Posted tagged ‘Movies’

Review – The Human Centipede

May 9, 2010

Remember, I generally hate movies.

Following a bit of a hiatus, I’m back.  And what a movie to get things going again!

After seeing The Human Centipede, I had two different, but related reactions: I liked the movie, but I didn’t necessarily like myself after realizing that I liked the movie.

Of course, I was already a little skeptical of myself for wanting to see the movie at all.  The premise of the film is frighteningly simple, shockingly original, and absolutely repulsive.  I might come to hate myself if I actually type a description, so I’ll just rely on the trailer to relate the premise for me:

So, yes, it’s a film about a guy who attaches people’s mouths to other people’s anuses to form a human centipede.  And that’s about it.  There’s really no character development (two of the characters can’t even speak because their mouths are, well, occupied).  There’s not much of a narrative.  There’s no real sense of surprise (the opening of the film makes it clear that the film was made under the assumption that its audience already knows what it’s about).  The entire film is really nothing more than a vehicle for the aforementioned conjoining of mouths and anuses.

And such is the movie’s charm.  I went to see the movie at a sold-out midnight showing and everyone in the theater already knew what was coming.  We weren’t there for the normal reasons that people go to see movies, we were there to see a human centipede.  This wasn’t really a movie, it was a freak-show.

And it delivered.  Sure enough, about half way through the movie, three people are attached to each other via digestive track (which is a fancy way of saying ass-to-mouth).  And, sure enough, it’s pretty remarkable in its own right.

But what was still more remarkable is how many other good things there are to say about the movie.

First, there is the performance of Dieter Laser as the mad scientist who, having retired from his career as a leading specialist at separating conjoined twins, has decided to spend his golden years conjoining things – especially digestive tracks.  Laser seems to revel in the role – giving it a delightful blend of creepiness and tongue-in-cheek (no pun intended) campiness.  The delight he expresses when he creates “my centipede!” and the sense of relief and indignation he conveys when he declares to his misbehaving victim “you will be my middle piece!” are simultaneously repulsive and hilarious.

And this fits very well with the second excellent aspect of this film.  The premise of the movie is, needless to say, disgusting and disturbing.  But the film doesn’t do much to amp up those qualities.  Director Tom Six seems confident that the premise alone will satisfy shock-cinema fanatics, and thus doesn’t try too hard to put terribly graphic images on the screen.  Throughout the movie, the image that probably got the strongest “ewww” from the audience was the shot of Laser’s naked body as he swims in an indoor pool.

Instead of shocking images, then, Six puts his energies into making sure that the film is fun.  And, at almost every turn, he succeeds.  There is a palpable sense of humor running throughout the movie – from the tombstone marking the final resting place of “My Sweet Three Dog,” to the scientist’s moment of slapstick as he crawls along the floor after the human centipede stabs him in the leg.

Even the image of the human centipede itself, rather than emphasizing the gruesome nature of what is going on, instead turns the whole thing into an extreme and twisted form of scatological humor.  Throughout the film I was no more repulsed than I was when I first entered the theater, but I was always thoroughly entertained, from the opening shot of the scientist acquiring his first victim to the delightfully surprising and twisted ending.

All this amounted to a pleasant surprise.  I still think a little less of myself for going to see the movie.  And I’m not sure what it says about me that I enjoyed it.  But I can say that what could have been a couple hours of drudgery mixed with the occasional horrific image turned out to be a hilarious romp through the darkest of dark aspects of human behavior.

At one point, I laughed out loud as the scientist licked a puddle of blood and feces off the floor.  Getting a laugh out of such a thing is either a filmic accomplishment, or a disturbing comment on my mental well-being.  I chose to believe that it is the former.

Reasons I Hate Movies #4: January-April

February 18, 2010

I like going to the movie theater.  As this blog proves, I don’t always like the actual movies I see there, but the experience of going to a movie theater is pleasant in its own right.  It’s not enough, though, to warrant going if I don’t think there’s at least some chance that the movie I’ll see is at least decent.

Which is why the first four months of every year are so miserable.  There is nothing worth seeing this time of year.  The movie studios save all of their big blockbusters for the summer so that they can cash in on all of the teenagers who are out of school and searching for something to do with themselves.  They save all of their “quality” dramas for the fall so that these films will still be on people’s minds come Oscar season.  So, since making films that don’t fit the blockbuster or Oscar formula is absolutely out of the question, come January there’s nothing left.

Of course, theaters can’t afford to shut down for four months, so they have to show something.  So what do movie studios do?  They run all of the movies that they’ve held onto because they either wouldn’t be a big box office draw or weren’t good enough to get Oscar buzz.  In other words, they release all of their stored up crap.

Take, for instance, last year’s He’s Just Not That Into You.

This was a movie based on a book that Oprah made famous back in 2005.  Trying to capitalize on the popularity of that book, the studios rushed to make a romantic comedy based on its premise.  So they lined up an all-star cast of B-level celebrities, made some references to trendy new pieces of pop culture like Myspace and text messages, and prepared to rake in the cash as masses of people lined up to see the “feel good movie of the year.”  The only problem is that by the time the movie came out, the book that it was based on was yesterday’s news and Facebook had made Myspace obsolete.

So what happened?  Apparently, even the studios seemed to realize that this movie was crap – and that’s saying something.  But, they’d already made the thing so they were stuck with a multi-million dollar dud that wouldn’t make a penny in theaters if it went up against special effects blockbusters or films that were getting Oscar buzz.  So they held onto it and waited for a time when it wouldn’t have to compete against any films that anyone even remotely cared about.  That time was last February.

Sadly, the strategy worked.  He’s Just Not That Into You hit #1 at the box office and went on to make almost $94 million domestically.  Never mind that it wasn’t even a remotely decent film.  Never mind that its references and even its title were completely dated before the film even came out.  Like a college student getting excited to eat a microwaved pizza that’s been in the freezer for several months because it breaks up a steady diet of Ramen noodles, desperate audiences flocked to the theater to see Jennifer Aniston and Drew Berrymore go through the motions and pick up giant pay checks.

And this has become a yearly ritual.  I haven’t been to the theaters in a couple months.  I’d really like to go.  But I just can’t bring myself to see Wolfman or Valentine’s Day no matter how desperate I am.

In fact, the trend of dumping bad movies on audiences this time of year is so pervasive that even movies that I might normally be interested in, like Scorcese’s Shutter Island, make me nervous.  Sure, it’s a Scorcese (I don’t care what anybody says, his name should be pronounced “score-cease”) film, but why is coming out now?  Why would a director whose films usually generate Oscar buzz come out in February?  There can only be one reason – it isn’t good.

So, I’ll do my best to resist.  As much as I miss the theater, going now will only reinforce the movie studio’s bad behavior.  Instead, for the next few months, I’m putting them in time out.  Yes, I’m treating them like I would a naughty child.  And, yes, that is what they deserve.  And yes, that is another reason that I hate movies.

Reasons I Hate Movies #3: Award Shows

January 19, 2010

The Golden Globes are behind us and they have proven, once again, that award shows have no positive impact on film whatsoever.  Which isn’t to say that the shows themselves can’t have some entertainment value – Ricky Gervais was, after all, hilarious.  But what made him funny was that he constantly took pot-shots at the actors and repeatedly used his sarcasm to point out just how unimportant these multi-millionaires that we shower with awards and attention really are.

Unfortunately, that irony seemed lost on the many undeserving winners.

And such is the irony of award shows.  Presumably they exist to reward good film making but, instead, all they do is keep bad movies and unimportant actors in our collective conscious far longer than they deserve.  Sure, there is the occasional deserving win – No Country for Old Men for instance – but those movies would have stood the test of time with or without an award.  Those movies don’t benefit from the award nearly as much as the award benefits from them since it acts to validate the accuracy of the award.  But once they secure that validation it seems that award shows remain intent upon spending it on crappy films that we should all forget but that, because of a Best Picture Oscar or a Best Director Golden Globe, people will continue to talk about for years.

And such was the case last night.  A movie like The Hangover was fine for what it was – a mildly amusing way to lose two hours of a Sunday afternoon.  But an award winning film?  That’s ridiculous.  But now it won’t simply laps into obscurity as it should since it has inexplicably changed from a throw away comedy to an award-winning piece of cinema.

Which brings me to my two biggest complaints about last night’s show: the almost complete exclusion of Where the Wild Things Are from the nominations, and the infuriating celebration of Avatar.

I’ve already chronicled my love of Where the Wild Things Are, but I realize that it isn’t everybody’s cup of tea.  It is unusual and unsettling and asks a lot of the viewer on a narrative and emotional level.  In other words, it’s a provocative and original film.  Maybe it doesn’t deserve to win many awards since it didn’t achieve widespread appeal, but it definitely deserved at least a nomination – after all, it takes something truly remarkable to polarize audiences the way Wild Things did. It doesn’t, though, take anything remarkable to try to get some cheap laughs out of a few Mike Tyson gags, yet that apparently warrants not only a nomination, but a Best Comedy or Musical Award.  Love it or hate it, Where the Wild Things is an affecting experience.  The Hangover is nothing of the sort.

And then there’s Avatar.  I’ve already chronicled my disdain for this film, so I won’t go into it here.  Instead, since the acclaim that it’s achieved is so colossally undeserved I’m going to give it a very dubious honor: it will be the first movie to ever become a part of my “Why [classic movie] is an over-rated pile of dung” series before it even leaves theaters.  This will be the subject of my next post.

But the very notion that I could already be objecting to the “classic” status of Avatar brings me back to my initial objection to award shows.  The Golden Globes that Avatar won for Best Director and Best Drama, and what I fear are the inevitable Academy Awards for Director and Film that I foresee coming in March, will make Avatar, like Gladiator and  Crash before it, an instant classic, event though it is a horrendous piece of trite and unimaginative garbage.  Without award shows, the novelty of 3D would eventually wear off and everyone would probably come to realize what a bad movie Avatar really is.  But with the backing of a bunch of gold statuettes, the movie-going public will continue to erroneously believe that a technological marvel (which Avatar admittedly is) is also an artistic marvel (which it definitely is not).

But mark my words.  Award shows aside – in twenty years, love it or hate it, viewers will remember Where the Wild Are on a level that Avatar isn’t even sophisticated enough to know to try to achieve.  I just hope that means more to Spike Jones than silly trophies do.

Decade in Review – Random Awards

December 29, 2009

Having already covered the best and most overrated films of the decade, I’ll use my decade-ending post to offer a few specialty awards.  The specificity of these categories makes a long list of films a little unnecessary, although there were multiple contenders for some of them.  I’ll start with the most dubious award of all:

Worst Film of the Decade – Birth (2004)

This one almost went to Catwoman.  After all, any film that features Halle Berry in fetish gear and yet still bores me is a pretty retched movie.  But, in the end, Catwoman does boast that aforementioned fetish gear, while Birth just features Nicole Kidman molesting a child.  Add to that a ridiculous and completely implausible plot, some of the worst film music ever (seriously, it made me want to gouge out my ear-drums), bad acting, and bad directing and you have the worst film of the decade.  It was creepy when it was supposed to be moving, boring when it was supposed to be tense, and funny when it was supposed to be dramatic.  Awful.  Just awful.

Biggest Disappointment of the Decade – Spiderman 3 (2007)

Following a solid first movie and a genuinely excellent second installment of the franchise, it seemed that Spiderman 3 had all the makings of a spectacular ending to that rarest of breeds: a quality comic book movie trilogy.  Instead, the trilogy ended with a spectacular, Superman 3 sized turd.  The action sequences were completely incomprehensible and extremely, mind-numbingly long.  Meanwhile, the plot never cohered into a compelling story.  By the time Black-suit Spiderman/emo Peter Parker showed up I was ready for the whole affair to be over, but, alas, it went on for another hour and a half.  All of the actors looked bored out of their minds and who could blame them?  They should have walked off the set just like I should have left the theater.

Worst Repeat View of the Decade – Iron Man (2008)

I really liked this movie the first time I saw it.  So, when I got my first Blu-Ray player and thought about what movie would really benefit from the 1280p that I had just invested in, Iron Man jumped to mind.  But upon further review, something occurred to me: this movie focuses way too much on building super-suits.  First, Tony Stark makes a suit as a hostage in a terrorist camp.  Then he makes a suit in his lab and becomes Iron Man.  Then his nemesis, Dr. Evil Iron Man Suit Guy makes a suit.  Then they put on their suits and fight.  The superior acting and interesting special effects carried me through the film the first time, but the second time all this suit building added up to a giant bore.

Most Needlessly Overblown “Epic” of the Decade – King Kong (2005)

Fresh off the beautifully epic Lord of the Rings trilogy, Peter Jackson apparently felt compelled to follow with another epic movie.  The problem was, his subject simply wasn’t epic.  The plot of King Kong is, in fact, disarmingly simple.  Not to be deterred, Jackson did everything he could to make the movie feel a lot bigger than it was.  During the excruciatingly long journey to Skull Island, Jackson used foreshadowing, dark music, wide camera shots, and tons of over-acting in a vain attempt to build tension and suspense.  The problem was, we all knew what was on that island: a giant ape.  And we all know what happens to that ape: he climbs the Empire State Building and gets killed by some airplanes.  It doesn’t take two and a half hours to tell that story.

Most Likely to Make Me Kill Myself – Dancer in the Dark (2000)

 

I left the interpretation of this category open – it could have been a film that made me want to kill myself due to its awfulness, due to its being disgusting, due to guilt, or whatever.  In the end, Dancer in the Dark was the runaway winner for just being a gut-wrenchingly depressing and emotionally brutal movie.  Watching this movie was like getting punched in the gut for two hours… by Bjork (in other words, I felt like that reporter in Thailand).  In the end, I think it’s a great movie, but I’m not sure that I’ll ever put myself through watching it again.

So far these awards have been pretty dark – so I’ll end the decade on a more positive note.  Here are a couple of more affirming categories:

Most Underrated Film of the Decade – King of Kong (2007)

When I ask people if they’ve seen this movie, far too many answer “no.”  Any documentary that can make its viewers actually care who holds the title of Donkey Kong Champion of the World is clearly the work of a rare and exceptional talent.  Seth Gordon pulls it off while always maintaining a sense of the absurdity of it all.  Not to mention, this movie introduces the world to one of the most intriguing villians – ne human beings – in all of film: Billy Mitchell.  The free Donkey Kong machine in the lobby was the icing on the cake.

Most Pleasant Surprise of the Decade – Burn After Reading (2008)

I’ve had so many issues with Coen Brothers movies that it was nice to finally feel like I was in on the joke.  Rather than the usual cleverness of Coen Brothers films – a cleverness that overwhelms their potential funninessBurn After Reading really went after the humor of the script, and all of the actors followed suit.  Any film that features a dildo chair and that can make me laugh at someone getting brutally murdered by a hacksaw is a film worth seeing.

And so ends the decade.  I’d feel a little sad except that I’m sure the studios are already hard at work on another decade of bad movies for us all to spend our money on.  When they do, I’ll be sure to point out their awfulness.

Happy New Year!

Decade in Review – 5 Best Films of the Aughts

December 28, 2009

Having just vented about the 10 most overrated films of the decade I will now attempt to actually say something positive for a change.  So here goes – my list of the 5 best films of the decade:

#5.  Hot Fuzz (2007)

In a decade full of smirks and chuckles, Hot Fuzz delivered genuine, deep, gasping-for-air laughter.  The beginning is admittedly a bit slow, although it is punctuated by perhaps the funniest single moment of the past ten years.  When the top of a steeple falls down on top of a reporter, not just killing him but obliterating the top half of his body (and yet the bottom half stumbles around a bit before keeling over) the result is so unexpectedly violent and hilarious that I laughed long after the scene had ended.  And then, of course, there are the film’s final forty or so minutes, which are so uproariously funny that my side ached by the time they were over.  Unlike so many comedies of the aughts, Hot Fuzz didn’t try to be clever.  Instead, it tried to be funny, at it succeeded at every turn.

#4.  The Dark Knight (2008)

In an era of crappy comic book movies, this film proved once and for all that the drivel we had come to expect from the genre is inexcusable rather than inevitable.  Heath Ledger’s Joker will go down as one of the iconic performances in film history and deservedly so.  Having said that, it’s too bad that his performance ended up garnering so much attention because it tended to obscure the fact that this film’s excellence went far beyond a single outstanding performance.  Despite entering a crowded and clichéd genre, The Dark Knight was surprising at every turn and every minute of its two-and-a-half hour running time felt both compelling and necessary.

#3.  Wall-E (2008)

In ten years Pixar did more for digital animation than Disney did for traditional animation in the entire 20th century (and that’s no slight to Disney).  Wall-E is Pixar’s crowning achievement.  The first thirty dialog-less minutes give us some of the most elegant filmmaking of the decade.  Sure, the second half feels a bit more like the usual Pixar blend of physical gags and tight storytelling, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Wall-E is such a flawlessly executed film, and is so full of genuine heart, that the keen social commentary lurking under the surface is just a welcome added bonus.

#2.  The Lord of the Rings Trilogy (2001, 2002, 2003)

So often directors seem to think that making a movie really long and filling it with special effects is all it takes to make something “epic.”  Fortunately, Peter Jackson remembered that story telling and character development are important, too.  As a result, every minute of the nine hours that this trilogy occupied the screen (and even the twelve hours of its extended DVD versions) felt like a gift.  This is one of the rare cases in which the movie was far better than the book on which it was based since Jackson managed to capture all of the magic of Tolkien’s imagination while replacing the woodenness of his prose with a visual style that was dynamic and compelling.

#1.  Where the Wild Things Are (2009)

It seems that everyone either loved or hated this movie.  I am firmly rooted in the “loved” category.  Everything in this film worked – the visuals, the music, the story-telling.  The narrative style was completely unique and yet easy to follow, and the story stayed true to Maurice Sendak’s book without feeling slavish or derivative. I saw it in the theaters twice and liked it even more the second time.  It’s dark.  It’s melancholy.  It’s moving.  It’s brilliant.

So there we have it – proof that I don’t hate every movie.  In my next post (the last one of this decade) I’ll give a few random awards in a “one-off” format.

Decade in Review – 10 Most Overrated Films of the Aughts

December 26, 2009

It’s that time of the year when all of the “Best/Worst of” lists start to appear and, of course, this year we get the “Best/Worst of the Decade” lists.  Usually, these appear in the format of “10 Best” and “5 Worst,” but, here at The Movie Hater’s Movie Blog I like to focus on my disdain, so I’m flipping it around.

So I’ll start with my “10 Worst” list.  Actually, this first list isn’t about the “10 Worst Films of the Decade” so much as the “10 Most Over-rated Films of the Decade.”  These are movies that achieved high levels of critical acclaim, box-office success, or Academy Award attention, but that didn’t deserve any of it.  I didn’t rank the films in order of their overall awfulness but, instead, ranked them by the gap between the level of adoration for the film and my level of derision.  So, while Slumdog Millionaire is a better movie than Transformers (though just barely), it still ranks #1 on my list because Transformers didn’t achieve quite the same widespread celebration that Slumdog did.

But enough with the explanations – here is the list:

#10.  The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

 

I had heard so much about this movie before I saw it that I couldn’t wait to join the “in” crowd who had seen and loved it.  Turns out, this was a mildly amusing comedy, not the groundbreaking, side-splitting romp that everyone made it out to be.  By the end, I just kept thinking, “okay, I get it, he’s forty and he hasn’t had sex – what else you got?”  The answer, unfortunately, was “not much.”

#9.  Transformers (2007)

Sure, critics were pretty harsh towards this movie and, for once, they got it right (although this one was kind of a no-brainer), but the box-office draw was astounding – and unexplainable.  This movie exemplifies two of the reasons I hate movies – I had very low expectations, and yet it still managed to disappoint.  I expected nothing more than cool scenes of giant robots fighting and transforming with a loose plot holding it together.  Instead, I saw frantic, unintelligible action scenes that didn’t make creative use of the robots ability to transform, and really no plot to speak of.  I left assuming that this movie would be a Van Helsing sized flop but instead it turned into one of the top grossing franchises of the decade.

#8.  Avatar (2009)

This one slipped in right under the wire – too bad for the aughts.  Avatar wanted so badly to be an imaginative epic that would change the way films were made.  Instead, it rehashed a bunch of racist stereotypes from the 18th century, wrapped them up in a CGI Smurf suit, put them through a bunch of clichéd blockbuster narratives, and took three hours to do it to boot.

#7.  Gladiator (2000)

The winner of the decade’s Award for Most Undeserving Academy Award goes to Gladiator.  The whole thing is just a cheap knockoff of Braveheart.  While Braveheart’s battle scenes succeeded in creating excitement through jarring depictions of war’s brutality, Gladiator tried to create excitement through choppy camera work and frantic editing.  While Breaveheart told a moving story of a man who channels his love of his wife into fighting for his country’s freedom, Gladiator used a screaming Russell Crowe to tell a clichéd story of a man seeking revenge.  I could have rented Braveheart, saved a trip to the theater, and had a better time.

#6.  Crash (2004)

This was easily the most heavy-handed, contrived, and poorly made film to ever win Best Picture at the Academy Awards.  I have my theories about why it won, but, regardless, it was undeserving.  The plot lines were manipulative and yet completely predictable, the comments on race felt like they were coming from a college freshman who’s just seen Roots for the first time, and the editing felt like a chaffing two hours of filmic masturbation.

#5.  O Brother, Where Art Thou? (2000)

I, of course, have my on-going issues with the Coen Brothers, but the bottom line here is that Homer told this story way better.  I can only assume that the legions of fans either never read the original, blindly allow the Coen Brothers to dictate to them what clever film-making is, and/or love bluegrass music.  None of those things applies to me, so I reacted to the movie with what it deserves – a great big “EH.”

#4. Pirates of the Caribbean – Trilogy (2003, 2006, 2007)

If you ever want to get trashed one afternoon, watch the first Pirates movie and take a drink every time there’s an underwater shot showing someone falling from a boat into the ocean.  If you ever don’t want to get trashed one afternoon, take a drink every time Pirates 2 takes a break from elaborate action sequences to actually offer some plot and/or character development.  If you want to watch Pirates 3 one afternoon, make sure you get trashed first.  How these movies became one of the biggest franchises of the decade, and how the first film even garnered critical acclaim, is beyond me.

#3.  Napolean Dynamite (2004)

Before I got around to seeing this movie I often heard its fans reciting various lines from the film and would inevitably think to myself, “I don’t understand why that’s funny but, I haven’t seen the film, so I’m not in on the joke.”  Then I saw the film.  I still don’t understand why it’s funny.  I chuckled briefly a couple of times, but that doesn’t even come close to warranting the kind of cultish devotion that this film ended up achieving.

#2.  The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

As I’ve said before, Wes Anderson puts me in mind of a line from the Simpsons: “the whole thing smacks of effort.”  Anderson’s audacity as a filmmaker works when his characters follow suit (as in Rushmore and Fantastic Mr. Fox), but the painstaking earnestness of his style just felt jarringly out of whack with the detached, morose insincerity that drives the narrative of the this film and its characters.

#1.  Slumdog Millionaire (2008)

Sometimes it feels like I’m the only person in the world who doesn’t like this movie.  Sure, the kids were cute and their Dickensian struggle was charming, but then they grew into bad actors with no chemistry.  Meanwhile the central contrivance of the whole film (the game show) was, well, contrived.  The best thing I can say about the film is that it makes abject poverty cute.  How that translates into an Academy Award for Best Picture is beyond me.

So that’s that.  In my next post, I’ll try to enter the unfamiliar territory of positivity by giving my five favorite films of the decade.

Up in the Air – Review

December 22, 2009

Remember, I generally hate movies.

And Up in the Air is no exception.

One thing that plagues this film is actually not the movie’s fault.  It was while watching this movie that I realized that George Clooney has joined the short list of elite cinema icons who are always immediately larger than their roles.  Like Jack Nicholson and Meryl Streep before him, Clooney has now achieved a level of fame that makes it impossible to ever quite achieve the suspension of disbelief necessary to see him as his character rather than as George Clooney.  It’s not his fault – his performance was the lone bright spot in a movie otherwise filled with lackluster performances.  But Clooney has achieved that rarified status of being a star who simply transcends any one film.

I became painfully aware of this during Up in the Air in large part because almost everything else about the movie is so forgettable.

The plot is pretty typical romance fare.  Clooney (his character’s name is irrelevant) lives a lonely life flying around firing people for a living.  He spends so much time “up in the air” that the notion of settling down is unthinkable to him.  Unthinkable, that is, until the dual force of an intriguing woman and a young up-and-comer who wants to conduct business via the internet threatens the lifestyle that he’s used to.  So, he has to start reevaluating things.  It doesn’t help that the young up-and-comer, Natalie (Anna Kendrick), travels with him for a bit to help her learn the business and she, of course, questions his lifestyle at every turn.  At the same time, frequent encounters with his new-found love interest, Alex (Vera Farminga), start to put some new ideas into his head.

Based on that premise, I’m sure most movie-goers can figure out how the next hour and a half unfolds.  At first he’s frustrated about having Natalie tagging along and wants to keep his relationship with Alex purely physical.  As time wears on he comes to form a bond with both women, and cracks start to appear in his emotional armor until, of course, we come to find out that he’s really a big, sensitive, Hugh Grant of a man.

Meanwhile, the film references our country’s current economic troubles in an effort to appear topical.  There were some potentially interesting ideas there for the taking: the ethics of a business that actually booms due to economic collapse or the irony of Clooney making a living out of firing obsolete employees only to then become obsolete himself, for instance.   But instead of going into these issues, we get a predictable story and weak attempts at humor, like when Clooney thinks the flight attendant is asking if he wants “the cancer,” but is actually asking if he wants “the can, sir,” or the moment when he turns the size of his frequent flier account into a euphemism for his penis.  Even as the film seems to beg for an investigation of some of the complexities that arise, the first nine tenths of the movie adamantly refuse to go beyond its laughably predictable surface.

But then, the movie takes an interesting turn.  I won’t say exactly what happens, but I will say that the final fifteen minutes or so were not at all what I was expecting.  They take the romance/date movie genre and turn it on its head – there were still some really predictable aspects to how everything unfolds, but overall it took me by surprise.

Unfortunately, the surprise just wasn’t enough to warrant the previous hour and a half of cliches.  If the director hadn’t held back, if he’d just let on that this film was a deconstruction of the romance genre right from the start, and played with that concept throughout, I might have been interested.  But he didn’t.  Instead, he wasted the film’s potential on over-worn plot devices and bad jokes, while saving all of the film’s interest until the end, at which point it was too late.  In fact, had it not been for Clooney’s undeniable charisma, I might not have even stuck around to see the final twists and turns.  In the end, I did stick around, and the final few scenes were worth the fifteen minutes or so that they were on the screen.  They weren’t, though, even close to being worth the hour and thirty four minutes that I had to invest to get there.