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DVDs In Brief: December 16, 2009

The Hangover (Warner Bros.) was the breakout comedy hit of the summer, a broad ensemble farce in the Old School vein that successfully updated the raunchy Bachelor Party model with some smarts, a strong ensemble cast, and some light absurdist touches. But as gratifying as it was to see alt-comedians like Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis become potential stars of tomorrow, the film is fundamentally set up to get less funny as it goes along. The initial scene of four hard-partying bachelors waking up in Las Vegas with a baby, a tiger, and a groomsman with a tooth missing is hilarious, but the process of figuring out how it all happened is equivalent to explaining a joke… 

Quentin Tarantino’s deliriously vulgar WWII fantasy Inglourious Basterds turns the exploits of a Nazi-scalping band of Jewish warriors into the ultimate victory of cinema over history. Though the film’s procession of long, dialogue-heavy scenes and setpieces sometimes gets wearying, many of them are unforgettable, starting with an opening confrontation between a terrifying “Jew-hunter” (a magnificent Christoph Waltz) and a strapping French farmer hiding Jews under the floorboards. Beneath all the mayhem is a deeper-than-expected consideration of the power of propaganda to reshape history…

Jerry Bruckheimer Films and Walt Disney Pictures don't seem like natural bedmates, but this year they produced (via Disney-appropriate immaculate conception, no doubt) a pretty apt crossbreed: G-Force (Disney), a harmless but dim-witted action-adventure that lives up to both production companies' mandates. CGI guinea pigs with celebrity voices and one-note characters get up to a bunch of spy-style derring-do under the watchful eye of friendly scientist Zach Galifianakis; Nicolas Cage gets to stretch a bit as the voice of a nerdy mole. The whole thing is intended for people with very short attention spans, given that one scene rarely seems to follow logically from the next, but kids and slow adults will probably find the whole thing acceptably shiny…

DVD might be kinder to Ang Lee’s disappointing Taking Woodstock (Universal), which takes a glancing, small-screen approach to the defining cultural event of the ‘60s. All the famed performances are pushed into the background, with the focus instead falling on a shy painter (Demetri Martin) who helped bring Woodstock to Yasgur’s Farm and converted his parents’ run-down motel into the festival’s communications hub. Lee and screenwriter James Schamus are smart to approach such an iconic event from a side angle, but the result is often muddled and sitcom-ish… 

The car-sales comedy The Goods: Live Fast, Sell Hard (Paramount), directed by Chappelle’s Show co-creator Neal Brennan, has the right influences (John Landis’ Slasher, Robert Zemeckis’ Used Cars) and the right cast (Jeremy Piven, Ed Helms, Alan Thicke, Wendie Malick, Rob Riggle, Charles Napier, Ken Jeong, Craig Robinson, Ving Rhames, Tony Hale, David Koechner). So why does it feel so wrong? Probably because Brennan relies on his actors’ improvisational abilities to overcome a half-assed screenplay with a ramshackle premise. Imagine what this cast could do with a script worthy of their considerable talents.