro-pot script (which comes off like a sermon given by Tommy Chong, who has a bit part in the film), and plenty of jokes stolen from other films (for instance, Chappelle's description of janitorial work as the "Custodial Arts" was ripped off from 1984's "The Breakfast Club"). The awful script also contains the uninspired anti-pot lines from Chappelle's love interest, while never being sincere. Ironically, the script is just as campy and cheesy as any anti-marijuana documentary, just the other way around.
Deserves six out of ten
Mike Myers plays dual roles in this often uproarious spoof of hippie/spy films. After 60s swinger/British spy Austin Powers is unfrozen from the past, he learns his old nemesis Doctor Evil (what else would he have been named?) was also frozen, but was thawed out to take over the world. Powers is paired with lovely British Agent Vanessa (Elizabeth Hurley), and endures some hilarious culture shock (as does his enemy) as he's introduced to a world where man has walked on the moon and Berlin is no longer divided. Myers offers side-splitting performances as both Powers and the equally bumbling Dr. Evil. A strong, hilarious script, although at some points, the jokes are just plain raunchy (and the toilet humor got worse in the two box office hit sequels). But overall, a highly entertaining and intelligent comedy. Recommended for Inspector Clouseau fans as well.
Apollo 13 (1995)
Five out of ten for "Apollo 13"
Despite occasional flashes of great drama and decent performances from Hanks, Sinise, Harris, and others, "Apollo 13" is all too often trapped in a sterile form that is difficult to become involved with. The film follows the real-life events of three astronauts shot into space on the title craft, its destination the moon, but trouble with the craft gives them other plans. Although the chemistry of Paxton, Hanks, and Bacon is useful, the main problem is that the viewer becomes lost within a dialogue full of space craft-NASA mumbo jumbo. Definitely no fun watching astronauts babble on about things which we have no idea what they are. Nonetheless, "Apollo 13" still has some memorable effects and a cast that wasn't entirely wasted.
To Catch a Killer (1992)
Intense and chilling; a great Dennehy performance
In a fine made-for-TV effort, "To Catch A Killer" profiles notorious murderer John Wayne Gacy (played chillingly by Brian Dennehy), his mask of a respected public citizen, the awful secret he kept, and the relentless attempt to expose him. Dennehy's work with the supporting characters is darkly magical and the story reminds you that it's real with every chance. Highly recommended for fans of Dennehy and of good psychological thrillers.
The buddy-movie genre hits a new low
In a version of "Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid" made for the nineties, this buddy-movie finds Mickey Rourke and Don Johnson in some of their most unwatchable work. Harley and Marlboro rob a bank to save the bar in which they love to get drunk, only to find they've accidentally stolen mob dough, and naturally, lots of one-liners and violence result. The attempted character-depth conversations between Harley and the Marlboro Man atop a billboard and elsewhere are boring and cheesy, while the action takes up the rest of the film. However, the film is easily comparable to "Butch and Sundance"...the latter was great, while this is pointless.
Jack the Ripper (1988)
Redeeming made-for-TV account
In this engrossing TV movie chronicling the Jack the Ripper slayings of the late 1880s, the viewer is treated to a magnetic performance by Michael Caine and a sturdy realistic script, not to mention great chemistry between many members of the cast. The film perfectly captures the essence of the time, and the mood of all those involved, showing the anger and frustration of Scotland Yard, taunted by the elusive Ripper. Much more redeeming than many modern accounts of the murders, which are often overblown and gory. A delight for Caine fans, and those who appreciate good thrillers. The ending, though slightly questionable because the case remains unsolved, is based on evidence found by writer/director David Wickes.
Full Metal Jacket (1987)
Separates itself from many war dramas
In what is probably the greatest war movie ever made, we follow an everyman, Private Joker (Matthew Modine), as he struggles through the torture of late-sixties boot camp, the boredom of life as a combat correspondent in Vietnam, and finally as a fighting soldier during the 1968 Tet Offensive. This gritty, uncompromising drama shocked many for its brutality, most notably Vincent D'Onofrio's performance as an "oat-fed innocent" private slowly transformed to a psychotic sniper with a death wish. R. Lee Ermey's unrelenting drill instructor is flawless and chillingly real, Modine is great as the cynical Joker, as is Adam Baldwin's portrayal of "Animal Mother." Dour and frightening characters all around. "Full Metal Jacket" is definitely the defining war movie because of what it does not attempt to be...cliched heroics and glory speeches (like other war epics "We Were Soldiers" and "The Green Beret"). A must-see for war movie fans, and lovers of poignant gritty drama. Oscar-nominated script by director Stanley Kubrick, Michael Herr, and Gustav Hasford (who also wrote the novel "The Short-Timers").
Red Dawn (1984)
Campy but harmless entertainment
Well, it's World War III and the Soviet Union, paired with the Cubans (who else?) have parachuted into the heartland of America...guess our radar wasn't working that day. So a group of high schoolers high tail it to a store owned by one of the lads' fathers, which conveniently sells guns, ammo, and camping supplies. And inevitably, the teenagers wind up fighting the invaders to the end. Campy acting, cheesy dialogue, and a plot too illogical to ignore ruin much of the movie, but it's harmless as a way to spend two hours. The highlight character is the realistically distraught lead Cuban invader. Overall, "Red Dawn" is a hasty warning to American citizens, disguised as an action flick, at the heyday of the Cold War. The first theatrical release with a PG-13 rating.