Movie News & Reviews

Just a few laughs among this crop

It takes a special kind of character to pull off a broad comedy – one who you can believe would be daffy/crazy/silly enough to get involved in the kind of off-the-wall situations in which they often find themselves.

And when those characters work, it’s no surprise that filmmakers come back to them again and again, which is why you see sequels galore when it comes to broad comedies.

What to make of this recent batch? Let’s find out.

GUILTY PLEASURE

Isla Fisher is a talented comedian who first came to prominence in “Wedding Crashers,” and people in Hollywood have been waiting for the right vehicle for her talents.

Well, CONFESSIONS OF A SHOPAHOLIC (PG, **) is a step in the right direction, but ultimately, it’s a little too pedestrian to make anything more than the briefest of impacts.

Based on the best-selling novels by Sophie Kinsella, the film adaptation moves scatterbrained clothes hound Becky Bloomwood from London to New York, where she’s awash in a mountain of debt but looks fabulous, thanks to a closetful of couture clothing.

Her dream job is working at the fashion magazine Allete, but, thanks to a drunken-letter-writing mishap, she winds up at the decidedly less exciting Successful Saving, an ironic twist given her financial situation.

You’ll have to excuse me taking a little journalistic sidetrack here, but I spent the first half of the film wondering how in the world Becky wound up in said profession seeing as she knows little to nothing about writing.

Because this is the movies, however, she miraculously starts penning a wildly successful column combining fashion and frugality that puts her magazine on the map and impresses her boss (Hugh Dancy, filling the role of generic British guy).

Of course, what follows are all the standard rom-com templates: Becky starts to fall for her boss, Becky doesn’t mention her debt, Becky’s world comes crashing down, Becky seeks redemption, etc.

Fisher gives it her all, mugging and pratfalling with gleeful abandon, and she’s helped by a surprisingly stellar supporting cast that includes John Goodman, Joan Cusack, John Lithgow and Lynn Redgrave.

This is by no means a bad movie, just the cinematic equivalent of a beach read: enjoyable at the time, forgettable a week later.

BIG NAMES IN THE TRENCHES

No comedic character has had more cinematic outings than Inspector Jacques Clouseau, the bumbling detective who always winds up getting his man.

A few years ago, Steve Martin resurrected the beloved character in a film I thought was awful, but one that went on to become a box-office smash.

Which brings us to the inevitable PINK PANTHER 2 (PG, **), a sequel that is markedly better than the original yet was a box-office bomb. Go figure.

Maybe it’s lowered expectations, but I found myself laughing at Martin’s antics – much more than I could say about the first flick – even though I think we can all agree that this is a shoddy film thrown together to capitalize on the success of the original.

The plot revolves around the mysterious Tornado, a master thief who has taken off with some of the world’s greatest treasures, including the Pink Panther diamond.

So Clouseau teams up with an international group of detectives – including Andy Garcia, Alfred Molina and Aishwarya Rai – to figure out the mystery. At the same time, Clouseau must deal with the sudden presence of understudy Ponton (Jean Reno) at his home and his unresolved romantic feeling for secretary Nicole (Emily Mortimer).

It’s kind of strange to see an actor like Garcia taking pies in the face, much less Jeremy Irons showing up in a cameo role, but I guess everyone thought they were signing on for a big family hit.

Martin still seems a little off as Clouseau, but does get some inspired moments of silliness here, especially during his scenes with longtime friend Lily Tomlin. Physical comedy has long been a staple of Clouseau’s charm, and there are a couple of funny set pieces (I particularly liked the fireplace bit).

But a $35 million gross isn’t going to get it done. So the next time someone gets the bright idea of reviving the Inspector, we’ll see which big-name actor takes the bait.

FUNNY? SAD? HARD TO SAY

Tyler Perry made his name (and his millions) off his larger-than-life Madea character, and while he has shown growth as a filmmaker, Madea will always be a blessing and a curse.

A blessing because the Madea movies are guaranteed moneymakers because they appeal to a humongous, built-in and underserved audience, and a crutch because the films are sloppy and crude at best.

Which brings us to TYLER PERRY’S MADEA GOES TO JAIL (PG-13, * 1/2 stars), the latest adventure of Perry’s sassy, troublemaking grandmother.

As is the case with the other Madea films, it’s an unwieldy hybrid of low-brow humor and heavy-handed moralizing that leaves good actors hanging out to dry as Madea unleashes another one of her profane tirades.

Madea (Perry in drag) has run afoul of the law again, and this time she gets sent to the slammer, where she turns the entire penal system upside down.

One of her fellow inmates is Candy (Keisha Knight Pulliam, aka Rudy from “The Cosby Show”), a prostitute given a ridiculously stiff sentence by the conniving D.A. simply because the D.A.’s fiancé (Derek Luke) knows the girl from college.

Madea’s wild ways and Candy’s redemption are two wholly divergent tales, yet Perry mashes them together so haphazardly that you can’t get a feel for either story. Should we be laughing? Crying? It’s impossible to tell when tonally different scenes abut one another.

As Perry’s productions have become more high class, he’s been able to cast a wider net around talented black actors, who, let’s face it, are looking for work.

So, that’s why Oscar nominee Viola Davis is here, as is rising star Derek Luke. I think they probably know this isn’t “Citizen Kane,” but you take what you can get.

As for Perry, I’d love to see him focus on telling one coherent story, but it’s hard to argue with $90 million in box office receipts.

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