Leaving your brains at the door may not be the only way to enjoy Bad Teacher and The Hangover 2, but it certainly helps. In Bad Teacher, Cameron Diaz is the recently dumped, sexy, calculating, educating vixen who is on the prowl for a rich man (on a public school faculty? Perhaps they should call her Crazy Teacher) while trying to finance her breast-augmentation surgery by any means possible. For Diaz buffs, this involves actively participating in the school’s car wash– and giving it her absolute all. It also means going to any (illegal) lengths to secure a student performance-based financial bonus. Diaz is certainly b-a-d—she’s just not particularly f-u-n-n-y. I have no objection to unsavory characters being the leads of comedies (as in the superior Election), but it seems the development of Diaz’ character stopped abruptly at its conception–the non-Politically Correct script offers few surprises and relatively few amusing lines. Additionally, in a school brimming with wildly caricatured teacher-types, Diaz is overmatched comedically by a game Justin Timberlake as the object of her (financial security) desires: a wealthy substitute teacher (as you can see, the movie also incorporates fantasy elements); Lucy Punch as her chief professional-and romantic nemesis- an overly enthusiastic teacher just shy of a meltdown; and Jason Segel as a down-to-earth gym teacher who patiently waits in the wings for his chance at the comely Diaz. What he sees in her (besides the obvious) is anybody’s guess.
The first Hangover was rude, raunchy and only fitfully funny–yes I know the first one’s worldwide success means there are many who will disagree. Now comes The Hangover, Part 2, one of those films in which many of the laughs are reprises of gags from its predecessor–or allusions to situations from the earlier film. Herein lies the cunundrum–to enjoy Hangover, Part 2 one should remember the first one , yet it is this familiarity that will make one realize that this is just a calculated rehash of the first Hangover, only now set in Bangkok instead of Vegas–and with the addition of a cute monkey. While there are chuckles to be had, it’s hard for me to go with the basic premise–which involves the hapless pals (Bradley Cooper, Jon Heims and an underused Justin Bartha (who can be very funny if they’ll just give him a chance) in Thailand for Heims’ wedding (so far, so OK)– and then consenting to bring the dangerously manic Zach Galifinakis along. A wedding-eve toast (including the bride’s music prodigy brother) ends up with the boys in Bangkok –only with the brother nowhere in sight —and no memory of how they got there. Now, about checking your brains at the door–do these characters have such short memories that they’ve forgotten the sheer horror the Galifinakis character put them through first time around? (Side note—there was a fair amount of audience laughter at the screening I attended–am I the only one immune to Mr. Galifinakis’ so-called comic genius?) Isn’t it time for the overexposed Ken Jeong to take a break from being the (annoying) comic relief—in a comedy no less! If you can see your way past all this, then there are some chuckles to be had, a few genuine laughs and a very funny closing bit which mysteries are cleared up a la the first Hangover.
Finally, my favorite movie of 2011 so far is The Trip, starring the very funny duo of Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon. You may be familiar with Coogan as the sarcastic talk show host character Alan Partridge, or from some of his recent scene-stealing comic turns in The Wrong Guys and Tropic Thunder. Brydon is also a gifted comic actor and the two are superb impressionists and mimics. In a nutshell, the duo play loose versions of themselves on a road trip through Northern England, incorporating the sights, accommodations—and mainly the cuisine. Along the way, they touch upon issues of fame, conquests (historical, romantic, sexual), failure and mortality . It’s all low-key, relaxed and very observant. The interplay between Coogan and Brydon is unforced and genuine; their exchanges reflect the deeper bonds of friendship with a little professional rivalry tossed in. Most importantly, certain parts made me laugh more than anything I’ve seen in a long time. There are hilarious sequences which involve dueling James Bond impressions and a riff on Michael Caine that reduced me to tears (I haven’t even gotten to the banter about historical films). I loved The Trip and you may want to give it a chance-especially if you’re a movie fan who would care to be in the company of two witty travelers with –in Noel Coward’s words—a talent to amuse.