Chris Bender

Chris Bender

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Vacation Review

OK

Both the characters and the tone have been updated as a new generation of Grizwolds hits the road for a raucous holiday, eliminating the darker edges for a sillier, ruder romp. After the four madcap Vacation movies from 1983 to 1997, the focus moves from Chevy Chase's patriarch Clark to his now-grown son Rusty. As with the earlier films, there are so many jokes flying at the screen that some are bound to make us laugh.

Ed Helms is the fifth actor in five films to play Rusty, and now he's got a family of his own. So he decides to give them a holiday to remember, retracing his childhood trip from Chicago to Wally World in California. His wife Debbie (Christina Applegate) isn't so sure about this, but gamely goes along with it, while their bickering teen sons James and Kevin (Skyler Gisondo and Steele Stebbins) settle into the back seat for the long drive. Along the road, they stop at Debbie's old university and learn a few things about her wild reputation. They also visit Rusty's sister Audrey (Leslie Mann) in Texas, where she's married to a swaggering rancher (Chris Hemsworth). And they drop in on Rusty's parents (Chevy Chase and Beverly D'Angelo). In between, every stop brings a new moment of crazed mayhem.

The script is set up as an homage to the original movie, playfully riffing on the structure and set-pieces. Here, the comedy highlights include a dodgy natural hot springs and a death-defying bit of white-water rafting. All of this is infused with a surprisingly warm family dynamic amid constant gags about excrement and genitalia. Miraculously, writer-directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein never get cynical about the Grizwolds. Rusty and Debbie are still hot for each other, while James and Kevin's vicious rivalry only reveals how much they look out for each other. All four actors are solid, with terrific comical timing and likeable performances.

Continue reading: Vacation Review

Horrible Bosses 2 Review


OK

Like The Hangover, Horrible Bosses was a movie no one really wanted to see a sequel to, but here it is anyway: the same film, but even more inane. It is also likely to make plenty of money from audiences looking for mindless entertainment on a Saturday night. Although "mindless" seems almost complimentary when a movie is as idiotic as this one is. There's so little to its plot that the whole film seems to evaporate before the end of the climactic chase scene.

It's been a couple of years since Nick, Kurt and Dale (Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis and Charlie Day) tried to solve their problems by trying to kill their bosses. Instead, they've become inventors, and have just sold their Shower Buddy to a popular catalogue company owned by Bert (Christoph Waltz). They go all out to fill his order, putting their necks on the line, and Bert leaves them hanging there. Faced with the prospect of losing everything, they again consult their criminal pal Jones (Jamie Foxx), who helps them launch a "kidnaping". The idea is to grab Bert's son Rex (Chris Pine) and demand a ransom to cover their debts. But Rex takes over the operation, asking for a lot more cash and causing a lot more chaos. They also run into a couple of their old bosses: sex-crazed Julia (Jennifer Aniston) is still determined to sleep with Dale, while Harken (Kevin Spacey) can still freak them out from behind bars.

Director-writer Anders and cowriter Morris use almost the exact same formula this time, going for laughs in a carefully plotted caper in which everything that can go wrong does. Although instead of merely being inept, these people are all morons. Bateman's Nick is essentially the straight man in the movie, and even he fails to notice that they've borrowed and spent a vast sum of cash without even a simple contract with Bert. Meanwhile, Kurt and Dale are mind-achingly stupid, bungling every single moment so completely that it's hard to see them as functioning adults. Pine isn't much better, but at least we haven't seen this schtick from him before, and he's rather good at it.

Continue reading: Horrible Bosses 2 Review

We're The Millers Review


Good

Consistently amusing but never uproariously funny, this comedy plays it relatively safely by gently subverting our expectations of Aniston and Roberts, while making rising-star Poulter the butt of most jokes. There's just enough rude humour to keep fans of adult-oriented comedies happy, even if the movie continually reveals a squidgy-soft underbelly of sentimentality. But it's fun while it lasts.

The chaos begins when happy small-time Denver pot dealer David (Sudeikis) is robbed, leaving him indebted to his supplier Brad (Helms). Then he's offered a way out: travel to Mexico and collect a "smidge" of weed to smuggle back across the border in an RV. To increase his chances of getting through without an inspection, he creates a fake family from his neighbours: desperate stripper Rose (Aniston), lonely geek Kenny (Poulter) and homeless tough-girl Casey (Roberts). And the fact that they struggle to act like a convincing family is the least of their problems as they're chased by two vicious goons (Sisley and Willig) and befriended by a too-friendly couple (Offerman and Hahn) along the road.

Yes, this is one of those road comedies in which something unexpected happens every step of the way. Sudeikis rides out the film relatively unruffled, while Aniston's big scene is a scorchingly over-the-top striptease performed to distract a drug kingpin. Roberts' only subplot is a silly liaison with a moronic skater (Young). These sequences are carefully calculated to be mildly funny but never embarrassing to the big American stars. On the other hand, acclaimed British actor Poulter (see Son of Rambow and Wild Bill) dives in to his humiliating scenarios with gusto, from an awkward romance with another girl (Quinn) to kissing practice with his "mother" and "sister" to a ghastly spider bite. In the process, he walks off with the whole film.

Continue reading: We're The Millers Review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review


Very Good

While not the laugh riot it could have been, this comedy consistently amuses us with its pastiche characters and silly gags. It threatens to get bogged down in sentiment at a few points along the way, but manages to veer back into something witty just in time. And while none of the characters are quite as classic as Anchorman's Ron Burgundy, it's an entertaining addition to the affectionate-spoof genre, which includes Blades of Glory and Talladega Nights.

The events take place in the sequin-filled world of Las Vegas magicians, where childhood pals Burt and Anton (Carell and Buscemi) have packed out their theatre for 10 years. But their new assistant Jane (Wilde) is surprised to see that it's now performance by numbers for them, and they can barely stand the sight of each other. Meanwhile, the egomaniac Burt won't consider freshening the act even when faced with competition from attention-seeking street magician Steve (Carrey), who's stealing their audience. But the hotel owner (Gandolfini) urges them to try a big stunt themselves. Or maybe they should return to their roots with their old-school mentor Rance (Arkin).

Carell creates a remarkably believable idiot in Burt Wonderstone, an arrogant womaniser who clearly needs to be brought down a peg or two. What's impressive is how likeable he is, even opposite Buscemi's more sympathetic (but less interesting) Anton. Arkin delivers his usual dryly hilarious supporting turn, while Wilde and Gandolfini do little more than play gently with their usual images. By contrast, Carrey's performance is much more broadly comical. He's funny but far too clownish to ever be taken as a serious threat.

Continue reading: The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Review

Arthur Review


OK
In a sea of unnecessary remakes, this rehash of the 1981 comedy seems particularly ill-timed, as it's no longer fun to laugh at irresponsible drunks, especially when they're billionaires. But it's just about watchable.

Pampered rich boy-man Arthur Bach (Brand) has finally pushed his mother (James) too far. Head of a multinational conglomerate, she tells him he'll lose his inheritance if he doesn't marry the shark-like Susan (Garner), daughter of a property tycoon (Nolte). In a perpetual state of womanising drunkenness, Arthur is propped up by the only two people who like him: long-suffering nanny Hobson (Mirren) and patient chauffer Bitterman (Guzman). Then as he agrees to marry Susan, he finds himself falling for quirky tour guide Naomi (Gerwig).

Continue reading: Arthur Review

Leap Year Review


OK
Neither funny nor original enough to really register, this breezy little film will only really entertain those who haven't seen very many rom-coms, and therefore can't predict every single scene. Although the cast members just about emerge with their dignity intact.

Anna (Adams) is an energetic professional woman in Boston with the perfect heart-surgeon boyfriend in Jeremy (Scott). Except that he won't propose to her.

So when he heads for Dublin to attend a conference, she decides that, since it's a leap year, she'll surprise him there and ask him to marry her, a proposal that tradition says he can't refuse. But the journey goes all wrong, and she ends up on the road with scruffy, cantankerous, gorgeous Irishman Declan (Goode). Gosh, what could possibly happen?

Continue reading: Leap Year Review

The Ruins Review


Very Good
Watch out, Martha Stewart! Not even your garden tools can stop the predators in The Ruins, a Hollywood adaptation of Scott Smith's novel. They aren't mummies, pharaohs, or cannibalistic tribesman, but killer flowers: They may seem innocent, but when reaching out to touch them, watch out for razor-sharp teeth and toxic venom.

No, this isn't a comedy like Little Shop of Horrors, but a shocking and disturbing experience that slaughters any comedic notions audiences may have after realizing they're watching a movie about killer flowers. Does the sight of a girl cutting herself open and pulling plants from her wounds make you cringe? Then prepare for one of the most unsettling horror films of the year.

Continue reading: The Ruins Review

Just Friends Review


OK
I like Ryan Reynolds. I like Anna Faris. I'm befuddled why Amy Smart hasn't become the 21st century version of Meg Ryan. All three star in Just Friends, and they are all likable, with Reynolds and Faris showing deft comic timing. It's too bad the script doesn't just let them down, it leaves them for dead.

The movie starts in 1995. Chris (Reynolds) and Jamie (Smart) are childhood friends, who have just graduated high school. Chris chooses the night of her graduation party to confess his love for her. Long story short, Chris's love for Jamie gets broadcast for everyone to hear, and she responds by telling Jamie that she loves him. Like a brother.

Continue reading: Just Friends Review

Monster-in-Law Review


Good
Somebody help me - I'm turning into Roger Ebert. The household film critic for the Chicago Sun-Times typically grades on a curve when it comes to Jennifer Lopez and her on-screen endeavors, bestowing favorable grades on films that colleagues (and crowds) have panned. Granted, every critic is entitled to their opinion, but Ebert's grades for Jersey Girl (three stars), The Cell (a perfect four stars) and Anaconda (three-and-a-half stars) seem generous to a fault.

I'm nowhere near ready to join Mr. Ebert on the J-Lo bandwagon (with her entourage, there might not be room), but I will defend the starlet's turn in Monster-In-Law. The film embraces the traditional romantic comedy formula Lopez routinely gravitates toward, but it's skillfully guided to a predetermined finish by director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde), who kneads the doughy concoction like a prize-winning baker preparing a four-layer cake.

Continue reading: Monster-in-Law Review

American Wedding Review


Good
That wacky American Pie crew is back -- er, a handful of them, anyway -- for a lackluster third and undoubtedly final outing with sex, pie, and ice cream. Okay, there's no pie or ice cream.

Picking up three years after American Pie 2, we find pastry-loving Jim (Jason Biggs) and band-camper Michelle (Alyson Hannigan) graduating from college and still in love. A wedding is deemed in order, which brings back Jim's pals Kevin (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Finch (Eddie Kaye Thomas), and Stifler (Seann William Scott) to plan the blessed event. Of course, any married man knows that no wedding in history has ever been organized by three hapless guys, and when the crew drives three hours to Chicago to buy Michelle a wedding dress (huh!?) you know we're in for an old-fashioned round of Spot the Plot Device.

Continue reading: American Wedding Review

Chris Bender

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Chris Bender Movies

Vacation Movie Review

Vacation Movie Review

Both the characters and the tone have been updated as a new generation of Grizwolds...

Horrible Bosses 2 Movie Review

Horrible Bosses 2 Movie Review

Like The Hangover, Horrible Bosses was a movie no one really wanted to see a...

We're the Millers Movie Review

We're the Millers Movie Review

Consistently amusing but never uproariously funny, this comedy plays it relatively safely by gently subverting...

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Movie Review

The Incredible Burt Wonderstone Movie Review

While not the laugh riot it could have been, this comedy consistently amuses us with...

Arthur Movie Review

Arthur Movie Review

In a sea of unnecessary remakes, this rehash of the 1981 comedy seems particularly ill-timed,...

Leap Year Movie Review

Leap Year Movie Review

Neither funny nor original enough to really register, this breezy little film will only really...

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Monster-in-Law Movie Review

Monster-in-Law Movie Review

Somebody help me - I'm turning into Roger Ebert. The household film critic for the...

American Wedding Movie Review

American Wedding Movie Review

That wacky American Pie crew is back -- er, a handful of them, anyway --...

Cheats Movie Review

Cheats Movie Review

A bunch of rotten kids cheat their way through school, despite threats from principal Mary...

Red Eye Movie Review

Red Eye Movie Review

Horror director Wes Craven has had his share of hits and misses. His strongest work...

A History Of Violence Movie Review

A History Of Violence Movie Review

Those well schooled in the history of cinema (or who've just seen a movie or...

The Butterfly Effect Movie Review

The Butterfly Effect Movie Review

Ashton Kutcher is a goofball. There are no two ways about it. From bumbling around...

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