The SmarK DVD Rant – "Apatow-Esque"

"No, I like to rock n roll all night and only PART of every day. I usually have errands and I can only rock from like 1 – 3."

So as the cult of Apatow grows over Hollywood, we now have weird quasi-spinoff movies that technically have nothing to do with him but use the same players and develop the same themes. And make a buttload of money as well. This guy is clearly a friggin’ genius and probably should get a chunk of the grosses for Role Models on general principles. And maybe some of Zack and Miri Make a Porno as well.

The Films

rolemodels

Role Models is the breakthrough film for David Wain (The State and Stella), exploring the increasingly-popular subject of adult comedy these days: The bro-mantic comedy. In this new genre, traditional male-female romantic plots are an obstacle for the protagonists to overcome rather than the point of the movie, and the real focus is on the relationship between the two lead males. I think the height of the genre thus far is the awesome I Love You, Man, but Paul Rudd plays a similar character here (he’s pretty much nailed that role now) and carries the movie equally well. It’s kind of weird because Rudd never did anything for me on Friends as Phoebe’s generic boyfriend/husband Mike Hannigan, but ever since leaving that show he’s become a guy who can make any movie that he’s in worth watching. Here he plays Danny, a role that’s right in his comfort zone: The uptight slacker who hates himself but still thinks he’s better than everyone. Early in the movie he goes off on a Starbucks clerk about the sizes of coffee, and it’s a brilliant piece of business that hit way too close for me as someone who also tends to give five minute lectures about minor things that are bugging me.

Anyway, the plot. Danny and Wheeler (the equally funny Seann William Scott, playing a slightly more grown-up version of Stiffler) are a pair of touring energy drink hucksters who preach to kids that drinking Minotaur is much more preferable to doing drugs. For those (like myself) who often need two cans of Rockstar to get through a morning, the irony here is pretty funny. Unfortunately, Danny’s crappy life comes unglued during one particularly bad morning and a poorly-timed collision between their Minotaur truck and a horse statue leaves our heroes facing either 30 days of jail time or, even worse, community service. And here once again Apatow regular Jane Lynch pops into the movie and steals every scene she’s in, this time as a former junkie turned guiding light for kids. She used to have cocaine for breakfast and lunch, you see, and thus can’t be BS’d. The other female in the movie, Elizabeth Banks (starring now in EVERYTHING) feels more like a plot device than a real character, but I guess Danny needed someone to pine after.

But why the movie really works is once again the brilliant geek-work of Christopher Mintz-Plasse, McLovin himself. As the awkward nerd who plays live-action role playing games and manages to charm Danny into being a real human being for once, he carries the brunt of the heavy lifting here and steals another movie, just like he did with Superbad. But what’s really great about the role-playing stuff is that although it’s played for laughs when skewering the pompous denizens of the realm, the movie allows the characters to actually enjoy playing along after a while. A meaner movie would have simply mocked the entire concept and left it at that. In the end, much like Apatow’s films, the focus is on the bonding between the men in the movie and everything else is just a backdrop. It’s also one of the sharpest and funniest movies of 2008 and well worth the purchase. For bonus features, you get a commentary with David Wain, but only on the Theatrical version of the movie. Given the unrated version is only about two minutes longer and virtually indistinguishable, I’m not sure why they had to do that. There’s also the usual deleted scenes (well worth deleting in a movie where pacing was already an issue at times), the usual funny blooper reel, plus improvised in-character skits (like Sturdy Wings regular Martin Gary doing an instructional video about struggling to understand Mexican kids) and a fluff "On the Set" piece. Pretty much everything I wanted to see in terms of extras. (Overall Rating: ****1/2)

zackmiriporno

In a similar vein, Kevin Smith also jumped on board the Apatow train in 2008, going from his usual slacker-comedy form and crafting OK, it’s another slacker comedy. But with Seth Rogen and, surprise, Elizabeth Banks. I’m definitely of mixed feelings about Zack and Miri Make a Porno (or simply Zack and Miri if you’re a Wal-Mart shopper, so I’ve heard). On one hand, I’ve long been a huge Kevin Smith fan and have followed his career since day one. On the other hand, he just can’t seem to progress past the same dick and fart humor, even if it still is hilarious to many people. And this movie is basically one long excuse for dick jokes, as Smith eschews the usual "throw a small cast into an everyday situation and let talking ensue" and goes for an actual plot this time. You’ve Zack and Miri, two friends from high school who are still living together in poverty and work at a Starbucks clone for little money, but somehow have never realized that they love each other and should be together in the Biblical sense. This is the immediate problem with the movie, as everyone in the audience is immediately about 14 steps ahead of the plot because you know what’s gonna happen. Unlike Apatow’s works, where the romance is a plot device to fuel male bonding and comedy, here it’s the end point of the story. Anyway, Justin Long has a woefully-short cameo as a gay porn star, which gives our heroes the idea to make their movie, and again we get Star Wars geekery from Smith in the form of their original idea for the movie. But again, as with a half dozen other ideas in this movie, that part of the plot gets tossed out after 10 minutes and they try another plan instead.

I don’t want to sound like I didn’t like the movie, because I laughed my ass off even after multiple viewings, but this is hardly a technical masterpiece. There’s a whole lot of funny ideas (like milking YouTube stardom, working in a Starbucks with a paranoid racist boss, doing a Star Wars-themed porno, and especially the whole high school reunion setup which ends up being yet another plot device) which could be movies on their own, but they’re barely developed here before getting tossed aside for another one. This was apparently not a very well-planned movie by Smith, despite the comic efforts of everyone involved to overcome the weak script by sheer force of willpower. Unfortunately, Smith regulars Jeff Anderson and Jason Mewes just aren’t very good actors and aren’t up to carrying a movie like this one, leaving Seth Rogen and Craig Robinson to do the heavy lifting. And yet despite all the trainwreck plot elements and amateurish feel, it still works big time when it works. Crude jokes like the discussion of vibrators and "LET US FUCK!" may be the comedy equivalent of a blunt force trauma (compared to the comedy rapier of guys like Paul Rudd) but it’s still FUNNY and that’s what counts for me. More importantly, it shows the power of Judd Apatow’s influences, because even a movie that swipes his actors and styles in a manner as clumsy as this one still ends up working. I just wish it would have worked BETTER. It could have been Wedding Crashers with different people behind it (like, say, the guys behind Wedding Crashers) but as it stands it’s just a really excellent movie concept (the movie was greenlit based solely on the title) and good, but not great, payoff. The DVD is a two-disc set, and it’s oddly lacking a Kevin Smith commentary track, which is normally the best part about any Smith movie. You get deleted scenes on the first disc, and the second disc gives you a making-of feature, plus the teasers from Smith’s website, and blooper reel stuff with Seth Rogen and Justin Long trying to crack each other up. I’m still giving it a strong recommendation, but just not as strong as the far superior Role Models. (Overall Rating: ***1/2)

The winner: Role Models, one of my favorite comedies of the last few years.

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