Posts tagged michael pena

Review: Tower Heist

A little way into Tower Heist you are lulled into feeling you’re watching a pretty good funny movie. Eddie Murphy’s actually back in a groove reminiscent of his heyday. Alan Alda plays a Bernie Madoff-type character. Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick, Casey Affleck, Tia Leone, and Judd Hirsch are all around for good measure….Then the baloney begins to unfurl.

Soon quelling the laughs, a big fat set of cliches drops in your lap. Before you know it, what looked like a production that could have made a significant comic statement on “the one percent” very rich and their victims plays it safe and bland. A car perposterously dangling from a high floor of Trump Tower over a Macy’s Day Parade personifies the film’s turn to jelly. Director Brett Ratner’s encore has us believe Ben Stiller and his band of Robin Hoods actually sneak past the Tower’s security because they’re too busy being mesmerized by the parade. More parade shenanigans ensue but I won’t bore you.

Shame, because the movie has some worthy moments. Murphy’s so good you almost forget his largely unmemorable preformances in the past two decades. Playing a role similar to Jamie Foxx in Horrible Bosses, he’s asked to bring a bunch of (white) hapless would-be-criminals up to the task of performing some serious mischief. He quickly rounds up Stiller, Broderick (admirably deadpan), Affleck, and Michael Pena to a mall and asks them to all steal at least $50 worth of stuff and report back to him. He also takes their wallets so they won’t be tempted to pay. The timing of his lines and the frenetic mania of his character reminds us how strong a comic actor he was in films like Trading Places and Beverly Hills Cop. One particular scene in Tower Heist opposite Gabourey Sidibe (Precious) is especially brilliant but by the film’s second half, Murphy’s presence is diminished and we’re left with the caper itself, a heist to rob Alda’s secret stash. He evokes a frighteningly affable monster who steals pension investments from his building’s workers while swimming in a penhouse pool with an engraved image of a huge $100 bill. Also keeping a rare Ferrari inside his apartment, he soon gets nabbed by FBI agent Leone and goes under house arrest. Stiller, feeling especially responsible since as building manager he led his minions’ money go you in smoke once in Alda’s grasp, decides to take revenge.

Not quite a stellar cast entirely wasted but one who could definitely have used a better screenplay. It’s like signing up the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals to play a sandlot softball game. And as far as the Wall Street persona and what got us here, you’d be far wiser to catch the current flick “Margin Call” if you’re really interested.

5 Ferraris Over a Parade (Out of 10)

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Review: 30 Minutes or Less

Nothing more than a moronic, politically incorrect on all fronts, slacker flick; 30 Minutes Or Less is also nothing less than a good time. Director Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland) continually rescues his train-wreck of bad taste with tight, frantic pacing and shrewd comic timing.

When all seems to be going to the dogs, Jesse Eisenberg (The Social Network) adds plausibility to a lead character who gets in over his head and then, in a completely paradoxically desperate and joyful sort of way, he is forced to pull a caper. Cruelty, misogyny, and extreme dumbness all dwell here, yet the film’s knowing energy seems to provide new wrinkles as an antidote to every cliche and pomposity it throws at you.

Dwayne (Danny McBride) discovers his need to off his “not cool,” lottery-winning Dad (Fred Ward, known here only as “The Major”) while getting a lap dance from a stripper named Juicy. This stripper just happens to know a good murderer-for-hire, Chango (Michael Pena, Lincoln Lawyer), but he charges $100,000 for the hit. To raise the money Dwayne and his dumber-than-dirt sidekick Travis (Nick Swardson) dream up a scheme to kidnap a pizza delivery kid….. Nick (Eisenberg). After knocking Nick out, they strap a bomb with a timer to his body in case he doesn’t want to cooperate by, say, robbing a bank for them. Since Parks and Recreation’s Aziz Ansari is Nick’s best friend (and also a home-wrecker), it’s only logical he’d want to come along and ride shotgun for Nick.

It’s hard to imagine this film working without Eisenberg, who again proves he can act up a storm in any genre. Yet the real sleeper here is Pena, who I can’t remember having been in a comedy before but his scenes are some of the most memorable of the film. Eisenberg and Ansari’s relationship is also highly believable and hits the comedic mark at every twist and turn. The other team… McBride and Swardson are very much exactly what you would expect. McBride’s getting a lot of bad press for this role but who else can play someone this utterly stupid this convincingly?

Before you’re lulled into total mindlessness, 30 Minutes Or Less brings you around for a pleasure without much guilty fallout but plenty of bemused aftertaste. Oh, and you won’t care much, but there actually was a news story where a pizza delivery man faced a very similar dilemma as Nick.  But since real life is often not a comedy…. he ended up dead.

6 Mindless Belly Laughs (Out Of 10)

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Review: Everything Must Go

Will Farrell has played his share of low comedy nincompoops but in Everything Must Go, set on a front lawn with a recliner chair next to all his worldly possessions, he’s both serious and a serious bore.

He plays Nick Halsey, devoid of depth and a recurring drunk. The film supposes you’d fall off the wagon, too if you lost your job and got simultaneously locked out of your house by your offscreen wife. Determined not to let it bother him any further, Nick decides to sleep on the recliner under the Arizona stars.

After running out of beer money (the wife messed up the credit cards, too) a far too precious, industrious, chubby neighborhood kid on a bike shows up and goads him into putting his motley junk spread all over the lawn up for sale on a no-end-in-sight yard sale. The kid (Christopher Jordan Wallace) is an equally annoying preteen version of the 7- or 8- year old girl in the TV commercial whose Dad starts her on a lemonade stand only to see her sprout up like a Mark Zuckerberg who eventually has her handlers screen her Dad with an “is he expecting you?”

Things go on, Nick cracks open a lot of PBR beer cans while not failing to attract to the house his AA-sponsor and cop (Michael Pena), a conveniently alone younger woman (a good Rebecca Hall) just moved in across the street, more cops, and crazed neighbors (including stud character actor Shea Wigham) that Nick eventually spies on.

Often ridiculous, Nick shaves in the backyard, catches a rinse in his poolside shower, drinks more Pabst, pisses in the pool, and manages to get off the recliner long enough to tell off and scare away Rebecca Hall. Looking through his high school year book, he”s encouraged by a positive note from an acquaintance (Laura Dern) who still lives in town. Off he goes to ring her doorbell. Needles to say their ensuing conversation, like this film, doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.

Director Dan Rush is a veteran commercials maker. Here his untidy and trifling product placement feels mostly tiring.

4 recliners out of 10


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Review: Lincoln Lawyer

Okay, so nobody likes Matthew McConaughey. Never heard so many declare the man is at best annoying, at worst a dimwit full of bombast. Having mostlty avoided his films for no other reason than they sounded uninteresting (liked him in Tropic Thunder, though), I came into The Lincoln Lawyer without an ax to grind.

Playing Mick Haller, streetwise lawyer for “scumbags” (sez a fellow attorney to his face), the guy pulls off the role and the film. Helps to have William H. Macy, Marisa Tomei, Ryan Phillippe, Michael Pena, John Leguizamo, and (brilliant as a jailhouse snitch) Josh Whigham on your supporting cast. Favorite scenes involve Mick telling off cops and fellow lawers who look down upon his defense of the downtrodden, or his head-on direct laying down protocol to a client, or his jostlng with his investigator Macy over maneuvering a case through extralegal means.

I have no idea whether the legal stuff in the film holds water, or whether it adopted the Michael Connolly novel faithfully. I do know it’s a gripping, often amusing legal drama with refreshingly not a lot of courtroom yet more than a little sense of reality. Matthew (yea, HIM) told Jay Leno he was surprised in hanging out with lawyers in his research for the film on just how much criminal law work was informal, slang-full, slambang, near constant negotiation rather than anything more crusty. This film way brings it.

8 of 10


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