June 19th, 2009 | by AARON MESH News | Posted In: CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP, CLEAN UP

Tragedy Plus Time: The Proposal and Year One Reviewed

Two new movies opened today, neither screened for critics by WW press time. Better to flunk them tardily than let them pass...

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The Proposal

Now there's a title for a romantic comedy. The premise is similarly grand: A Manhattan career woman (Sandra Bullock) blackmails her emasculated assistant (Ryan Reynolds) into a sham wedding engagement, to save herself from sudden deportation as a Canadian citizen. Unfortunately, this entails a journey from the Land of Letterman to Sarah Palin Country, where the assistant's Alaskan family lives and where, it turns out, laughs go to die. Here Bullock undergoes a maudlin regression to girlhood, desperate less for a man than for his parents, and where's the romance in that? It's The Taming of the Shrew, presented by Focus on the Family Theatre, and did you know they show sitcoms on the television, for free?

Reynolds, putting the “dead” in deadpan, struggles to pass as anything beyond beefcake, a shirtless wonder with whom the naked Bullock inevitably collides in labored gag #46. (Sprightly violins detected, Captain! Hilarity imminent!) Betty White, of television's The Golden Girls, plays Reynolds' raunchy grandmother. Eager for Reynolds and Bullock to produce grandchildren, she dons a Native American headdress and performs a fertility dance in the Alaskan woods. Bullock joins in, to the tune of Lil' Jon's “Get Low.” Sexism, racism, and ageism mingle in a merry roundelay, and the Great Ones weep. PG-13. ALISTAIR ROCKOFF. Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, Cinetopia, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.

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Year One

Perhaps man invented comedy in Year Two. OK, that's unkind: Jack Black and Michael Cera's search for comedy in the ancient world has a Borsch Belt eagerness for a laugh, the kind of sensibility that names a character Zaftig the Eunuch. All it manages, though, is to confirm a disappointing historical pattern: When the collaborative team behind NBC's The Office journeys to the big screen, it gets horribly lost. This time it's the show's writers, Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, who join occasional episode director Harold Ramis (he's done a few other things worth mentioning—Groundhog Day, say, or Animal House) in trying to wring chuckles out of the barbarity that makes up most of the Bible's Book of Genesis. “When my parents were killed by that pack of wild dogs, you really helped me see the funny side,” Black's love interest tells him. The movie should be so lucky.

The movie's debt to History of the World: Part I has been noted elsewhere, but it's just as obviously a satirical riff on Roland Emmerich's hideous 100,000 B.C.—the narrative skeleton is exactly the same, with hunter-gatherers saving their tribeswomen from Mesopotamian slavery via a popular uprising against human sacrifice—with Sunday School characters mixed in. As hunter Black and gatherer Cera bicker their way across sand dunes (an unfortunate visual echo of Ishtar), they encounter a world filled with shtick but barren of hilarity. A few performances pop out: Hank Azaria keeps up his string of good work in bad movies as a devout Abraham who enthusiastically suggests “cutting off the tips of our penises!” But more often Year One sits inert, not aided by normally reliable cinematographer Alar Kivilo shooting it like a middle school field-trip video.

I take no pleasure in panning Year One. Ramis is a lovable, shambling comedy god—or at least a godfather—who hasn't shown signs of flagging. (His last picture, The Ice Harvest, was criminally underrated, one of my favorite movies of 2005.) And unlike Land of the Lost, Night at the Museum or most of the big-budget “comedies” opening this summer, Year One isn't merely a clothesline for CGI special effects—it actually wants to tell jokes, and hammers away industriously, trying to hit a funny bone. But the best it can do is inspire weak smiles. It's like the oxen ride that causes the easily-overwhelmed heroes to vomit: It's slow, bumpy and smells of stale material. PG-13. AARON MESH. Century 16 Cedar Hills Crossing, Century Eastport 16, Cinema 99 Stadium 11, Cinemas Bridgeport Village Stadium 18 IMAX, City Center Stadium 12, Cornelius 9 Cinemas, Division Street Stadium 13, Evergreen Parkway Stadium 13, Hilltop 9 Cinema, Lloyd Center Stadium 10 Cinema, Lloyd Mall 8 Cinema, Movies On TV Stadium 16, Oak Grove 8 Cinemas, Pioneer Place Stadium 6, Sandy Cinemas, Sherwood Stadium 10, Tigard 11 Cinemas, Wilsonville Stadium 9 Cinema.
 
  • Currently 3.5/5 Stars.
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