A Real American Hero (1978, directed by Lou Antonio)


Based on the title, you might think this made-for-TV movie is about G.I. Joe but instead it’s about Buford Pusser, the club-wielding sheriff who battled bootleggers in Tennessee and who might have been murdered by them.  While he was still alive, Pusser was played by Joe Don Baker in the original Walking Tall.  After Pusser’s mysterious death, Bo Svenson took over the role for two sequels and a Walking Tall television series in 1981.  Meanwhile, in A Real American Hero, the role is played by Brian Dennehy.

Though Pusser may be played by a different actor than in the original movies, A Real American Hero finds him still dealing with same threats.  As a result of getting some bad moonshine at the Dixie Disco, two teenagers are dead and two are blind.  Buford is determined to take down the owner of the Disco, Danny Boy Mitchell (Ken Howard).  Unfortunately for Buford, Danny Boy has a mole in the sheriff’s department and always manages to clean up his club before Buford arrives.  When Buford does arrest Danny, the case is thrown out of court because Buford didn’t have probable cause or any real evidence beyond hearsay.

Buford’s solution is to start enforcing every single law on the books, even the ones that haven’t been relevant for over a century.  Buford knows that stopping Danny Boy for a misdemeanor would give him probable cause to search him for any evidence of smuggling moonshine.  For instance, Buford pulls Danny Boy over because he’s driving a vehicle but, in violation of a law written in 1908, he doesn’t have a man walking in front of the car and waving a red flag.  Another time, he gives Danny Boy a ticket because, in violation of a law from 1888, he never ties his carriage to a hitching post and a law written in 1910 legally defines all cars as being carriages.

The problem is that, if Buford only enforces the law against Danny Boy, he could be accused of police harassment.  So, everyone in the country has to be held to the same standard, which means that everyone in town is soon getting ticketed and jailed for the minor offenses as Danny Boy and his associates.  Everyone gets angry with Buford but, after Danny Boy tries to assassinate the sheriff while he’s got his kids in the car, they change their minds and support being overpoliced.

A Real American Hero was obviously an early attempt at a pilot for a Buford Pusser TV series.  Bulky Brian Dennehy is physically right for Buford but he’s never as convincing a redneck as Joe Don Baker was in the role.  Plus, it’s impossible to watch Dennehy hauling people into court for not hitching their “horseless carriages” without being reminded of Dennehy harassing Sylvester Stallone at the start of First Blood.  Despite a subplot where Pusser tries to help a former prostitute re-enter society, Buford comes across more like a jerk than a real American hero.  Meanwhile, Ken Howard does his best but Danny Boy is still just a generic television bad guy.  If he wasn’t selling moonshine in Buford’s county, he’d probably be further down south, trying to frame the Duke boys for a bank robbery.

This one is for Walking Tall completists only.

Playing Catch-Up With The Lesser Films of 2015: Get Hard, Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2, Pixels, The Wedding Ringer


SPOILER ALERT!

One or more of the films reviewed below will appear on my list of the 16 Worst Films of 2015!  Can you guess which one(s)?

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Get Hard (dir by Etan Cohen)

Will Ferrell is funny and Kevin Hart is funny and you would think that putting them together in one movie would be especially funny but … nope.  Get Hard, which I watched on HBO a few weeks ago, is incredibly not funny.  Ferrell plays a hedge fund manager who is convicted of fraud and embezzlement and it’s a sign of how haphazard this film is that I was never really sure whether he was supposed to be guilty or not.  Anyway, Ferrell is terrified of going to prison but fortunately, he runs into Kevin Hart.  Hart is playing the owner of a car wash here, a mild-mannered family man who simply wants to be able to afford to send his daughter to a good school.  However, Ferrell assumes that, since Hart is black, Hart must be an ex-con.

So, Ferrell hires Hart to teach him how to survive in prison and Hart agrees.  And, to be honest, this is not a terrible idea for an edgy satire but the film pulls it punches and never really exposes or challenges the racism that led to Ferrell hiring Hart in the first place.  Instead, it’s more interested in making homophobic jokes about prison rape (there’s a particularly long and unpleasant scene where Ferrell attempts to learn how to give a blow job that feels like it was lifted from a deservedly forgotten 90s film) and eventually, it devolves into a painfully predictable action film.

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Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 (dir by Andy Fickman)

I know what someone out there is saying.

“YOU’VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THE FIRST PAUL BLART: MALL COP!!!  WHO THE HELL ARE YOU TO REVIEW THE SEQUEL!?”

Well, listen — it’s true.  I’ve never seen the first film and the only reason I watched the second one (on HBO at a friend’s house, which means that it literally cost me nothing) was because I had heard how terrible it was and I figured that I should see it before making out my list of the worst films of the year.  But, even with that in mind, I think I can still give this film a fair review.

(At the very least, I’ll try.  Dammit, I’ll try.)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is one of those films that is so forgettable that you forget about it while you’re watching.  Kevin James plays Paul Blart, a mall security guard who goes to Las Vegas for a security guard convention and ends up getting involved in thwarting a big heist.  It’s a comedy, though I can’t think of a single time I laughed.  Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 was not quite the abomination that I had been led to expect.  It was, in no way, comparable to Birdemic, April Rain, or Man of Steel.  Instead, it was just an incredibly empty and soulless film.  It was a zombie movie that existed only to eat money.

One thing that is frustrating about a film like Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 is that Kevin James seems like he could actually survive appearing in a good film, if he could just get a chance to make one.  He’s likable and he’s got an everyman quality about him.  But, for now, he seems to be trapped in films where he either plays Paul Blart or he’s surrounded by talking animals.

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Pixels (dir by Chris Columbus)

Speaking of Kevin James, he’s also in Pixels!  He plays William Cooper.  When he was a kid, he was obsessed with playing video games.  Now that he’s an adult, he’s the President of the United States!  And he still keeps in contact with his best friend from childhood, Sam.  Sam, needless to say, will never be President.  When Sam was a kid, he was traumatized when he lost a national video game championship.  Now that he’s an adult, he installs home-theater systems and he’s played by Adam Sandler…

When Earth is invaded, it turns out that the aliens are under the impression that video games are real!  So, they recreate a bunch of classic video game characters and send them off to do havoc.  Who better to stop them than the President and Sam?  And who better to help than a nerdy conspiracy theorist (Josh Gad) and Eddie Planet (Peter Dinklage), the same guy who cheated in order to defeat Sam at the video game championship….

If you’re thinking that sounds like way too much plot for a silly comedy about video games coming to life, you’re right.  Pixels has some cute moments (though, based on the comments and occasional laughter of the middle-aged people in the theater around me, I get the feeling that a lot of the film’s video game-themed humor was a bit too “before my time” for me to fully appreciate) but oh my God, it was such an unnecessarily busy movie.  The idea behind Pixels had some potential but the film refused to take advantage of it.

I’ve said this before and I always get some strange looks but I honestly do think that — if he would actually break out of his comfort zone and stop doing movies that mostly seem to be about finding an excuse to hang out with his friends — Adam Sandler could be an acceptable dramatic actor.  Check out his work in Punch-Drunk Love, Funny People, Reign Over Me, Spanglish, and even the first half of The Cobbler.  (Tarantino even wrote the role of Donny Donowitz in Inglourious Basterds with Sandler in mind.)  The fact that Sandler could be doing good work makes his continual bad work all the more frustrating and annoying.

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The Wedding Ringer (dir by Jeremy Garelick)

And speaking of Josh Gad…he’s also in The Wedding Ringer!  For that matter, so is Kevin Hart.  Hart plays a guy who, for a sizable fee, will pretend to the lifelong best friend (and best man) for grooms who do not have enough real friends to fill out a wedding party.  Hart refuses to get emotionally involved with his clients but that all changes when, despite himself, he becomes friends with Josh Gad, who is on the verge of getting married to Kaley Cuoco.

The Wedding Ringer got terrible reviews but it also was very popular with audiences and I imagine a lot of that had to do with the relationship between Hart and Gad.  Both of them give very sincere performances that elevate some otherwise unpromising material.  The Wedding Ringer wasn’t good (it’s predictable, it’s portrayal of Kaley Cuoco’s character verges on misogynistic) but, at the same time, it wasn’t as bad as it was made out to be.  In the end, it was pretty much a typical January film.

I'm so excited!  I'm so excited!  I'm so ... wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

I’m so excited! I’m so excited! I’m so … wait a minute, am I just here because this is a post about bad movies?

Which of these four films will make my list of the worst 16 films of 2015?  The answer shall be revealed soon!

 

 

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Judge (dir by David Dobkin)


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Hey, everyone!

Remember how, earlier this year, a whole lot of people (like me) figured that The Judge would be a surefire Oscar contender and that Robert Duvall would probably receive an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor?

At the time, it made perfect sense.  After all, in the past, courtroom dramas have occasionally been popular with the Academy and, while we all knew that The Judge probably wouldn’t be a modern-day Anatomy of a Murder, there was still reason to hope that the film would turn out to be a watchable melodrama.  Add to that, the movie starred Robert Downey, Jr, an actor who is eventually going to win an Academy Award.  Perhaps most importantly, the title character was played by Robert Duvall, one of the best American actors of all time and an actor who, having recently turned 83, might not get many more opportunities to win one final career-honoring Oscar.

It only made sense to assume that The Judge would be a contender.

And then the trailer came out and those of us who know our film history were left a little bit confused.  It wasn’t that the trailer was necessarily bad.  It was just that it made the film seem rather old-fashioned.  It didn’t feel like a trailer for a film that was set to be released in 2014.  If anything, it almost felt like a parody, as if it was one of those fake, overly Hollywood trailers that appeared at the beginning of Tropic Thunder.  (The fact that the trailer featured Robert Downey, Jr. looking haunted only contributed to this feeling.)

And then the film opened and received reviews that were, at best, respectful and, at worst, scathing.  And I quickly revised my Oscar predictions.

Despite the bad reviews and my own suspicion that the film would not be very good, I still wanted to see The Judge.  I love melodrama.  I love courtroom dramas.  Even more importantly, the Roberts are two of my favorite actors.  Robert Downey, Jr. is always a lot of fun to watch.  Robert Duvall began his career playing Boo Radley in To Kill A Mockingbird and, 52 years later, he’s still a great and uniquely American actor.

So, I saw The Judge this weekend and … well, it’s just a weird movie and not in a good way.  Instead, it’s one of those movies where almost everything seems to be so strangely miscalculated that you really can’t imagine how it could have possibly happened.  The film runs for nearly two and a half hours, despite only having enough plot for maybe an hour-long pilot for a potential mid-season replacement.  The script is amazingly overwritten, full of portentous speeches and clichéd characters.  It’s not enough that Robert Downey, Jr. has two brothers that he has to reconnect with while defending their father on a murder charge.  Instead, one of the brothers also has to be vaguely developmentally challenged so that he can deliver cute lines that are full of “accidental wisdom.”  It’s not enough that Downey reunites with his ex-high school girlfriend (Vera Farmiga, who deserves a better role) but she also has to have a daughter who might be his but could be someone else’s.  It’s not enough that Billy Bob Thornton’s prosecuting attorney is slick and cunning but he also has to be a self-righteous crusader who has rather silly personal reasons for wanting to defeat Downey in court.  It’s not enough that Downey and Duvall eventually end up yelling their personal grievances each other.  Instead, they have to do it while a tornado literally tears through the front yard, the type of directorial choice that is so obvious and heavy-handed that it indicates that director David Dobkin (best known for directing comedies like Wedding Crashers) was desperate to prove that he could be dramatic.

Much like the similarly bad Love and Other Drugs, The Judge is one of those films that tries so hard to be all things to all viewers that it’s ultimately just a huge mess.  Is it a murder mystery?  If so, you have to wonder why we learn so little about the case against Duvall’s judge.  Is it a romantic comedy about Robert Downey, Jr. returning to his small hometown and rediscovering what’s important in life?  If so, you have to wish that the town had a little bit more character beyond just being a standard Hollywood version of what middle America is like.  Is it a family drama?  Well, then it would be nice to know more about the family dynamic beyond the fact that Duvall was stern, Downey was rebellious, and Vincent D’Onofrio is stuck playing the brother who never got to leave home.  It’s a comedy with few laughs and a drama with few tears and ultimately, The Judge just does not work.

However, both of the Roberts give pretty good performances.  That’s what makes The Judge truly frustrating.  Duvall and Downey both do such good work but the material ultimately not only lets them down but lets the audiences down as well.

Oh well.

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Trailer: J. Edgar (dir. Clint Eastwood)


Every year since he retired from acting we seem to get one film from Clint Eastwood and this year it’s going to be one major prestige picture due this November. The film is J. Edgar and it’s a biopic detailing the life of the FBI’s founder and first director, J. Edgar Hoover.

This film will be the first time Leonardo DiCaprio and Eastwood will be working together. From the look of the cast assembled Eastwood has surrounded DiCaprio with some talented performers from Dame Judi Dench, Naomi Watts right up to Jeffrey Donovan, Geoff Pierson and Stephen Root.

The trailer shows just how much the film just screens “Awards Picture” from beginning to end. It’s not a suprise that J. Edgar has become one of the films this coming fall/winter to be a major frontrunner for the many film circles awards and, most likely, for the next Academy Awards. Here’s to hoping that this film will be a major bounce back for Eastwood after 2010’s very uneven and dull Hereafter.

J. Edgar is set for a limited release this November 9, 2011 before going worldwide a couple days later on November 11.