Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Movie: Dodgeball (2004)

After seeing this movie, there’s no way I can vote for George W. Bush.

Wait a minute. Sorry. I got confused.

This is the latest from the Stiller/Wilson/Ferrell/Vaughn/ Jack Black comedy cabal that’s taken Hollywood by indifferent storm. They work together in varying combinations, the way villains on the old BATMAN TV series would sometimes join forces.

The movie is amiable enough. But it’s also, to use a pet phrase of my mother’s that still sends chills down my spine, the very essence of laziness. Much of the humor depends on the audience’s familiarity with the tropes of sports movies. That approach can work, but it’s better when there’s a specific target, the way the Farrelly Brothers’ KINGPIN riffed on THE COLOR OF MONEY. It’s clear now that Vince Vaughn is attempting to be the new Bill Murray. Which isn’t bad as far as goals go. But he’s under the impression that Murray succeeded by doing nothing, when in fact he was being Bill Murray. Ben Stiller’s collection of tics and backstory never coalesces into a character, but at least he tries.

The movie does get better as it goes along. The final dodgeball tournament is covered on ESPN8 (“the Ocho”) by Gary Cole, the most reliable comic actor in movies today, and Jason Bateman as an extreme sports athlete turned commentator. A few years ago, Bateman was a forgotten child star. Now he’s stealing movies from his highly paid costars and anchoring one of the only shows on network TV (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT) worth a damn. Welcome back, buddy.

Movie: A Guide For The Married Man (1967)

Whatever happened to the sex comedy? Sure, they still crank out flicks for teenagers about “getting some” (See: the AMERICAN PIE series). But Hollywood movies used to acknowledge that adults were every bit as obsessed with and flummoxed by sex. Movies that stemmed from the noble tradition of Restoration comedy. Robert Towne has said that SHAMPOO was inspired by William Wycherly’s play THE COUNTRY WIFE, in which a man who is perceived as no threat to women is in fact a libertine. Another example is Billy Wilder’s still controversial KISS ME, STUPID (1964), featuring a performance by Dean Martin that remains the most shocking self-caricature in film history. Would-be songwriter Ray Walston knows that ‘Dino’ is going to hit on his wife, so he asks waitress Kim Novak to fill in for her. They both end up playing their roles a little too well.

Such forthrightness about unseemly urges is a thing of the past. About the only recent film I can think of that fits this mold is David O. Russell’s FLIRTING WITH DISASTER, and that was eight years ago.

As for the movie that prompted this blather, it’s a trifle directed by Gene Kelly. But I can never turn off Walter Matthau. Lessons in committing adultery are acted out by guest stars like Jack Benny and Sid Caesar. It’s a feature-length episode of THE BENNY HILL SHOW, all salacious jokes and fast motion. Robert Morse is memorably sleazy as the friend with all the answers.

TV: Your Face Or Mine

This MTV show (which seems to be based on a UK original) is the latest attempt to bring the HotOrNot phenomenon to the tube. Contestants guess how the audience will rate their looks compared to photographs, in-studio guests ...

And holograms.

This seems like an abuse of technology to me. Holograms should be made available to distract gunmen a la TOTAL RECALL or convince my boss that I’m actually at my desk before they’re used on a game show. Who do I write to about this?

Miscellaneous: Links

Ed Gorman offers up a terrific primer on noir fiction from George Tuttle. Courtesy of Arts & Letters Daily, a look at how academics are being forced to make TV appearances. And Michael Musto reveals that once you’re on TV, they don’t pay you.