22 March 2010

Adventures in Babyshitting

Douglas Adams famously posited the number 42 as the answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything. Regrettably, there's nothing so profound in the two films the 42nd Mad Prophet review post covers. Instead, we have two fairly lamentable family films, with the downright awesome Jackie Chan having another jab at the English language market in The Spy Next Door and Seth Green being embraced by a gorilla in Old Dogs. As something of a regular disclaimer, it's only my opinion here- others are available. As ever, mild spoilers may occur in the process of reviewing, but never so far as to spoil any major plot developments.
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Although you'd never know it from the advertising, there's more of a story to Old Dogs than just Seth Green serenading a gorilla after it grabs him and cradles him like a baby. Robin Williams and John Travolta play two life-long friends, Dan and Charlie, who are about to enter into a huge sports-marketing deal with some Japanese businessmen. A chance meeting with an old flame of Dan's throws up the surprise revelation that he once fathered two twins, Zach and Emily. With their political activist mother about to spend two weeks in jail, the impractical bachelors have to babysit the twins, learning about family along the way. Yes, I actually gagged typing that last bit.

Even though it's the hackneyed family-centric hi-jinks that Disney's live-action arm is known for when there isn't a Pirates of the Caribbean film on screens, it's baffling to think this came out of the House of Mouse. Besides being homophobic, xenophobic, ageist and generally not funny, it's about a corporate back-and-forth! You know, for kids! There is little that approaches any recognisable level of entertainment value, with the exception of that Green-gorilla gag, which you've seen a million times if you've seen any trailers or posters, and a nice cameo from Justin Long. He plays a creepy and intense Scoutmaster, and I'm not really doing him justice to describe it that way. He provides welcome titters in the wasteland that is Old Dogs, and acquits himself fairly well.

The rest of the cast? Well, they can do better. The most galling thing is that they all know they can do better. Robin Williams was in Good Will Hunting and Jumanji, exhibiting a great versatility for different target audiences- here he's spray-tanned to the extent that he's mistaken for an Asian guy. Matt Dillon was one of the better parts of the racial tensions potboiler Crash- here he's the less funny foil to Long's psychotic outdoors man. John Travolta... no, fuck him. I'm not a fan, and he's one of the only actors working who I genuinely think needs to stop. The last halfway passable performance he gave was voicing the title character in Bolt, not to mention the fact that he's largely to blame for Battlefield Earth. So between this and From Paris With Love, fuck John Travolta!

Put simply, Old Dogs is garbage. Director Walt Becker seems to be daring reviewers to make the obvious "get it put down" pun with the title, but as I'm showing more ingenuity than anyone in that film, here is a short list of other bits of dog rhetoric that can be attributed this film.

1. It's less fun than rabies.
2. It leaves the taste of balls in your mouth.
3. An old, blind, deaf specimen that's loping around cinemas pissing on the carpet and smiling dopily at the audience as it does.

And I could go on. But this is not worth your time, not worth your money, barely even worth its existence. It doesn't quite count as one of the five 2010 films worse than Valentine's Day that would have me stop going to the cinema, but it comes very damn close.
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Elsewhere, Jackie Chan once again capably demonstrates why he's the best action/comedy star in the world in The Spy Next Door, a demonstration that in no part has anything to do with the lamentable script. But here's the story anyway- Chan plays special agent Bob Ho, who retires from his life of international espionage in order to try and build a normal life with his neigbour and girlfriend, Gillian. As is par for the course in these films, she has three children- Farren, Ian and Nora- who don't like Bob much. Bob's left holding the kids while Gillian's away, but Ian's inadvertent download of a deadly computer program puts all of them in danger.

Have you noticed how, when Jackie Chan is surrounded by dumb Americans in a film, he usually inflicts hilarious violence upon them and gets on with whatever he's doing? Doesn't happen in real life, as evidenced by the utter fail on show from this film's actors, writers and director. But besides all of this, Chan is excellent. He's Jackie fucking Chan, of course he's excellent. Chan has much better comic timing than he seems to be given credit for, and one of the films I'd really love to see in my lifetime would be a Jackie Chan silent comedy. He already has the right sensibilities for it in all of his work, and Hollywood would finally learn how to utilise that talent. In the meantime, my head movies aren't real, and we just have to make do with The Spy Next Door.

Now, I've never hit a kid. I suspect utterly drubbing the work of a child actor would have a similarly upsetting effect if said child read said drubbing, but my word, this film has the worst child actors I can remember seeing in a film. Emo girl is whiny, adorable kid is adorable, and nerdy kid is nebbish until Bob transforms him into... the Fonz? When the hell was this script written?! I'd assumed sometime after the success of The Pacifier, to which this film owes a debt that the Vin Diesel film really didn't warrant. The adult cast don't fare any better than the kids, particularly Katherine Boecher and Lazytown creator Magnús Scheving, who both adopt Russian accents that are sub-Ensign Chekov. Also, Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez are in need of a firm kick. Yknow, just for being Billy Ray Cyrus and George Lopez. Chan outshines every single one of them, and very much makes the whole thing worthwhile.

God love Jackie Chan, he keeps making bad films whenever he forays into the English language these days. That makes his part in The Spy Next Door all the more exceptional, drawing laughs out of a mirthless script like blood from a stone. At 55 years old, he's still at the top of his game in the martial-arts stakes, and he really gets comedy too. His next is a remake of The Karate Kid, starring Will Smith's kid. I can but dream of a Jackie Chan silent comedy, because it's the kind of thing that would just complete my life. In the meantime, don't go and see this one unless you're a big fan of Chan or your kids want to know how not to act.
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If you've seen Old Dogs, may God have mercy on your soul. But if you're similarly enthused by Jackie Chan even in spite of his utter misuse by Hollywood, why not share your comments below? If you wanna know what's next up, I imagine it'll be a much-delayed review of Green Zone in the run-up to the anticipated tantric explosion that'll come after I see Kick-Ass on Friday.

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

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