Friday, April 26, 2013

Michael Bay Thinks He's Funny, But He's Not

Posted By on Fri, Apr 26, 2013 at 12:09 PM

Pain and Gain movie Michael Bay Mark Wahlberg Dwayne Johnson The Rock
Pain and Gain: For the first time since The Rock, if not his first feature Bad Boys, Michael Bay has made a movie that cost less than $100 million. For the first time since Bad Boys, he's opening a movie outside of the May-July prime summer corridor. Hell, it's his first movie in eight years that doesn't contain the word Transformers in the title. Technically speaking, the message is clear: Michael Bay is changing it up!

Pain and Gain is also a comedy of sorts, which is not really a first, because Bay pretty clearly takes great, smug pleasure in the ample, amped-up comic relief of all of his movies save Pearl Harbor (even The Island has plenty of nudge-nudge shtick). Even more than his sometimes incoherent cutting, his embarrassingly cornporne (and dubiously sincere) jingoism, and his inability to make actors better rather embrace their worst instincts, the worst fucking thing about Bay is how hilarious he thinks he is. A buddy of mine recently pointed out that one of Bay's comic tics, his immediate clarification of what he's referencing (in Bad Boys, Martin Lawrence screaming out "Wesley Snipes! Passenger 57!" during a fight scene: a topical reference then; a Family Guy-ish non sequitur with age; in Armageddon, jokes about Chewbacca or giant needles in the heart unable to pass without explicitly saying the words "Star Wars" and "Pulp Fiction") is actually shared with The Office's Michael Scott. Come to think of it, so is Bay's all-in-good-fun racism, which reached a nadir in the second Transformers picture but is present in the majority of his movies (he seems to find hollering black people inherently funny).

There's also a strain of nasty dark humor running through much of his work: it was there as far back as The Rock, which settled on gruesome slapstick for a few scenes in between operatically serious action and wacky buddy comedy, all part of that movie's underreported tonal whiplash; and it got a bigger showcase in the corpse-filled Bad Boys II. So, as explosion-light as Pain and Gain may be, I fully expect it to be recognizably Bay, which is to say I'm afraid it's basically going to be like rewatching Peter Berg's atrocious Very Bad Things. (Berg certainly did his best Bay impression for Battleship last year.)

The Big Wedding movie Robert DeNiro Robin Williams
The Big Wedding: Here's the pre-release buzz I've heard on The Big Wedding: two different film crit/industry types lamenting that poor Christine Ebersole's name has been left off of the poster. Just to confirm: that would be disbelief and outrage that an actress known more for her stage and TV work, probably playing the sassy grandma in this swollen ensemble, is not billed on the same level as Robert De Niro, Diane Keaton, Susan Sarandon, Amanda Seyfried, Katherine Heigl, Topher Grace, and Robin Williams. That seemingly overqualified (for a light romantic farce about a long-divorced couple pretending to be married for the sake of their daughter's wedding into a conservative Catholic family) cast (including, fine, the AMAZING Christine Ebersole, shining star of stage and screen!) actually solidifies this movie's qualifications for a genre I call Mutually Accidental Destruction, where it seems extremely likely that everyone in the cast assumed they could sign on to this movie because if everyone else who had signed on was doing it, it had to be pretty good (except Robin Williams, who I believe will take any wacky-pastor role that comes his way). Diane Keaton often stars in these movies; recall last year's Mutually Accidental Destruction masterpiece Darling Companion, in which she appeared with Kevin Kline, Richard Jenkins, Mark Duplass, Elisabeth Moss, Dianne Wiest, and Sam Shepard in one of the worst fucking movies I've seen in my life, or the less dire but still not so good Morning Glory, in which she appeared with Rachel McAdams, Harrison Ford, Jeff Goldblum, and Patrick Wilson. If you decide you're hell-bent on figuring out where The Big Wedding falls on that scale, I hope you at least got the two-for-one tickets that were being offered, less than promisingly, via the movie's official website.

Mud movie Matthew McConaughey
Mud: I liked the new Jeff Nichols picture more than The L's Max Nelson, but both Nichols movies I've seen so far do feel a touch single-minded considering their non-abbreviated running times and careful pacing. But Mud keeps Matthew McConaughey on his roll, even if his spotlight does come at the expense of Michael Shannon, who I can only assume would've played the title character had MoCon not been available (Shannon instead appears in a very funny too-small supporting role).

At Any Price: I saw this movie for the Tribeca Film Festival, where it played before its limited release bow this weekend, and I give it a wow! As in, wow! This movie, in a poky and drawn-out sort of way, is also kind of insane! Ryan Vlastelica's review nicely sums up its failings, though Ryan is perhaps kinder than I would be about the shocking stiffness with which the movie simulates human characters. As I'll say in my own review over at Film Racket: It's like a novel. A terrible, terrible novel.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist: Speaking of novels and festival: I missed the Tribeca screenings, and Mira Nair's novel adaptation is also heading straight into theatrical release following its Tribeca launch. Nair has a thing for adapting ambitious novels: Vanity Fair and The Namesake had their classy charms, though both of them strained and wobbled in that way that novels often do when reconfigured for a two-hour running time. This one sounds a bit less epic, though, so maybe Nair has finally found the right book to knock out of the park.

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