The first, or maybe second, third or even fourth Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday or Friday of every month Nathan Rabin writes about three DVD premieres for Dispatches From Direct-To-DVD Purgatory. In this latest round-up of DTV joints The Dude and Sam Malone make a porno, Buffy gets literary and Michael Ian Black gets directorial.
The Amateurs Back in the day, Mr. Show had a skit about a curious phenomenon called "Imminent Death Syndrome" wherein an unknowingly terminally ill person is indulged endlessly by sympathetic good Samaritans who have been informed to make the IDS sufferer's last days as kick-ass as humanly possible. I hope he's not reading this blog entry because I now strongly suspect that Amateurs writer-director Michael Traeger must be suffering from one hellacious case of IDS. How else do you explain Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, William Fichtner, Lauren Graham, Ted Danson, Joe Pantoliano, Patrick Fugit, Judy Greer, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Steven Weber and Valerine Perrine all agreeing to work for peanuts in a low-budget, indifferently directed lowbrow comedy with a half-assed script from a neophyte filmmaker whose most impressive credit involves co-writing Dead Man On Campus? I can just imagine a sympathetic Bridges staring mournfully at an X-ray of the Brain Cloud inside Traeger's skull and compassionately phoning him to say "Nah, man. I should be thanking you for letting me be in your movie. I mean, a comedy about a porn movie! I smell Oscars for everyone. That is, I mean, if you're not still around by then. (realizes what he's just said and backtracks) I mean, we'll have a great time giving up stuff for Lent! If you're Catholic of course".
It's not an encouraging sign that the glowing blurb on the back of the DVD box ("It's as if Frank Capra made a porn film") comes from one Jeff Bridges. The Amateurs cornball Americana does have a vague Capra/Sturges feel but it's more watered down, overly precious Capra-corn than the real thing. Playing yet another genial variation of the Dude, Bridges stars as a small-town eccentric who decides to make a porn film with his pals as a way of scaring up some scratch and winning the respect of his adoring son. Very mild wackiness ensues as small-town hicks bungle their way through perhaps the most wholesome porno ever made. The Amateurs almost gets by on sheer affability: it's a goofy sheepdog of a film: sweet, friendly and incredibly dumb. Then again I, like everyone else, want to make Traeger's very limited time left on Earth as happy as possible so I'm just going to say that The Amateurs is maybe the best film ever and the cast and crew are lucky to be working with a filmmaker of his unprecedented genius.
Just How Bad Is It? Oh my God, it's unbelievably great.
Wedding Daze: According to the Internet Movie Database, Warner Brothers wasn't too crazy about the title of Beetlejuice and wanted to replace it with House Ghosts. In disgust Tim Burton reportedly offered Scared Sheetless as a sarcastic replacement title and was mortified to find that the studio thought that was a pretty swell title as well. I can imagine something similar happening to the title of Michael Ian Black's ill-fated directorial debut. It was filmed as The Pleasure Of Your Company, flirted with The Next Girl I See before crash-landing on DVD under the groan-inducing moniker. It's not at all difficult to envision Black spitefully, sarcastically throwing out Wedding Daze as a new title only to have the studio run with it.
Even in a genre notorious for gimmicky, high-concept plots, Wedding Daze stands out for sheer gimmickosity. Jason Biggs, our nation's most beloved pie-fucker, stars as a nice young man who sinks into a deep, debilitating depression after his girlfriend dies in the middle of a proposal. A year later Biggs impulsively decides to ask a complete stranger (Isla Fisher) to marry him. Surprisingly/unconvincingly she says yes.
Wedding Daze consequently seems primed to be either the most swooningly romantic comedy ever–a delirious homage to l'amour at its most foolish–or a scathing parody of the high-concept idiocy that powers most romantic-comedy plots. Instead Black chooses an unsatisfying middle ground, intermittently trying to eke genuine emotion out of a groaningly convoluted premise but more often using the plot as little more than a springboard for lots of random silliness. Some of the scattershot goofiness connects, like a subplot involving Fisher's co-workers, a pair of proud circus folk reduced to working in a diner, that manages to be both clever and sweet. But the film's comic batting average hovers around the Mendoza Line. By the time Fisher's jailbird papa Joe Pantaliano breaks out of jail and holds the entire cast hostage Black seems to have lost interest in the plot completely and not without reason. To cite a typical bit there's a deadly scene where Edward Herrman, that most patriarchal of character actors, lovingly gives Biggs his trusty cock ring as a cherished family heirloom. It's a bit that very directly echoes the equally deadly sequence in David Wain's The Ten where a rapecentric prison romance is handled in an incongruously tender fashion. It doesn't come close to working either time. Stella cultists might want to give this a shot–it's not that bad, really–but they also have a right to expect a lot more out of Black.
Just How Bad Is It? It's not bad so much as half-assed and underwhelming
Suburban Girl: Given the rocky road Alec Baldwin's career has traveled I'm sure he very much appreciates getting to play the eighth male lead in Martin Scorsese movies like The Aviator and The Departed. But I'm equally sure he hungers for more substantial roles. Consequently one of the joys of trawling around the direct-to-DVD ghetto entails watching Baldwin sink his teeth into lead roles in the fatally flawed likes of Mini's First Time and Suburban Girl. Baldwin's melancholy performance as a troubled, paternal publishing titan who teaches spunky young editor Sarah Michelle Gellar some valuable life lessons is, not surprisingly, the best thing about the film. It's also pretty much the only good thing about writer-director Marc Klein's partial adaptation of Mellisa Banks' influential short story collection A Girls Guide To Hunting And Fishing.
For its first half Suburban Girl plays like a narcotized, TV-movie version of spunky-single-women-in-the-big-city fluff like The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries. Then comes a big flashy drunk scene for Gellar that announces a tonal shift from breezy comedy to leaden drama. Drunk scenes are like lengthy speeches: they separate real actors from pretenders. Gellar hopelessly flubs her drunk scene through shrill over-acting. The film never recovers, especially once Gellar faces the possible loss of both her beloved real daddy (James Naughton) and her professional and romantic father figure (Baldwin). Suburban Girl tries to be a chick flick with substance but it just doesn't have the depth to realize its ambition. Gellar seems infatuated with the romance of publishing and the literary smart set but she doesn't seem to have any real passion for the actual process of writing or editing.
At one point she even complains that Baldwin wants to watch boring old documentaries about Hitler when all she wants to do is pig out on ice cream and watch movies on Lifetime. Based on that sordid confession I can't help but wonder if Gellar ultimate professional goal doesn't entail copy-editing Cathy collections.
Just How Bad Is It? Less bad than boring