FSR's Weekly Report Card

MADAGASCAR: ESCAPE 2 AFRICA

Studio: Paramount/DreamWorks

Rated: PG for some mild crude humor.

Starring: Ben Stiller, Chris Rock, David Schwimmer, Jada Pinkett Smith, Sacha Baron Cohen, Bernie Mac and Alec Baldwin

Directed by: Eric Darnell and Tom McGrath

What it’s about: When we last left our castaways from the Central Park Zoo, they were stuck on the island of Madagascar. After a brief prelude that introduces Alex the lion as a child with his father (Bernie Mac) as the king of the pride, we watch the zoo animals board a makeshift plane in hopes to return to New York. However, after the penguins crash land the plane in Africa, Alex (Ben Stiller) is reunited with his family, and he must prove himself worthy of being his father’s son.

What I liked: With a few notable exceptions, most of the computer animated films given a wide release are quite good. The first Madagascar was cute and clever, and its strength was its silliness. That silliness is kept up in this movie, and that works. There are enough characters to not get bogged down in anyone’s story, and things come together pretty well for a forced sequel.

However, the best parts of the film come from the side characters. The filmmakers must have listened to the fans because the penguins are given meatier parts (oh, if only they did an entire movie about the penguins next), and King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) is given a prominent role as well.

What I didn’t: When you have a hit film, it’s hard to generate an effective sequel. Like the sequel to Ice Age, this one had to juggle too many characters than it really had room for. In the middle of the film, the story unravels into various plots. Each zoo animal is given his or her due, and that muddles the film a bit. Fortunately, things come together in the end.

The only other things that bothered me were the not-too-subtle Lion King references, and some moments that seemed a little too familiar to The Wild, which you might remember is the movie from which the original Madagascar stole its thunder.

Who is gonna like this movie: Families and animation fans.

Grade: B

ROLE MODELS

Studio: Universal

Rated: R for crude and sexual content, strong language and nudity.

Starring: Seann William Scott, Paul Rudd, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Bobb’e J. Thompson, Elizabeth Banks and Jane Lynch

Directed by: David Wain

What it’s about: Seann William Scott and Paul Rudd play Wheeler and Danny, slackers in their 30s who hock energy drink to minors. When Danny’s life seems to fall apart around him, he crashes the energy drink truck, and his ex-girlfriend (Elizabeth Banks) gets them out of jail by hooking them up with community service. Wheeler and Danny are each paired with a misfit child, and over the course of a month, they bond with the kids and learn about themselves. Don’t worry… it’s not as wholesome as it sounds.

What I liked: This is a funny, funny movie. It has some of the best one-liners and comebacks I’ve heard in a long while. And it also has some nice boob shots. (What can I say… I’m a dude. I look for this kind of thing.) We’ve seen these characters before, but they still seem pretty fresh on screen. The cast is pretty excellent, with Scott and Rudd carrying the movie well. But props must be given to their young co-stars. We knew that Christopher Mintz-Plasse was funny when he was McLovin in Superbad, but who knew that Bobb’e J. Thompson could throw down the verbal smack like Eddie Murphy on a cocaine bender?

And one person who should not be forgotten in the film is Jane Lynch. Often falling by the wayside of bigger names, Lynch is hysterical as the off-kilter, former drug addict now running the Sturdy Wings center (a take-off on Big Brothers/Big Sisters). When the movie doesn’t pull it’s punches and goes for the offensive and horribly off-color joke, it’s a winner. It’s what Drillbit Taylor could have been if it were rated R.

What I didn’t: There’s a significant segment of the story that revolves around a LARP (i.e., Live Action Role Playing game). If you don’t know about these things, you’ll get schooled by watching this film. However, the movie doesn’t quite know if it’s making fun of LARPers or giving them some McLovin. Either way, I grew tired of this as a plotline, and I would have liked to have seen something else be the focus.

The only other weak spot is Elizabeth Banks, whose character is pretty boring and two-dimensional. If you’re craving your Elizabeth Banks fix, go see Zack and Miri Make a Porno again (or for the first time). You’d not gonna see her naked, but at least she’s got a better role in that, and you get to hear her talk like a sailor.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone looking for that Apatow-esque R-rated fix.

Grade: B

SOUL MEN

Studio: MGM/Dimension

Rated: R for pervasive language, and sexual content including nudity.

Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Bernie Mac, Sharon Leal, Adam Herschman, Sean Hayes and Isaac Hayes (no relation)

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

What it’s about: Bernie Mac and Samuel L. Jackson star as Floyd Henderson and Louis Hinds, two backup singers from a popular Motown act in the 70s. After the lead went solo, Henderson and Hinds started their own group… and failed. Thirty years later, these former music legends are invited to sing at their former frontman’s funeral, which leads them on a cross-country road trip from Los Angeles to the Apollo Theater in New York.

What I liked: Not a whole lot, to be honest. It’s a shame this is Bernie Mac’s final film (at least in a starring role). Sigh… I guess not everyone can be Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight. Overall, this film is not very funny, and as cool as it is to see Bernie Mac and Sam Jackson share the screen, they aren’t given much to work with.

There are a few positives, including an ending credits tribute to Bernie Mac (with an afterthought nod to Isaac Hayes), which is a bit touching. Plus, there’s a topless, sex-filled cameo of 80s porn legend Vanessa Del Rio. Take that, Robert Fure!

What I didn’t: I respect the hell out of Bernie Mac, but I really didn’t want to spend two hours of my life watching him have old-person sex with a toothless Jennifer Coolidge and get a prostate exam. If that isn’t symbolic of his swan song film, I don’t know what is.

Ultimately, this movie is a train wreck of racial slurs, overused cursing and sappy plot twists. And after seeing it, I know why neither Bernie Mac or Sam Jackson ever had much of a singing career. This film doesn’t even engage its own built-in audience. Case in point, I saw this at a midnight show on Thursday night, and it was just me and another fat white dude in the 400-seat theater. I was there because it was my job. What’s his excuse?

Who is gonna like this movie: Just those folks who need the complete collection of Bernie Mac films.

Grade: D


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