Monday Morning Critic – 12.5.09 – Jonah Hill and the Fit / Fat Problem of The Sitter & 21 Jump Street, Kathleen Turner and Jewel of the Nile

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 interesting things about this week’s release of the Jonah Hill vehicle The Sitter is that this is the last film he did while he was significantly overweight. It was the big shocker when the trailer for 21 Jump Street came out and everyone was shocked that Hill was seemingly a different person after some massive weight loss. It’s seemingly the difference between red band trailers, it seems. Here’s the red band for The Sitter.

And here’s the red band for 21 Jump Street.

The former is a bit funnier than the latter and while it might be because of better source material the one thing that seems to be missing from the whole equation is that Hill’s comedy may be proportional to his weight. By losing all the weight, it seems, is he losing his talent to make people laugh? Hill had made a joke in Funny People about how no one wants to watch a physically fit guy tell jokes, which is oddly prescient considering the trailer quality of both films, and there is some truth to it I think. So I asked someone who ought to know in my buddies Nicky and Mikey the Standups on why plenty of comedians and stand up types tend to be overweight.

“Have you ever had to tell a joke or ten to get a girl interested in you?” seemed to be the refrain and there is some truth to that. One imagines that Brad Pitt’s joke are probably really bad because he’s never had to be funny; it’s also why he’s never in a lot of true comedies. You can’t sell Brad Pitt in a romantic comedy because you can’t root for him to get the girl. He’s BRAD PITT, he doesn’t need any extra help than the physical prowess he already has. And frankly it’s a bit unbelievable if someone who’s really good-looking just can’t quite “meet someone.” It’s why romantic comedies always bug me when it’s about someone who can’t quite “meet someone.” It’s tough to believe that Katherine Heigl has a hard time finding a guy, you know?

Sometimes cheap beer at a comedy club gives you insight into the human condition, I suppose.

Now that Jonah Hill isn’t nearly as big as he once was I think his days in comedy will be drawing to a close. Why? Comedy is something hard to maintain and he’s shown a bit more range lately with people mentioning his name for Best Supporting Actor in this year’s Oscar race for Moneyball. And unfortunately there’s one thing that’s difficult to do when you’re trying to make the transition from comedic actor to actor: be a big fat guy.

When you look at the big stars of comedy and the big stars of drama, the former has a significantly more diverse group of people than the latter. And in order to get into more dramatic roles and move up the chain from comedic sidekick and occasional leading actor to the dramatic versions of those the pounds generally have to be shed. The shelf life of a comedic actor isn’t what it used to be and even the most brilliant of comedic actors suffer once they hit fame because it’s hard to maintain that level of energy once you become rich and famous.

It’s what happened to Eddie Murphy and happens to every comic. Comedy gets short-shifted when it comes to anything but box office receipts but I’ve always thought it was significantly tougher to make a great comedy than it is to make a great drama. Drama is easy in one aspect: the human condition is easily relatable. Drama doesn’t really change all that much in the basic necessity of story-telling. It’s why Citizen Kane holds up over the years when many comedies of that generation seem dated when viewing them now. The grand story arc of Kane, about the rise and fall of a man, still resonates because it’s much easier to tell a story dramatically than comically.

Comedy is significantly tougher because of all the varieties of it as well as the one thing that wealth does to a comedian: robs them of perspective. It’s why comic actors tend to be replaced quickly once they’ve reached a certain point. Murphy made three veritable masterpieces in 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop and Trading Places and has had a hard time capturing the energy that inspired how brilliant he was in those films. After that he’s kind of coasted, never hitting that energy again, and I think Hill is perhaps smarter than the rest of the Apatow gang in this aspect: he’s moving to drama and moving away from the frat-boy humor that made him famous because he’s talented enough to do so.

It’s what makes a standup like Dane Cook, who has gotten a level of sustained success that’s hard to duplicate in stand up. But even he’s dabbling in drama, though not as successfully as he’d like. Good comedians in cinema and in every other juncture of the arts often fall apart when reaching a certain level of fame. One imagines that Hill right now can see his future as someone’s sidekick and comedy doesn’t pay as well as drama.

You don’t see $200 million comedic budgets.

It’s also a good move, health wise, as being that overweight as you get older isn’t good for you. But career wise it’s actually pretty savvy. In 10 years we’ll be looking at him as potentially a dramatic leading man, or the guy who gets the girl in romantic comedies, as opposed to his current niche as the guy who gets good one-liners.

A Movie A Week – The Challenge

This Week’s DVD – Jewel of the Nile

It’s rare that I watch a sequel immediately after the original for the column; I’m not sure if I did it at all, actually. I did, however, buy Romancing the Stone in a double back with this film because I wanted the former and it was actually cheaper. I wish I was joking but the combo pack was five dollars at Target and individually each film was $10 apiece. I found it odd and I figured I’d rather have two movies instead of one, and pay less overall too. Plus it’s one DVD case instead of two and when it comes to space in my DVD library sometimes you have to be economical about it

Romancing the Stone was a bigger hit than expected and, while it didn’t warrant a sequel, the motive for profit instead of story-telling prevailed. Throw in a couple of well-written contracts to get Michael Douglas, Danny DeVito and Kathleen Turner back for a film they didn’t want to necessarily do. But you have to love the power of contractual obligations in some aspects; this isn’t one of them.

Jack (Douglas) and Joan (Turner) are back again. Six months after Romancing the Stone became a surprise hit based on some remarkable chemistry between the two; we’re back with their lives after they walked off into the sunset. Now he’s content with spending his life with her, sailing across the world. She isn’t, stumbling through writer’s block for her latest novel. When a foreign stranger about to become Emperor of the Nile invites her to write his story, and he turns out to be a bad man, Jack is once again off to rescue her. And DeVito returns, too, this time as Jack’s sidekick pissed off that he didn’t get the jewel from the first film.

When his evil intentions are eventually revealed, Jack teams up with the rebel resistance to rescue the great love of his life and save the day. From there it’s another adventure for the two. And it’s not that good, either.

The film takes a really bold step in terms of story-telling, as we get the “six months after” that gets briefly alluded to when Joan discusses her inability to finish a romance novel with her publisher. While it’s just a setup into them falling in love all over again, yada yada, it’s a concept that just doesn’t get enough pull. Instead we get an attempt at trying to recreate the original’s magic but without enough of a script to maximize it. Turner and Douglas have great chemistry, and it’s enough to make the film enjoyable, but it’s nothing that lasts as soon as you click eject from your DVD player.

Slight 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

New Year’s Eve – Tons of stars collect a paycheck because they need a hit.

Skip It – This is the kind of film that questions my faith in humanity.

The Sitter – Jonah Hill goes all Adventures in Babysitting but working very blue.

See It – But a very tepid one. I’ve always liked Hill but never as the singular star in a comedy. I’m still willing to give him the chance, though.

Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy – Gary Oldman is a British spy tasked with sniffing out a mole.

See It – This has been getting a remarkable level of buzz and it has nearly every worthwhile British character actor.

Young Adult – Charlize Theron is a children’s author on holiday to her hometown for a reunion.

See It – This looks like a pretentious and obnoxious indie that’s uber-skippable in every way if it wasn’t for the man behind it. However Jason Reitman is in that rare air of guys like Christopher Nolan as far as I’m concerned; no matter what the film looks like beforehand, my ticket will be purchased because I still trust him to deliver once the opening credits roll.

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

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