Reporting Eric Henderson
The number one piece of film criticism I’ve read this year — bar none — is Mark Harris’s majestic takedown of the new Hollywood mentality in GQ: “The Day the Movies Died.”
The whole thing is fantastic reading for anyone frustrated by the lack of legitimately “good” (to say nothing of actually “great”) Hollywood product out there, but the main thrust of his argument is that the traditional demographics are breaking down and the primacy of the “male, under 25″ market is eroding if only because Hollywood filmmaking has bred a new audiences who are now all, essentially, men under 25 — as Harris calls it, the “I won’t grow up” demographic.
My favorite quip is when Harris wistfully remembers that, even in the early ’80s, “Adults were treated as adults rather than as overgrown children hell-bent on enshrining their own arrested development.”
That line rattled around in my head as I sat watching an episode of AMC’s stellar series Breaking Bad right smack in the middle of screenings of Horrible Bosses and Zookeeper.
Pointing out the disparity between a finely crafted drama which excels in every conceivable level one could expect from great movies (performance, screenwriting, character, cinematography) and two formulaic summertime cash-grabs bereft of originality, nuance and (more to the point) entertainment value is probably unfair. So be it. Harris’s article stresses that there really is no such thing as a “summer season” anymore when it comes to mainstream movies — not with sci-fi, action and horror sensations opening well beyond Labor Day. By this point, every weekend is summer. And just because there’s real heat in the air is no excuse to indulge light-headedness, especially when there are so many other cold weekends now for audiences to indulge in idiocy.
Horrible Bosses is probably more insidious at the base level than what’s actually up on the screen, which is aggressively OK-ish. Still, someone somewhere down the line must’ve literally uttered: “It’s The Hangover meets 9 to 5 times 3.” Luckily, the formula required the recruitment of three pleasing comedians to pull it off.
But unlike the Wolf Pack, Jason Bateman, Jason Sudekis and Charlie Day don’t ever demonstrate much chemistry as a team, and Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell and Jennifer Aniston all, to varying degrees, take advantage of their passes to behave badly, to the point that their ostensibly comedic malfeasance becomes nasty misanthropy.
It’s stale and hastily-made, but it’s a masterpiece compared to the craven Zookeeper, a cookie-cutter family comedy from the good folks that brought the world Paul Blart and Click. Kevin James plays a man whose best quality is his lack of any superlative quality. He takes the appeal of an “everyman” to its worst case scenario.
James plays the title role, a role that’s proven to be inadequate for the shallow girl he wants to marry. While he’s busy not noticing he works with the stunningly beautiful and altruistic Rosario Dawson, all the animals in the zoo simultaneously reveal they can actually talk, at which point they all coach him on the art of love. Yep, animals broke thousands of years of silence to the entire human race just to help a shlubby bro get a girl anyone with two-, four- or 200-eyes can see is all wrong.
Made with all the precision of a drunken elephant ice-skating across a tightrope, Zookeeper is shoddy on every level, enough so that should the Razzies give it a slew of predictable nominations, it would actually besmirch their good name.
Ultimately, I’m not as worried about the lingering effects of Horrible Bosses, because it’s playing to crowds already long-ago lost … since I count myself among them, I had a fitfully raunchy good time (especially any time It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia‘s Charlie Day was given center stage).
However, Zookeeper is rated PG, making it well nigh the only live-action option for parents with kids of an impressionable age. I will not stand idly by while they are helplessly indoctrinated into the idea that the movie-house should be a paragon for mediocrity. I refuse to believe that kids are so stupid they’ll settle for a bottom-feeding piece of tripe just because it features a talking gorilla who, in what may be the nadir of all 2011 cinema, takes a joyride with James while the two trade verses of Flo Rida’s “Low.”
I dunno. Maybe they’ll both play better on television.