Film Review: Becky (dir by Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion)


Becky is a fairly intense thriller, featuring two actors who you normally wouldn’t expect to appear in a film about a 13 year-old girl savagely attacking and killing a group of criminals in the woods.

For example, Kevin James is best-known for starring in The King of Queens and for playing Paul Blart: Mall Cop.  He’s a member of the Adam Sandler stock company and almost his entire career has involved playing goofy but lovable manchildren.  In Becky, he plays Dominick, a member of the Aryan Brotherhood who has escaped from prison and, along with a group of other fugitives, is desperately searching for a key that will apparently unlock something that will lead to a race war.  Over the course of the film, Dominick murders several people.  He orders his associates to kill children.  He tortures a man with a branding iron and he taunts an interracial couple.  He has a big bushy beard and a swastika tattooed on the back of his saved head.  In other words, this isn’t the Kevin James movie to show your grandma.

And then you have Joel McHale.  Joel McHale is best-known for hosting The Soup and playing Jeff Winger on Community.  In Becky, McHale plays another character named Jeff.  This Jeff is the father of an angry 13 year-old girl named Becky (played by Lulu Wilson).  Jeff wants to have a nice weekend up at the lake with Becky and he’s hoping that he can get Becky to accept the fact that Kayla (Amanda Brugel) is going to be her new stepmother.  Needless to say the weekend does not go well.  Not only does Becky resent Kayla but Dominick and his crew show up at Jeff’s cabin, searching that key.

While Dominick is holding her family hostage, Becky is hiding in the woods and picking Dominick’s men off one-by-one.  As Kayla explains it, Becky is unstoppable because she’s “a vindictive 13 year-old girl.”  The majority of the film is taken up with scenes of Becky coming up with creative ways to kill people who are a lot bigger than her.  It turns out that everything from an art pencil to a ruler can be turned into a deadly weapon.  (Of course, sometimes, a lawn mower works just as well.)  Becky is the type who will scream over the corpse of someone who she has just killed.  It’s not because she’s upset over what she’s done.  It’s because she’s so pissed off.  And believe me, I could relate.  I was a pissed off 13 year-old too.  Luckily, I never had to kill anyone with my art supplies so let’s all be happy about that.

Becky is a bit of throwback to the grindhouse films of the past.  There’s even a scene that plays a very obvious homage to the ending of the original I Spit On Your Grave.  There’s a lot of violence.  There’s a huge amount of gore.  If you’ve ever wanted to see what an eye looks like when it’s literally hanging out of its socket, this is the film for you.  There are some moments of very dark humor as well.  Lulu Wilson gives a fierce performance as Becky and, In general, the film’s well-directed.  The first 20 minutes of the movie are actually rather brilliant, with scenes of Becky dealing with school bullies alternating with scenes of Dominick killing people in prison.

That said, the film itself runs out of gas long before the final scene.  A huge part of the problem is that Domenick and his associates are all way too stupid to really be a legitimate threat to Becky and, as a result, there’s not much suspense as to whether or not Becky will be able to kill them.  (It was hard not to unfavorably compare the buffoonish, easily outwitted Neo-Nazis in this film with the legitimately terrifying ones that appeared in Green Room.)  As well, for all the film’s violence and it’s homages to the grindhouse, it oddly allows two characters to survive the film despite the fact that there was no reason for the film’s villains to keep them around.  Their survival reminds you that you’re just watching a movie and it takes you out of the moment.  You realize that if the movie doesn’t have the guts to kill the two of them, then it’s probably not going to have the guts to really surprise us further down the road.

I have to admit, I really wanted to like this film, if just because I was intrigued by the against-type casting of Kevin James and Joel McHale.  I may not care for the majority of Kevin James’s films but I’ve always felt that he was a good actor.  Joel McHale, as well, has always been a personal favorite of mine and, like James, he’s a better actor than he’s often given credit for being.  I was hoping that both of them would get a chance to shock viewers by brilliantly playing against type.  But McHale is stuck playing a character who is just too wimpy to be sympathetic and Kevin James, bless him, often seems to be trying too hard to project menace.  True menace has to feel natural.  Once it becomes obvious that you’re trying to be menacing, then you’re not.  Dominick is a Sid Haig role being played by Kevin James.  Despite (or perhaps because of) the goofy appeal of such an idea, it just doesn’t work.

Despite its flaws, Becky is a well-shot, quickly paced film and it has enough entertaining moments to be watchable if not entirely satisfying.  If you’re looking gore, this film has what you’re looking for and, as any horror fan can tell you, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that.  The film doesn’t quite work but still, directors Jonathan Milott and Cary Murnion do a good enough job that I look forward to seeing where they do next.

 

Here Are the Reliably Boring Razzie Nominations!


Yawn!  The Razzies are always so boring!  Here are this year’s predictable nominations.  Talk about them on twitter and impress your friends.

Worst Picture
Fantastic Four
Fifty Shades of Grey
Jupiter Ascending
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Pixels

Worst Director
Andy Fickman, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tom Six, Human Centipede 3
Sam Taylor-Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actor
Johnny Depp, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler, The Cobbler and Pixels
Channing Tatum, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Actress
Katherine Heigl, Home Sweet Hell
Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Mila Kunis, Jupiter Ascending
Jennifer Lopez, The Boy Next Door
Gwyneth Paltrow, Mortdecai

Worst Supporting Actor
Chevy Chase, Hot Tub Time Machine 2 and Vacation
Josh Gad, Pixels and The Wedding Ringer
Kevin James, Pixels
Jason Lee, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip
Eddie Redmayne, Jupiter Ascending

Worst Supporting Actress
Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting, Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip and The Wedding Ringer
Rooney Mara, Pan
Michelle Monaghan, Pixels
Julianne Moore, Seventh Son
Amanda Seyfried, Love the Coopers and Pan

Worst Screenplay
Simon Kinberg, Jeremy Slater and Josh Trank, Fantastic Four
Kelly Marcel, Fifty Shades of Grey
Andy and Lana Wachowski, Jupiter Ascending
Kevin James and Nick Bakay, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Tim Herlihy and Timothy Dowling, Pixels

Worst Remake or Sequel
Alvin and The Chipmunks: The Road Chip
Fantastic Four
Hot Tub Time Machine 2
Human Centipede 3
Paul Blart Mall Cop 2

Worst Screen Combo
Miles Teller, Michael B. Jordan, Kate Mara and Jamie Bell, Fantastic Four
Johnny Depp and his glued-on mustache, Mortdecai
Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson, Fifty Shades of Grey
Kevin James and either his Segway or glued-on mustache, Paul Blart Mall Cop 2
Adam Sandler and any pair of shoes, The Cobbler

Razzies Redeemer Award
Elizabeth Banks
M. Night Shyamalan
Will Smith
Sylvester Stallone

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!