ice age 3

See that picture up there? That’s one of the reasons Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs is terrible. That little fucker is some kind of enjoyment-killing tree sloth fucking thing that leads the Ice Age gang through some mystery cave where dinosaurs are still alive, despite all historical evidence to the contrary. You see, science had led us to believe that dinosaurs were eradicated by an ice age. Presumably the same ice age that Ray Romano’s wooly mammoth and Denis Leary’s sabre-toothed tiger have been living in for three fucking movies now.

Anyway, that little prick’s name is Buck, and he’s voiced by Simon Pegg, who most of the time is hilarious. Except when he plays Buck. Buck is some kind of unholy cross between Ralph Brown and Crocodile Dundee. With an eye patch, so you know he’s hardcore. Buck is the worst.

The pre-existing characters aren’t much better. Dawn of the Dinosaurs is a phone-in job of the highest order. Romano, who sounds bored in his natural timbre, is near comatose here. Queen Latifah can’t emote properly. John Leguizamo should have hung it up once he made all that Super Mario bank. And Leary’s seems to always sleepwalk through his more family-friendly projects.

And despite the obvious historical fuck off involved in the introduction of dinosaurs, the real problem with their inclusion is that it squanders everything the Ice Age franchise had going for it. The original Ice Age, which is actually a fine family picture, was captivating not because it had particularly appealing characters or a plot, but because it inhabited a desolate, solid-white universe, in a transitional period in global history. Very little of what appears in Ice Age had been imagined in quite the same way before. It was novel, occasionally funny, and the sequel The Meltdown piggybacked nicely off its success.

For a third installment, shaking up the formula may have been a pretty good idea in principle, but in execution it removes any goodwill one might have had toward the franchise. Especially since all the jokes are stale rehashings of what we’ve heard before. And the use of digital 3D accomplishes only a cosmetic improvement on a visual landscape that’s less inspired (and less fully imagined) than what the producers of Ice Age captured the first time around.

And the stupid squirrel that fights over the acorn with the lady squirrel to the tune of “You’ll Never Find”? I’ve seen that sequence so many times on TV, in trailers, and in the actual film, I never want to listen to Lou Rawls again.

And that’s the real damn shame.

Film: Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs
Director: Carlos Saldanha and Mike Thurmeier (yep, it took two directors to fuck this up just right)
Stars: Ray Romano, Queen Latifah, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Simon Pegg, Seann William Scott

Viewing situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; digital 3D
My grade (out of 10): 1
Rotten Tomatoes average: 44%

Next up: My Sister’s Keeper (part two of a Theater Hopping Double Feature ©!)

Summer Movie Suicide Mission ’09: Seeing them all, all summer long. Follow Summer Movie Suicide Mission on Twitter: @SMSM09. Check out the full list to date here.

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In which one man attempts to view every summer blockbuster for the entire season, regardless of taste, genre, or OH MY GOD RUN AWAY M. NIGHT SHYAMALAN IS MAKING EVERYBODY KILL THEMSELVES!!!

I’ve been trying to think of an appropriate way to phrase my emotions about M. Night Shyamalan’s latest “thriller” The Happening, and I’ve decided to go with my original instinct, the five words that echoed through my head through the second half of the movie, the words that followed me into the parking lot after the show, the words that I keep repeating whenever I think about it — my mantra. I can say only this, and consider it a warning: What a piece of shit.

I instantly recognized that this was probably the worst movie that I’ve ever paid money for. Worse than anything else I’ve ever seen in a theater, worse than anything I’ve ever rented, worse than anything I’ve ever even seen a one legged homeless guy selling on the street. If my life were Clockwork Orange, and I needed to be rehabilitated for all of my sins, they’d do well to pry my eyes open and make me watch The Happening on an endless loop. It’s a form of torture that hasn’t yet shown up in our secret offshore prisons, but it will soon enough. The Happening is the new waterboarding.

When it became apparent that the reviews for the film, Shyamalan’s seventh (!) feature, were going to be far less than complimentary, the director tried to embrace the shlock value of the picture he’d made, saying he hoped the audience would feel like they’d seen “a really good B movie.” I know B movies. I love B movies. But you, sir, have not made “a really good B movie.” Troma Pictures makes films with more art and class than The Happening. And they get better performances out of their actors, too.

Example number one is Mark Wahlberg’s abysmal turn as a Philadelphia science teacher (from Philadelphia High School, as obviously a city of several million has only one high school, which is named after the city) who spends the movie running away from an unexplained phenomenon that makes everyone in its path kill themselves, and attacks “smaller and smaller populations” as time wears on. I haven’t seen this much running without a legitimate explanation since Judgment Night. Which incidentally, marks another front-runner for worst movie I’ve ever seen. Wahlberg has turned in fine performances in movies like Three Kings, I Heart Huckabees, Boogie Nights, and The Departed, all of which were directed be real, professional directors like David O. Russell, P.T. Anderson, and Martin Scorsese. Those auteurs knew how to get a good performance out of Wahlberg, who was never really an actor by trade anyway. But when you see a star turn this poor from an actor with a pretty good track record, it has to be symptomatic of bad direction. Every one of Wahlberg’s line readings felt like it came from the first take, without any effort to work on the impact of his dialogue, which was intended to carry the movie and provide some sort of exposition to a plot that still remained somewhat of a mystery to the end. It didn’t help that Shyamalan had Wahlberg recite each of the steps in the scientific method. On two separate occasions.

Zooey Deschanel, who has a fine track record of her own, turned in a subpar performance, but didn’t need to do much to outshine Wahlberg. It’s a testament to how poorly this film was acted that John Leguizamo seemed like the most competent thespian on the screen. And Shyamalan killed him off halfway through. (Woops, spoiler!) Clearly, Shyamalan is not an actor’s director.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t block a shot to save his life either, and this was a plot that, despite its ridiculous turns (or dead ends, as was more often the case), was at least set up to provide some good visuals. It’s a shame that Shyamalan hasn’t ever heard of storyboarding. He seemed to take a “point and shoot” tack to most of the shots, without any planning. Look, here’s a guy getting run over by a lawnmower! Look, that driver’s gonna run right into a tree! Aim the camera over there!

The few more highly stylized sequences, like a scene where a police officer guns himself down and passers-by take turns using the officer’s weapon to do the same, are undermined by the willy-nilly nature of the scenes that surround them. The iconic image from the trailer in which several construction workers jump from a building is similarly minimized by the unnatural reactions that other characters have to the situation. Shyamalan’s misunderstanding of his characters, and of the way people actually talk and behave, ruins even his best moments.

Every time I see a trailer for a new Shyamalan movie, I always get a sense that it looks like this is the one that he’ll finally get right. And I get proven wrong time and time again. I won’t be the first to recommend that Shyamalan stick to cutting previews and leave the filmmaking to the grownups, and I certainly won’t be the last.

An added dimension to my disappointment comes from the fact that Shyamalan has become something like Philadelphia’s ambassador to Hollywood. He sets all his films in Southeastern Pennsylvania, if not in the city itself, and provides a boon to the local economy. As a native of the city, I’m continually embarrassed that the likes of Shyamalan are what passes for talent in my second-class town. While other cities are immortalized on screen in worthy, iconic films, we get Mannequin, National Treasure, and…this?

To paraphrase Roger Ebert (and the countless others who’ve paraphrased him), I hated hated hated this movie. I hate that the director decided to break his own formula of “twist endings” by shooting a movie that doesn’t have an ending at all. I hate that Shyamalan has forever ruined my impressions of Deschanel and Wahlberg, whom I’ve always liked in the past. I hate that he had the balls to refer to a movie with this kind of budget and distribution as a “B movie” just because he knew he’d made a piece of shit. I even hate the fact that this piece of shit made me laugh more than any other movie this year.

These were not the kind of laughs I ever want to have; these were evil laughs. Every part of this movie was deadly serious.

Mostly I hate that I had to watch the whole thing as part of this cruel summer science experiment I’ve created for myself. Maybe M. Night can remind me about the scientific method again.

If anyone has his e-mail address, forward this to him. If he reads enough bad clips maybe he’ll finally quit. That is, if he doesn’t keep making movies as a big “fuck you” to everyone. Which is what this feels like.

At any rate, M. Night Shyamalan movies are heretofore exempted from any future Summer Movie Suicide Missions. There’s no way I’m giving this motherfucker any more of my money.

Film: The Happening
Director: M. Night Shyamalan
Stars: Mark Wahlberg, Zooey Deschanel, John Leguizamo

Viewing Situation: Weekday matinee, small crowd; standard projection
Rotten Tomatoes Average: 19%
My Grade (Out of 10): 0 (Congratulations, fuckface. You’re worse than Made of Honor.)

Next Up: Get Smart