By Shane M. Dallmann
Okay, after three consecutive shows I’m taking some time off from the stage and catching up with my movies. Here are a couple of mini-reviews of films I really don’t need to review… the first one is already on its way out of theatres after tanking severely, and the second? You already know whether or not you want to see it. So I’m just keeping in practice.
I must admit that the trailer made ESCAPE PLAN look quite good, and I personally preferred BULLET TO THE HEAD to EXPENDABLES 2, so I had no reason to pass up a Stallone/Schwarzenegger team-up. Well, except for the reviews… but my son wanted to see it and he kept his end of the bargain (family business), so that was that.
As Stallone plays the world’s greatest prison-escape expert, you can imagine that the writers did their research thoroughly and gave us plenty of fascinating details regarding specific breakout techniques. And well, that stuff actually IS quite interesting. The problem comes when they try to build an actual story around the technical details… and they can’t come up with anything beyond the hoariest of prison cliches, despite the effective art direction that makes things look more futuristic than they actually are. Jim Caviezel is the soft-spoken but sadistic warden, Vinnie Jones the brutal guard… I DID get my hopes up when I saw Sam Neill as the prison doctor (he wasn’t in the trailer), but he doesn’t get to do anything interesting, either. Vincent D’Onofrio is the evil betrayer who sets Stallone up in the first place… oh, I meant “spoiler alert,” except they couldn’t have made it more obvious from the very beginning. And Arnold? Hey, he’s still Arnold and he’s having a good time, but there’s nothing particularly outstanding for HIM to do, either. Oh, and his latest attempt at a macho catchphrase is easily his lamest ever.
I think the real problem with ESCAPE PLAN is that it gives us far more of Stallone and Schwarzenegger getting beaten down than it does of them doing what they are still capable of doing best. The film moves like molasses simply because there aren’t any surprises to be had. No wonder it flopped. Sorry. Nothing personal.
Then we have BAD GRANDPA, officially the fourth in the JACKASS series, but the first to contain a semblance of a “plot.” (Oh, during the trailers, I discovered that I might get rooked into yet another PARANORMAL ACTIVITY film because they’ve FINALLY started a new story and aren’t going to be dredging that same family anymore. Just an aside.) As you already know, Johnny Knoxville is his quite convincing elderly “Irving Zissman” character. When his wife dies (much to his relief), he finds himself having to escort his grandson Billy to stay with his no-good father (while Billy’s crackhead mother goes to jail). The journey down south is the “plot,” and Grandpa’s resistance breaking down to the point where he has to admit that he actually loves Billy provides the “sentiment” along the way. And fair’s fair… Knoxville is actually capable of delivering a sensitive performance when he needs to. But… you don’t want to apply “real life” logic to this scenario, because if you did, poor Billy would be doomed no matter WHO he ended up with.
Of course, if you’re seeing this, you’re seeing it for the outrageous and appallingly inappropriate stunts Irv and Billy perform along the way, just to see the genuine reactions of the people they shock. And I shamelessly confess to being as interested as anybody else… I’ve been a CANDID CAMERA sort of fan from the beginning and can never resist a practical joke show. At least the reactions are REAL, and that’s what sets these things (not to mention BORAT and BRUNO, etc.) apart from the so-called “reality” shows that I continue to despise.
Unfortunately, most of the best bits of BAD GRANDPA were thoroughly blown by the trailer. The good stuff left for discovery? There’s “Ladies Night” at a black strip club (yes, genuine hilarity, not one frame of which turned up in the trailer, so I’ll stop right there). And I greatly appreciated the showcase given to the biker organization known as Guardians of Children… I’ve met members of a similar organization (dedicated to the care and protection of abused children) locally and have nothing but respect for them. Yes, Knoxville played a prank on them (and set one of his conspirators up for genuine danger in the process), but at least we get the “square-up” reel in which all is revealed, and the good bikers lose no dignity in the process.
The grand finale SHOULD have been the kiddie beauty pageant, but as I mentioned earlier, everybody knows how that goes down by heart already; kiddie pageants are ghastly enough in real life as far as I’m concerned; and the entire scenario (not to mention the dead grandparent in the trunk) was ripped straight out of the winner and still champion, LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE.
You already know if you’re going to see it just as well as I knew that I would. You will laugh and you will cringe. Nothing more need be said.