Take Brüno for example. Sacha Baron Cohen's follow-up to his massively successful Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan, which garnered him an Oscar nomination - yep, Borat was an Oscar nominee, is about an overtly flamboyant Austrian fashion guru who simply wants to be famous.
Trouncing every stereotyped way of attaining fame, Brüno makes his way to America to hit it big time. This rehash of the Borat formula is, like that film, a potential gold mine of humour. However, where Cohen goes wrong again is a tendency to fall on the wrong side of victimising his subjects. The humour falls from being funny to downright mean at times which in effect lessens the power of what it is he is trying to say. Sure, it would seem appropriate to show the absolute horror of misguided show-business hungry parents, however, on closer inspection these are sick people and Cohen does nothing to suggest that perhaps help might benefit their children. He just points his D&G-garbed finger right in their face and laughs hoping the audience will do the same.
And at times it's impossible not to as he has a significant comedic point of view and an on-point delivery ability that holds him up as potentially one of the comedic greats, it's just that every good thing he does is undermined by an explicable turn into the world of silly. It's neither as confronting as Borat, though homophobes would probably disagree, but it does like its predecessor raise interesting questions. When Cohen can reign in his urge to go for the cheap laugh he may just have a masterpiece.
The Hangover, directed by Todd Phillipps, on the other hand makes no suggestion whatsoever that anyone was trying to veer anywhere close to comedic masterpiece. In what amounts to a one-trick-pony, this tale of drunken woe was a significant money-earner at the box-office and a surprising critical success. Beyond that there is little to talk about as this Golden Globe winner for Best Musical or Comedy fails to connect the dots and amount to more than a punchline for a not particularly funny joke.
Following the aftermath of a bucks night in Las Vegas three hungover louts - Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) - attempt to piece the jigsaw back together to find their now missing mate and buck, Doug (Justin Bartha), before the big wedding. Following encounters with a trashed Las Vegas megasuite, a loose tiger, an unidentified baby, a missing antique ring, a bizarrely present Mike Tyson, a weirdly non-present Heather Graham and a creepy little Asian Mr. Big in Mr. Chow, this mess of a movie makes the fatal mistake of forgetting to let the audience in on the joke. Trying to be too clever and merely explaining the endgame away as a run-in with a Mafia-like entourage with a case of mistaken identity means that what has been gradually built piece by piece is felled in one big swoop by that oft-loose block called, Cheat!
Apart from an hilariously on-point Galifianakis, whose timing is so genuinely and interestingly off-centre, there is little to recommend in this mega-hit. It's neither mega-funny or mega-interesting. Pretty much like a hangover you regret having wasted the time getting to this state and pretty much wish it was already over. It's far from anywhere near the hype.
Clearly avoiding any hype is the David Frankel adaptation of the John Grogan book, Marley & Me. An exploration into the world of Rom-Com, this Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson vehicle is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser but a completely underwhelming experience in the end. As a recollection of a family's beginnings through its times of struggle to its inevitable farewell to a significant family member, it fails to convince that it is anything more than a colour-by-number experience lacking an sense of depth or true familial grit. The problems are no more problematic than forgetting a shopping list on a trip to the supermarket and the humour is no more funny than realising you've got a disruptive pet on your hands who likes to cause pain beyond just leaving a big fat turd on the welcome mat.
Many will find comfort in the veneer presented here but for a film that is based around a premise so close to many hearts one wonders how playing a few violins and presenting that gut-wrenching decision isn't seen by more to be simply nothing other than a manipulation of that oft shoved-away realisation that inevitably there is an end for us all. The comic relief isn't very comical and offers as much as a headache placebo and considerable talent in the likes of Aniston, Alan Arkin and Kathleen Turner is shamefully wasted.
Marley is a naughty dog with some character. It's a mistake on the part of the filmmakers that they thought that would be enough to make a good film for even Cesar Millan would have trouble taming this big ol' dog.
In no need of any Millan intervention is the teen comedy, Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist, a somewhat successful romp through the night of a potentially just-right couple. Directed by Peter Sollett, this adaptation of another novel, this time by Rachel Cohn, follows both Nick (Michael Cera) and Norah (Kat Dennings) as they follow the drunken ramblings of Norah's friend Caroline (Ari Graynor) and a series of cryptic clues to a gig of a much-loved band, Where's Fluffy?
What works in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist is the understanding of and attention to detail in the nuances of teenage-dom. There's little judgement in the self-obsession or anxiety-laden existences of these characters and the fact that no explanation is given for the presence of Nick in a Queercore band even though he's straight is reason enough to suggest that this is a film not bowing its head to anyone in a gesture of acknowledgement. It's a film of heart and humour with just the right amount of honesty thrown in to overcome the slight sense of pretension amidst its music-fan storyline.
Cera dials in a very Cera-like performance as Nick, which is made to look all the more ordinary due to the fine turn from Dennings and the inspired comedic presence of Graynor. Both women outshine perhaps even the material as they present a really interesting contradiction of what it means to be young, secure and female in the noughties.
Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist isn't a masterpiece, not even within its genre, but it is a film that will convince you that the players knew and understood what was going on in this story of teenage romance. There's enough to suggest that perhaps the parts of the sum may in fact have more to give.
CAST:Sacha Baron Cohen
USA ׀ Germany
MARLEY & ME
NICK & NORAH'S INFINITE PLAYLIST
Jonathan Bradford Wright