How Bigalow Can You Go?

This wholly unmerited and unwelcome sequel to 1999s reviled comedy Deuce Bigalow washes up on our shores with writer and star Rob Schneider owing considerable compensation to cinemagoers unlucky enough to see it under the ‘polluter pays’ principle. I emerged from his latest laugh-free effort with an immediate need to wash my eyes, having seen his ‘he-whore’ character relocate to Europe, or the stoned Amsterdam bit of it anyway, to track down a serial killer who is decimating the gigolo herd.

Clumsy, dim-witted Deuce along with his pimp and friend T.J. Hicks (the shrieking Eddie Griffin) try to track the immediately obvious killer involving a brief parade of grotesque female suspects and you can figure out the rest for yourself. Troublingly, during his tiresome investigations Deuce meets a woman with a penis instead of a nose. You don’t want me to describe what happens when she, inevitably, sneezes. Having said that, if you are the kind of person who finds that unlucky image funny, then it’s safe to say you’re not reading this. Or anything else for that matter. But Schneider thinks it’s hilarious that this condition is a result of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, so stupid and offensive doesn’t come into it; this primordial thing is like something you’d scrape off your shoe.

The only good thing is that, at a merciful 75 minutes, it would appear to have had about a quarter of its childish skits excised by somebody with a sharp scissors and a lingering trace of humanity. My own act of compassion would be to bundle every existing reel of this awful film into a sack, leaving plenty of room for Schneider, and bury it, at night and in secret, at the bottom of the ocean. This unimaginative, mean-spirited effluent does not deserve to exist as a film and most certainly doesn’t deserve your attention.

I Eat Dead People...

Cinemagoers are hardly starved for zombie flesh. In the same week that Irish filmmaker Stephen Bradley brings us his High School zombie movie Boy Eats Girl, the maestro of the genre, George A Romero opens Land of the Dead, the fourth in his series of flesh-eating flicks. Although they are very different films, Bradley’s underwritten suburban comedy slash horror slash waste of time doesn’t bear the comparison well.

Seventeen year-old Nathan (David Leon) has fallen in love with his school friend, local fox Jessica (Samantha Mumba) but he just can't pluck up the courage to ask her out. Their friends, geeky sidekicks Henry and Diggs (Laurence Kinlan and Tadhg Murphy) decide to help cupid along by setting up a date where Nathan can, er, spill his guts to his nascent love. However, Jessica’s interfering father (played by Bryan Murray) discovers the plan and she misses their date. Later, while running through a movie-friendly rainstorm, Nathan thinks he spots Jessica having sex in a car with a sleazebag classmate. Distraught, the unrequited Romeo drinks a naggin of whiskey, plays a few depressing heartache records and winds up hanging himself in his bedroom. On finding his lifeless body, his mother Grace (played by the directors wife, Deirdre O’Kane) seizes on an old book of voodoo spells she has discovered in the bowels of a ruined church. She performs a restorative ritual in their kitchen, using teapots, newspapers and chicken hearts, and magically brings him back to life. When he wakes up the next morning, Nathan knows nothing of what has happened, but has a new found hunger for human flesh, superhuman strength and an even more remote attitude to life than his listless, disenfranchised pals. Later, outside the school disco, Nathan acts on his new desires, taking chunks out of the student body and setting in train a series of events that spreads his infection through the student body, with gory results. As mom tries to find a way to reverse the spell, having discovered the book had a vital page missing, Nathan struggles to rein in his new desires, save his friends from the advancing horde of revenants and win the heart of the gorgeous Jessica.

Bradley uses the tropes of zombie cinema to explore the real horrors of teenage existence; classroom bullies, peer pressure, social awkwardness and the stomach-clenching anxieties that whirl around the first flush of love. As penned by Derek Handy (Dead Bodies), Girl is a wholly self-aware teenage romp that takes as its inspiration the American high school comedies and screaming horrors. With his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, Nandy trots out a familiar series of off-the-shelf characters, lilting dialogue and clichéd set ups. None of it is all that inspired, the jokes are weak and predictable and the whole enterprise suffers badly from not having any real balance between its American inspiration and Irish setting. The splattering special effects work from Image Effects is a little more successful, culminating in an entertaining free-for-all with a tractor-mounted hedge strimmer and a small army of stumbling zombies.

Writing comedy is difficult and time-consuming, and without being too po-faced about it, requires a careful hand in making jokes about teenage depression and death. In the scene that gave the Irish film censor reason for pause, Nathan is driven to his suicide in the most asinine way. If heartache and whiskey were all that were required to top oneself, very few of us would have escaped adolescence. I know it’s a movie, and as a zombie movie, requires a death as a starting point for mayhem, but it’s so clumsy and illogical, so foolish at its core that the remainder of the film must collapse, built as it is on straws. As a heartbroken teenager, Leon is a bit of a flop, overly mannered and self-aware. As the object of his desire, the kick-boxing Mumba does much better, even if her tough-girl character is occasionally poorly served by offering nothing beyond a wonky grin and some tender eyelash flapping. The remainder of the ravenous undead, a budget-restricted army of about seven, hardly a horde at all and a complete misunderstanding of the true psychology of zombie cinema, play their one-note characters well within themselves. Sara James as class slut Cheryl is the sole stand-out. See, zombies are frightening because they congregate as a mob, all with one thought in their minds. A handful of undead revenants, no matter how tongue-in-cheek, just cannot offer any sense of dread. Rather than approach the scale and knuckle-chewing vision of Romero, Bradley takes his inspiration from the backyard splatter of Peter Jackson’s Braindead. Even when compared to that Boy Eats Girl barely passes muster.

I was deeply disappointed by Boy Eats Girl, thinking that it offered an opportunity to send Irish film in a new direction, but it actually sets the cause back by failing to match the low standards required for a B Movie, never mind inventing a new genre for home grown cinema. There’s a good case to be made for increasing production on cheap, quick genre films in the Irish industry, taking the international success of Korean and Australian cinema as a touchstone. But, and it’s a big but, genre doesn’t have to mean second rate and Bradley’s lacklustre film is exactly that.

Immoveable Object

The Guardian's excellent website has a rare interview with the venerated Japanese animator Hayao Miyazaki, the freewheeling genius behind Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and the imminent Howl's Moving Castle, where he offers his considerable opinions on modern animation, his creative process, the state of the planet's ecology and the unusual methods he was forced to employ in dealing with The Great Satan, or Harvey Weinstein as he is known in this dimensional incarnation. It's the reclusive Miyazaki's first interview with a journalist in over a decade. Check it here...

Punching Above Their Weight

A sepia-toned portrait of a working-class hero, Cinderella Man takes the almost impossibly perfect elements of the saga of underdog boxer James J. Braddock and fills it with emotional gravitas, grim triumph and a palpable sense of the disintegration of American life during the Great Depression in the 20s and 30s. The bare bones of Braddock’s life constitute an almost perfect arc of triumph – from a battling contender to friendless, poverty-stricken washout back to world heavyweight championship challenger – that would read as unbelievably trite and convenient were it not true.

As the film opens, Jim Braddock is a successful boxer, providing a good life for his wife Mae (played by Renee Zellweger) and their three young children. Then Braddock breaks a hand and is beaten so badly in his subsequent fights that his license to box is revoked and he is forced into abject poverty in the early days of the Depression. He ends up looking for work as a daily stevedore on the Hoboken docks where he finds a friend in co-worker Mike (Paddy Considine), a former Wall Street stockbroker who has turned to trades unionism, one of the few fictional characters in the film and one whose dramatic arc serves as an explicit comment on the politics of the times, with a resonance for today’s America, where the call has again gone out that a headless government has failed their people.

The Braddock’s helpless poverty means Jim has little time to develop a radical politics; he’s too busy trying to find enough for them to eat, although the square-jawed Considine does very well in his few scenes. Braddock’s wife Mae would prefer he quit boxing, but knows how badly they need the money to get by with their three kids. They cannot pay bills, or feed their children with Howard showing the depth of the family’s collapse in a heart-breaking scene where Braddock passes a hat around a roomful of his former peers, looking for donations. With nothing left to lose, when Braddock is given hope of a comeback and the media pick up his story, he becomes the inspiration, a last beacon of hope for Americans who had forgotten hope existed. Through the tribulation, Braddock gets his chance at a fighting comeback, as his tender-hearted, and similarly broke manager Joe Gould (Paul Giamatti) pushes him past the sneering boxing commission, who think he’s a broken washout, and towards a shot at the title. Without enough time to train, or the nutrition to rebuild his strength, Braddock takes on the heavyweight champion Max Baer (Craig Bierko), a monster who has already killed two of his opponents and seems likely to put a halt to his outsized, outclassed and out of luck opponent’s return to the top.

Sounds slushy, doesn’t it? Thankfully, a tougher, more sober Howard and his regular scenarist Akiva Goldsman have reined in their tendency to pile on the schmaltz in delivering a beautifully developed story about pride and determination that provides the perfect platform for a career-defining performance from a beefed-up Crowe, with exceptional support from Zellwegger as the long-suffering wife and Paul Giamatti as Braddock’s manager and friend, Joe Gould. Both are revelatory, with Giamatti in particular delivering another note-perfect performance, but the film belongs to Crowe, who shows his mettle in the ring and his courage in the face of economic adversity. In making an explicit connection between Braddock's wavering career trajectory and disintegrating family life and America’s Great Depression and the rise of the trade union movement, the film sounds a depth that approaches the operatic majesty of Raging Bull and at all time feels real and never forced. Rather than try to punch above their weight, Howard and Crowe don’t attempt to ape the long tradition of brutal boxing films, although their film is both fierce and violent. What they have done is give their sports movie a convincing and affecting emotional core that might occasionally teeter on the edge of sentimentality but never falls into soppiness. The many fights are consistently finely paced and beautifully choreographed. Although fight fans are hardly short on cinematic pugilists, Cinderella Man doesn’t abandon its duty to provide some teeth-rattling fight scenes, with the ultimate fight providing some genuine tension and thrills. Crowe, unsurprisingly a convincing bruiser, proves again his ability to give great humanity and heart to what is a classically drawn one-note cinema hero, his eyes full of sadness and his pain altogether palpable. Cinderella Man is a rousing, heartbreaking film that inexplicably failed on its release in the US but fully deserves it’s more discerning autumn audience here.

Holiday in Cambodia

Another week, another uninspired movie taken from an old television show and an object lesson, should it be required, in The Honeymooners, that Hollywood is continuing to mine a long-exhausted seam. Part-time hapless entrepreneur and full-time funk-loving New York bus driver Ralph Kramden (Cedric The Entertainer) and his feisty, long-suffering wife Alice (Gabrielle Union), who works as a waitress are stuck in the two-income trap, in that whatever income they derive from their two jobs is squandered on one of Ralph's many, desperately unfunny get-rich-quick schemes.

When the opportunity to buy an old lady’s duplex house in Brooklyn presents itself, together with their best friends and neighbours Ed and Trixie Norton (Mike Epps and Regina Hall) they have just enough money for a down payment. That is until Ralph and Ed get involved in a faintly ridiculous scheme to simultaneously enter the both the greyhound and tourism industries, putting the mortgage, and their marriages, at risk. Jackie Gleason’s monochrome domestic battleground, a simple stage set covered with two cameras but still considered one of the best television comedies of all time has been given a colourful urban makeover, replete with bouncing hip-hop soundtrack, rolling eyes, yo-mamma and fried chicken jokes and even a reference to Beyoncé’s fabulous booty. These hip-hop clichés are squeezed into a ludicrous and crushingly artless series of sketches and montages that emphases the cast’s clumsy attempts at slapstick above the blue-collar frustrations and effortless wordplay that the original is justly famed for.

Cedric the Entertainer huffs and puffs but loses stamina ten minutes in. Some honeymooner. His comic foil Mike Epps isn’t thrown a single genuinely funny line throughout the ninety minutes. The greyhound fares better. To be overly fair to both of them, and to the similarly underserved Union and Hall, the material doesn’t give them a chance. They literally have nothing to play with. Circling the chaos are the freeloading Eric Stoltz playing Davis, a yuppie scum property developer also looking to but the old lady's house and the unfortunate John Leguizamo as Dodge, a local grifter turned dog trainer, neither of whom ever convinces.

Director John Schultz, who filmed part of the movie last summer in Dublin and was previously the hand behind the ghastly, unwatchable Like Mike, doesn’t seem to have improved on his sense of scenario, his ear for dialogue or his comic timing. They’re all way off beam. Worst of all is the film’s last-reel grab for pathos, undeserved and sickeningly forced, that is just desperate to watch.