Wednesday, August 14, 2013

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE COMPANY YOU KEEP (2013) and THE BIG WEDDING (2013)

(US/Canada/Luxembourg - 2013)

Despite one of the most star-studded casts of 2013, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP only made it to 807 screens in the US, just over the threshold required to consider it a "wide" release.  It's a rather sluggishly-paced thriller scripted by frequent Steven Soderbergh collaborator Lem Dobbs (THE LIMEY, HAYWIRE) and scored by ubiquitous Soderbergh regular Cliff Martinez (TRAFFIC, CONTAGION), and you wonder if perhaps Soderbergh could've brought more energy to the film than director/star Robert Redford.  As has been the case in some of his more recent directing efforts like 2007's LIONS FOR LAMBS and 2011's THE CONSPIRATOR, there's a good story that gets bogged down in talking points and speechifying lectures.  While THE CONSPIRATOR is a fine film nonetheless and LIONS FOR LAMBS a bit better than its reputation, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP never really catches fire.  When former Weather Underground activist Sharon Solarz (Susan Sarandon) is nabbed by the FBI in Albany for a 1979 Michigan bank robbery that left a guard dead, her arrest prompts local reporter Ben Shepard (Shia LaBeouf) to dig into her past.  He finds Albany-based lawyer Jim Grant (Redford), a widower and father to 11-year-old daughter Isabel (singing sensation and elderly America's fantasy granddaughter Jackie Evancho), who seems to have no existence before 1979.  That's because Grant is really Nick Sloan, a prominent Weather Underground figure and one of eight suspects still wanted for the 30-year-old crime.  Jim/Nick leaves Isabel with his younger brother Daniel (Chris Cooper) and goes on the run, searching the country for Mimi Lurie (Julie Christie), his ex-lover and the group's most volatile member and, through a convoluted set of circumstances, the only person who can clear his name and verify that he in fact had nothing to do with the robbery.  All the while, Shepard is on his trail, digging up secrets of his past, and the FBI, led by Agent Cornelius (Terrence Howard) is in hot pursuit.

It's based on a novel by Neil Gordon, but I wonder if THE COMPANY YOU KEEP would've been a more challenging, politically-charged film if Redford had the courage to present his character as a killer who saw the error of his ways, as opposed to a noble, heroic guy trying to prove his innocence even though everyone he hung out with is guilty.  Having Jim/Nick be falsely accused is a standard motif of the commercial thriller, but it feels like a missed opportunity to explore the idea of radicalism gone wrong.  Redford doesn't seem interested in that, but at the same time, with his pokey pacing, he doesn't seem interested in making a riveting thriller, either.   Also, Redford seems at least a decade too old for this role (photos of Nick from his activist days look Redford headshots circa THE ELECTRIC HORSEMAN).  LaBeouf, who looks cocky and smirking even when's not trying to be, is hard to buy as a rumpled, crusading reporter, and the banter with his scowling, barking editor (Stanley Tucci) would've come across as hackneyed as far back as THE FRONT PAGE (also laughably unconvincing:  Anna Kendrick, who looks 12, as a hard-nosed FBI agent).  It's nice to see a truly impressive roster of reliable old pros, even if many only have a couple of scenes: Nick Nolte is enjoyably grumbly as a former Weatherman, plus there's Richard Jenkins, Sam Elliott, Brendan Gleeson, Stephen Root, and the promising Brit Marling (ANOTHER EARTH, SOUND OF MY VOICE) as the subject of a plot twist that's practically spelled out the moment she mentions she's adopted.  Content to coast on clich├ęs and its cast, THE COMPANY YOU KEEP is a passable thriller that's a bit plodding at times, but with that subject matter and those actors, this should've been a lot more interesting and thought-provoking than it turned out.  (R, 122 mins)

(US - 2013)

Look at that poster.  Just look at it.  Is there any way this movie could possibly be good?  And really?  Someone thought it was a good idea to cast Robin Williams as a wacky priest after LICENSE TO WED?  THE BIG WEDDING, a remake of the 2007 French farce MON FRERE SA MARIE, assembles a huge cast of slumming actors and plants them in one unfunny, smutty situation after another before trying to go for the sappy, feel-good ending (writer-director Justin Zackham scripted THE BUCKET LIST).  The problem is, nobody in this film's target audience wants to see post-Farrelly Brothers vulgarity and other hijinks of that sort.  It doesn't quite approach the "jizz-as-hair-gel"-levels of outrageousness, but if you want to see Robert De Niro getting puked on by Katherine Heigl or going down on Susan Sarandon for a "poonjob," or Topher Grace getting jerked off at the table at a wedding rehearsal dinner, then you've found your movie.

Heading a cast that, for the most part, looks like they'd rather be anywhere else, Diane Keaton (who's already played this same role in SOMETHING'S GOTTA GIVE) is Ellie, who returns to artist ex-husband Don's (De Niro) Connecticut home for the wedding of their adopted Colombian son Alejandro (Ben Barnes, a British actor who doesn't look even remotely Colombian) to Missy (Amanda Seyfried), daughter of wealthy Barry and Muffin (David Rasche, Christine Ebersole), racists and anti-Semites who are appalled at the idea of "beige grandchildren."  Don lives with Bebe (Sarandon), Ellie's best friend until she and Don had an affair.  There's also Don and Ellie's daughter Lyla (Heigl), who can't have children and just left her husband, and their successful doctor son Jared (Grace), a 29-year-old virgin who's still waiting for the right girl.  The comically dysfunctional family gets along great, but things fall apart when Alejandro insists that Don and Ellie pretend to be married to please his devoutly Catholic biological mother Madonna (Patricia Rae), who sternly disapproves of divorce.  Of course, it leads to one comic mishap after another: Don and Ellie end up having sex, Jared wants to lose his virginity to Alejandro's impossibly hot biological sister (Ana Ayora), and then there's Williams, playing an alcoholic priest.  You know the performances are grating when Williams comes across as the least obnoxious.  Shot in 2011 and bounced around the release schedule for nearly two years, THE BIG WEDDING tries to be shocking with its rampant tastelessness, from the crude situations to the copious F-bombs, but it's merely boring.  This sort of gutter humor can be funny but doesn't really work with an accomplished cast of aging legends that's collectively got double-digit Oscar nods and several wins and seems visibly appalled at the lowbrow nature of the project. Gag after gag lands with a complete thud:  there's supposed to be something inherently funny about senior citizens talking dirty.  Burgess Meredith screeching about "takin' the skin boat to tuna town!" in GRUMPY OLD MEN gets a laugh, but De Niro jokingly calling Keaton a "cunt" comes off as more uncomfortable than funny, and you can even see on his face as he says it that he knows it doesn't work.  If nothing else, this is further proof that his brilliant work in SILVER LININGS PLAYBOOK is the anomaly in De Niro's recent filmography and THE BIG WEDDING fits in perfectly with his current career plan of complete apathy and utter contempt for his craft.  De Niro doesn't need to prove himself to anyone, but at what point do we start considering whether he's crossed that dubious line where his bad movies outnumber his good ones?  And he still has four more coming out between now and the end of the year. (R, 89 mins)

1 comment:

  1. I'll stick with RUNNING ON EMPTY when it comes to Weathermen fiction films.

    The thing is, De Niro doesn't even need to work anymore. He could take time off like Nicholson and live comfortably, doing his TriBeCa film festival thing and interviews in documentaries about the good old days. My question: who the FUCK is his agent who lets these scripts get to the star?