Dispatches From Direct To DVD Purgatory: Meet Bill, The Air I Breathe and Mama's Boy

Dispatches From Direct To DVD Purgatory: Meet Bill, The Air I Breathe and Mama's Boy

Hey. How ya doing? Yeah, I know it's late. I know I haven't been around much these past couple of months. I've been going through shit. What do you mean you don't recognize me? It's me, Dispatches From DVD Purgatory. Yeah, I know I haven't shaved in a while. And I'm probably not smelling minty fresh after living out of my car for the past month or so but I shouldn't be unrecognizable.

What? No, I haven't been drinking. Well, maybe a little bit. A beer or two. Or three. But none of the hard stuff. Some shots also. Like I said, I'm going through shit. Shit I can't really talk about. Where have I been? Here and there. Different places. Doing different things.

If you absolutely must know, I've been doing shit I'm not proud of with people I probably should stay away from in a dimension possibly ruled by Orcs. There, you fucking got it out of me. I hope you're happy. I wasn't trying to hide anything from you. I was trying to protect you. Now if the fucking Orcs travel through the portal of the time and tear up your condo looking for me you're vulnerable. But you've just got to have all the answers, don't you? An indifferently received blog feature disappears for a couple of months and comes back in the middle of the night reeking of cheap gin and desperation and you turn it into a fucking inquisition.

Whatever. I'm too tired to fight. I just want to crash on your couch for a few days until I figure shit out. Man, you would not believe the shit I've seen. Or maybe you would. I have traveled far and wide and seen three direct-to-DVD movies that I'm totally going to tell you about after I sleep for a couple of days.

The Air I Breathe: Here is all you need to know about the ensemble drama The Air I Breathe. Late in the film, doctor Kevin Bacon races around a hospital, despondent because the love of his life (Julie Delpy) will die of a snake bite unless a donor with her incredibly rare blood type is found within twenty-four hours. At that exact moment, he stumbles upon a television show where brooding, self-destructive pop star Sarah Michelle Gellar tells an interviewer that what makes her different from all her peers is her incredibly rare blood type. Wouldn't you know it, she's got the exact same blood type as Delpy! And is hanging out nearby! Oh, lucky day! Oh beneficent hand of merciful fate!

That, friends, is what is known alternately as an amazing coincidence or stupid fucking bullshit. But it's par for the course for The Air I Breathe, a Crash-like attempt to transform a string of insulting contrivances involving one-dimensional characters into a profound meditation on the nature of fate and the inter-connectedness of mankind.

For extra pretension, the film dramatizes a Chinese Proverb's four cornerstones of life–happiness, pleasure, sorrow and love–through four interlocking narratives, each more far-fetched and ridiculous than the last. In the first, spineless bank employee Forest Whitaker takes a walk on the wild side after losing his nest egg on a horse named Butterfly. In the second, clairvoyant mob enforcer Brendan Fraser learns about the unpredictability of life while baby-sitting boss Andy Garcia's obnoxious, hard-partying nephew (Emile Hirsh). An uncharacteristically somber Fraser takes center stage in the third story when his psychically gifted hood falls in love with pop star Gellar. Everything comes full circle in the fourth story, when Bacon struggles to save Delpy with a little help from Gellar.

Like Crash, The Air I Breathe is pulp with pretensions, a lurid melodrama overrun with overwrought, credibility-straining coincidences, crimes and deaths. Perhaps the most ridiculous aspect of this whole enterprise is how seriously the film takes itself. It's the deepest shit in the shallow end of the kiddie pool.

Just How Bad Is It? It's terrible, but in a superficially engaging way
Meet Bill:Pot can be the lazy screenwriter's best friend. In dreadful middle-age crisis comedies like Meet Bill, smoking the pot serves as cheap, easy shorthand for shucking off the soul-crushing conformity of society and its fucking rules, man, and embracing life. In this case, sad sack Aaron Eckhart engages in the deplorable practice of smoking marijuana at the behest of Logan Lerman, a teenaged rapscallion who reinvigorates Eckhart's long-dormant lust for life. Fake-boob fondling, shenanigans-instigating and the learning of life lessons all inevitably follow.

In conceiving Lerman's character, the filmmakers were apparently shooting for Jason Schwartzmann in Rushmore: they ended up with Ryan Reynolds in Van Wilder. Eckhart packed on the pounds to play a doughy loser whose wife (Elizabeth Banks) is cheating on him with blow-dried local reporter Timothy Olyphant. Being fat isn't an aspect of Eckhart's character: it's his entire character. The screenplay calls for Eckhart to constantly sneak candy bars when not dreaming of owning a donut franchise or gazing at his giant belly in the mirror. Meet Bill burdens Eckhart with a spare tire, an ugly hairstyle and a job he hates so that he can climactically lose that weight, shed his hideous hairdo and quit his job after life-changing misadventures with Lerman and Jessica Alba as a lingerie saleswoman who takes a liking to Captain Flab-O and his teen sidekick The Smarmy Kid. Ugh. Lerman is supposed to be charming and irascible. Instead he's a pervy jerk, just as usually reliable Eckhart manages the difficult feat of simultaneously being a sad sack and an asshole. If you liked, loved or felt strangely ambivalent about American Beauty or Rushmore, you should steer clear of this laughless, shrill knock-off.

Just How Bad Is It? It's nota so good
Mama's Boy: If Meet Bill is about a bored, depressed grown-up who needs to reconnect with his inner adolescent, Mama's Boy is an Oedipally charged comedy about an overgrown adolescent who needs to get in touch with his inner grown-up. Oozing raw sexual charisma and an almost frightening personal magnetism, Jon Heder stars as a sour, belligerent twenty-nine-year-old who still lives at home with widowed mother Diane Keaton.

Heder's comfortably miserable existence is torn asunder when Keaton becomes involved with a fatuous but essentially good-hearted inspirational speaker played by Jeff Daniels. Heder goes out of his way to undermine his mother's burgeoning romance while pursuing a romance of his own with Anna Faris, a pot-addled anti-corporate folk singer with an inexplicable weakness for marginally employed, condescending losers. There's a touch of Ignatius J. Reilly in Heder's titular sourpuss, what with his vocabulary chockablock with SAT words and aristocratic disdain for the confederacy of dunces aligning against him. But Mama's Boy is creepy and maudlin without being funny. Heder's film career remains a cosmic fluke, and not a happy one.

Heder became a geek icon with Napoleon Dynamite and was perfectly passable in Blades of Glory but the perverse joke that is Heder's career as a cinematic leading man wore out its welcome long ago. As for the sexual tension between Heder and Faris; I haven't been underwhelmed by the lack of chemistry between onscreen lovers since Fraser hid the Afikoman inside Gellar in The Air I Breathe several hours earlier. Not even a Morrissey-intensive soundtrack or Eli "I'm Still Alive? No shit? Seriously? Me and Ernest Borgnine Both?" Wallach's delivery of the line "I'm ninety-one fucking years old" can redeem this no-hoper.

Just How Bad Is It: Sub-par, but not worse than Hitler.

More The A.V. Club Blog