War Dogs ***

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If War Dogs, The Hangover director Todd Phillips‘s new war dramedy is meant to entertain in his distinctive bromance-worshipping way, then it serves its purpose as it follows the highs and lows of a volatile male-on-male relationship. Indeed, it does rely heavily on its stars Jonah Hill and Miles Teller’s chemistry, plus a generous dollop of Hill expectation as the actor has made ‘cuddly’ sociopathic characters his new forte.

David Packouz (Teller) is a male masseuse for the rich who is trying to get enough money together before wife Iz (Ana de Armas) gives birth. When he sinks all their savings into a stock pile of luxury cotton sheets and fails to sell these to Miami’s old-people’s homes, his unlikely ‘saviour’, unscrupulous old school chum Efraim Diveroli (Hill) appears on the scene with a proposition that could make him rich quick.

David can join the small-time arms trade and become a ‘War Dog’ like Efraim, looking for the crumbs – small arms contracts touted online by the US Government – and bid on them. As the money starts flowing in, the mother of all arms deals comes up – a 300 million dollar contract to arm the Military to the teeth in Afghanistan. That’s when the problems begin and the whole operation unravels, as the War Dogs must rely on elusive, Grade-A War Dog, Henry Girard (Bradley Cooper) to get a shipment out of Albania.

As the story goes, this is Hill as Efraim’s big moment, his very own The Wolf on Wall Street’s Jordan Belfort, completely absorbing with his maniacal, high-pitched laugh that both delights and disturbs. Hill ought to be commended for making the film bigger than it actually deserves to be. We never like his character and are waiting for him to do the dirty – well, we get told he will throughout. However, we do relate to the lure of his naked ambition. In fact, his character is far more intriguing than Teller’s, even though we are forced to believe the latter; David is our constant narrator and seems to get into more bother in the plot. Teller does as great a job with what he’s got to work with.

The film does miss a trick in being blacker than it is, merely dabbling in the dark side but swiftly returning to safety when the central rocky bromance waivers. We are meant to care about this relationship, even though we don’t quite buy it. Even Cooper’s shady middle-man arms dealer is just not threatening enough to give the film more of a sadistic edge it needs. Ironic, as at the start, David has a gun pointed to his head, setting up the high stakes of the dangerous war game they are in. We never get a real sense of that, which is a shame.

That said there is an infectious, erratic ‘goofiness’ to all the boys’ dealings that totally entertains, like two young city traders dabbling in dealings way over their heads. It tries to be a mix of The Lord of War, The Big Short and a Scorsese gangster buddy film, without really delving into what actually makes the characters tick – apart from the money. Indeed, even de Armas is left hanging, supposedly our moral compass but going off piste all the time – one minute appalled by David’s new business venture, the next supportive as it pays the bills. She just comes across as the typical, irrational (try gullible) new mum, all hormonal, and hardly a decent female character worth remembering. At least The Wolf’s Margot Robbie character doesn’t lie down and take it from her Wall Street rogue.

War Dogs is far from perfect and a wannabe imitation of a Scorsese film it aspires to be – queue the characters’ references throughout. However, Phillips has started ‘something’ of interest here, if he can just combine his skill of crafting bromances with a more developed and pitch-black comedic script in the near future. For now, there are enough laughs with Hill and Teller in action to make War Dogs highly watchable – especially Hill, plus it raises some interesting talking points of global government corruption. This is hardly shocking, but will have you shaking your head all the same at the cost of the ‘war business’.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Last Vegas ***

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Jon Turteltaub’s Last Vegas is obviously pitched as a ‘mature’ The Hangover with a crowd-pleasing, all-star cast of Michael Douglas, Robert De Niro, Morgan Freeman and Kevin Kline, and Mary Steenburgen as the love interest. It has the potential of being quite a geriatric farce, and there are parts that are very funny in a sort of ‘ah, bless them’ afterthought. Much of the rest is not so much comfortably entertaining but sometimes a little flat. That said, each actor brings an element of what makes him uniquely special on the big screen, and that’s the key to the film’s box office success, not the story itself.

Billy (Douglas) is a wealthy, sixty-something playboy who is set to marry a woman half his age. He wants to have his bachelor party in Sin City but his circle of childhood friends, Paddy (De Niro), Archie (Freeman) and Sam (Kline), remains broken after a long-standing feud between him and Paddy who fell out over a girl. The group manage to reunite nevertheless, and give their friend a weekend to remember.

Like The Hangover, the four use the time away from worrying family members to let loose, except this film has none of the outrageous high jinx of the former, more age-comparison gags a plenty. True, there is a certain poignancy to the whole affair of how quickly time passes so cherish youth, and watching the ‘oldies’ in more youthful situations has its obvious amusement factor and is done in a respectful, almost cynically observed manner. The funniest of the bunch is Freeman who seems to use the opportunity to let his own hair down, with a particularly hilarious dancing scene at a nightclub – sadly, the trailer features part of that punchline.

Last Vegas has no less bromance to enjoy, with the moral of the story being the importance of friendship overriding everything. The same ideals surface where certain members rediscover themselves after having the space to release, but some of those ‘releases’ are naturally predictable, such as the mandatory babes-in-bikinis parade and Viagra jokes. It’s perhaps the fault of writer Dan Fogelman for not coming up with more unique scenarios for the boys to find themselves in, even though he does play to the screen personas of each actor. It’s all very safe in that respect, which seems a tragic waste of legendary talent.

Still, Last Vegas has some old-timers we love to watch and the opportunity for them to get a little naughty and decadent (for their age), even if you do wish for more absurdity.

3/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Project X ****

Imagine throwing the party you’ve always dreamed of in a venue primed for purpose – pesky neighbours and law enforcement aside. Imagine all the coolest people attending and dancing to some kick-ass tunes. It’s the stuff of decadent dreams that this out-of-control juggernaut feeds off, tapping into a real deep-rooted deviance from our days of youthful carefree living. After all, someone else can pay later; it’s all about tonight and now. And for The Hangover fans – director Todd Phillips produces this time – there is an even greater sense of the party boys being plunged into the virtual unknown that’s vibrant to watch. It’s also a stark lesson in the perils of social media – phone hacking aside.

Three ‘invisible’ High School seniors, Thomas, Costa and JB – acting unknowns Thomas Mann, Oliver Cooper and Jonathan Daniel Brown respectably – get Thomas’s family home to themselves for a weekend while his parents are away. They plan to celebrate Thomas’s 17th birthday in style with a ‘few’ people over. Trouble is no one knows (or cares) that they really exist – expect perhaps Thomas’s female childhood friend, Kirby (Kirby Bliss Blanton). Cocksure Costa decides to spread the word around the school, all caught on first-person camera by mysterious operator Dax (played by Dax Flame who we hear rather than see for most of he film). However, what starts out as a few people turns into an absolute riot as things spiral out of control and word of the party spreads, the likes of which the quiet, family suburb of Pasadena has never seen before.

If you enter into this film’s environment shirking all grown-up inhibitions and mundane responsibilities at the door you’ll get the most out of it. Curiously, as a result, there is a nagging sense of conscience that develops as things escalate. Birthday boy Thomas is our prompter of this throughout the film and our link with some form of order, before he’s sucked into the chaos that grows. Project X does start out like any other high school ‘loser’ flick where we’re expected to rally behind the misfits – however misogynistic and revolting they may appear, purely because everyone likes an underdog to triumph and gain popularity.

Like a YouTube video that can be watched only once for full, fresh effect, Project X is a collective experience, and is not trying to be another American Pie or Superbad, contrary to critics: There are no clever gags from the latter or slapstick, coming-of-age set-pieces. This film attempts to deliver a feasible self-documenting style favoured by a lot of cult films at the moment – like Chronicle, adding plausible scenarios to the mix like a rampant party virus. Thankfully, there is no migraine inducing 88-minutes worth of shaky hand-held footage either for those still reeling from their Cloverfield experience.

It’s abundantly clear to see debut feature director Nima Nourizadeh’s pedigree in pop videos and commercials from its style, with some scenes of nubile young ladies jigging up and down in slow-mo like on some continuous MTV rap-video playlist – and bad boy Eminen plays out the end credits. Nourizadeh actually mixes and matches a variety of filmic styles to portray different emotions within a first-person view. As for plot, it attempts at mini subplots and does suffer from the unavoidable genre clichés. There is also a gnawing sense of what’s happened to the rest of the neighbourhood; have they all gone deaf when the law fails to curb the revellers’ enthusiasm after an earlier warning? The film also has its token nutty oddballs, like a security measure.

That said Mann, Cooper and Brown are excellent as newcomers in different ways: Cooper is blessed with great comic delivery sure to get him noticed by the extended Apatow gang for future projects. Mann is reminiscent of some vulnerable, gangly, guilt-ridden Michael Cera or Jesse Eisenberg, but devoid of clever retorts in this and simply tasked with ‘playing your average naïve kid’ in an escalating situation.

As for the music, any clubber will be downloading the soundtrack as soon as it becomes available, as true to his music video roots, Nourizadeh makes sure the visuals match the tracks, and the beat like some war cry for a ‘forgotten generation’ carries on pulsing like a life force, growing in size and fearlessness. This dramatically energises events more, and is a big part of the film’s impact.

Overall Project X is one guilty pleasure, mindless escapism that offers some mixed – and some unexpected – messages at the end that make for alarming but intriguing post-viewing debate. Naturally, some will question the responsibility of the filmmakers themselves. Not sure if the ‘what happens next’ histories are necessary, as well as the soggy ‘after-party’ souvenir. But you’ll be glad you got the invite and had the time of your life – without suffering the hangover from hell – watching a film that will divide opinion.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon 3D ****

Director Michael Bay’s 3D battle is finally upon us this week, as Autobots and Decepticons clash once more in one almighty final confrontation on Earth – well, Chicago, actually. After being rather impressed by Paramount’s recent preview of an assortment of 15 minutes worth of 3D footage from the film and its trailer, there was some intrepidation and a lot of cynicism about how the rest of the film would fair. Rest assured though, as this reviewer stands by her previous comment: Bay has tamed the 3D beast to his advantage, and used it to distinguish the bots in the visual eyeball assault that his previous efforts were guilty of. Transformers: Dark Side of the Moon 3D also has a credible plot this time, too – which is more than can be said for Victoria’s Secret’s model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley’s acting abilities.

In this episode, the Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon that holds the key to rebuilding their planet. However, it’s a space race against sworn enemies, the Decepticons to reach it first. But the problems really begin once Optimus Prime unlocks the secret on Earth, and must rely on human friend Sam Witwicky (Shia LaBeouf) to help save his Autobots and the human race from destruction.

The film’s 3D works for two main reasons. First, Bay slows the pace down enough for the audience to decipher a scene’s action moments – although Transformers 3D still suffers from the occasional carnage overkill at times. Second, Bay uses a lot of depth of field in his shots, and the technology emphasises this well, producing a detailed composition of foreground, middle-ground and background detail, right into the horizon in some cases. In fact, it’s the first film this reviewer would recommend seeing in 3D, just to draw the bots out of the scenery as the fights commence.

Gone are the whip-pans of Bay’s past films as he concerns himself with immersing us fully into the frame, and hence setting up the situation before imposing the action on us in the impatient fashion of past. That said his jumpy editing style is still evident, and parts of the film don’t quite marry together, with others seemingly pointless – such as his parents’ daft arrival in a Winnebago (like something out if Meet the Fockers), purely to tell Sam to hold onto his girl and make the usual inappropriate and embarrassing parental comments about his love life.

The long-awaited ‘squirrel-suited’ skydiving marines chase scene in full doesn’t disappoint as they plunge headfirst into the city below. But it’s the soaring chase set pieces as the flying mechanical enemy fire at the marines that are truly spectacular on the 3D big screen, and can only be watched for full effect in this way. The crumbling building moments that are reminiscent of Roland Emmerich’s apocalyptic 2012, but also benefit from a 3D injection of enveloping dimension to relay the full vertigo effect.

As for the characters, no Transformers film would be complete without LaBeouf as Sam defying all sharp flying objects and incredible odds to save the day – along with lean, ever-ready fighting machines Josh Duhamel and Tyrese Gibson. LaBeouf has grown into the hero role and brings a more compelling and mature Sam to the table in this, without losing any of his cheeky side.

Nevertheless, there are a whole bunch of completely zany and quite eccentric new characters this time, including The Hangover’s Mr Chow, Ken Jeong as Jerry, a scientist of sorts who is woefully underused, John Turturro returning as a wealthier Simmons, totally deranged and with German superstar sidekick, Dutch, played by Alan Tudyk, and Frances McDormand as the slightly unhinged Secret Service head, Mearing, who all gleefully play their roles with a sizable portion of hammy theatrics and lunacy. It feels like a blend of superhero comic caricatures at times, before you return to events concerning the metal alien friends, who humbly share the screen with these larger-than-life humans. However, the biggest head-scratcher is the use of John Malkovich as Sam’s yellow-loving boss, Bruce Brazos, a Zen freak with pearly-white nashers who mysteriously disappears from the picture without any explanation at all.

The annoyance factor this time comes not in the form of headache-inducing special effects, but Huntington-Whiteley. Admittedly, you can appreciate a very attractive female set against a throbbing motor in a film. But Bay squeezes out every last drop of his Brit acting protégé to the point of insanity, as Huntington-Whiteley as Carly, Sam’s new girlfriend, pouts for England, like one long commercial, silhouetted against the glowing haze for all to see – yet again, and again, and again. Megan Fox was also hired for eye candy purposes, but at least the opinionated former Transformers’ starlet could ‘act’ (in the loosest sense, of course). Huntington-Whiteley is appalling – far worse than expected for such an easy-on-the-eye role in an action film, like she’s in constant catwalk mode. Once you’ve seen Bay’s lingering shots up and down her figure a few times, there’s very little else going on behind those glazed doe eyes for film purposes. In fact, there isn’t the same spark with LaBeouf as with the Foxy One, up to the point that we really don’t care if Carly survives or not, any more than we do about ‘throwaway character’ Dylan, played by Patrick Dempsey, her suave boss who sides with the Decepticons.

For big-screen entertainment value, you can’t go wrong with the third in the series. Dark Side of the Moon is designed to be cooed at in 3D and give you a thrilling alien battle on Earth, with one momentous face-off at the end. With lots of nods to other legendary sci-fi films – listen out for a classic Dr. Spock line, TR3 is still an overly-lengthy feature, but is by far the best Transformers film to date, and the first 3D film to get excited about.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Bridesmaids *****

The biggest mistake you can make is to dismiss Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids as yet another pre-wedding ‘chick flick’, along the lines of 27 Dresses. An even bigger one is writing it off as simply a ‘female Hangover’ – even though contrary to critic sentiment, the lads in Bangkok are riding high at No.2 slot in the UK box office. In this sense, there’s still plenty of mileage left in stag/hen comedy. The problem Bridesmaids has is its goofy, snappy trailer could never do justice to the excellent timing and delivery that’s right on the mark.

Bridesmaids sees Annie (Kristen Wiig) picked as her best friend Lillian’s (Maya Rudolph) maid of honour. Although happy for her, it highlights what’s missing from Annie’s life, and she soon discovers just how much pressure is involved helping organise Lillian’s big day, including the hen night. Things don’t help when you’re lovelorn and broke and have an annoyingly perfect and rich girlfriend of Lillian’s (Rose Byrne) hell bent on upstaging you. It looks like Annie is going to have to bluff her way through the expensive and bizarre rituals with an oddball group of bridesmaids.

As co-writer, star Wiig is the perfect choice for the lead of Annie because she knows her material and can play down extraordinary moments of madness. After popping up on international radar as potty-mouthed Ruth Buggs in Paul – Americans will know her better from SNL, it feels as though this is Wiig’s true moment to shine. She’s helped co-pen a comedy where women are finally not just pretty, witty appendages, but damn funny as hell. The writing is razor-sharp and targeted at both sexes – and yes, more males than females were howling with laughter in our screening. It also helps that Wiig is pitch-perfect, with one of the best and most hilarious post-sex conversations with Jon Hamm as her cocky ‘f**kbuddy” in an opening clincher in a long time.

The visual gags never overstay their screen welcome but add just enough to portray any given situation, or enhance it further. Wiig and co have thought long hard about the length of other set pieces in a film, too, with some resorting to toilet humour. But it’s delivered in a more heartfelt and meaningful manner – if that’s possible – that has you screwing your face up in disgust while crying with laughter in sympathy, such as the infamous food poisoning scenes. It’s as though the all-female writing team – that includes Annie Mumolo (the nervous woman on the plane next to Annie in the film) – has taken traditionally male-focused humour and given it purpose.

One the biggest stars to shine in this is Melissa McCarthy of Samantha Who? fame who, no stranger to weighty issues in her roles, is man-hungry ‘government agent’ and Lillian’s future sister-in-law, tomboy Megan, who doesn’t let anything or anyone bring her down. The comic timing between her and Wiig is genius, slowing down the pace to capture a poignant moment, before ramping it up again – and no one will forget Megan’s meat sandwich moment at the end in a hurry. In fact, Byrne is also brilliant as uptight Helen, Annie’s nemesis, with her most memorable – and the film’s never-ending – scene opposite Wiig at the engagement party.

Non-US talent both shines and flickers. On the plus side, Chris O’Dowd is like a less-overbearing Irish Seth Rogen as Officer Nathan Rhodes, Annie’s love interest. He treads a finer, more endearing line as Rhodes, and although seems like an unlikely union with Wiig, matches her deadpan wit and delivery as one of the most compelling rom-com pairings in recent years – by the way, this is the only rom-com element as Bridesmaids avoids most of the genre clichés, until the very end that is. On the downside, the scenes with Little Britain’s Matt Lucas and Aussie actress Rebel Wilson as Annie’s flatmates seem relatively pointless, adding nothing to the story. It’s as though Wiig fancied having Lucas in it, so wrote him in. As these scenes are brief, they don’t detract from the overall entertainment value.

Bridesmaids is THE best unisex night out at the cinema you’ll have in ages – this is the best proposal yet, and an invite you shouldn’t decline.

5/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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WATCH THE TRAILER HERE

Cedar Rapids ****

‘We’re all just selling something’ is the weighty moral of Youth In Revolt director Miguel Arteta’s new coming-of-age comedy, and without the intriguing (and unlikely) pairing of Ed Helms and John C. Reilly, it could be argued that marketing a film about a naïve insurance salesman from small-town, Midwest America who discovers himself on a business trip would be a hard sell in itself. But Cedar Rapids has that endearing indie ingredient: the triumph of the underdog. Who better than The Hangover’s star Helms – who plays respectable but uptight and hapless Stu in the hit 2009 comedy – to take the helm in this buddy story, what with the anticipated forthcoming sequel out in May. Cedar Rapids is not only Helms ‘warm up’ act to the former, but also a solid leading-man effort.

Cedar Rapids sees Helms as 34-year-old insurance agent Tim Lippe who has worked in insurance all his life and has never left his tiny hometown of Brown Valley, Wisconsin. After the controversial death of his company’s top salesman, Tim must travel to the ‘hotbed of debauchery’, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, for the annual ASMI insurance convention, with the aim of winning the coveted ‘two-diamonds’ award that his company has bagged three years in a row. However, even though it’s all smiles, hearty backslaps and fun team-building exercises, something rotten lies at its core, and it takes the distraction of a trio of convention veterans (played by Reilly, Anne Heche and Isiah Whitlock Jr.) to make a real man out of by-the-book Tim, as well as expose the convention’s uglier side.

Helms comfortably takes on the kind of good-hearted geek role we normally associate with Steve Carell – Tim is merely a thirtysome clone of Carell’s 40 Year Old Virgin, a lovable man-child full of virtue. As such a character is a rarity in today’s jaded world, there’s always something appealing about getting to see the world still through childlike eyes. For the immature humour in this film to work, though, it requires reminiscing back to the deviant glee of the classroom innocent finally getting their hands dirty.

However, Arteta doesn’t just put Tim up for ridicule, but he gives him a strong set of values that we all aspire to and eventually wins all over, making him more layered than first depicted. In fact, as Tim is the ‘immature kid’ – as highlighted by his odd and slightly uncomfortable sexual relationship with his former teacher, Ms Vanderhei (Sigourney Weaver), we tend to forgive him more as he spins off the rails. Indeed, Arteta’s character isn’t that different from other small-town, wide-eyed ones of past films (including Steve Zahn’s unforgettable role in Management), but he has a disarming charm and a refreshing lack of baggage, so is content with his lot and very easy to like. But Tim is by no means an angel, and like an exploring teen, Helms expertly brings out his silly, serious and fearful side as he encounters the pitfalls of ‘adult’ life.

Helms by no means carries the film alone. Arteta again develops a set of quirky characters that we can really get behind, as they experience their own personal highs and lows. That said Reilly, Heche and Whitlock Jr. to some extent play character types we’ve seen them in before, though merely play to their strengths. Reilly is loud, brash ‘Ziegler’ who’s nursing a broken heart. Heche is independent (but married), adventurous and smart Joan ‘O Fox’ Ostrowski-Fox who is charmed by Tim, and Whitlock Jr. is the voice of reason. Although initially mocking Tim, whilst playing up to certain stereotypes and scenarios in the film that induce a couple of groans, they all learn new things about themselves and each other while stepping out of their comfort zones. It’s their evolution that’s probably more interesting than Tim’s as they reinvent themselves.

Expect the decadent running jokes and lowbrow smutty antics, but moments of sobering clarity, and you’ll not be disappointed with Arteta’s oddball bunch of characters in Cedar Rapids. You do root for all these misfits in the end, even after they show some less than impressive personality traits – and you need to stay for the end credits, as is becoming the norm these days, like some lazy plot after-thought. This crowd-pleaser is not Arteta’s defining piece, but its feel-good nature and big heart bolster your spirits.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Limitless ****

Imagine popping a pill that triggers total memory recall and information intake to allow you to achieve whatever you want in life. Sounds like superhuman power, the ultimate aphrodisiac, perhaps? But with such power come responsibility and an ugly side. This is the idea behind The Illusionist’s Neil Burger’s new psychological thriller, Limitless, starring The Hangover’s Bradley Cooper as failing writer Eddie and cinema stalwart Robert De Niro as a financial guru who wants to tap into Eddie’s new monetary potential.

The concept is cinematic gold that could go either way. Burger takes us on Eddie’s whirlwind journey, leading us through what’s going on in his mind when he’s intoxicated, as well as following his increasingly erratic actions. There are some compelling and beautifully seamless vortex shots as we ‘tunnel’ at speed though cars and buildings in a continuous travelling shot through the sights of New York. Burger also attempts to distinguish between ‘reality’ and Eddie’s NZT-drug-induced state by blurring the edges of the frame in a fish-eye lens effect that is often rendered unnoticeable to help confused matters and obscure the difference between ‘real’ and ‘high’ Eddie. Visually, the film is stunning, with grittier cinematography in the lows and glossier in the highs.

Such a film still needs a strong main character, and Cooper gets his opportunity in his first leading man role, virtually carrying every scene in a more serious affair than his usual supporting ‘buddy’ roles. Cooper excels in this, possibly because he is such a likeable personality who is believable as a success or a failure. Indeed, as we easily warm to him, we instantly root for Eddie throughout the story, even though the character is not always a likeable one and does some questionable acts. As Eddie’s primary goal is to make a comfortable future for him and his girlfriend, Lindy, commendably played by Abbie Cornish, we somehow excuse some of his more dubious decisions, and empathise with his weaker moments. Cooper also keeps Eddie as grounded as possible – ironic in a film about drugs, making sure Eddie never ventures into total arrogance and decadence that we lose our faith in him. It’s a demanding role that Cooper admirably makes his own.

This film is by no means condoning drug use, although suggesting all material problems can be solved by a super pill is borderline controversial. What the story sinisterly proposes, though, is Eddie remains physically and mentally vulnerable after encountering the drug. Hence the message, ‘say no to drugs’ stills triumphs. Furthermore, the compelling final standoff between Eddie and De Niro’s character, Van Loon, certainly implies drugs are not the answer, but there is ample scope for debate in this parting meeting that is bursting with inferences. Cooper as Eddie again demonstrates his rise in the acting ranks with some memorable boardroom confrontations opposite De Niro, who gives his usual impeccable performance in this.

Mirroring the good and bad points of drug taking – the pharmaceutical face and origin behind NZT is intriguingly absent in this film, all the main characters are shown in a good and bad light. Lindy appears to be an innocent victim, but could equally be criticised for only taking Eddie back when the affluent effects of the drug become apparent. Even the stereotypical baddie, Russian gangster Gennady, brilliantly played by the terrifying Andrew Howard of recent I Spit on Your Grave fame, may well be a brutal thug, but his goals are much the same as Eddie’s. Therefore, in the long run, is he any worse a character than the writer?

The escalation of greed is a major factor in the film, and the unsettling aspiration of always wanting more – the ugly side of the American Dream – is rife. Another fascinating implication is how many other people in power are on the wonder drug, which gradually comes to light as the plot thickens. This stays as the film’s enthralling revelation for the viewer that combined with the frantic pace, triggers the old grey matter in an analytical approach.

Stylish, cerebral, dynamic and packed with star talent, Burger competently further stamps his presence in the psychological film realm with Limitless, whilst showing a healthy new talent and detailed respect for action-based film-making.

4/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

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Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son – 1*

You need to pity Martin Lawrence, you really do. Imagine knowing after the second, no, the first film that the franchise you’ve signed up to is a right stinker, and you have to make a third to keep the money men happy. But hey, let’s change the title of the third to fool those who were less than enamoured with the second by dropping any reference to it being ‘Number 3’. Still, third time lucky, as they say?

Well, sadly, no. Big Mommas: Like Father Like Son (as there are two ‘nicely covered’ ladies in it this time) is still moronic, chauvinistic, clichéd, and just not funny – and staggeringly less so than the first two. Lawrence still plays FBI agent Malcolm Turner who continues to run around in a fat suit impersonating a morbidly obese granny, in order to catch criminals. Questions spring to mind: Have the criminal masterminds not cottoned onto the fact that Big Momma is Turner’s alter ego by now, especially when, as in this story, there’s a leak in the Federal building? Do they not wonder how this hefty dame manages to pole-vault over furniture at record speed?

We are saved from one thing, though; Lawrence as Big Momma has stopped salivating over beautiful young women in their panties, but has past on the defective gene to his equally horny (and somewhat corny) son called Trent, played by super fly Brandon T. Jackson of Percy Jackson fame. There is an amusing repertoire going on between them, perhaps, but unless you’re a ‘street’ teen down with the urban vibe, you’ll need subtitles to work out what the devil’s being said first. Maybe it’s the not ‘dope’ Brit in me, and as the film-makers claim, they’re after the teen market this time.

Turner and Trent  – aka Big Momma and great niece Charmaine – find themselves hiding out in a performing arts school for girls, after witnessing a snitch’s murder carried out by some Russian mobsters. With Big Momma as the girls’ ‘House Momma’, the boys’ key to freedom is finding a USB drive in a musical box in the school’s library that holds the evidence to put the baddies away for life. Trouble is, the performing brats have nicked the box, and unless Big Momma can crack petulant and emaciated prima ballerina Jasmine, the girls’ ringleader, played by Portia Doubleday, it’s going to stay hidden.

It’s a beautiful irony; Trent desperately wants to convince all and sundry that he’s got talent, musically – as does Jackson with comedy – and leeches after falls for stunning Haley, played by Jessica Lucas, who quite obviously does. Lawrence and Jackson’s talent merely seems to be the tired and clown-like sort of falling down, or falling over and crushing humans and objects, followed by idiotic gurning. Even Lawrence in this film seems a tad bored and deflated in his fatness by it all, and even the Twister moment that should produce some laughs falls flat on the game mat.

The film has a bunch of B-listers involved, including The Hangover’s quirky Ken Jeong as a jobsworth mailman who is easily forgotten in this; Faizon Love as Big Momma’s equally roly-poly admirer, school caretaker Kurtis Kool; and Tony Curran as Russian mob boss Chirkoff (Get it? ‘Chirk-off’?). The funniest character is Michelle Ang as acting diva Mia who goes into meltdown regularly, and often steals the moment.

As far as men dressing as women and entertaining – pantos aside, Big Momma makes Mrs. Doubtfire look like classic comedy gold. With a film that should be generating at least the odd laugh or three, the theatre was eerily quiet. Too much Momma to handle, or like an annoying relative at a party peddling out the same old jokes, just plain ‘brutal’ who seriously needs to ‘bounce’?

1/5 stars

By @FilmGazer

Due Date – 3*

A new buddy comedy from The Hangover maestro Todd Phillips sounds like one to watch, especially with the former hit’s cuddly star Zach Galifianakis in the frame again. And it is, in many respects, because this safe bet for Phillips dishes out the genre’s formulaic mix of chaotic sketches, emotionally revealing moments and morals aplenty.

It also delivers great chemistry from its leads, Robert Downey Jr. and Galifianakis as unlikely travel companions with a goal to get from A to B with the least amount of trauma possible. Well, a little bit of collateral damage is vital to maketh the movie. But much as this has been described as the poorer man’s Planes, Trains and Automobiles (substitute Thanksgiving for an imminent birth, Steve Martin for Downey Jr, and John Candy for Galifianakis), Due Date is still an entertaining and contemporary version with enough heart and commendable acting to last its distance.

Downey Jr is highly-strung architect Peter who’s trying to get home to his heavily pregnant wife, Sarah (played in a fleeting few scenes by Kiss Kiss Bang Bang co-star Michelle Monaghan), who is about to go into labour at any moment. Unfortunately, due to Peter’s temper and one particularly provocative passenger called Ethan (Galifianakis), the pair joins the ‘no-fly’ club, and have to resort to putting up with each other’s company in a car (initially), driving across country to L.A. in the nick of time.

The laughs are uneven, and there are the obvious ‘eyes-roll-to-the-ceiling’ clichés. But on the whole, the Downey Jr-Galifianakis bromance works an absolute treat, as they each play their own brand of quirky insanity off one another in the film, with both having their moments to play ‘deadpan’ then ‘loopy’ at different stages throughout.

Galifianakis easily slots into his imbecile man-child role again, but with a camp little mince and a trophy dog this time – Ethan’s sexuality is never fully revealed, though he’s going to Hollywood to become an actor; go figure. Downey Jr is both the instigator and the mirror for all goings-on in a role that seems practically effortless for such a versatile actor. It’s undoubtedly the Downey Jr-Galifianakis pairing that holds the attention until the very end; the trouble is the ending disappointingly fizzles out, like a duff Bonfire Night rocket, prompting a ‘that it?’ response when the end credits roll.

Is it enough to say this type of film is about the leads’ chemistry, and not the fairly obvious plot line? It could be argued, yes it is, but with ‘seen-that-a-zillion-times-before’ déjà vu moments, like getting in trouble with the law and going on the run in a clapped-out vehicle, it could be argued that Phillips got lazy and unimaginative, or on the other hand, he simply delivers what we’re eagerly expecting. The bodily functions scene is amusing but tired, as are a few other scenarios. But the biggest and unexpected laughs come from a Peter moment with a brat kid of the local drug dealer (as ever, brilliantly depicted by Juliette Lewis), and the ‘drinking Dad’ car discussion, said in all frankness that is hilarious – Jamie Foxx plays a fairly unremarkable cameo, here, but makes for an injection of tasty eye candy.

Due Date is not quite fully hatched, and could have done with a little longer incubation period and character development to enhance some of the potentially intriguing scenarios. What’s also shameful on Phillips’s part is all the great comedy talent (Lewis, Foxx, Monaghan and Danny McBride) that could have been put to better use. That said Due Date offers a fascinating screen partnership in Downey Jr and Galifianakis, making up for any lack of originality in plot. It certainly isn’t The Hangover, but it’s like the mild hangover from The Hangover after-party success, and an enjoyable stopgap until the sequel arrives next year.

3/5 stars

By L G-K