Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: August 5, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr heads into a lab to liberate some apes, but they rise up, beat him down and fling their poo all over him. He washes up and heads home to his family, secretly longing for the swinging lifestyle of fellow FSR staffers like Neil Miller, Robert Fure and Rob Hunter.

But since he doesn’t get a chance to pee in a fountain with any of them, he doesn’t get a chance to switch bodies with them, a la The Change-Up. This is probably a good thing because few people can take the awesomessness of his body.

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Rated: PG-13 for intense and frightening sequences of action and violence

Starring: James Franco, Tom Felton, Andy Serkis, Brian Cox and Freida Pinto

Directed by: Rupert Wyatt

What it’s about: James Franco plays a brilliant scientist (go with me on this… it’s a work of fiction, after all) who is developing a drug to heal damaged cells for treatment of Alzheimer’s and other brain dysfunctions. After testing the drug on apes, one particular subject – a chimpanzee named Caesar – shows remarkable results. Soon Caesar becomes the smartest ape on the planet, and after a string of bad decisions by his human captors, he leads an ape revolution.

What I liked: While I have tons of respect for the original 1968 film Planet of the Apes, it’s still soaked with 60s cheese. I generally get annoyed when people grumble about how the book is superior than the film, but Planet of the Apes is one where I do this. Pierre Boulle’s original novel tells the story so much better. Still, I enjoyed the original movie.

And apparently the people behind Rise of the Planet of the Apes did as well. This film has tons of references and inside jokes to the original series, which makes it fun for anyone who has recently watched them.

But beyond inside jokes and homage to the original, Rise of the Planet of the Apes is an extremely impressive bit of filmmaking. I’m a sucker for films about a scientists trying to make the world a better place but ends up causing irreparable harm after a string of bad decisions (proof of this point comes from the fact that I ranked Splice as my third favorite film of 2010). This film delivers that. You see all the bad things coming, and the characters just play right into it. Sure, this often borders on cliche, but it’s fun in the context of the film

The human element is fine, with Franco’s character bending the scientific rules to help heal his father (John Lithgow) of his Alzheimer’s. However, the real star of this film is Andy Serkis, whom most people will recognize as the face behind the face of Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. The ape effects are fantastic, and the performances really come out in those scenes. James Franco et al are just supporting characters in a bigger film about apes, whom you really can get behind.

What I didn’t: It’s hard to walk that fine line between an homage and corniness. For the most part, Rise of the Planet of the Apes does that. However, it still has plenty of moments where you might roll your eyes. As I said previously, these all fall in the moments with the human characters – like the ridiculous premise of Franco as a brilliant scientist or Freida Pinto as the unnaturally gorgeous vet tech who falls inexplicably in love with him. Or the fact that none of the human characters seem to age over the course of the film, which spans the better part of a decade.

Also, as excellent as the special effects are, there are plenty of moments where the images break down. Sure, it’s still a long way from Roddy McDowell in a monkey mask, but it can take you out of the film from time to time when you can tell the apes exist entirely in the digital domain.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the series and people who like a good cautionary sci-fi tale.

Grade: A

Studio: Universal

Rated: R for pervasive strong crude sexual content and language, some graphic nudity and drug use

Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Jason Bateman, Leslie Mann, Olivia Wilde and Alan Arkin

Directed by: David Dobkin

What it’s about: Jason Bateman plays Dave, a husband, lawyer and father of three. He’s been on the straight and narrow for years, which is different than his best friend Mitch (Ryan Reynolds), who is still living the party life and doing nothing with his life. When Dave and Mitch wish for each other’s life, their wish is granted and they switch bodies, leaving them to try to live each other’s life before they can switch back.

What I liked: This seems to be the summer for R-rated comedies, which were starting to be a thing of the past until a couple year ago. It’s nice to see them making a return, even if they aren’t in a perfect film. And The Change-Up is far from a perfect film.

However, it does have some laughs in it. Both Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds are funny guys, and they have a handle on their characters. Were it not for their performances, the film would be excruciating. However, their delivery makes it watchable. In particular, they can carry the gutter humor while offering some real empathy for the characters. Just look at Reynolds’ eyes when he’s the character of Dave in Mitch’s skin on the set of a movie. Trust me, you’ll have to see this one to understand what I’m talking about.

There’s also a nice dose of nudity and raunchy humor. Leslie Mann plays the same kind of character she’s done a dozen times before in her real-life husband Judd Apatow’s films, but at least she shows her boobs in this one. Olivia Wilde isn’t as generous as Mann is, but there is still a nice underwear scene to enjoy. Do I feel like a misogynist for calculating these actresses worth by how much skin they show? Perhaps, but that’s their main contribution to this film.

In the end, The Change-Up is nothing more than a raunchy Freaky Friday with dudes. But it has some laughs, and you could do a lot worse this summer.

What I didn’t: While there are funny moments in this movie – and quite a few of them for the record – throughout the film the jokes and gags are forced. The bottom line is that Mitch is presented as such a blithering idiot at several points in the film that it’s impossible to believe he can be so stupid.

The Change-Up is a stretch… a real stretch. In fact, it stretches the concepts and jokes almost to a breaking point. It’s not so bad that it makes the movie bad to watch. But depending on the settings of your bullshit meter, it could get tripped several times throughout the flick.

Finally, like too many movies, The Change-Up can’t resist being too sweet. After hitting guttural jokes through and through, it tries to have a heart. In a way, this works, but it’s heavy handed and a far cry from the balance that director David Dobkin achieved in Wedding Crashers.

Who is gonna like this movie: Fans of the 2011 summer R-rated comedies.

Grade: B-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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