Flop Friday: You Don’t with the Zohan (2008)

PG-13, 113 minutes, Comedy

StarringAdam SandlerEmmanuelle ChriquiJohn TurturroNick SwardsonRob Schneider

If there’s two things I can count in an Adam Sandler movie is his devotion to former Saturday Night Live veterans and making Jewish references. Sometimes he hits, sometimes he misses, but the real enjoyment comes from seeing “the band” get back together. Perhaps it’s because we live in a time where actors are always trying to out-do one another, but love seeing acting troupes (B-list or otherwise) work together time after time.

Merging comedic and Jewish cast members alike into a crazy story about counter-terrorism, Adam Sandler plays Zohan, a humus-obsessed nearly-invincible sex-addict special forces operative who just really wants to cut hair. After faking his death in Israel and fleeing to America, Zohan quite literally screws his way onto the hair-styling scene. But when an old foe returns, Zohan must face the life he left behind.

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Just like that bully who stomped on my LEGOs in the 2nd grade…

It’s just that… Zohan doesn’t really work for me. I’m sure there was landslide of criticism about the religious and sexual motifs prevalent in this film, but that’s not what I want to focus on. Although, reflecting back upon that it was REALLY FREAKING WEIRD. But what I do want to talk about is the bizarre call for peace this movie slaps you across the face with. Look, it’s 2017 and back when this movie was created (2008) things were basically the same. The Middle East is at war and no one likes each other. Fantastic (note: sarcasm). But why would you come up with this utterly bizarre way of stamping a “coexist” on the audience’s brain? “Don’t panic just style and screw.” “This MUST work!”

Having semi-recently seen good Adam Sandler movies like Hotel Translyvania, Pixels, and Blended and fondly remembering older ones like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison, I just have to say one word: WHAT?!?!? Crude humor works in the other movies, but I can’t help but wonder if something simpler like slapstick or dark satire would have worked better in Zohan. I know they can’t all be hits, but I expected more Sandler and especially from Robert Smigel, creator of the brilliant Triumph the Insult Comic Dog.

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Legends are made, not born.

It’s not like there was anything really wrong with this movie other than it’s touchy subject matter. But perhaps that was the point all along: make a risky maneuver in order to promote brotherhood and hopefully entertain in the process… No matter how many known actors, musicians, and entertainers fill the screen, I just can’t get on board for free lovin’ with every ’80s hairstyle.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: If your wires are crossed and your circuits have shorted.
Don’t watch: Religiously offensive to some and because why would anyone want to watch Sandler screw little old ladies?

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The Muppets’ Wizard of Oz (2003)

TV-PG, 100 minutes, Fantasy

Starring: Ashanti DouglasSteve WhitmireEric JacobsonBill BarrettaDave Goelz

I find the Muppets to be an odd case. It feels as though they are a struggling brand limited by the death of their creator. Perhaps the real reason is instead their suppression by Overlord M (I don’t want to get sued, so that’s the best you’ll get). Getting locked in a vault for a decade didn’t help, but it should be apparent that this hoard of felt creations has not been forgotten. Calling upon tradition to cast all manner of celebrities and give their own warped view of well known stories, we are cast into our last Oz movie of the month.

Would you be surprised if I told you that it’s the same story you’ve heard me blab about for the past few weeks? Well… it is. Except this time Dorothy (Ashanti) wants to be a pop star and Toto is a… prawn? The Tin… Thing is actually a surveillance robot and Lion wants to be a stand-up comedian. Okay, so there ARE some differences, but they’re still going to see the Wizard!

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Miss Piggy says she wasn’t a fan of The Wiz either.

One difference I found pretty cool was that the witches are all sisters and are all played by Miss Piggy clones. Two are good and two are bad (no surprise), but they’re all divas (really not a surprise) and they used to be in the same band (what?) but the band broke up (oh…) and now one them has an evil reality TV show (…kay). See? Just like the story you’ve come to know and love (yup).

Don’t get me wrong, this is a decent little made-for-TV movie, but I can completely understand why it wasn’t well received. Firstly, the brand was iffy at the time. Secondly, it was geared towards a younger audience, yet it still had some edgy adult humor. Thirdly, that CG was just garbage… This is one of the few versions that actually has Oz appear as something similar to the creatures in the book and they’re not Muppets??? That–that–is the biggest disappointment of this little number.

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Pigs are flying now, mom.  You said I could have a PlayStation!

There is something… Something I’ve searched for all month. Something I have wanted and hoped and dreamed about seeing ever since I set down the Baum classic. Something… critical. AHAUHAUHAUH!!! No, seriously.  Kalidahs are in this freaking movie. Kalidahs, folks. Bloodthirsty tiger bears and they’re IN. THIS. MOVIE. I don’t know why, but these creatures stuck in my mind as soon as I read about them and I’ve been a little disappointed every time I didn’t get to see them. This time was different. Here they were: bloodthirsty kalidah critics played by none other than Waldorf and Statler. It’s about time!

I know it’s Friday and I’ve been doing it all month, but I just couldn’t make myself label this movie a flop. It’s not the greatest, but it is entertaining and still worth a few laughs (plus there’s the entire last paragraph where I finally get what I wanted), so there was no justification for slamming it. If you’re a fan of the Muppets or the Oz series alike and you have a couple of hours, give this movie a go.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: KALIDAHS!!!
Don’t watch: because felt gives your brain a rash.

Images © The Jim Henson Company

The Wizard of Oz (1925)

Not Rated, 81 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Larry SemonDorothy DwanOliver HardyJosef Swickard

I can honestly say that I’m not a fan of the silent era of film. The original moving pictures require a greater amount of focus and attention to detail than I care to place into a recreational activity most of the time. The same goes for things like reading subtitles and Easter egg hunting–I have to be in the mood. Fortunately, I love the heck out of slapstick.

In this go-round of Oz we are presented with a not exactly accurate version of the story. In fact the 1925 version of The Wizard of Oz barely touches upon the original subject matter. And it’s fantastic. Acting only in name, the story focuses on a farmhand (Semon) fawning over the farmer’s daughter (Dwan). After great struggles with her father and her suitor (Hardy–yes, THAT Hardy), the entire crew is whisked away to the Land of Oz where political strife has gripped the nation. It’s up to our heroes to battle the evil Minister Kruel (Swickard) and restore order to Oz.

So yeah, this is hardly the Baum book. It feels as though his original story was more of a marketing gimmick aimed at luring audiences into the theater. It may have worked, but I can’t help but wonder if this sly bait-and-switch act angered a public expecting kalidahs and Winkies. This effect came across me as well. To be honest, I expected much, much less from this film the moment they introduced the bizarre villains and their political subplot.

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Wait, what? Someone please explain. I’m so lost.

However–and I’m placing a fairly large HOWEVER here–this film is an artifact of a time when comedy was based on physical circumstance instead of crude shock value. As eye-roll-inducing as the “love story” turned out to be, it did lead to one great chase scene. Who else could survive a five story drop? As “sensitive” as the treatment of the black farmhand was, he quite literally stole the show. Who else could outrun lightning? As unrealistic as it was, the scene involving our heroes running around inside of boxes had my sides splitting. Even Solid Snake would be impressed!

Technically speaking this movie really doesn’t do much. It has “color” in a manner, but that was limited to the chemical treatment the physical film received. Scenes shot on the farm were sepia in tone whereas scenes in the throne room are shot in a magenta. This adds a definite break to the overall feel of the movie as we are presented with the colors to show us a new segment is about to begin. In reality this was probably a tactic used to keep the reels separate. The reels though… The pacing of the story in places makes me wonder if some of those reels went missing as the only versions I’ve been able to find are labeled the “cut” edition. Ugh.

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You’ve come to the wrong neighborhood, pal.

Finally… Lions. Honest to goodness breathing, roaring overgrown kitties. While obviously under restraint for the actor’s safety they used flesh-and-blood cat kings in the presence of human beings. You just can’t get away with that these days. The lions would most likely be CG constructs replacing a contortionist covered in ping pong balls. I’m pretty sure they don’t even use split screen anymore, so seeing REAL MCCOY lions was amazingly refreshing.

Let’s face it: you’re not going to find fine cinema here, but you will probably have a good time. There’s enough here to keep you interested whether it be the scenery, the over-the-top costumes, or watching them dump a guy into a vat of shiny muck. It’s funny, it’s family friendly, but most of all it’s an excellent capture of zeitgeist.

Rating: Give a go and enjoy the show!

tl;dr
Watch: Lions and thematics and boxes–OH MY!
Don’t watch: Because you’re blind… in which case how are you reading this?

Sci-Fi Saturday: Leprechaun 4: In Space (1997)

R, 95 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Warwick DavisBrent JasmerJessica CollinsGuy SinerBoobs

…Seriously?

I’m sure anyone who was aware of this movie said that to themselves whether it be twenty years ago or twenty seconds ago. It’s come to this: the point where it’s obvious that the creative crew just said, “Eff it,” and made something intentionally ludicrous. I mean… It’s a leprechaun… In SPACE.

Seriously?

Leprechaun 4 takes place at some point in the future. After the villainous little bugger (Davis yet again) kidnaps an alien princess, a crew of space marines move in to take him out. Getting overly cocky, one of the marines urinates on the remains of the leprechaun and somehow connects with the dead beast. When they return to their ship… the leprechaun… well… he births out of the guy’s… junk… No chestburster here, Mr. Scott!

With the menace loose on the ship, the marines fight to stay alive. Unfortunately the recovered princess has other plans and yet still the doctor on board the ship has his own nefarious plot. Somehow the marines must stay alive before the forces of evil overtake the galaxy. Oh noes!

You may have noticed that I didn’t acknowledge the actors very much. I would hope that looking back on this would make them cry out in exasperation. This isn’t a good movie, yet it attracted a slew of television actors ranging from Baywatch to Home Improvement. I don’t know if this entry earned a Razzie, but it would have been justified.

I love science fiction, but I felt like it was simply the backdrop to the story. It certainly was a gimmick. They had the spaceship, medical and industrial technology, and the ever-lovin’ energy shield, but it felt like none of it mattered until the very end. I guess I might have expected too much from the beginning, but I mean “space” is in the blasted title.

Finally, I have to talk about the boobs. I like boobs just like the next guy, but I absolutely had to question their use this time around. The previous two installments in this series used boobs to lure male characters to their deaths, but in L4 they’re just gratuitous. They add nothing to the story. Not a thing. It’s as though the casting director sat there during auditions and said, “Well, we could use you… and you’re obviously desperate for a role… but I won’t agree to use you unless boobs because reasons. Hurdur.” I guess all those Baywatch babes really did take it off at one point or another.

If you’ve decided to watch along, then bully for you, ol’ chap. Making it this far took work on my end, so I can only imagine your face after sitting through hours of it. This just isn’t a good… thing. As the series went on, the obviousness of how ridiculous these movies are came to the forefront of the story–it became apart of the story. If any profit was made from all of this, it had to have been solely through cheap rental copies. No wonder Blockbuster busted. Sadly, I have yet to get my hands on copies of the final three films, but there was an apparent dynamic shift with the “Hood” titles. Now I like movies, good or bad, but this series isn’t for your average watcher. Just watch a Lucky Charms commercial and you’ll be set for March.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: Boobs
Don’t watch: It’s a terrible movie, but boobs.

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

R, 90 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Warwick DavisJohn GatinsLee ArmstrongJohn DeMita

It was by this point that I began to question my little quest to watch the Leprechaun series. I had gotten enough entertainment out of the original, plus I had its sequel in tow. But a third one? The DVD screen loaded and I was met with… the Leprechaun doing an Elvis impersonation. Mkay then.

So Leprechaun 3 is set in Las Vegas. Our shillelagh-toting fiend (still Davis!) finds himself in The City of Sin, a prisoner of magical pendant that has turned him to stone. When the “statue” is pawned off, the unfortunate owner of the secondhand store takes the amulet off and unleashes a world of pain.

Nearby, Scott (Gatins) has quite nearly run into Tammy (Armstrong). Being, well… male he picks up the gorgeous blonde and takes her to work: a sleazy casino. It’s here that Scott loses his entire tuition fund. Desperate, he agrees to pawn off his watch in hopes of winning back that which he has lost. Instead Scott winds up stumbling upon the murder scene of the store’s owner. When he finds a gold coin near the body he accidentally uses it to wish himself into a better situation. But the leprechaun wants nothing of the sort and the more the coin’s power get abused, the more the bodies start to pile up.

This time around the story really gets complicated. There’s an entire mythos established via a not-even-a-CD-ROM disk about Leprechauns. We’re given plenty of foreshadowing about the plot’s eventual conflict and resolution. Seriously, everything was unnecessarily spelled out. I can’t tell whether that slip was intentional or not and in hindsight it’s a little frustrating since there’s no real suprise.

Another thing that bothered me about the story was the pawn shop owner. The guy get his toe bitten off. Does he call an ambulance? The police? No, he bandages the stub and starts to play on his computer. I can’t tell if he’s retarded or hardcore. Of course he finally goes for the phone only after the leprechaun begins to repeatedly bash him with his club. I’m guessing the irony of having the storekeeper strangled to death with the phone cord as he’s trying to call for help was intentional, if only to add to this films awkwardness.

Two characters I did like were the two thugs pressing the casino owner for cash. They’re fairly useless characters, but their dialogue is pure golden hogwash. It’s just guys talking about unimportant stuff like their underwear chaffing them, but it’s amusing to the point where you can appreciate it more than the main storyline. Sad really.

In the technology realm we’re given more than in previous films. There’s the gambling floor, which is saturated with game tables and slot machines. It gave me the sense of the movie potentially being shot on a real casino, albeit with seriously good lighting. Then there’s the stripper robot. This seizuring hellspawn is probably the scariest visual the series has to offer. With a blank stare and freakish chest balloons, this sparking metallic beast would kill anyone’s buzz when it pins them down. I would have hated just being the actor during filming. Yick! Then of course there’s the exploding woman… You’ll just have to see that part for yourself.

I didn’t really care for this entry into the series, though I will give it kudos for giving the plot some complexity. It’s a mystery why anything other than the original film was made. My hope is that the creative team just enjoyed making these so much that they didn’t care what anyone had to say. That gusto takes courage I would have a hard time summoning up. So bravo, guys. Your artistic bravery has been recognized.

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: More complex plot than previous entries in the series.
Don’t watch: Awkward plot is awkward.

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

R, 85 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Warwick DavisCharlie HeathShevonne DurkinSandy Baron

Unsurprisingly enough, they made a sequel to Leprechaun. Six, in fact. That number scares me worse than these movies ever could. But having found a four-pack I’ll keep plugging away at the series like a good little lad. ‘Tis me birthday, after all!

Leprechaun 2 starts a thousand years ago as a leprechaun (Davis again) celebrates his thousandth birthday (fitting, no?) and choses himself a bride. If she sneezes three times without being blessed, then she is his forever. When her father intervenes at the last moment, the leprechaun curses his bloodline. In another thousand years he will take the father’s descendant as his bride.

Fast forward to modern Los Angeles, Cody (Heath) is working a crummy tour business. His girlfriend, Bridget (Durkin), is upset at Cody for having to break a date in order to work. The leprechaun moves in during this moment of romantic strife and kidnaps Bridget with the intent to marry her. Now Cody has to hunt down the creature while dodging both work and the cops before Bridget becomes the wife of a leprechaun.

I think it’s safe to say at this point the series has moved into the exploitation genre. While the first film probably also counts as one, the second rendition makes character deaths more creative, including one that has boobs right before the blood splatter. It almost tries to be scary… a little… Somehow this made it to theaters, so they still had to follow MPAA guidelines, but it almost feels like they filmed it without any real care.

To further drive home that this series is a big joke, they hired various comedic actors for bit parts. Kimmy Robertson, Tony Cox, and Michael McDonald (love this guy!) all make appearances. Clint Howard’s even here, headlining a slew of Star Trek alumni. The ensemble is nothing short of unexpected and that shock value is more significant than any of the kills this movie could provide.

Something else that stood out to me was the leprechaun’s age. In the original movie it’s stated that the leprechaun is six hundred years old. However, the beginning of the second movie starts with the one thousandth and later the two thousandth birthday of the leprechaun. Since both movies take place in the ’90s, both creatures are weak against different materials, and their pots of gold are different, it’s safe to say these are two different leprechauns. There’s no cop-out resurrection here and that’s kind of refreshing… for something old.

I can ramble on about all the weird things I noticed going on, but really it’s a movie you should explore for yourself… which is what I would be saying if I thought this would appeal to a broader audience. It won’t. Hardcore fans of the original would eat this up, but don’t expect to get excited over this film without a few pints of green lager in your system.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day, boyo!

Rating: Don’t bother.

tl;dr
Watch: This movie is full of little surprises.
Don’t watch: More of the same with a little bit extra.

Leprechaun (1993)

R, 92 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Warwick DavisJennifer AnistonKen OlandtMark HoltonRobert Hy Gorman

From The List came a decent selection of movies. Sometimes though the selections are pretty freaking weird. Growing up I’d seen both of Wayne’s World movies. I suspect my parents hated these, so I probably watched them with a friend that lived across the street. Either way I do remember having a conversation with him about one scene in particular where Wayne scares Garth by proclaiming that he’s “the leprechaun.” I hadn’t heard of the movie Wayne was imitating, but it made me kind of sad knowing that a symbol of my birthday was considered a horror villain.

Yes, I was born on St. Patrick’s Day. I feel it only fitting that I explore the franchise in honor of that supposed serpent-banishing saint. No longer burdened by my childhood woe, I went all-out and watched the original series of movies… only to discover I missed some.

The first Leprechaun movie stars Willow–I mean, Wicket–I mean, WARWICK Davis as our titular villain. He finds himself imprisoned in the basement of a country home after attacking a man who stole his gold. Years pass and the now abandoned home is purchased by a man bringing his daughter out to open spaces of rural North Dakota. The daughter, Rachel–I mean, Tory (Aniston), having been a spoiled city girl, hates her new surroundings.

Things go from bad to worse when a handyman lets loose the evil leprechaun. Demanding his precious gold back, the leprechaun begins leaving a trail of blood across the small town. It’s all Tory can do to keep her sanity as she’s terrorized by the mischievous creature, but in order to survive the night she needs to find a way to rid herself of her bad luck for good.

This movie… surprised me, though I almost feel the term isn’t right. I did not expect Aniston. I did not expect low quality. I certainly did not expect the humor. I felt a bit let down by this movie, but at the same time I came to understand its charm. This whole thing was downright confusing.

Being from the early ’90s, this movie has the advantage of showcasing Jennifer Aniston in he pre-surgery glory. For some reason she came to resent her nose and it’s changed quite a lot over the years, but in Leprechaun it’s (I think) her natural pre-fame state. This woman is gorgeous, nose or not, and makes for quite a contrast next to the grotesque scoundrel who can pull out people’s eyeballs. How fitting is it that Aniston would become famous for her role as Friends character Rachel Green?

I found it laughable that they show our characters driving through the hills of North Dakota. My family is from there and anyone from North Dakota knows that the most change in elevation occurs at the Red River and the ditch someone forgot to fill in at Jamestown. It’s flat and green any month other than Winterary, yet we’re shown these rolling brown hills. To it’s credit, this movie was pre-internet era and back then too few people lived in ND to refute it.

Finally, I should touch on this humor business. Garth led me to believe this movie was scary. What have you done to me, Garth? This movie is a horror-comedy, if you believe in such things. It’s seems as imaginary as little green men in top hats to laugh at something scary. Laugh at your own stupid fear maybe, but… but… MY BRAIN! The jokes featured here are of the corniest stock. It’s cartoonish, bizarre, and I wouldn’t feel right saying that it works on any level when a joke is cracked as he’s cutting someone up. Maybe Garth was really afraid of how tacky this flick can be.

I won’t dismiss this movie. I got the sense that there was real potential here. Admittedly it’s nothing special and parts are done in poor taste, but if you’re into dated, bad movies, add this to your own list. One thing’s for sure: Davis seriously pulls of that costume.

Rating: Watch it… just ’cause.

tl;dr
Watch: Jennifer Aniston’s legs… Oh dear…
Don’t watch: Cheap. As corny as you’d imagine it to be.

Friday (1995)

R, 91, Comedy

Starring: Ice CubeChris TuckerRegina KingTommy ‘Tiny’ Lister

Some titles should have been on The List long before The List even started. It’s been two decades, yet people keep asking me, “Have you seen Friday?” Two guys smoking weed while worrying about money? Doesn’t sound like my kind of film. Still, I finally gave in. Enough is enough. I’ve now seen Friday.

Craig (Cube) just lost his job and he’s mad about it. His parents expect more from him, but instead he keeps focusing on the negatives in his life. His dad always wants to have man-to-man talks while he’s on the crapper. His sister is annoying and won’t hook him up with her cute friend. And his stoner friend, Smokey (Tucker), just puffed up the stash he was supposed to be selling. Instead of doing anything about his situation, Craig just shuts down and sits in front of his house all day.

Now people are looking towards Craig. The local druggie is looking for a fix, Craig’s work friend is looking for help, the block’s bully is looking for something to steal, and the drug dealer is going to kill Smokey if he doesn’t get money back soon. It’s time that Craig gets up and does something, but the pressure might get to him before he does.

As you may have gathered, I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. I’m not into drug culture and I don’t really find it funny. I’ve been labeled a prude over it, but if it doesn’t interest me, then it doesn’t interest me. What shocked me, however, was how much this film was about coming of age. It even had a moral. Craig is presented as immature from the beginning and he must overcome himself in order to battle the outside forces threatening his life. It made for a great story that I can personally relate to.

Something else that shocked me was how many of the actors I recognized. I suppose I expected to just know the main two players and if I had watched this twenty years ago, that might have been the case. However, years later I’m able to recognize just about everyone from at least one additional role. I guess I had it in my head that this low budget film wasn’t very big, but we’re presented with an entire neighborhood worth of characters, so it’s bigger than it seems.

I bought this on Black Friday and I can honestly say that it was a serendipitous pull. I never expected to like this movie, but now my interest has been piqued and my curiosity extends to its sequels. Just like the moral of the story proves: being brave can have its rewards.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: If you don’t already know it, then it might surprise you.
Don’t watch: Drug culture, swearing, and pooping.

Sci-fi Saturdays: Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)

R, 101 minutes, Comedy

Starring: John CusackRob CorddryCraig RobinsonClark Duke

Once upon a time I used to go to the movies with my sister-in-law. We’d see whatever interested us, but usually they were titles that I wouldn’t normally pay money to see. By this I mean cruder movies with harsh humor. This continued for a few years until she moved away, just before the release of a certain movie… and that might have been for the best, all things considered.

After their friend Lou (Corddry) tries to commit suicide, recently dumped Adam (Cusack) and cuckolded Nick (Robinson) decide to take a trip to revisit their glory days. Upon arriving at Kodiak Valley, the group finds the place in shambles. They settle in for a disappointing vacation, but due to the drunken antics surrounding the mysterious Hot Tub Time Machine the friends find themselves back in 1986.

Overcoming the shock, the group frantically work to remember everything they did in the past in order to keep the timeline complete. As temptation and a desperation to set things right swell up they’ll either get a chance to change their past or destroy the future.

This movie is full of pop culture references, especially ’80s culture and how it clashes with the modern. Music, neon colors, bad hair, and everything outdated surrounds the main characters to create a heavy landscape from the past. Being a fan of ’80s music, the movie makes me revisit hit singles every time I watch it. On another note, this movie is absolutely saturated with foul language, drinking, drug use, and sex to emphasize just how lost and out of control these characters really are.

I find the constant use of the f-bomb and other “colorful” language makes the script feel like it’s lacking substance, which is disappointing considering the entire moral of the story. Though not a flat-out sci-fi flick, HTTM is more of a reminder to live life to its fullest the first time around so you don’t have to use illegal Russian energy drinks in order to fix your mistakes. A ridiculous situation for sure, but this movie plays up to shock value right until the end when it suddenly gets an epiphany as if to say, “Oh right, we were doing something romantic with the plot there.”

I’m not trying to say this is a bad movie by any means. In fact I’ve laughed at the same jokes after multiple viewings. What I am saying is that it is crude and it owns it. And it’s probably not the kind of movie you’d want to take anyone with which you’re related to go see.

Rating: Watch it once.

tl;dr
Watch: Because for some reason John Cusack makes really good romance movies.
Don’t watch: Booze, boobs, and f-bombs.

The Ref (1994)

R, 93 minutes, Comedy

Starring: Denis LearyKevin SpaceyJudy Davis

My wife isn’t as crazy about movies as I am. Oh she likes them just fine, but she mostly tolerates me wanting to watch something in the evenings. Still, she has a tendency to surprise me once in a while with an off title that completely skipped my notice, yet she adores. It’s nice because it helps round out my interests with wild cards.

She drew an ace with The Ref. Lloyd and Caroline are a nasty, bickering couple who couldn’t save their marriage even if they were normal. Lloyd (Spacey) lets his mother control him and Caroline (Davis) is so much of a free spirit that she’s practically at Alpha Centauri. Their relationship is simply nuclear.

Then there’s Gus, a bitter cat burglar determined to retire for good. After he sets off an alarm his getaway driver gets away from him. Forced to take drastic measures, Gus (Leary) kidnaps a lady at a local store only to find himself in backseat of Lloyd and Caroline’s vehicle. Gus makes his hostages drive to their home where he tries to think of a way to escape, but winds up the referee for their constant feuding. Things take a turn for the worse when all manner of guests show up at the door. From a drunken Santa to the military to Lloyd’s overbearing mother, Gus has no other choice but to play along. What’s a crook to do?

What probably surprised me the most about this movie is that’s vulgar, yet my wife loved it enough to buy it and share it with me. Granted, nothing explicit is shown (except some boobs in a photograph), but the constant fighting throughout this film results in colorful language tapestry that is weaved… and wooven… into highways of communication… I don’t know, I heard it all on Oprah last week! …That probably went right over you head. Zoom!

There’s nothing special to say about technicals or style, this movie is pure dialogue. No one gets along and it’s about the tension releasing explosively within the family. This ultimately leads to a moral dilemma that has an expected, but otherwise incorrect outcome. You’ll just have to see it to understand, because spoiling endings makes movies unwatchable.

If you’re in the mood for something different this Christmas, then give it a try. I probably chose some odd Christmas flicks this year. Ones with guns and blood. The Ref is a step down from testosterone explosions, but it’s a great reminder of how worse off your family could be.

Rating: Watch it.

tl;dr
Watch: It’s funny, chaotically dramatic, and having it set during Christmas gives it a uniqueness.
Don’t watch: Robbery, extortion, and a boat load of f-bombs.