Monday, August 9, 2010


“Saturday Night Live” comedian Will Ferrell has made a mint out of playing morons. He delivers another hilarious performance as a moronic New York Police Department detective in "Talladega Nights” director Adam McKay’s “The Other Guys,” (** out of ****) an ambitious but half-baked parody of slam-bang police thrillers. Oscar nominated actor Mark Wahlberg of “The Departed” co-stars as Ferrell’s pugnacious NYPD partner. Unfortunately, Wahlberg displays none of Ferrell’s comic genius. Indeed, nothing Wahlberg does registers as remotely amusing. He is either screaming at Ferrell or skewering his partner’s masculinity. Wahlberg appears to be channeling Joe Pesci from the Martin Scorsese classics “Goodfellas” and “Casino.” Alas, Wahlberg is no Pesci. The funniest thing next to Ferrell is the non-stop ridicule reserved for our hero’s red Prius. Incredibly, the car is far funnier than Wahlberg. McKay and “Land of the Lost” scenarist Chris Henchy struggle with little success to combine a formulaic buddy picture comedy with a complex white-collar crime conspiracy about a shady investment banker. Nevertheless, anything Ferrell does will keep you in stitches, but all Wahlberg’s scenes should have hit the editing room floor. Think of “The Other Guys” as a mediocre “Police Academy” knock-off with half of the laughs. Primarily, the humor grows out of the irony that two pencil-pushing desk jockeys wind up replacing two loose-cannon celebrity crime busters as the top cops in the Big Apple. The stunt work is terrific. The opening gag where a heroic pair of testosterone-driven cops smash their sports car through a double-decker bus to arrest two shooters for a misdemeanor amount of narcotics is impressive. Again, McKay and Henchy make some poor narrative choices. First, they kill off the two most charismatic characters, Highsmith and Danson, in the first quarter hour. Second, they replace them with two colorless morons. Our heroes qualify as genuine underdogs. Third, McKay and Henchy never provide a solid, colorful villain. The villainous chores are split between a the harmless investment banker and an antagonist Australian troubleshooter. You cannot spoof a genre, like crime movies, unless you follow the dictates of the genre. Since there is no central villain, our heroes have it pretty easy. The closest character to a villain turns out to be their own police captain. Mind you, "The Other Guys" isn't even an adequate parody. Some of the jokes on the side shine, like Dirty Mike and his homeless crew that have an orgy in our hero's car.

NYPD Detectives P.K. Highsmith (Samuel L. Jackson of “Pulp Fiction”) and Christopher Danson (Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson of “The Tooth Fairy”) are a macho pair of “Lethal Weapon” cops who refuse to let details complicate their roguish antics. Although they make spectacular arrests, they also create equally spectacular property damage. Nevertheless, everybody loves them so they can flout the rules without fear of repercussion. As “The Other Guys” opens, Highsmith and Danson are chasing a gang armed with assault weapons. Danson has gotten atop their Escalade, but he isn’t there long after they shoot up the roof. Danson dives back onto Highsmith’s car, rolls off the hood onto the roof, and swings into the front seat. The villains blast Highsmith’s car so the hood folds back against the windshield and blinds them. Highsmith shoots off the hood hinge. Too late! He plows into a double-decker bus as the villains appear to get away. Danson commandeers the double-decker bus with Highsmith’s car still stuck in it. Danson careens after the hoods, whips the double-decker around, launching Highsmith’s car with Highsmith blasting away with two pistols at the hoods. Highsmith takes them down, shoots the gas tank of their Escalade, and soars over the explosion, crashing into the building. After Highsmith and Danson receive their medals, Precinct Captain Gene Mauch (Michael Keaton of “Batman”) calls on somebody to complete their paper work. These two cops have never wasted their time with paperwork. Detective Allen Gamble snaps at the opportunity to complete the Highsmith and Danson paperwork. Not long afterward, Highsmith and Danson leap to their deaths when they try to thwart a team of acrobats who wield a wrecking ball to smash their way into a jewelry store and heist $79-thousand in stones.

A milquetoast forensic accountant who prefers to file paperwork, Gamble (Will Ferrell of “Old School”) likes to hum the S.W.A.T. theme and stay in the precinct office rather than nab the bad guys on the streets. His idea of busting loose is to floor the gas pedal of his Prius and play the Little River Band. Allen’s partner, Detective Terry Hoitz (Mark Wahlberg of “Date Night”), is just the opposite. Terry dreams of making the big bust. He suspects drug deals behind every crime. Sadly, Terry has been confined to a desk and stuck with Allen. The skeleton in Terry’s closet is he accidentally shot New York Yankees baseball slugger Derek Jeter in the leg during the seventh game of the World Series. Yes, the Yankees lost! Everybody in the precinct now calls Terry ‘the Yankee Clipper.’ Naturally, Terry hates Allen, but he lives by the venerable “partner’s code,” a police maxim that requires a partner to back up his partner no matter what the circumstance. Ironically, Allen’s obsession with paper work prompts them to arrest British investment banker Sir David Ershon (Steve Coogan of “Tropic Thunder”) who is up to his neck in a grand scheme to steal $32-billion from the NYPD Pension Fund to cover the loses of another Wall Street titan.

The best scene between Ferrell and Wahlberg is the lion-versus-the-tuna tale. Terry tells Allen that he would rip him to shreds as easily as a lion could a tuna. Terry destroys the lack of logic in Terry’s example with own flawed logic. He claims that the tuna would construct an oxygen apparatus to allow them to live out of water so they could stalk and attack lions on dry land. The running joke throughout “The Other Guys” is that nerdy Allen is a babe magnet. Sexy chicks come on to him but ignore Terry. At one point, Allen and Terry have to interview one of Allen’s old girlfriends to get message that was ghost-messaged from Allen’s cell phone to her cell phone. Again, Terry is flabbergasted by Allen’s sexy ex-girlfriend. Terry is floored when he finally meets Allen’s hot chick wife, Dr. Shelia Gamble (Eva Mendez of “Training Day”), who is crazy about her husband. Allen and Shelia met while he was in college acting as a pimp for some of his girlfriends. Allen assured Terry that his pimping days were dark days indeed because he became a different person nicknamed ‘Gator.’ “The Other Guys” swerves erratically between scenes of Allen and Terry bonding to the chaos that they create when they arrest Ershon. The “Grand Theft Auto” chases, the blazing gunfights, and the audacious wrecking ball jewelry heist accent look cool but these scenes seem out of place in a screwy buddy comedy. Ultimately, the PG-13 rated "Other Guys” runs out of momentum and laughs long before it runs out of plot.


No single movie more effectively captured the paranoia and depicted the conformity that afflicted America in the 1950s than director Don Siegel's low-budget, black & white, science fiction chiller "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" (**** out of ****) with Kevin McCarthy and Dana Wynter. Siegel remembered it as his favorite film and its potency lies in Siegel's subtle handling of the outlandish subject matter. Every Siegel film has examined the theme of the individual versus society. Never has any Siegel protagonist ever blended in with the swarm. Iconoclastic to the hilt, Siegel's protagonists clash with the status quo. Siegel's respect for these outcasts prompted him to make "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." "I think that the world is populated by pods," he observed, "and I wanted to show them." Despite its melodramatic title and ghoulish adversaries, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" shares little similarity with sci-fi B-movies of the 1950s. Surprisingly, this minor Allied Artists release quickly acquired a reputation. Film critics and scholars alike have read considerably more into its standard narrative about aliens taking over the earth than Siegel intended. Kevin McCarthy said years later he saw "no political significance" in the plot. One of Don Siegel's contemporaries and a renowned film producer in his own right, Walter Mirish, wrote about the film's significance in his autobiography. "People began to read meanings into pictures that were never intended. "The Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is an example of that. I remember reading a magazine article arguing that the picture was intended as an allegory about the communist infiltration of America. From personal knowledge, neither Walter Wanger nor Don Siegel, who directed it, nor Dan Mainwaring, who wrote the script nor the original author Jack Finney, nor myself saw it as anything other than a thriller, pure and simple." Nevertheless, the best works of art are always prone to interpretations beyond those of its creators, and "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" became a lightning rod for commentary.
Three schools of thought emerged about "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." The first construed it as a polemic against the hysteria-inducing tactics of discredited Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy who alleged Communists had infiltrated American government. McCarthy never substantiated his charges, but he forged an atmosphere of hatred and mistrust that ostracized iconoclasts. The second saw it as a metaphor for the perennial threat Communism posed to Americans. During the 1950s, the House Un-American Activities Committee launched a witch hunt and blacklisted many Hollywood filmmakers because of their involvement with the Communist Party between the 1930s and 1950s. As a casualty of the blacklist, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" scenarist Daniel Mainwaring spent his remaining years writing under a pseudonym. A third school saw it as an indictment of the Levittown suburban mentality where everybody acted and dressed in identical fashion.

"Invasion of the Body Snatchers" opens with a prologue as the police transport Dr. Hill (Whit Bissell of "He Walks By Night") from the State Mental Hospital to observe a delusional inmate who claims that he isn't insane. Dr. Hill sits down with our disheveled hero and listens to his story. Until the epilogue, when Siegel returns to the asylum, everything from here until then occurs in flashback as the story is told. Things begin innocently enough as a local physician, Dr. Miles Bennell (Kevin McCarthy of "Annapolis Story"), has encountered patients in the small town of Santa Mira, California, who complain about their loved ones behaving like impostors. Town psychiatrist Dr. Dan Kaufman (Larry Gates of “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”) dismisses everything as "hysteria." Soon, Bennell and his old friend Jack Belicec (King Donovan of “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”) and his wife Teddy (Carolyn Jones of "The Addams Family") along with Bennell's former sweetheart Becky Driscoll (Dana Wynter), discover a replica of Jack in his house lying on his pool table. "It's like the first impression stamped on a coin," Jack observes to Bennell. Bennell takes the body's fingerprints, but it has no fingerprints at this point. The thing awakens no long afterward, and Jack and Teddy flee in terror to Bennell's house with news that the body looks exactly like Jack. Indeed, Teddy points out that it resembles Jack right down to his slashed hand palm where he cut himself dropping a bottle of bourbon. Later, they learn seed pods are appearing everywhere. When people fall asleep, the pods hatch facsimiles. After Jack and Teddy show up at Bennell’s house, the doctor’s imagination runs wild and he leaps into his car in his pajamas and house robe and careens over the Becky’s house. Bennell breaks into Becky's house. He enters the house by smashing a window in the basement. Bennell finds a pod in her cellar, but rescues Becky before she can turn into a pod person. Our hero theorizes that so many things have been discovered in the world since the advent of the atomic bomb that radiation may have affected plant or animal life or some weird alien organism. Dr. Kaufman comes over to Bennell’s house and they explain to him the outlandish events that have happened. Predictably, Dr. Kaufman refuses to believe anything that they say. Bennell and Jack accompany Dr. Kaufman over to Jack’s house to show him the facsimile on the billiards table. When they reach the billiards table, they find the body has vanished. Dr. Kaufman points out a blood stain on the table, but the body is nowhere to be found. They drive over to Becky’s house and check the basement for Becky’s facsimile, but they find nothing. Dr. Kaufman launches into a lecture to the incredulous Miles Bennell. “Why did you come here tonight? You’d seen a dead man at Jack’s, an average sized man. The face in death was smooth and unlined, bland in expression, which often happens, You had become aware of a curious, unexplainable epidemic mass hysteria. Men, women, and children suddenly convinced themselves that their relatives weren’t their relatives at all so your mind starting playing tricks.”

No sooner has Dr. Kaufman finished than Becky’s father, Stanley Driscoll (Kenneth Patterson of “Baby Face Nelson”), appears with a shotgun in his fists. He wants to know what they are doing in his basement. Not long afterward, Santa Mira Police Chief Nick Grivett (Ralph Dumke of “Violent Saturday”) pokes his head in the broken window that Bennell and company have entered the basement. When they try to explain about the body over at Jack’s house, the chief interrupts and gives them a complete description of the man. The chief saw the body on the slab. He informs Bennell, Jack, and Dr. Kaufman that the body was found in a burning haystack on Mike Gessner’s south pasture. Afterward, several people who had complained about their relatives no longer show anxiety. The little boy that Bennell nearly ran over earlier, Jimmy Grimaldi (Bobby Clark of “Kentucky Jubilee”), is neither afraid of his mother nor of attending school. Similarly, Wilma Lentz (Virginia Christine of “Billy the Kid versus Dracula ) is no longer worried about her Uncle Ira being an impostor.

Approximately, forty minutes into the action, Siegel shows the first pod as it is replicating a human; the kind of shot that Siegel uses is designated a ‘Dutch’ tilt shot. The camera is set-up as if it were on its side so that image looks definitely out of place. Siegel is deliberately calling attention to the seed pods. Bennell notices the seed pods when one gurgles, and Jack, Teddy, and Becky join him. Becky confesses that her father hasn’t been the same since Bennell and she came home yesterday and found him leaving the basement. “They have to be destroyed,” cries Teddy, “all of them.” Bennell assures her that they will. The doctor and the others haven’t caught on yet about the brutal truth. “We’re going to have to search every building, every house in town. Men, women, and children have to be examined. We’ve got some phoning to do.” Bennell tries to call the FBI in Los Angeles. The switchboard operator informs him that all Los Angeles circuits are dead. When he asks for the governor in Sacramento, Bennell learns that all Sacramento circuits are busy. Bennell sends Jack and Teddy out of town to alert the authorities. He tried to make Becky go with them, but she refuses and stays behind with him. Bennell takes the pitchfork and checks the seed poles. One of them has disgorged a replica of Becky, but Bennell cannot spear it. Instead, he finds his own replica and plunges the spear into it repeatedly. Eventually, the impostors take over and corner Bennell and Becky. They explain that the seed pods entered the Earth, landed at a farm and took root. Life has driven too many people over the edge and the pods will free mankind of its worries. Nobody will ever be troubled by anything again. "There is no need for love or emotion. Love, desire, ambition, faith—without them—life is so simple." Originally, "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" concluded with the frantic Bennell screaming his warning about these space aliens who robbed humans of their emotions and turned them into thoughtless automatons. Allied Artists sought to soften the hysteria. Siegel agreed against his wishes to add a prologue and an epilogue on the advice of Wanger for fear that the studio would re-edit the film.

The legacy of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers" is considerable. Hollywood has remade this original three times along with the unacknowledged remakes, such as the 2007 "Invasion of the Pod People" Philip Kaufman helmed an urban version of the Siegel film in 1978 with Donald Sutherland, but situated it in the urban sprawl of San Francisco. McCarthy reprised his role, and Siegel had a cameo. Later, independent director Abel Ferrara took it back to its rural roots in 1994 with "Body Snatchers" and located the action on a military base in Alabama. In 2007, another remake simply called "Invasion" appeared with Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig. Originally, Jack Finney wrote the novel that "Collier's Magazine" serialized in 1954.