Mini Reviews: Identity Thief, Aftershock, Admission, Under The Bed, Would You Rather

identitythief_posterIdentity Thief (2013) – If you loved horrible bosses then surely there’s no way the director’s follow up could disappoint right? Wrong. IDENTITY THIEF fails on almost every conceivable level as a comedy- first and foremost being that it isn’t remotely funny. Not being funny is a problem to be sure, but add in the fact that its incredibly long and somehow makes me not like Jason Bateman and we are quickly veering into one horrific car crash.

I’m not quite willing to say this is the case just yet, but part if me might be suffering from Melissa McCarthy over saturation. I loved her in BRIDESMAIDS and most recently in THE HEAT, but otherwise a lot of her appearances haven’t been much to write home about. Don’t get me wrong I think she’s incredibly funny and I’m not about to dole out some lame cheap shot about her as a person or her appearance, I just feel a little burned out on her comedy- I have a similar problem with many of the people in the Apatow universe.

Set aside the fact that the entire premise hinges around something that is completely ridiculous- from then on out the inconceivable just multiplies from there and never comes back down to Earth. IDENTITY THEIF is aptly titled since, you know, it really has no identity of its own so it nips at the heels of everything before it and on the fame of its two leads. If you make it to the scene involving a snake then you may wish it was you getting snuffed out by that point. If its any consolation I think I chuckled a couple times- but I might have been daydreaming about a better movie.

Rating: D-

aftershock_posterAftershock (2013) – I really like Eli Roth and as an actor as opposed to a director in AFTERSHOCK I was very interested to see the results. In some ways I believe the film finds ways to keep me interested, but honestly once the disaster hits the film it almost devolves into a disaster in and of itself. There are some really interesting character beats going on in the film and the development of the characters is actually quite good. Watching these people suffer more than halfway through on the other hand is a completely different story.

The disaster in questions is an Earthquake that a group of friends initially lives through while in an underground dance club. Everything from that point on goes downhill both for the characters and my enjoyment in the movie in general. The horror of it all might be effective, but it’s nowhere near enjoyable and even with a few decent performances it fails to make me care about characters I had sort of connected with or at least enjoyed to a certain extent.

There fails to be much of any realism in the events that occur after the earthquake as I’m the type of person that believes disaster tends to bring out the best in the majority of people than the worst and AFTERSHOCK positions itself opposite of me. I would steer anyone away from checking this out should you feel inclined to do so as even I think it was worth the watch- I just didn’t get what I wanted out of it.

Rating C

admission_posterAdmission (2013) – The college admission process can be an absolute nightmare- ADMISSION attempts to capture this by showing you just how torturous it can be. Granted, I have no knowledge as to the realism to the Princeton admission process as portrayed by the film, but I will say that it wouldn’t surprise me if it was accurate. Still though, the film doesn’t just aspire to make your hopes of being admitted into Princeton go up in flames- it also gives you a pretty sweet and funny window into the life of a woman that didn’t know she wanted to be a mother until it was almost forced upon her.

Tina Fey stars as an admissions counselor of Princeton, Portia, who works with schools to prepare their students for the admissions process and when a new experimental school organizer, John (Paul Rudd), comes into her life and tells her one of her students is her child she gave up for adoption long ago. The news is shocking enough, but the student also wants to go to Princeton and when Portia starts feeling a sense of responsibility and passion for her potential son’s future she risks everything to make his dream come true.

The long and the short of ADMISSION is that there is nothing spectacular about it nor is there anything terrible about it. It’s neither laugh out loud hilarious, tear jerkingly sad, life changing or profound. It is however pretty cute, charming and showcases that Tina Fey is capable of more than just straightforward clever comedy. Don’t get me wrong, she still has a comedic bite to her character here- but in the last act she shows she has a bit of a dramatic edge to to her. Plus she’s adorable so there’s that as well.

Rudd steps in to round the film out and is very likable in his role, but again there’s nothing all that fantastic about it. So goes the “problem” with the film is that it just doesn’t reach beyond its potential and settles merely for being good when it could have been great. I say “problem” because obviously there’s nothing wrong with being good, but recognizing its potential to be great makes it that slight step worse than it could otherwise be.

ADMISSION also had the potential to be dreadful with the premise dealing mostly with a bunch of snobs passing judgement on other snobs, but harsher judgement on genuinely nice students that want nothing but a top notch education. Suffice to say it does not paint Princeton or any other Ivy League school in a flattering light would be an understatement. As it is, being a good little drama with some refreshing bits of comedy is much more than I originally thought I’d get from it and as a rental it is certainly worth your time.

Rating: B

underthebed_posterUnder The Bed (2013) – A while back I watched a film called THE HOLE- it was a kid friendly horror flick from director Joe Dante that had some genuinely creepy moments, but ultimately just fell apart for me. Then I watched UNDER THE BED, a film that aside from a few graphically violent moments would have been suitable for kids, but even kids I think would have seen through the crap being shown to them.

It follows a pair of brothers that are reunited after the elder returns home from a mental institution stemming from an incident that left their home in flames and the mother dead. After returning home few things have changed as the brothers are still being plagued by some entity living beneath their bed and not a single living soul believes them.

UNDER THE BED follows none of its own rules. The monster under bed at the beginning does nothing but growl and mess with their heads and making quite the ruckus to boot but apparently no one else can hear it in the house. It also messes with the adults during the day somehow by making things move without being there. Is this a ghost movie? I found myself asking for the first half, but eventually the ugly monster reveals itself and its no holds barred as it attacks everyone in its path out of nowhere. Where is the logic in the slow build of events, how is it that it can essentially act like a ghost for 75% of the movie and be a full on slimy monster that burns and dismembers people with zero issues.

The acting is atrocious and it seems as though the films tone tries to atone for that by making it seem as though its intentionally goofy, but not once did I buy that. The film often feels as though its trying to match the tone of fun kid horror/adventure movies, but it fails to ever make that connection in my mind.

That all being said, there are some really cool creature effects and moments in the movie. Also, some decently staged scenes make it hard to hate this movie entirely, but still don’t make this cross any invisible barrier in my mind that would compel me to recommend it anyone. One of the standout creature moments involves a pair of huge steaming monster claws emerge from a sheet on a bed as blood pours down on the floor and the paw steps down off the bed. Sadly nothing ever really pays a moment like that off despite some rad gore effects in the last act.

If you’re desperate for a creature feature then sure UNDER THE BED fits the bill, but you’d be better served searching a back catalog of much stronger films in the cannon. The film has moments that fit better and look cooler as screen saver stills than they work in a full length feature film. I’ve seen worse straight to video horror films for sure, but UNDER THE BED tip toes on the edge of plummeting into the bottom of the barrel.

Rating: D+

wouldyourather_posterWould You Rather (2013) – One of the things I love about skimming the shelves of video stores or the contents of a Redbox kiosk is the possibility of finding a hidden gem. The other thing I love about it is finally getting my hands on something I’ve had my eyes on for a while. WOULD YOU RATHER fits both of those sweet spots for me- so much so that even before the credits rolled I was angry that this never had a chance in a wide release.

In a post SAW world WOULD YOU RATHER not only fills that gap, but it blows almost every sequel out of the water in terms of quality especially on script level alone. The premise is equally as simple, but the content is what makes this wicked little film stick out. Brittany Snow stars as Iris, a young girl desperate to find medical care for her ailing brother and is approached by the mysterious Shepard Lambrick (Jeffrey Combs) who offers her a solution to her problems. Hesitant at first, Iris eventually agrees to attend a dinner party where she and her guests will compete in a game of Would You Rather in order to emerge on top with enough money to live comfortably but also get immediate care for her brother. The only problem is that the eccentric millionaire’s version of the game has extremely sinister and deadly rules.

This film kept me glued to my seat from beginning to end when I had just assumed I’d leave it on in the background as I completed mundane housework. However, I didn’t get up from my seat once as I was enthrall end by the proceedings and thoroughly impressed with Snow as an actress, but even more so with Jeffrey Combs’ fantastic performance. Combs is delightful, despicable and fascinating all at once and I found myself on the edge of my seat waiting to see what he’d say next.

This is not for the faint of heart, as there are several hard to watch moments including one moment involving a firecracker that left a pit in my stomach. The tone of the film is dead serious with a gut punch of an ending, yet the ride is still somehow so enjoyable that I never felt as though it was venturing into some new phase of torture porn. The script is smart enough and interesting enough that I was fascinated by its premise and connected to the actions the characters make- and not once did I know exactly how it was going to end.

WOULD YOU RATHER is a rare small film that stands head to toe with a lot of the wide released theatrical films I’ve seen in the last decade or so. A smart script, great acting (minus Sasha Grey who is abysmal) and a simply yet fascinating premise make this film a must watch. I can’t guarantee everyone will love it as much as me, but one thing I know for sure is that it deserves a chance.

Rating: A-


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