January 11, 2019

 Greetings again from the darkness. Frequent movie goers often complain about the lack of originality in American movies. It sometimes seems as if most are sequels, remakes or reboots, or simply pulled from the panels of a comic book. There is another source that is particularly irksome to yours truly, and that’s the Americanization of an outstanding film from another country – World Cinema, if you will. Seven plus years ago, while watching the crowd-pleasing (though not so critically acclaimed) and exceptionally performed 2011 French film THE INTOUCHABLES, there was little doubt that it would, at some point, be subjected to an American “enhancement”. Sure enough, director Neil Burger (THE ILLUSIONIST) perfectly captures why this transition is sometimes so painful to see.

Based on a true story, filthy rich quadriplegic widower Phillip Lacasse is played by Bryan Cranston, while Nicole Kidman (her 4th film in 8 weeks) plays Yvonne, Phillip’s wound-too-tight, ultra-loyal chief of staff (she handles his many business affairs and calendar) with an obvious ulterior motive. Kevin Hart (he of recent Oscar-hosting drama) plays Dell, an unemployed ex-con street hustler. While searching for employment to appease his Parole Officer, Dell stumbles into a Park Avenue penthouse where Phillip and Yvonne are conducting interviews for a full-time caregiver to Phillip. Though he is woefully unqualified, and Yvonne protests mightily, Phillip chooses Dell. The undercurrent here is that Dell’s self-centeredness corresponds nicely to Phillip’s DNR and lack of will to live since his wife’s death from cancer.

The opening sequence has Dell racing through downtown, evading police, while driving a Ferrari with Phillip in the passenger seat. This is followed by a promising “6 months earlier” flashback introducing us to Dell’s ex-wife (Aja Naomi King) and their teenage son Anthony (Jahi Di’Allo Winston), both of whom are fed up with the lack of support and trustworthiness of Dell. Basically, Dell is a deadbeat dad with little ambition – other than to avoid returning to prison.

The tone of the film changes once Dell has the job as Phillip’s carer. The bulk of the remaining run time (which is 20 minutes too long) becomes a comedy skit showcasing the punchlines of Kevin Hart. Mind you, the full house I watched the screening with seemed to love every bit, as laughter filled the theatre. For me, I could only long for the soul and spirit of that beloved French film from years ago … and the amazing chemistry between the charismatic Omar Sy and the talented Francois Cluzet. This version isn’t about chemistry – it’s about comic timing. The only real exception to that is a terrific and psychologically deep scene with Julianna Margulies playing Phillip’s pen pal, as they meet for the first time over lunch. The scene is played beautifully, but is a complete tonal change from what comes before and after. Contrasting this scene with Kevin Hart’s over-the-top antics in the high-tech shower, magnifies the contrast in concepts.

Jon Hartmere is credited with the screenplay based on the original film’s screenplay by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache. For some reason, Phillip Pozzo di Borgo’s autobiography doesn’t make the credits for this version. A bit more attention to Dell’s ex and son could have worked to humanize him, and soften the caricature on display. This comes across as an interracial odd-fellow buddy flick, where yet another black man (often in a subservient role) rescues an entitled white person (even if they’re disabled) from lack of hope and leads them to a life worth living. Is it possible to make a movie based on race and class, and even romance, and still offer no real insight? Apparently the answer is yes, if one chooses to go for easy laughs. Perhaps you’ll join the audience in rolling along with Dell’s first trip to the opera, or the disrespect to art collectors – or that seemingly never-ending catheter scene. Or perhaps you can be persuaded to track down THE INTOUCHABLES for a more emotional and inspirational telling of this story.

***NOTE: I should also mention that one of my Top 5 movies of 2018 has already been targeted for an American remake starring Jake Gyllenhaal.  Boo. Hiss.

watch the trailer:


March 21, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. I absolutely love this premise. The idea that, by taking a pill, we can simultaneously access all parts of our brain and process information at hyper-speed is fascinating, and a terrific idea for a movie. As it turns out, that terrific premise loses much luster when the center of action is a egomaniacal, smirking doofus played by a strutting Bradley Cooper and the story lines fall miles short of accessing a portion of the possibilities.

The set-up portion of the film is fairly interesting. Cooper plays a stone-walled loser  of a writer whose career-minded girlfriend (Abbie Cornish) wisely dumps him as he offers up very little in self-defense. A seemingly random street meet of his ex-brother-in-law leads Cooper to a whole new world brought on by the magic of NZT. He quickly realizes he can recall every detail he has ever seen or read and he process information quickly and clearly. He finishes his book in a flash and learns multiple languages, plays the piano, etc etc.

The film takes a wrong turn when he realizes his ability comes in handy in the stock market, as well as blackjack. But obviously if YOU were in this situation, the first thing you would do is contact a Russian loan shark and take out a giant loan … and then forget to pay it back. What? You wouldn’t? Well then, don’t expect to have a movie made about your life.

Director Neil Burger (The Illusionist) brings a wonderful visual touch to Cooper’s mind and an awesome telescoping zoom rush through the streets of NYC. That was actually my favorite part of the film (once over the opening credits and again during the film).

 The film misses quite a few opportunities to be as smart as Cooper’s character is supposed to be. Either the Russian loan shark or the ultra-rich businessman played by Robert DeNiro could have led to Faustian themes that would have provided endless opportunities. Instead, we don’t even get a satisfying battle of wits between the parties. Quite a disappointment.

Overall, the film is entertaining enough, but a letdown over what should have been. Watching Cooper strut and DeNiro sleepwalk are not enough for me as a movie goer.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you enjoy mentally re-writing a film as you watch it (there are plenty of opportunities here)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you believe a move about the infinite possibilites of the brain should be somewhat mentally stimulating