Del reviews ‘FUBAR’
“FUBAR” Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Monica Barbaro, Milan Carter, Gabriel Luna, Fortune Feimster, and Travis Van Winkle. Directed by Holly Dale, Steven A. Adelson, Phil Abraham, Stephen Surijik. Eight episodes. 45-59 minutes each. Rated TV-MA. Netflix.
“FUBAR,” the new Netflix series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, should be funnier than it is. The problem is threefold:
1. Schwarzenegger still struggles with English, which means the sweet spot of his jokes comes and goes before he finishes bludgeoning his way through the dialogue.
2. “FUBAR” is not tightly edited, resulting in snappy comebacks that fall flat because they’re not very snappy.
3. The script provides an unending stream of cornball jokes minus the self-awareness that made shows like the 1960s classic, “Get Smart,” so hilarious.
That’s a shame because “FUBAR” could be a knee-slapper. Its central conceit – that a father and daughter are forced to work together after hiding from each other their careers as CIA operatives – offers a degree of comedic potential. Given the right creators, “FUBAR” could become an action-comedy classic. Alas, that potential is not met, at least not yet.
Schwarzenegger’s character is Luke Brunner, a longtime CIA agent who is retiring after a long and violent career of making the world safe for American corporations. He hopes to purchase a boat (“It’s a ship, not a boat,” is a running joke throughout the series) and sail the world with his ex-wife (Fabiano Udenio as Tally Brunner), a casualty of Luke’s career. But his close ties with Boro Polonia (Gabriel Luna), a Central American thug who is trying to sell a suitcase nuclear bomb to terrorists, means Luke must saddle-up for a final mission to save mankind.
When he arrives at Polonia’s jungle redoubt, Luke discovers his daughter (Monica Barbaro as Emma Brunner) is also a CIA operative who is also working the Polonia case. It is from this point “FUBAR” embarks on a silly globe-trotting adventure, in the tradition of a Dollar Tree James Bond, as father and daughter bicker about their fractured relationship and the fractured relationships of those around them while they battle the forces of evil.
Iffy special effects, naughty language and well-worn points of conflict bring a level of tedium to the journey. Emma’s constant whining about how her father was “never there” for her as a child becomes an annoying refrain by the second act of the first episode – imagine seven more episodes of the same. It’s the equivalent of a 3-year-old pitching a temper tantrum in the cereal aisle at Kroger’s.
The supporting cast offers little respite. Luke’s wise-cracking lesbian No. 2, Roo (Fortune Feimster), is more vulgar than clever, and self-described “honey-pot” entrapment guru Aldon (Travis Van Winkle) oscillates from earnest pathos to plain-old dick with no consistency. Only Luna presents the same face and to be honest, earns a degree of empathy as the boy whose father was murdered by the elder Brunner and is hellbent on making the world pay.
“FUBAR” resorts to the goofy wisecracks of Schwarzenegger’s earlier efforts, including those of a certain James Cameron cyborg (or Harlan Ellison, depending on whom you ask), but again, the loose editing draws the venom from these bites. It all comes across as shopworn and a little pathetic.
There may be a second season of “FUBAR.” If so, let’s hope new writers will endow this series with the cleverness it deserves. Schwarzenegger is capable of being funny but it’s a specialized flavor of humor, one that plays off his size, bulk, and Teutonic roots. That isn’t happening at the moment.
I grade the current iteration of “FUBAR” as a C. It’s harmless, silly fun, but it needs an injection of actual humor, and its physical production requires improvement.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Don’t Look Up” Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothee Chalamet, Ron Pearlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi and others. Directed by Adam McKay. Two hours, 18 minutes. Rated R. Netflix.
An existential threat is hurtling our way and what does the president of the United States want to do?
“Sit tight and assess,” decides President Orlean (Meryl Streep), who fears an approaching apocalypse might cost her party the midterm elections.
That’s the message of “Don’t Look Up,” a hilarious yet stinging denunciation of many things – our leadership’s response to the climate change crisis, the empty-headedness of American culture, the corrosive influence of social media and metrics, and the dehumanizing fist of runaway capitalism. It is the new “Idiocracy” and it arrives just in time to skewer all the people who deserve a sharp stick in the eye.
The story is about a milquetoast, Walter Mitty-style astronomer (Leonardo DiCaprio as Professor Randall Mindy) and his edgy PhD candidate assistant (Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky) who discover a planet-killing comet that will smack Earth in six months. They discreetly sound the alarm only to discover the authorities, who don’t understand the science and don’t care, will not respond to the crisis unless it serves their interests. So Mindy and Dibiasky whistleblow the story to the media, where it lands with an apathetic thud. Most people are more invested in the breakup of two popular singers, Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Kid Cudi). As doom becomes an undeniable reality the government staggers into action by entrusting the fate of the planet to a whackjob Elon Musk-style billionaire (Mark Rylance as Peter Isherwell), who wants to break up the comet into smaller pieces and let them collide with the Earth so the fragments can be mined – by his telecommunications company, Bash – for precious metals crucial to the manufacture of smart phones. All that’s left is negotiating with the countries to be annihilated over how much money they want for their dead.
“Don’t Look Up” offers more Oscar-fueled star power than a map of the Milky Way, and many of the performances are better than strong. DiCaprio as hapless Dr. Mindy channels a furious Howard Beale (Peter Finch in “Network”) when he finally revolts against the frustrating ennui of 21st century America, while Jennifer Lawrence effectively portrays the optimism of youth as it dashed against the rocks of the corrupt, self-serving inertia that serves as leadership these days. Meryl Streep evokes a dumb-as-a-box-of-rocks, Donald Trump-style president whose only strong suit is a kind of animal cunning, while Cate Blanchett, as the glib yet shallow peroxide blonde who leads Dr. Mindy astray and then abandons him when he becomes a liability, perfectly portrays the fickleness of American media.
A few other performances worth mentioning: Ariana Grande is a hilarious Riley Bina, as is Mark Rylance as Isherwell, which I suspect is a composite of Musk and Steve Jobs. And Jonah Hill as the juvenile White House chief of staff (and Orlean’s son) makes you want to reach through the screen and slap him. The one performance that left me cold was Timothee Chalamet’s Yule, though at one point he offers a prayer for the ages.
“Don’t Look Up” has gotten mixed reviews. Nick Allen of RogerEbert.com calls it “McKay’s worst film yet” while Charles Bramesco of The Guardian dismisses it as a “disaster.” The New York Times and CNN were more merciful. The complaint centers around the jokes and caricatures, which they say are lowbrow. I would argue that in an age where attention spans near a half-life of a nanosecond, the lack of “razor-sharp wit” is as much commentary as the jokes and characters themselves.
I enjoyed the hell out of “Don’t Look Up” and I thought it communicated exactly what the “Let’s Go Brandon” crowd needs to hear – that they’re a bunch of fucking idiots who are screwing up the country and the planet with their selfish ignorance. The fact that this message was delivered with a hammer, not a scalpel, is a strike in the movie’s favor. Do you seriously think people who believe vaccines are evil and Donald Trump is still the president would notice or respond to “razor sharp wit”? Give me a break.
Isherwell brags that his algorithms are so good they can predict when and how President Orlean will die. She will be eaten by a “bronteroc.”
I won’t tell you what that means. To find out you must watch past the credits. But it’s pretty damned funny.
Meanwhile, check out “Don’t Look Up.” Pay no heed to the critics – it’s funny as hell and I think you’ll enjoy it, unless you’re one of the people being skewered. And who knows? If you have a sense of humor, you too might get a laugh.
I rate it a solid A.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and writer.
“The Turkey Bowl” Starring Ryan Hansen, Matt Jones, Alan Ritchson, Kristen Hager and Barry Switzer. Directed by Greg Coolidge. 2 hours. Rated R. Hulu, Epix, DIRECTV.
After your gut has been stuffed, your nap wrapped up, the football games watched and the dishes scrubbed to gleaming perfection, plop your ass down in the recliner and dial up “The Turkey Bowl” on Hulu or Epix to complete your Thanksgiving Day playlist.
Like Aunt Martha’s green bean casserole, “The Turkey Bowl” is neither bland nor tart. It’s a vaguely smile-inducing low-fi comedy that tries hard to be a lot of things but in the end simply fails to offend, which means people will like it OK but nobody will ask for the recipe. That’s my Cliff Notes review and I’m sticking to it.
The story is about Hodges (Ryan Hansen) who exchanges his small-town Oklahoma roots for the big city. He has a high-powered girlfriend (Blair Bomar as Ashley Sinclair) whose father (Sean McGraw as Sen. Sinclair) is running for president, and a successful business career in Chicago that allows him to never visit Mom and Dad or any of his former friends back home, including a semi-jilted ex-girlfriend, Jen (Kristen Hager). His plan to propose to Ashley over the Thanksgiving holiday at Daddy’s ski lodge in Colorado is derailed when he learns his best friend from high school, Mitchell (Matt Jones), has died. So he returns for the funeral, only to discover it was all a ruse to lure him back for a legendary football game between the Putnam Badgers, for which he quarterbacked, and cross-town rivals the Noble Knights. The score was tied 7-7 when a sudden storm moved in and the game was never finished. That proved to be a thorn in the side of the Badgers, who hadn’t beaten the Knights since the 1950s, and Hodges’ former team members (now in the 30s and grossly out of shape) are strapping on the cleats to finish the game and with luck, bring home a win for the Badgers.
What follows is a series of events that can best be described as farce, some of which you already know and can easily predict the outcome – does Hodges reconnect with Jen? Do the Badgers win the game? Is Hodges able to hide his hometown antics from Ashley and her dad? I won’t give you the answers, but I’d lay money on your best guesses.
You’ve seen “The Turkey Bowl” a dozen times before, but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it again. Expect crude language and nudity, and lots of physical humor mixed with meant-to-be-funny dialogue and sight gags (at one point Hodges is placed under “arrest” and cuffed with an ankle bracelet, which turns out to be a dog’s shock collar).
The problem with “The Turkey Bowl” is that it never lives up to its hilarious potential. The story and actors offer the promise of an extremely funny movie, with absurdity layered on absurdity like the hilarious classics of the past like “Airplane!” and “Christmas Vacation,” but somehow the jokes fall flat. My humble guess is the timing is off. Director Coolidge could have profited from tighter editing. It’s as if “Animal House” had been remade by The Hallmark Channel.
Still, as Thanksgiving movie fare goes it’s not a bad way to spend that part of the night between sneaking leftovers from the fridge and falling into a turkey-induced coma that carries you through to the morning. Look for a funny performance from Niceville’s own Alan Ritchson, and who would have thought Barry Switzer, former head coach of Oklahoma Sooners and the Dallas Cowboys, could not only act but be so funny?
“The Turkey Bowl” is no “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” and it will not become part of your Thanksgiving lore, but you could do worse. Did Bruce Willis ever make a Thanksgiving movie?
I give “The Turkey Bowl” a grade of B.
I watched “The Turkey Bowl” with a sour cranberries taste in my mouth that eventually subsided. The movie reminded me of my most ignominious act in high school. I dropped what would’ve been the winning touchdown pass during my school’s Homecoming football game. All I did was misjudge the trajectory of the approaching football by a couple of inches. Rather than the football floating over my right shoulder pad into my hands it hit it. Too much deflection. I was unable to adjust position to pluck the tumbling pigskin from the cool autumn air.
So, yeah, Del, much obliged for semi‑ruining my holidays because you chose “The Turkey Bowl” for us to review. You are responsible for traumatizing me with something I did decades ago.
The dropped pass memory triggered by Del is mitigated by the fact that for a few years after graduating high school, me and a group of high school friends would play a turkey-ish bowl of our own when we converged on the hometown for the holidays. I can’t recall if it was for Thanksgiving or during Christmas. The games weren’t against our county rival but they were fun. Sometimes there was snow on the ground.
Oh, the film. “The Turkey Bowl” is good enough to rationalize spending 120 minutes of your time if you’re properly fed and reclined to allow those weird semi-sleep states that I sometimes reach when I’m trying to avoid napping because it’ll screw my regular sleep. It’s also an adequate substitute for classic holiday – yes, I’m clumping Thanksgiving and Christmas together because, it seems, the U.S. is no longer interested in recognizing the two as events separated by time – movies such as “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles,” “Christmas Vacation,” “Home Alone,” and that overrated black-and-white one with whiny children and mysticism-tinged Christianity.
“The Turkey Bowl” takes patience. It’s like putting a meal into the crockpot. At first it’s raw but gets cooked and better fit for digestion over time. The beginning of the film annoyed me. It was campy, juvenile, and the acting a bit off. And, of course, there were cliches, particularly the one about old, out-of-shape men trying to relive their glorious youth by doing something nostalgic.
I wish the interaction among the Badgers when they were together, whether drinking or practicing for the bowl, was funnier. However, the scenes with our hero Hodges and his ex-girl Jen chit-chatting about this and that are charming. Also neatly set up was the contrast between Hodges’s blue-collar parents accepting him for who he is and his fiancée’s elitist liberal politicians trying to keep the image that they’re good, pure, and helpful intact. Hodges’s Mom eventually accepts that he’s a vegetarian and starts preparing vegetarian meals for him along with the hotdog casseroles and fried chicken for the Fox News-watching Dad. Hodges’s prospective father-in-law sics his bodyguard to spy on Hodges to make sure he does nothing to embarrass the politics- and money-driven U.S. senator who wants to be president.
“The Turkey Bowl” is a mash of movies we’ve all seen about a hometown boy leaving the hometown to do something great, coming back for some reason, and then staying for the simpler, happier life.
But, Del, a grade of B for the movie? No. Maybe you’re getting feely squishy because T-day and X-mas day are approaching and you want to be generous to show goodwill, but no. “The Turkey Bowl” is an intermittently entertaining film, which means it deserves a mid-grade grade. The movie is a C. It has just enough warmth and humor to make it an acceptable holiday flick. It will not become, for better or worse, a holiday classic.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Instant Family” Starring Rose Byrne, Mark Wahlberg, Isabela Merced, Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro and others. Directed by Sean Anders. 118 minutes. Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.
I don’t care if it’s a gigantic, snot-nosed, scabby kneed, teen-angsty ball of schmaltz better suited to The Hallmark Channel than Amazon Prime. I loved “Instant Family” and I’d watch again – this time with two boxes of Kleenex at my side, not just one.
There, Mladen, are you satisfied? I admit it – I bawled, like a slobbery baby. Tears of joy, though I didn’t raise three kids and don’t know the other side of the parenting story, the one they never show in comedies about parenting. “Instant Family” is one of those movies that draws together many ribbons of improbability into a sparkly wrapped gift of feel-good, though the bow may be frayed and lopsided.
In “Instant Family,” Pete (Wahlberg) and Ellie (Byrne) are hard-charging Gen. Xers who have ignored the ticking of their biological clocks to flip houses – until a snotty remark by a family member sets them on the path of becoming foster parents. At a fostering meet-and-greet they encounter smart, sassy teenager Lizzy (Merced), part of a package deal with her younger brother and sister. Pete and Ellie are charmed by Lizzy and take the plunge, bringing all three kids into their home with predictable and chaotic results. Mix one part teenage rebellion with another part adolescent oversensitivity and a dollop of pre-adolescent tantrums – plus a dog the size of a brontosaurus – and you’ve got a world class test of patience and persistence for first-time parents Pete and Ellie, who rise to the challenge with something I would not call “charm” but a kind of endearing, fumbling incompetence.
“Instant Family” has several laugh-out-loud moments tinged with humor befitting an R-rated comedy. Pete’s soliloquy about “rescue kids” during the foster parent orientation meeting is off-the-scale politically incorrect … but it’s funny as hell. When Lizzy’s romantic interest sends her a dick pic, Pete and Ellie show up at Lizzy’s high school for an epically hilarious confrontation that lands everybody in jail.
All this is not to say “Instant Family” is without flaws. The humor is uneven, bouncing between old-fashioned slapstick to farce, then subtle irony. It was hard to settle on a comedic tone for the movie. As they’re considering adoption, Pete reminds Ellie that people who foster children are the kind of people who volunteer even when there’s not a holiday, and he and Ellie don’t volunteer when there IS a holiday. That’s a clever line and there are others, but they are swallowed by the incandescence of burning napkin dispensers and baseballs bonking off young foreheads. Also, Whalberg and Byrne at times try too hard for the pathos befitting a youngish couple wanting to complete their lives, so it feels forced and unnatural at times. And the persistent preaching about the fostering and adoption “system” and its woes grew wearisome. Is “Instant Family” a comedy or a recruitment film? Yes, we know lots of troubled kids could use the steadying influence of a Pete and Ellie. But to be lectured about it over and over again tested my commitment to what is supposed to be an entertainment product.
Overall, however, the charms of “Instant Family” exceed its flaws and you’ll be unable to feel anything but happy when an exhausted Pete and Ellie finally come to understand what it is they’ve been looking for.
If you’re a fan of blended-family comedies like “Parenthood,” “Yours, Mine and Ours” or even “The Brady Bunch,” I think you’ll like the harder-edged “Instant Family.”
I score the movie a solid B, edging toward B+.
I predict Mladen will remind you that I am not a parent, and he is, and because of that his interpretation is more valid than mine, to which I would reply that in a way I really am a “parent” and one of these days I will raise Mladen to at least understand the errors of his movie-watching ways.
No, Del, I am not satisfied.
And, yes, I have raised three kids, though they are my own, and in the same combination as the instant family, two girls, one boy.
And, no self-respecting paleontologist uses “brontosaurus” anymore. It’s diplodocus, though I’ll grant you apatosaurus, if you get pissy.
“Instant Family” is no better than a C+ for the simple reason that a movie that treats a family as its subject and object tends to be weak. It’s far more interesting when family foibles come to light as part of a larger story such as happened, if I recall correctly, in the 1995 “Brady Bunch” movie or the “Brady Bunch” sitcom. Recall that the BB sitcom dismissed the merged family in its title song and then the show moved on to tell a story about life, though it generally doesn’t include a maid.
The first quarter of “Instant Family” struck me as glib. That’s the other reason I give it its mediocre grade. Pete and Ellie, a childless and what the ’80s would label a yuppie couple, realize that material well-being ain’t all that satisfying or that they should share some of their fortunate condition with others or whatever. Also, I assume, Ellie’s biologic clock is ticking.
Typical of yuppies, or what Del calls Gen-Xers, the couple pursues the least cumbersome process and most physically painless way to family-hood – fostering. They wanted to test-drive children before committing to raising them or having a brood of their own. Any good Marxist would label that exploitative and any good capitalist influenced by Milton Freidman, efficient and rational because children cost money. In either case, the children are reduced to commodities.
I don’t get it. Why do people want to watch movies about families? We’ve all lived in one, whatever its form. We all know people who’ve lived in one, regardless of its form. We’ve all talked about our families and listened to others talk about theirs. Families are boring. The real-life family adventures that come along are spread across a lifetime, rather than 118 minutes of a film. When I watch a movie, I want to experience the terror of being targeted as food by a 25-foot-long, 6,000-pound white shark or the mind-bending notion that I’m getting raised by machines that tap my body as a source of heat and electricity. I want films that offer something other than a banal interpretation of living with, and in, a family, which I, and you, have done and are doing. Shit, watching a film about families makes me feel almost like a voyeur.
Also, as Del accidentally and indirectly touched on when he asked if “Instant Family” was a comedy or recruitment film for foster parenting, you have to be careful about mixing Hollywood with staggering problems such as the tens of thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of children enduring inadequate parents and faltering childhoods. Look, does anyone, all four or five of you reading this review, NOT know that there are a whole lot of children out there who need bona fide parents? So, watch “Instant Family” with this analogue in mind, “Never give a pet as a Christmas present.” Fostering displaced children is a serious endeavor. The urge shouldn’t be triggered by watching a movie. Nor does highlighting foster parenting in a film do anything to lessen the need, which, paradoxically, might be the effect on some people. People like those who support twice-impeached fascist moron Trump.
Though, as always, I hesitate giving Del credit for any good point that he makes, I agree that there are a few comedic moments in the film that approach sparkling, but only one bit of the movie was genuinely heart-rending. Rose and Wahlberg are very good in the movie. I suspect they contributed exactly what the scriptwriters and director wanted to make the movie feel real-ish. The three semi-orphans portrayed by Merced, Spencer, and Notaro are very good, too. But, “Instant Family” contributed nothing fresh to the ever-popular moviemaking shtick of treating families as wonderful and sucky at the same time. If you’ve seen one family movie, you’ve seen them all.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Happy Death Day” Starring Jessica Rothe, Israel Broussard, Ruby Modine, Charles Aitken and Laura Clifton. Directed by Christopher Landon. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13.
I’m not going to say it … I’m not going to say it. …
Oh hell, who am I kidding? Of course I’m going to say “Groundhog Day” with a killer.
That’s the conceit of “Happy Death Day,” an entertaining trifle of a horror slash comedy (Yes!) that has come to a theater near you. Just in time for trick-or-treat, “Death Day” neither scares, edifies, nor elevates the spirit. What it does do is entertain with humor, mild romance and a who-dunnit that will defy your attempts to finger the killer.
The story goes like this: It’s Tree Gelbman’s (Rothe) birthday, but even Tree isn’t celebrating. She’s a beta beeyotch sorority snob who treats people as if they were disposable, except for her yummy college professor, Dr. Gregory Butler (Aitken), with whom she’s having an affair. She awakens in a dorm room (to her shame) with a ferocious hangover and finds she cannot remember what she did last night, especially as per young Carter Davis (Broussard) whose bed she currently inhabits. Carter is below her station in the college caste and she hustles out of his dorm lest one of her sorority sisters tumbles onto her indiscretion.
That night, on her way to a party, Tree encounters the killer, an individual wearing a pig baby mask who chases her across the campus and eventually stabs her to death. Tree jolts awake in Carter’s bed, as she did that morning, and the day begins to anew, unspooling exactly as it did before, perhaps with a change of viewpoints for the audience’s sake.
As the movie goes on we learn Tree will continue to relive the day, over and over, until the killer is dispatched. Problem is, her every attempt to kill the killer ends with her own death – by gunshot, baseball bat, hanging, bus collision, even fire. Does the obnoxious Tree deserve to live? Will she figure out a way to destroy her nemesis before dying herself?
Interestingly, each iteration of her life gives Tree a chance to see what a terrible person she has become. As the callow but earnest young Carter observes, it’s never too late to change. And change is what Tree does, so that by movie’s end you may actually like her, assuming she lives long enough for that to happen.
At roughly an hour and a half, “Death Day” is shorter than a lot of current movies such as “Blade Runner 2049,” which clocks in at almost double the length. The movie moves along at a brisk pace and you’ll be kept awake by the snappy dialogue, daily variations in Tree’s manifestations, and the puzzle over the killer’s identity (Hint: Tree is an equal opportunity snob. It could be anybody on campus.). You won’t be put off by blood because there is hardly a drop.
I was unfamiliar with the cast, but everybody turns in a creditable performance, including director Landon. “Death Day” was written by Scott Lobdell, who is primarily a comic book writer.
Somebody at Blumhouse must be licking his chops. Costing a mere $4.8 million to produce, “Death Day” has earned $40 million plus as of week 2. It will likely top out at over $50 million earning a tidy profit for the Blumhouse horror meisters. Expect it to appear on DVD and streaming in the not too distant future, joining a fraternity – or in this case sorority – of young adult-themed slasher movies that provide a forgettable hour and a half of entertainment value then recede into the cinema background.
Go see it at the movie theater, because all movies deserve to be seen on the big screen.
I give it a score of B+.
Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Big Ass Spider” Starring Greg Grunberg, Clare Kramer, Lombardo Boyar, Lin Shaye and Ruben Pla. Directed by Mike Mendez. 80 minutes. Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.
I’m shocked – SHOCKED, I tell you – that Mladen consented to review a movie rated PG-13.
Wasn’t it on these very pages he vowed to never again sully his pristine sensory apparati with a lowly PG-13-rated film? Wasn’t he worried that such unwashed entertainment might detract from his snarly joie de vie?
Yet here he is, slumming with “Big Ass Spider,” a PG-13-rated farce that even my cynical ass got a kick out of. I guess Mladen’s moratorium on almost-family-friendly films doesn’t apply to comedies.
Although I wouldn’t call “Big Ass Spider” a comedy per se. It’s more of a lighthearted romp … with a giant, man-eating spider that skewers half of Los Angeles, a military commander who wants to blow up the other half of Los Angeles, and a lowly exterminator who, despite his modest lineage and lack of leading man pecs, sets out to overcome this eight-legged nonsense, winning the girl and the day.
The gossamer-thin plot goes like this: A spider escapes from an experimental military facility and starts eating its way across LA. The more it eats, the bigger it gets. It takes up residence in a hospital – a veritable buffet for a large carnivore – which draws the attention of nice-guy exterminator Alex Mathis (Greg Grunberg), who is a patient at the hospital after being bitten by – can you guess – a spider. The hospital agrees to write off his bill if Alex will write off whatever critter just sank its chompers into the staff mortician. Meanwhile, the military swoops in and declares martial law, allowing Alex to fall for a cute L.T., Karly Brant (Clare Kramer). Alex is determined to win Karly’s heart, despite her withering disdain for his, and sets off with sidekick Jose Ramos (Lombardo Boyar), a hospital security guard, to kill the now house-sized spider, save Los Angeles and make an impression on Karly.
“Big Ass Spider” is like “Godzilla” on helium. It’s all silly fun – except for the thousands of people who die – which lands the movie in the not heavily populated science fiction-horror-comedy category. You’ll find yourself giggling because the movie makes no attempt to take itself seriously, except for the pretty good special effects, and you’ll be rooting for Alex because he strikes you as the kind of guy who might park his battered van in your driveway to clean out the trap in your kitchen drain. He’s just a regular Joe, overweight, overworked and underpaid. Boyar is pretty funny as Ramos, the timid security guard who grows a pair of cojones over the course of the movie, though I’m surprised the Thought Police haven’t protested his caricature of Hispanic males. The other performances made less of an impression on me. They fit the standard models for their characters.
I had never heard of this movie until Mladen suggested it, and when I looked it up I also found several TV episodes of the same name. Don’t be confused – this is the 2013 movie by director Mike Mendez.
“Big Ass Spider” was favorably received by the public but of course, movie reviewers trashed it as schtick. I might have thought the same before I had that corncob removed from my ass. “Big Ass Spider” is not high art, not that high art is very entertaining. Like I said, it’s silly fun. I can think of far worse ways to spend 80 minutes of my life.
I give it a B.
Leave it to Del to try to upend my unfettered enthusiasm for a movie. Until I read his review, I had no idea “Big Ass Spider!” was PG-13. There’s at least one face melting and shots of faces that had already been melted. There’s blood splatter. But, there wasn’t big-ass swearing or, unfortunately, nudity. So, yeah, no R-rating.
Until Mr. Corncob Now Removed dropped the rating thing in my lap, my only beef with “Big Ass Spider!” was the spelling. Did the filmmakers want the movie’s title to be descriptive or reflect the fact the arachnid is a new species? The spider is large. It eventually grows a few building stories tall and wider than a boulevard. So, should the film title have included a hyphenated compound adjective, as in “Big-Ass,” to let the viewer know from the get-go that the movie is about a huge beast. If the goal was to simply name a specimen fresh to nature, “Big Ass Spider!” remains acceptable. I contend the movie title should’ve been hyphenated because the beast is a man-induced mutation, a combination of Martian DNA and a black widow-like (note the hyphen) spider native to Earth. “Big Ass” describes the spider, rendering the hyphen necessary. “Big Ass” isn’t the spider’s scientific name, which would have disallowed hyphenation.
“Big Ass Spider!”, hereafter referred to as “BAS!” to shield our moral readers from the cuss word “ass,” is a delightful farce that mocks sci-fi horror films by incorporating many of the tropes of the genre. Examples are:
- One person going after a creature he/she suspects to be dangerous by himself/herself, often in a dark, forbidding place where no one can here you scream
- A military officer saying, “God helps us now” or something akin to, “That’s my job”
- Radio communication failures
- Relationship banter amid a crisis between the likable but geeky, portly, and uncool-job wielding hero and an attractive gal at least initially uninterested in copulating with the good guy
- Coincidences such as protagonists continually bumping into each other through the movie or a solution to a problem materializing from thin, dry air
- Jump from your seat moments such as the creature moving as a blur in the foreground of a scene as the hero expresses fear and doubts about the wisdom of his/her choice to chase the animal
- Buxom females playing a sport that makes breasts bounce or gratuitous displays of cleavage via tight, low-cut T-shirts (more hyphens)
The advantage of a farce is that it can pull off the tropes by making them amusing. “BAS!” does that very well. The script is solid and the actors do the dialogue sincerely and mirthfully. They were enjoying themselves. The visual effects, both computer-generated and of material substance such as monster goo and webs, are surprisingly pleasing and when they’re not such as the “BAS!” fires, you don’t care because the film is a farce by design.
“BAS!” is not a B-movie, though it cost, I’m guessing, $8.37 to make. It’s significantly better than at least a couple of expensive A-movies and by those I mean Alien3, Prometheus, and Alien: Covenant. Sure, “BAS!” steals a little bit from the very good “Starship Troopers” and the excellent “Aliens,” but that’s the point. By mocking the good and the bad of sci-fi effectively, “BAS!” fulfills its purpose.
The movie also made the best of shooting in real-world locations that fit inside its, ah, limited budget. There was no travel to exotic locales to get the background of a lush tropical forest or towering mountains. When the action was outdoors, it was filmed amid the brownish hue of what I took to be Southern California. The spider’s raid on a park full of people was darned entertaining, including the child in jeopardy. I detest when movies put children in danger. With “BAS!” I was OK with it for some reason.
“BAS!” has a sparing run time of 80 minutes. In moviemaking these days that seems an unfathomably short duration. And, it’s also one of the reasons I give “Big Ass Spider!”, despite its misspelled title and PG-13 rating, an A. Everyone tied to making the film stayed true to its character, including length. One minute longer and the movie would’ve failed.
Mladen Rudman is a former journalist and technical writer. Del Stone Jr. is a former journalist and author.
“Space Truckers” Starring Dennis Hopper, Debi Mazar, Stephen Dorff, Charles Dance, George Wendt and others. Directed by Stuart Gordon. 1 hour, 35 minutes. Rated PG-13. Amazon Prime.
“Space Truckers” is Mladen’s revenge for “A Recipe for Seduction.”
He’s been stewing for months about being forced to watch that dreck, and plotting ways to make me pay. Well, he came up with a doozy. “Space Truckers” has a cult following – of kooks with bad taste. Trust me, it’s boring schlock.
Director Stuart Gordon, who captained some pretty good movies like “Reanimator,” intended this to be a lowbrow sci-fi comedy. He succeeded with lowbrow but the comedy part fails, and it fails miserably. I can’t think of a single funny moment in this movie.
It features some real talent – Dennis Hopper, a young Stephen Dorff, Charles Dance and George Wendt – but the problem with “Space Truckers” is the script. It falls flat and I doubt defibrillator paddles could shock some life into this toe-tag of a screenplay.
The story goes like this: Hopper is the last of the independent “space truckers” driving goods and whatnot from one planet to the next. After a late delivery of square pigs and only partial payment, he takes on a sketchy consignment from a shady group headquartered at the Neptunian moon Triton for rapid delivery to Earth. As you might expect, “rapid delivery” becomes anything but after an encounter with space pirates, and then the load itself becomes problematic when it turns out to be a swarm of Terminator-like robots bent on killing all humans.
In theory this kind of movie should work. Ironically, a day or two after I finished “Space Truckers” another comedy – this one very funny – was playing on cable: “Airplane.” I was struck by the differences in the two movies – “Airplane” has a similarly thin plot but that’s OK – the movie is nothing but one rapid-fire joke delivery after another. In “Airplane” some jokes are visual, some physical, and some are embedded in dialogue. “Space Truckers” exhibited none of those qualities. It was an hour and a half of Dennis Hopper glaring and leering at the camera Quint-style with Debi Mazar almost flashing her boobies and Stephen Dorf showing off a not-bad stack of abs.
Comedy relies to a great extent on timing and “Space Truckers,” like its bumbling space truck-driving Hopper, misses delivery time and time again. He could never get a job with intergalactic Fed-Ex. Couple that with nonsensical special effects – I mean you can see the wirework in the scenes of weightlessness – and you get a movie that’s not quite “Plan 9 from Outer Space” but darned close, maybe “Plan 8.”
I expect some folks love this movie and will sniff at my dismissal as the grumpy curmudgeoning of a foul-tempered old man. Maybe Mladen will be one of them. I’m good with that.
I didn’t like “Space Truckers” and I don’t mind saying so. It rates a solid D on my grade scale.
And that’s a 10-4 good buddy.
There is absolutely zero wrong with Debi Mazar almost flashing her boobies in “Space Truckers.” If there is a problem, Del, it’s that the “almost” does not become an actual.
“Space Truckers,” despite the way bona fide critics and Del have characterized the movie, is not a comedy.
Yes, it has elements of farce which, I suppose, can be construed as a form of comedy. The space truck space lane approach to Triton is lined with ugly billboards like a U.S. highway. The message? Leave it to mankind to fuck up even deep and beautiful outer space with its garish drive to sell shit.
Yes, cyborg Macanudo (Charles Dance) trying to start his mechanical penis’ erection by pulling a cord as you would do to start an uncooperative chainsaw is clearly intended to be humor and it works.
But this 1996 film – let me say that again – this 1996 film – that’s three years before “The Matrix” hits the big screen – gives it its all to take advantage of emerging computer-generated visual effects and provide an action-adventure joy ride.
To enjoy “Space Truckers” requires a pinch of mercy, a dollop of appreciation for effort and two tablespoons of understanding. Del lacks all three.
Mercy because “Space Truckers” is imbalanced. Set design and costumes are good, as is most of the acting. The special effects – models and electronic visuals – ain’t bad either. The movie is tainted, as Del noted, by the often-visible suspension wires used to make it look like people are floating or tumbling in low gravity. I have no idea why that significant flaw wasn’t disguised in film post‑production.
Appreciation because other movies of that era, “Escape from LA,” for example, directed by the great John Carpenter had crappier computer-driven animation. You have to appreciate “Space Truckers” for what it is: A movie made as the landscape of moviemaking was changing with the introduction of the microchip and graphic arts software to a director’s pallet.
Understanding because … see Mercy and Appreciation above.
I didn’t know that “Space Truckers” had a cult following until Del mentioned it in his review. And, though I’m not a cultist except as it regards Godzilla movies, I can understand why the movie would draw a particular kind of audience. “Space Truckers” is campy, studded with absurd characters, hampered by not infrequent special effects malfunctions, and, if your tolerant of imperfections, fun.
I give “Space Truckers” a B for effort and the likelihood it’ll appeal to 1 out of 7 viewers despite its flaws.