By Sherrie Li
By Falling James
By Amanda Lewis
By Amy Nicholson
By Amy Nicholson
By Jennifer Swann
By Scott Foundas
By Sherrie Li
GO HAMLET 2 Not nearly as uproarious as it should be, Dick director Andrew Fleming’s latest high school farce premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and, after a spirited bidding war, was sold for a cool $10 million.
Concerning a childish man’s struggle with adult responsibility and, as its title suggests, a son’s relation to his father, the movie — which Fleming wrote with South Park veteran Pam Brady — is a sort of backstage Bad News Bears in which a beleaguered high school drama teacher (Steve Coogan) attempts to save his job by staging a musical sequel to the most famous play in the English language. (To add to the fun, his class is heavily salted with lovable, mainly Latino gangbangers.) One of the funniest men in England, Coogan here plays American — which is to say, he projects his character as a sincere idiot. Coogan will do anything for a laugh, and given how little he has to work with here, he has to. It’s impressive that he can fill the screen even though he’s still regularly upstaged by Catherine Keener in her specialty role as castrating spouse, never more inspired than when playing a scene with a margarita as big as a birdbath.
Perhaps because it deals with the anxiety of influence, Hamlet 2 is surprisingly sympathetic to writers: “Oh my God — writing is so hard!” Coogan exclaims at the word processor. He accepts advice from a 12-year-old drama critic and, in the grand finale, is saved by the national press, which rallies around the production as a free speech issue. Not exactly Springtime for Hitler, the climactic musical features a “Raped in the Face” number and a familiar-seeming “Rock Me Sexy Jesus” routine in which a beatific, fright-wigged Coogan descends from the ceiling to intone: “Father, I forgive you.” We know that the now-liberated actor is actually talking about his earthly dad. The show ends with Coogan still suspended in the air — not unlike the movie, which, not quite a parody, is something like a failed metaphor for itself. (ArcLight Hollywood, The Grove, Landmark, AMC Santa Monica 7, ArcLight Sherman Oaks) (J. Hoberman)
GO THE HOUSE BUNNY Anyone who saw her light up the edges of Lost in Translation and Just Friends, or steal the entire show in Gregg Araki’s Smiley Face, knows by now that Anna Faris has been shaping up as the most inventive screen comedienne of her generation — and she proves it once more in this lace-panties-thin farce about a happy-go-lucky Playboy bunny who finds herself unceremoniously booted from Hef’s mansion after hitting retirement age (27, which we’re told is really 59 in “bunny years”). Living out of her car on the streets of L.A., Shelley (Faris) eventually takes up residence as house mother to a bunch of sorority-girl also-rans a few plastic surgeries shy of supermodel status, and ... well, you can pretty much guess what happens from there. Directed with little distinction by SNL vet Fred Wolf, The House Bunny operates on the level of a skin-deep sociological experiment with a predictable be-yourself, inner-beauty message; as Faris turns her fugly charges from homely brainiacs and man-hating shut-ins into superficially gorgeous, judgmental twits, she finds her own slutty charms (including a hilarious send-up of Marilyn Monroe’s billowing-skirt routine from The Seven Year Itch) at a loss to woo the smart, dorky-cute man of her dreams (Colin Hanks). The screenwriting team of Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith are rather shamelessly aping their own Legally Blonde here, but they’ve written Faris some great, ditzy one-liners (“The eyes are the nipples of the face”), which she takes and runs with, occasionally tripping over someone or something along the way and landing a pratfall worthy of Olympic gold. The movie is basically on one level and Faris on another — in that exclusive aerie occupied by Judy Holliday, Carole Lombard, Lucille Ball and a few other blissfully original comedy goddesses. If only there was a Hawks or a Lubitsch around to keep her in steady employ. (Citywide) (Scott Foundas)
GO IN SEARCH OF A MIDNIGHT KISS Did Los Angeles sign with a new agent? That’s the impression made by writer-director Alex Holdridge’s In Search of a Midnight Kiss, in which our fair city, best known for its performances as urban jungle, moneyed playground and future dystopia, has been cast against type as the sort of blissful, iconographic lovers’ paradise typically played by New York, London or Paris. Here is an L.A. movie in which people manage to make meaningful interpersonal connections without crashing their cars into one another. After all, there’s always Craigslist. That’s where Wilson (Scoot McNairy), a self-pitying Texas transplant still nursing the wounds of a broken relationship, meets Vivian (Sara Simmonds), an impetuous aspiring actress auditioning potential dates on a lonely New Year’s Eve. He’s hit rock bottom, epitomized by a scene in which Wilson jerks off to a Photoshop-ed photo of his roommate’s girlfriend. Vivian is a diva in fur collar, oversized sunglasses and oversized attitude. But she agrees to give Wilson a few hours in which to win her favor, and if he does, she just might give him that elusive, witching-hour smooch. Keenly aware that there’s nothing romantic about being stuck on the freeway, Holdridge gets his characters out of gridlock and onto public transit, from Hollywood to downtown and back, where they banter, bicker and just maybe fall in love in the shadows of the Orpheum Theatre, St. Vincent Court and the L.A. Stock Exchange — all photographed in lustrous black-and-white by cinematographer Robert Murphy (provided, that is, you see In Search of a Midnight Kiss in a theater and not via distributor IFC Films’ on-demand cable service, where it is being presented in color). Holdridge’s film veers wildly between low-key romantic comedy and antic slapstick (especially in the third act, when Vivian’s blockheaded ex-boyfriend comes home to roost) and doesn’t always hit the mark. But this is one of those auspicious, no-budget indies that makes you feel like you’re catching a slew of bright young talents at the dawn of their careers — McNairy, an unlikely but ingratiating leading man with bedhead and slack jaw; Simmonds, a wonderfully appealing screwball ingenue; and Holdridge, who has a welcome eye for the timeless in a rapidly changing metropolis. (Sunset 5; Monica 4-Plex; Playhouse 7; Town Center 5) (Scott Foundas)
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