dir. Adam Shankman
Opens Fri March 4.
There is a moment in the throwaway comedy Tommy Boy when Chris Farley attempts to cheer up a dubious David Spade by donning a too-small jacket and thrashing about yelling, "Fat guy in a small coat!" (I'm conjuring this quote from memory, but I'm pretty sure that's how it went--on a related note, it may not have been Tommy Boy at all, but rather, that other abomination Black Sheep. Anyway…). It was an unfunny scene--strained, relying on shtick--and I would have continued to forget it, and would have spared you the reminder of the film's existence, if not for The Pacifier.
Why did this rehash of Kindergarten Cop remind me of a Chris Farley debacle? Because The Pacifier, like Arnold Schwarzenegger's abomination, is essentially that same Tommy Boy joke repeated ad nauseam; replace "fat guy in a small coat!" with "muscle-bound dolt goes family friendly!" and you've achieved the same punch line. But whereas Farley's man-out-of-water flailing was fleeting, The Pacifier stretches the unfunny joke for 90 inept minutes. This is what Vin Diesel's career has become: an extended lame gag copped from a Saturday Night Live has-been.
Poor Vin Diesel. There was promise, once upon a time (Pitch Black, Boiler Room, The Fast and the Furious); for a moment he had a glimmer of hope. Not as an actor, mind you, but as a presence--a meaty, menacing figure whose voice could launch a thousand threats. Now, however, that promise has been devoured by a need to "expand," that dreaded delusion that inflicts many a young big-boobed stud. Vin Diesel belongs as a villain, not as a Navy Seal who moves in with a suburban family (the specifics are unnecessary; all you need to know is that the plot, such as it is, is utterly idiotic), and despite his game efforts The Pacifier is painfully inept. Oh, how the menacing have fallen--from intriguing anti-hero to desperate attempt at career revival. BRADLEY STEINBACHER
Travellers & Magicians
dir. Khyentse Norbu
Fri March 4-Thursday March 10 at the Varsity.
If I say that a film made by a Bhutanese lama is mediocre is that bad karma? Khyentse Norbu, who is the Buddhist director of Travellers & Magicians, has written that "Film is a medium and Buddhism is a science." Travellers & Magicians succeeds best when Norbu emphasizes the medium over the science.
The movie is shot to look as pretty as possible, and much of it passes as a pleasant postcard. It follows secular humanist Dondup (Tshewang Dendup), a petty government official assigned to a remote village in the tiny Himalayan kingdom. In love with Western culture, he plans to run away to America, but he misses his bus and ends up hitchhiking, mostly unsuccessfully. After one failed attempt, he meets a traveling monk (Sonam Lhamo) along the roadside. Dondup tells the monk that he is going to "the land of his dreams" and the monk responds with the placid knowingness (or is it the slightly smug disdain?) of the enlightened, "Oh, a dreamland."
The distinction between the two men is illustrated through a fable that the monk recounts at every lull in their journey. The fable tells of a lazy young man who is favored and privileged by his father but neglects his studies of magic (in his defense, the class does seem very tedious). He daydreams of leaving home, and then, through a mishap involving a rebellious horse, he ends up lost in a strange forest.
As the monk slowly reveals the story to Dondup, the parallels between his life and the fable predictably lead to an epiphany. That the epiphany of the film feels so much like a lesson and happens to be deeply conservative--happiness resides at home--puts it in the category of every other religious film with a message. Even though the religion happens to be a science and the admonishment happens to be mild, it doesn't do anything to enrich the medium. NATE LIPPENS
dir. Jessica D. Eisner
Now available at www.muffinmanthemovie.com.
Early on in Jessica D. Eisner's Muffin Man, a portly, affable fellow named Jack (Benjamin Dunn) drops trou after a long day's work. "Be free my sweaty love apples," he says. "The couch awaits your dew-ripened caress!" It was at this moment that beer shot out of my nose.
Filmed in and around Seattle, writer-director Eisner's movie is a satire of America's obesity epidemic. It's not a nice film, nor is it a fair one. Eisner gleefully slaps around those who are often looked down upon in our society, she makes no effort to sympathize, and chooses instead to mock lard-assed Americans with abandon. Is it "fat-phobic"? Perhaps. Is it willfully offensive? Absolutely. But it also has lines that are devastatingly funny--at points her satire approaches the sublime, and a lowly critic penning a bought-and-paid-for rave review expels PBR from an unintended spigot.
The story: In the future, anthropologists from a far-away galaxy find traces of a long-extinct species on planet Earth. They label this species "Homo twinkus," or "Muffin Man," and the theorized history the aliens craft is carefully laid out in a Discovery Channel-like documentary. Muffin Man lacked self-control, we are told, and as the species expanded in size, it shrank in population--food replaced sex, reproductive organs were lost beneath blubber, and Homo twinkus, along with the Homo sapiens they sprang from, were eventually done in by a devastating one-two punch: global warming and saturated fat.
This is the frame on which Muffin Man hangs, and if this rave review feels encouraging but malnourished, perhaps even half-baked, it's because the film defies words. Coupled with the faux documentary is a faux narrative--fat boy meets skinny girl, fat boy fights skinny girl's skinny ex-boyfriend in a game of tug of war, etc. --and even if this subplot is not entirely satisfying, the film that swallows it up wins high praise. Why? Because if you give enough money to a charity that feeds the hungry (who, ironically enough, tend to be obese in the United States), I'll be the biggest whore since Jeff Craig from 60-Second Preview. For example: Rent and/or buy Muffin Man--it'll be one of the most entertaining films you'll see all year. BRADLEY STEINBACHER