Dumb and Dumberer: When Harry Met Lloyd

Posted on June 11, 2003 at 3:37 pm

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Mature High Schooler
Profanity: Some strong language, repeated use of the s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Comic peril
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This movie begins with the birth of one of the characters — from the baby’s point of view. He begins to emerge, then he bites the doctor and goes back inside. If he had to watch this movie, he would have stayed there.

No one expects greatness from a movie called “Dumb and Dumberer.” It would be dumb, dumberer, and dumberest to expect much by way of humor or plot or character or energy. Even so, this manages to be disappointing.

So, those who fondly remember the original “Dumb and Dumber,” starring Jeff Daniels and Jim Carrey should watch it again rather than sit through this lame prequel, showing Harry and Lloyd in high school back in the 1980’s.

The film tweaks the 80’s as a kind of dumb and dumberer decade, with 80’s relics like acid washed jeans, Vanilla Ice, Devo, and Bob Saget (whose part consists of screaming the same four-letter word over and over). There are some good moments with always-terrific Eugene Levy as the corrupt principal who wants to embezzle the money that is supposed to go to the special needs class so he can buy a condo in Hawaii. SNL’s Cheri Oteri has some funny blank looks as his game but addled lunch lady co-conspirator. But the only newcomer whose career will probably survive this movie is Eric Christian Olson, as Lloyd (the character played by Carey in the original). Olson does not imitate Carey; he more or less channels his physical elasticity and dumb-but-thinks-he’s-got-it-all-figured-out look, and he adds his own goofy sweetness, creating a real presence in the midst of what is otherwise close to a complete waste of time.

Parents should know that in addition to being dumberest, this movie has strong language and raunchy double entendres that 14-year-olds will probably find hilarious. A melted chocolate bar turns into an extended graphic excrement joke that is repeated later with mud. There is some stereotyping about a foreign exchange student, though she turns the tables on those who make assumptions about her.

Families who see this movie should talk about how “special needs” kids are treated in school.

There have been wonderful, classic comedies about people who were not very smart. But this isn’t one. Those that are include the films of Laurel and Hardy and even the Three Stooges. Families who enjoy this movie should take a look at “Big Business” or “Two Tars” to see how geniuses can make brilliant comedy out of simple-mindedness.

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Hollywood Homicide

Posted on June 11, 2003 at 6:07 am

C+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Characters drink, one to excess
Violence/ Scariness: Murders for hire, shooting, car chases and explosions, grisly corpses
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters as both good and bad guys
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

A lot of talented people tried very hard to make this movie work, but it just doesn’t make it. It has an appealing premise: with odd-couple detectives assigned to investigate the murder of a rap group. And it has a first-class cast, with Harrison Ford and Josh Hartnett as the cops, Bruce Greenwood and Isaiah Washington as the bad guys, and guest appearances by music stars from Gladys Knight and Smokey Robinson to Dwight Yoakam and rappers Vyshonne Miller, Kurupt, and Master P. There is some sharp dialogue and some sly satire about tinseltown and a couple of gags work well. But mostly, it is a mess.

Ford plays Joe Gavilan, a seen-it-all cop with three ex-wives and a sideline in real estate. His financial position is so precarious that he will stop in the middle of an interrogation to pitch a deal. Hartnett is K.C., the partner who literally can’t shoot straight. Another thing he can’t keep straight is the names of the girls in the yoga class he teaches, who are constantly either sighing over him or making passes at him. But what K.C. really wants to do is act. When a rap group is gunned down at a nightclub, Joe and K.C. have to find the killers despite constant distractions from their other careers and from a pending internal affairs investigation by Macko (Bruce Greenwood), a cop who is very eager to pin something on Joe.

Ford’s loose, ego-free, and witty performance is almost worth the price of admission. He can even give a snap to a line like, “If I take my gingko I can remember where I left my Viagra.” There are some shrewd takes on the city where everyone, even suspects and witnesses, has headshots or a script proposal on hand at all times.

But this is a would-be action comedy and most of the action is muddled and most of the comedy is tired. Come to think of it, the action is tired and the comedy is muddled, too. It is impossible to believe that these tough cops could be befuddled by a cell phone ringing througout an interrogation. There is an interminable chase scene near the end that uselessly piles vehicle on vehicle, most unfortunately (and un-funnily) leaving Ford teetering on a girl’s bicycle and Harnett driving a weeping mother and children.

The murders are not interesting and the bad guys are not compelling. And there are way too many coincidences. Even though the story is supposed to take place in Los Angeles, quite a large city by any measure, everyone keeps running into everyone else and it turns out that the same characters are all connected to every major event in each other’s lives.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and some sexual references and situations. K.C. has casual sex with several women, and Joe and a lady friend have a very sensual encounter. Characters drink; Joe drinks too much. There is a lot of action violence, some graphic, including a grisly autopsy scene in the morgue.

Families who see this movie should talk about why so many people in this movie want to change their careers.

Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy “Beverly Hills Cop” and “48 Hours.” They might enjoy the “Lethal Weapon” series as well.

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Rugrats Go Wild

Posted on June 7, 2003 at 10:40 am

B-
Lowest Recommended Age: Preschool
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters get along well
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

The two worlds of the popular Klasky/Csupo Nickelodeon series come together when the Rugrats get shipwrecked on a deserted island and meet up with the Wild Thornberrys.

That means that we’re in for another mildly pleasant mix of malapropisms and pop culture references, diaper humor, snippets of rock classics, a little adventure, and a message about cooperation, taking care of each other, and the importance of family. It is pleasant for the kids and not too painful for their parents.

A couple of additions take this up a level from the television series. The first is the “Odorama” scratch and sniff card kids can pick up. When numbers appear in the corner of the screen, kids are directed by glow-in-the dark numbers on the card to scratch the spots to smell, adding a certain vivid piquance to scenes that feature jam, root beer, peanut butter, and stinky feet (that one is really vivid).

The second is Bruce Willis, who provides the voice of the Rugrats’ dog Spike when he meets up with Eliza Thornberry, who can talk to animals. Willis adds enormous charm and energy to the story, and as soon as he is on board, we know that any day-saving that needs to be done will be in good hands.

Parents should know that the movie has a lot of potty humor and gross jokes involving dog snot, bird poop, and barfing. We see some bare baby tushes. Characters are in peril but it is never really scary. A character who is bonked on the head loses his memory and thinks he is a child, which may be confusing or disturbing to some children. Parents may want to talk to children about some of the behavior of the characters to make sure that kids know they should not imitate what they see.

Families who see this movie should talk about why Angelica wants so badly to be able to boss people around and why it is so hard for her to be kind or generous. They should talk about the way the characters in the movie react when things go badly. At first, the adults blame each other but then they select a leader and begin to cooperate. How do we choose our heroes, and how do we know when what is on television is real? It is also worth talking about the way that Debbie Thornberry lets her parents know that she wants to spend more time with them — and to discuss your favorite “dorky family activities.”

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the other Rugrats and Thornberry movies. They might also like to see another shipwreck classic, Disney’s “Swiss Family Robinson.”

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2 Fast 2 Furious

Posted on June 4, 2003 at 4:58 am

D
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
Profanity: Many four-letter words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Characters in peril, guns, torture scene
Diversity Issues: Strong friendship between black and white characters, diverse cast
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

As I sat through this stupifyingly incompetent movie, I amused myself (because there was other possible way to be amused while watching this movie) by thinking about why sequels so often completely miss the appeal of the original.

In this case, I was not a fan of the first movie, but even I can tell what made it popular: it had attitude to spare, a believable (in movie fantasy terms) outsider culture of street racers, and capably filmed action sequences. And it had car porn — the vehicles were as lovingly backlit and erotically charged as a Maxim cover model. This movie takes only the least interesting character from the first film, played by the vapid Paul Walker, and puts him into a dumb undercover story that feels like a rejected script for “Miami Vice.”

Walker plays Brian O’Connor, who walked away from his job as an undercover cop in LA at the end of the first film. Now he lives in Miami and races on the streets for money. When given a choice between being arrested or going undercover to get the goods on a sleazy bad guy, Brian agrees to pose as a driver, as long as he can team up with childhood pal Roman Pearce (R&B star Tyrese, the only actor in this mess who shows any presence or class). Yes, there’s some history the two of them have to work through, yes the bad guy (Cole Hauser, barely registering on screen) gives them a test run to prove themselves, yes, the other undercover cop is a gorgeous babe who may be so far undercover that she can’t be trusted, and yes, there are lots of chases, races, and what Roman refers to as “Dukes of Hazzard stunts.”

Talented writer/director John Singleton (“Boyz N the Hood,” “Shaft”) is really slumming here. This movie has some of the most numbingly inane dialogue I have heard in many months. For a story about people who are in love with machinery, it is also absurdly low-tech. In one completely idiotic scene, the bad guy tortures a policeman with a metal bucket, a huge rat, and a torch (you don’t want to know, believe me).

It also has many too many close-ups of feet slamming down on pedals, hands shifting gears, and eyes narrowing meaningfully in the rear-view mirror. The cars may be fast, but I am the one who is furious at having to sit through this dumb movie.

Parents should know that the movie has some strong language and a great deal of violence, including gunplay and torture. There are girls in skimpy clothes and sexual references.

Families who see this movie should talk about Brian’s conflicts in deciding which side he is on. They should also discuss the difficult choices faced by undercover operators, who must stand by or even assist while their subjects commit crimes.

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy the original and “Gone in 60 Seconds.”

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Whale Rider

Posted on June 1, 2003 at 10:26 am

A
Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Brief drug reference
Violence/ Scariness: Training in traditional fight techniques
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: 2003

This lovely, lyrical fable of a movie is set in the Maori community of New Zealand. According to legend, the Maori came to Whangara when their great leader Paikea led them by riding on a whale.

Ever since, the Maori have been led by the descendants of that leader. The movie begins with the birth of twins, the latest in that line. But the boy twin and his mother die. Over the objection of the current leader, Koro (Rawiri Paratene), the girl twin is named Paikaea. Her heartbroken father leaves New Zealand, and Pai is left to be raised by her grandparents.

Koro loves Pai deeply, but he is still bitter about not having a male heir. When she is 12 (an exquisite performance by Keisha Castle-Hughes), Koro assembles the local boys to begin to train them in the traditions of their culture and test them to see which has the courage, skill, wisdom, and leadership. It is clear to her grandmother (Vicki Houghton), to us, and to Pai herself that she has all of those qualities, but Koro, struggling fiercely to maintain the Maori pride and identity against the assaults of the modern world, cannot allow himself to consider such a change.

Writer-director Niki Coro perfectly suits the style to the story. The modest buildings in the midst of the starkly beautiful setting conveys the contrast between the timeless culture of the Maori and the ephemeral artifacts of the modern age. Pai’s perceptiveness and quiet persistence are always evident, but when she finally speaks from her heart, standing on stage in a school production, wearing traditional garb, she is purely luminous. The movie is not just genuinely lyrical, but, even harder to manage, it is lyrically genuine.

Parents should know that the movie has some tense family confrontations. The death of a mother and baby in childbirth is very sad. A character is injured, but ultimately recovers. There is brief strong language. Characters drink and smoke and there is a and a brief drug reference. A character refers to an out-of-wedlock pregnancy. The movie presents a minority culture with great dignity and respect, and the theme of equality is exceptionally well handled.

Families who see this movie should talk about the traditions of their own cultures. How do we decide which traditions to hold on to and which to change to adapt to changing times?

Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy “The Secret of Roan Inish,” “Into the West,” and “Island of the Blue Dolphins.” They should also find out more about the Maori culture. This site is a good place to start and this one has information about Maori carvings.

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