Monday Morning Critic – Kevin James & The Zookeeper, The Boondock Saints

Every Monday morning, InsidePulse Movies Czar Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings an irreverent and oftentimes hilarious look at pop culture, politics, sports and whatever else comes to mind. And sometimes he writes about movies.

One of the oft-overlooked Blu-Ray releases of this month was another edition of The Boondock Saints, Troy Duffy’s opus that found an audience in spite of itself. A writer I follow wrote a piece about it, questioning its cult classic bonafides, but something about this film has always intrigued me. I wrote a review of the first special edition of the DVD and was excited to see the sequel, which disappointed me immensely. There’s something about this film that I think gives it a significance it probably never wanted: It’s the last cult film that really found its audience on DVD by word of mouth.

It’s that cross point between when cult films were discovered through word of mouth and transitioned to being found en masse by the power of the internet.

Through The Boondock Saints I really think we can see how the older definition of “cult” is kind of going away into something new. I’m not sure how we can describe it now but I think we need to redefine the phrase “cult classic” to describe our modern era of being a film fan. The phrase “cult” has now become the “def” for film aficionado types, I think, because of one main reason: it’s nearly impossible to be overlooked and then discovered years later because of the power of the internet.

The way of discovering cult films in my childhood (not all that long ago, and I’m sticking to that story) came from discovering films by gazing at video store box covers and picking up something you haven’t heard of before but kind of looks cool. Or a friend tells you about some film he found that no one had heard of and you spot the box cover, grabbing it for rental on a lark. Or someone had it and lent it to you. It was always someone you knew or met that recommended a film that few had heard of. There was a personal touch to it, which is why I’ve always thought that cult films have a unique place in the cinematic lexicon. There’s a personal connection to it, I think, that few types of films can garner.

My father and I discovered High Heels and Low Lifes after a house fire left us scrambling for something to do. It was the only thing we could agree on together to watch on cable, mainly because it involved crime and had Minnie Driver in it. It was the summer, I had vacation and he was on the mend after knee surgery … and I wrote a piece on the whole bit years ago you can read here. The bottom line is that there’s always some sort of memory involved when we watch cult films, at least there used to be.

Then the internet changed all that. It begins with Donnie Darko, which was really the first “cult” film of note that spread more from online sources than from pure word of mouth. Now there are hundreds of websites and web columns devoted to cult films but it really isn’t the same anymore. Before there was an avalanche of web sites covering every film genre in depth, and over-covering smaller genres like cult films and horror, and now cult classics aren’t really that anymore. I hate to use the phrase but “obscure films” seems a more apt description because word of mouth is a lot different now than it was twelve years ago when the film was released.

Twelve years ago the web wasn’t the burgeoning place in our lives that it is now, in the age of social networking and gossip websites that seemingly exist almost unto themselves, so the ability to discover a film purely on word of mouth from people you knew existed. It’s how I discovered Slacker and Cheats (amongst others) and I imagine tons of people discovered the same films, and many others, the same way.

The phrase “cult classic” I think needs to be changed up a bit because the art of discovery itself has changed. It’s why we use the phrase cult, because it was a group of people discovering it and passing along the word. Now it’s not really that because it’s not really word of mouth; it’s digital ink. I don’t think we can really use the phrase “cult classic” anymore because all you need is a Net-Book, a Wi-Fi connection and Google to find what you’re looking for.

Random Thought of the Week

I was going to leave this week’s column at just a look at The Boondock Saints but this came up as well. I tried to pick either or but couldn’t; thus I have to use both. And it’s a bit timely because this week something’s been bugging me about the star of Zookeeper:

Has there ever been an actor who’s become a headliner as inexplicably as Kevin James?

It’s the one thing I’ve been able to gather from following film the last couple years. Kevin James has somehow become a star and there’s been no sweeping moment where he established himself as a box office force to be reckoned with. There was no grand moment when all of Hollywood kind of stood up and said “welcome to the club.”

With Zookeeper coming and James the grand star, with an amazing wealth of talent providing voice talents, it’s shocking to see James opening a major summer film with big expectations. It comes with a budget close to $100 million already, which it crossed with publicity and advertising, which means there’s a lot riding on it. And he’s front and center on the poster and advertisements, and the trailer, when he’s surrounded with a loaded voice cast that gets virtually no mention.

It only seemed a short while ago that he was playing comic foil to Will Smith in Hitch in a small role, his first in film as he was better known for being on King of Queens at this point. Kevin James is the kind of guy you look up and go “What the heck, him?” as opposed to “man, that guy looks like a movie star.” There never was a star-making moment for him as an actor; he just did King of Queens for a long time and three films later is somehow able to be a headlining actor.

It’s not like he had a Top Gun moment, either, in which he had some small films hit big and then had an epic-sized hit that kind of cemented him amongst the big boys. Paul Blart: Mall Cop was a hit but it was almost an embarrassing one. It wasn’t well reviewed and kind of became a punch line, despite grossing $150 million, and his parts afterwards didn’t reflect a guy who was pretty much the reason why a film grossed that kind of cash.

It was in the follow up that it seemed that Hollywood kind of acknowledged that it was a fluke, or at least that’s what I thought. He was in a supporting role for I Now You Pronounce You Chuck and Larry and Grown Ups to Adam Sandler. Both of those roles were strictly supporting, as it wasn’t “here’s Kevin James and Adam Sandler.” It was “Adam Sandler’s in this film, and some of his friends too, so yeah …” Neither of those are things you can point to as being moments where a guy was crowned a star and then lived up to it; he got to play the buffoon to one of the last real movie stars out there.

James went from being in a smash television hit that lasted for some time to headlining a film but without the star-making turn. A bit odd for the one time high school wrestling teammate of pro wrestling superstar Mick Foley but he has gone from being a small part of a film to being a headliner without having that Top Gun moment. He had funny bits in other people’s films but outside of Paul Blart: Mall Cop becoming a shocking hit he never had that singular moment where he arrived at stardom. Blart was successful but no one was screaming that Kevin James was a movie star. It was just one of those films at the right time, I thought, and afterwards there was no one rushing to cast Kevin James in lead roles.

It was bad, people said it was bad amongst critics and consumers, and yet the landscape was such that this was as good as it got. It grossed a ton of cash seemingly in spite of itself and James’s roles thereafter didn’t reflect his success by himself. Will Smith has said that the scene where he comes out with his shirt off, mid action sequence, immediately turned his career around. He got better scripts, et al, and Independence Day solidified him amongst the A-listers. You instantly thought “Oh my God, this is a movie star” and so did the rest of Hollywood. It’s that single moment that instantly changed everyone’s perception about him that I liked to call a Top Gun moment. The Top Gun moment is when people en masse see your film and the first thing people say is mentioning someone is a star.

Not could be. Not will be soon. IS.

That’s what happened to Tom Cruise immediately after that film. It was a huge hit and he became a bonafide star immediately thereafter. For a more recent example, think Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis inThe Hangover. Yeah you probably could’ve replaced Cooper with Ryan Reynolds and Zach with Patton Oswalt, not missing a beat, but for the two of them that franchise was their Top Gun moment. Afterwards Zach is the newest funny man de jour and Cooper is getting top bill and consideration for major roles in major films.

Kevin James has somehow managed to go from being a sidekick to Will Smith in Hitch to carrying his own summer tentpole based on a relatively small resume. One hit film, a couple decent parts in other films and now he headlines a big summer tentpole. He was a fairly big television star with King of Queens but TV drawing power to films happens in rare cases. After Will Smith … it’s … well … nobody. He’s kind of it.

TV stars generally don’t tend to translate into cinematic superstars. You can go from television to being a commodity at the movies, but generally you’re seeing actors use movies as more of things to do between television shows as opposed to something in and of itself. It’s interesting to read websites like Deadline and Variety and see some relatively bigger names in consideration for television shows that wouldn’t have been in that equation not even five years ago. It’s a different environment.

So the fact that James being counted on to helm a big summer tentpole shows a lot of confidence from the studio in his ability to bring in bigger crowds. The only other actors given any sort of face time for the film have been Joe Rogan and Leslie Bibb, neither of whom you could call stars either. Rogan is known more for News Radio, Fear Factor and being a commentator for the UFC while Bibb had minor parts in the first two Iron Man films as well as a small turn on The League. Neither of them are going to bring in anything other than a fringe portion of the audience and as such neither are promoted heavily as being in the film.

This is James’ film to bring in crowds and he doesn’t have a track record of doing so.

Blart was shockingly successful but it’s the only film he’s headlined to date. Everything else has been him and someone else who has been a draw, twice Adam Sandler and once with Will Smith. The Dilemma, without either of those two, didn’t do so well as he paired with Vince Vaughn and Oscar winning director Ron Howard. It’s not like he has a track record of being a summer tentpole kind of a guy, either.

That’s what intrigues me about all of this. James has a weird way of being an everyman, and has an MMA comedy called Here Comes the Boom, but we really don’t think of him as a star. Will Zookeeper change that? Who knows. But I’ll be interested to find out.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Get Him To The Greek

The one thing I don’t think studios don’t get about Russell Brand is that he’s not a star. People don’t want to pay money to see him in a starring role as a headlining actor, if box office receipts from the remake of Arthur are to be looked at. But there was a point in time where Brand was on the cusp of becoming a breakout star because he did one thing: absolutely kill it in Forgetting Sarah Marshall as Aldous Snow, British rock god. He stole that film from a handful of very talented people, going from British comic to maybe the next big comic star seemingly overnight. He just needed one thing to push him over the edge.

It was supposed to be Get Him To The Greek… an insanely funny film that just didn’t find an audience.

Aaron Green (Hill) is charged with getting Snow to the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles from his native London in 72 hours by his boss Sergio (Sean Combs). But it’s not all fun and games. Why? Because Aldous Snow is off the wagon and imbibing everything he can. Aaron’s job is to try and reign him in, to get him to the Greek when Snow keeps coming at him with adventures in drugs and sex with strange women, and the two missions collide across the continental United States.

This was a film that came and went pretty quickly from theatres because R-rated comedies have a tendency to hit or miss. They find an audience and then stay for a while … or don’t and disappear quickly. There’s no middle ground, it seems and it’s a shame because this is a really funny film. Travis’s thoughts were spot on theatrically but this is a film that works much better the second/third time around than it does the first. There’s so many funny gags, and the soundtrack is good, but it’s a lot like Superbad (which Hill was also in) in that it’s a film you need to see a couple times to really get everything in. Plus Sean Combs is instant hilarity in every scene.

Strong recommendation

What Looks Good This Weekend, and I Don’t Mean the $2 Pints of Bass Ale and community college co-eds with low standards at the Alumni Club

Horrible Bosses – Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and another guy have bad bosses. They then try to kill them. Hilarity results.

See It – Colin Farrell with a combover. That’s worth admission alone.

Zookeeper – Animals talk to Kevin James. Shenanigans ensue.

Skip It – Talking animals usually ensures awfulness.

Scott “Kubryk” Sawitz brings his trademarked irreverence and offensive hilarity to Twitter in 140 characters or less. Follow him @MMCritic_Kubryk.

Tags: , , , , ,