[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] T [/dropcap] he Watch is yet again another sophomoric comedy about middle-aged men with apparent economic prosperity but with too little to do and even less common sense about staying out of harm’s way. The producers have overlaid an alien invasion theme that straddles the real deal Alien-like reptilian “prawn”,as Peter Jackson might call them and the Paul-like Seth Rogen-esque hip/funny alien with a little a. If that last sentence was hard to follow and confused, you get the general structure of this film. The director doesn’t seem to know exactly what he wants this film to be….is it scary, funny, motivational, or sentimental?
The cast is focused around Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill, all great comedic forces, but each with a different style. Unlike the Judd Apatow ensemble approach to comedy, this film seems to just throw all three comedic styles into a washing machine and hope that what comes out works. If you cut this film into the three comedian’s segments you might find the lines funny. But blending them together is actually both a dilution and a distraction. While you are absorbing an offhand Vaughn comment that might have been funny, you find yourself watching Stiller show his neurotic look while Jonah Hill launches into a potty-mouthed blather as he does. They actually step on each others’ riffs and make the cardinal sin of comedy…..bad timing. I also didn’t like seeing them steal each others’ bits…..like when Hill quiets his mother with a finger laid lazily down his mother’s lips….a direct rip-off of Vaughn’s Wedding Crasher “weird brother” scene. It’s funny….but still a clear rip-off.
This film is like a badly constructed portfolio where the covariance matrix got ignored and the end result is 2+2+2 = 3. The art of good film-making, even of a slapstick comedy, is in the mixing and combining of talent. Not so much going on here.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] 21 [/dropcap] Jump Street is the latest Jonah Hill adventure, which he co-wrote with Michael Bacall, who’s clearly on a hot streak like Hill with credits for Scott Pilgrim and the controversial Project X. It’s the story of a couple of young cops who get sent back to high school undercover to break up a drug ring. Naturally, they reverse roles from what they were like in high school with Hill hanging with the cool in crowd (now more green than Fonzi) and his partner, Channing Tatum hanging with the tech nerds. It’s a fairly classic take-off on the original 21 Jump Street TV show that launched Johnny Depp. Nevertheless, it has lots to work with and Hill and Tatum do not disappoint.
Hill and Tatum get assigned to a covert drug squad headed by……Ice Cube. Brie Larson plays Hills love interest…..to go to the prom he never got to go to in high school. One of the funnier foils is the high school track coach played by Rob Riggle. They even found a spot for James Franco’s younger brother, Dave…..as the leader of the Eco-cool crowd.
The phenomenon of humor in Hollywood is quite fascinating in a sociological sense. Remember when Adam Sandler was funny? Not so much now. Well, the top of the humor food chain right now is the old Judd Apatow crowd of Rogen, Segal, Rudd and Hill. The first three have evolved their comedy and craft nicely, while Hill (with the exception of Moneyball) has dug into his Super Bad sophomoric humor….and 21 Jump Street has its share of that. But it has more, and maybe it’s the Bacall influence, but I suspect it has more to do with Channing Tatum and what his straight hunky charm brings to the equation.
If I treated this like an investment I would make a sizable short-term bet on Hill, but I would layer on some deep ou-of-the-money put protection on the trade since I do not believe his humor has staying power. I make a long-term buy out of the rest of the Apatow gang. I go short Adam Sandler and I am starting to leg out of my Vince Vaughn stock. I’m a long-term holder of Owen Wilson and anything by or with Christopher Guest and his posse.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] T [/dropcap] he Sitter is a Jonah Hill movie that is so far from being something worth seeing, that it is actually a testament to Hill’s draw that it even got made and released.
The original theme and story of The Sitter is fundamentally the same as the Elizabeth Shue classic, Adventures in Babysitting. Throw in some Risky Business messing with the local Gangsta crew and you know the whole story. There aren’t even any other significant cast members worth mentioning…..I guess that would have cut into the profit margin.
The strangest thing in The Sitter is this scene where Hill gets busted by the NYPD for running a red light and after hamming up a cell phone photo of one of them with the perp (Hill), they drive off with the diamonds that Hill stole from his estranged father (a little River Phoenix action from Parenthood?) during a break-in to his jewelry store.
The writer tries to reclaim some redemption by making Hill into a wise advisor to the three kids he has taken on this wild ride. It’s like a vulture capitalist dropping a buck into the Salvation Army bucket and calling himself righteous. In other words…..making nice for a moment does not make up for all the nasty and destructive/non-PC dialogue throughout the film. Take a pass on The Sitter…..even on late night TV.
[dropcap style="font-size: 60px; color: #9b9b9b;"] B [/dropcap] rad Pitt, Jonah Hill, PSH and a book by Michael Lewis was a surefire recipe for success. When this book came out I bought copies for all my management team at Bear Stearns because I thought Moneyball was an amazing story about transformation, change and being smart enough to buck convention and embrace change…..as tough as it is to implement change. The story was about Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s and the change he and his nerdy assistant, Peter Brand, played very straight by Hill (with none of his usual potty mouth) brought to the game. The amazing thing is that I am not a spectator sports kind of guy and yet I found this story compelling. Let’s face it, Michael Lewis is as much a hedge fund guy as anyone who writes in the major leagues….much less about the Major Leagues. In a phrase……he gets it. Moneyball is the perfect name for the phenomenon of digitizing the art of organizing and managing a ball team. And one of the only games with as much money in it as Wall Street and Movies is big league sports, so God knows the game needed it. This was about hedge fund trading of baseball players….pure and simple. Relative value arbitrage at its best and simplest.
As for the movie, it was an accurate portrayal of Moneyball the book. If you had asked me if they could make a movie from this book I would have said that as good as it was, no they could not…..or it would have been a joke that brought in elements needed to make a popular movie. It is a testament to the stars, the game of baseball and, indeed, fascination that modern society places on business and finance these days that this movie gets the high marks it gets. As a movie with conflict and resolution and pathos, Moneyball certainly had some, but come on….not so much. This was about a ball club that took discarded players and combined their skills to craft a winning season. And then how the game itself transformed to adopt those methods. THere was no love interest in Moneyball. There was no murder and mayhem in Moneyball. Hell, there wasn’t even any theft or financial shenanigans in Moneyball. There was baseball, there was a simple plot, a new, but simple idea, some solid acting…..and an outcome we all knew to expect. Amazing that we all ate it up.