Saturday, August 15, 2015

On DVD/Blu-ray: BURYING THE EX (2015); ROBOT OVERLORDS (2015); and bonus Netflix Instant exclusive STATEN ISLAND SUMMER (2015)

(US - 2015)

While he pays the bills and makes a comfortable living in television directing episodes of shows like HAWAII FIVE-O and SALEM and has a ubiquitous, fan-friendly presence on the internet through the Trailers from Hell web site, it would be nice if Joe Dante could get better feature film offers as he enters his emeritus years. A distinguished graduate of the Roger Corman factory, the 68-year-old Dante made his name with cult classics like HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD (1976), PIRANHA (1978) and THE HOWLING (1981) before making it to the majors with the Steven Spielberg-produced GREMLINS (1984) and EXPLORERS (1985), and later hits like THE 'BURBS (1989) and SMALL SOLDIERS (1998). Long-praised for his twisted and anarchic, Looney Tunes-inspired humor (most apparent in 1990's GREMLINS 2: THE NEW BATCH), Dante found himself more or less blackballed after the colossal failure of 2003's LOONEY TUNES: BACK IN ACTION. Since then, he's made ends meet with TV--his politically-charged "Homecoming" was probably the best episode of Showtime's MASTERS OF HORROR--but for a beloved genre auteur, Dante's big-screen career is a shambles. He directed the wraparound segments of the dreadful anthology film TRAPPED ASHES (2008), and his 3-D '80s throwback THE HOLE (2012) was OK, but it took three years to find a distributor who only gave it very limited release. BURYING THE EX, Dante's latest attempt at a big-screen comeback, does nothing to add to his legacy. Scripted by Mark Trezza and expanded from Trezza's own 2008 short film, BURYING THE EX is yet another rom-zom-com in the vein of WARM BODIES and LIFE AFTER BETH, with a little ALL CHEERLEADERS DIE thrown in. It relies on raunch and grossout gags that are hardly Dante's milieu. Die-hards may cite the constant horror-fan shout-outs in BURYING THE EX--posters for Mario Bava's PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES and the Christopher Lee vampire comedy UNCLE WAS A VAMPIRE, several appearances by a 2012 issue of Video Watchdog, clips from movies like PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE, NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, THE TERROR, THE WHIP AND THE BODY, THE SATANIC RITES OF DRACULA, and THE GORE GORE GIRLS, and a brief appearance by the legendary Dick Miller--as evidence that Dante's back, but in the context of the film, these elements feel like desperate cries for help, like he's doing anything he can think of to put some kind of personal stamp on this flop-sweat-soaked endeavor. At some point--maybe around the time a character is covered in projectile-vomited embalming fluid or when another brags about how he needs protein after he "busts a nut"--you forget how bad the movie is and just start feeling sorry for Dante. This guy made THE HOWLING. A garbage gig like this is far beneath him.

Horror nerd Max (Anton Yelchin) has dreams of opening his own horror-themed memorabilia and costume shop, but he's also got a clingy, shrewish, domineering but super-hot girlfriend in Evelyn (Ashley Greene). A fanatical environmentalist, she forces him to eat vegan, tosses his vintage movie posters and redecorates his apartment in a way that will reduce his carbon footprint. He arranges a meeting in a park to break up with her and on her way there, she's hit by a bus and killed. Feeling guilty, Max shuts himself off from everyone until he runs into hot pop culture horror geek Olivia (Alexandra Daddario) at a New Beverly screening of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE. While bonding over Val Lewton and a Fruit Brute malt at her horror-themed ice cream shop (called--what else?--I Scream), the pair quickly fall head over heels...until a slowly-decomposing Evelyn returns from the grave, revived by a promise Max made in the presence of a cursed piece of genre memorabilia to always be with her. No joke lands and no one is amusing, especially Oliver Cooper as Max's horndog half-brother, the aforementioned "nut-buster." The only saving grace is Daddario, saddled with playing a horror-con version of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl (© Nathan Rabin), but managing to pull it off in a way that's actually charming. Other than that, forget it. BURYING THE EX isn't scary and it isn't funny. It's the nadir of Dante's career and that's just depressing. (R, 89 mins)

(UK/Canada/Ireland - 2015)

With ROBOT JOX-ish poster art reminiscent of Charles Band and Full Moon's VHS glory days and a structure that would seem to be in the wheelhouse of an in-his-prime Joe Dante, ROBOT OVERLORDS should be a lot of fun. Instead, it's a dull, downbeat dud that doesn't seem to know what audience it's pursuing. Set three years after an invasion of Earth by a race of alien robots who are constantly on patrol and keep humanity imprisoned in their own homes, ROBOT OVERLORDS follows three teenagers--Sean (Callan McAuliffe), his buddy Nathan (James Tarpey), and Nathan's sister Alexandra (Ella Hunt)--and orphaned neighbor boy Connor (Milo Parker), who accidentally discover that a jolt from a car battery temporarily disables the behind-the-ear tracking monitors that humans are now requires to wear. This allows them to set in motion a plot to take back Earth and overthrow the robot rulers, who are aided in their takeover of the planet by traitorous collaborators. One such collaborator is the loathsome Robin Smythe (Ben Kingsley), who only seems to be sucking up to the robots in order to give him leverage in his pursuit of Sean's mom Kate (Gillian Anderson), whose military officer husband (Steven Mackintosh) is missing and presumed dead. Directed and co-written by Jon Wright, whose TREMORS homage GRABBERS was an inspired and fun little monster movie, ROBOT OVERLORDS would seem to be aimed at kids but is too dark and violent for family audiences, and the longer it goes on, the more listless and generic it becomes. Kingsley, Anderson, and the younger actors are fine, but Wright fails to bring the energy and enthusiasm that made GRABBERS so enjoyable. You'd think it would be tough to make a movie called ROBOT OVERLORDS boring, but that's exactly the word to describe this barely-released misfire. (PG-13, 90 mins)

(US - 2015)

Probably the worst thing to come from the SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE camp since the 1985-86 brat-pack season that brought the show as close as it's ever been to cancellation, STATEN ISLAND SUMMER was produced by Lorne Michaels, written by SNL head writer and "Weekend Update" co-anchor Colin Jost, and features many current and former SNL cast members who probably had better things to do between seasons but didn't want to piss off the boss and the head writer. Paramount buried this like a state secret, very quietly dumping it on VOD and on Netflix Instant, perhaps hoping that it'll trick less-savvy streaming viewers into confusing it with WET HOT AMERICAN SUMMER: FIRST DAY OF CAMP. Jost's autobiographical script follows the very bland and Jost-like Danny Campbell (Graham Phillips) over his proverbial Last Summer Before College. Harvard-bound Danny and his best buddy Frank (Zack Pearlman as Jonah Hill and Josh Gad) are lifeguards at Staten Island's Great Kills Swim Club, along with lunkheaded stud Anthony (John DeLuca), hot tomboy Mary Ellen (Cecily Strong), and beer-guzzling, chain-smoking slacker Skootch (Bobby Moynihan as Zach Galifianakis as Bluto Blutarsky), and all are in constant battle against uptight, Speedo-wearing boss Chuck Casino (Mike O'Brien). Danny also spends the summer awkwardly pursuing his one-time babysitter Krystal Manicucci (Ashley Greene, not having a good 2015 between this and BURYING THE EX), the daughter of feared mob boss Leo Manicucci (Vincent Pastore as Vincent Pastore as Big Pussy). The crux of the plot deals with Danny trying to blow off a forced Disneyworld trip with his loving but clingy parents (Jim Gaffigan and Kate Walsh) to have one last blowout kegger at the pool, which the nefarious Chuck Casino keeps trying to sabotage since he wasn't invited. There's also Gina Gershon as one of the horny, wine-guzzling housewives constantly pursuing Anthony, Penny Marshall as a cranky food stand manager, Will Forte as a paraplegic ex-biker, Jost and his brother Casey as laid-back, partying cops (in no way inspired by Seth Rogen and Bill Hader in SUPERBAD), Method Man as a pot-dealing ice cream truck driver, Kate McKinnon as another horny housewife, Jackson Nicoll basically playing the same kid he played in BAD GRANDPA, and Fred Armisen as Bill Murray from CADDYSHACK, the pool club's maintenance guy who spends the movie haplessly trying to combat a rapidly-growing hornets' nest.

Jost tries to balance mawkish sentimentality with post-Farrelly/Apatow raunch but nothing gels, and the degree to which STATEN ISLAND SUMMER rips off both CADDYSHACK and SUPERBAD is utterly shameless (even the opening credits have Danny riding his bike around town like Michael O'Keefe's Danny in CADDYSHACK--all that's missing is Kenny Loggins' "I'm Alright"). The much-maligned Jost has taken plenty of shots over his performance on "Weekend Update," and while he'll never be the worst WU anchor thanks to Colin Quinn, STATEN ISLAND SUMMER does nothing to win over the Jost detractors. Directed by Rhys Thomas, who handles a lot of SNL's filmed segments, STATEN ISLAND SUMMER is hopelessly self-indulgent, aggressively unfunny, and, in keeping with the Apatow influence, entirely too long at 108 minutes, almost like Jost and Thomas felt everything they wrote and shot was too hilarious to lose. With today's ever-evolving distribution patterns, some good movies get lost in the shuffle. STATEN ISLAND SUMMER is not one of them. (R, 108 mins, currently available on Netflix Instant)

1 comment:

  1. LOL oh Colin Jost. Nothing like having your boss bankroll your project only to have it fail miserably and be quietly shoved onto Netflix Instant. How is he still employed at SNL?