|White House Down
|I'm So Excited!
|The Stroller Strategy
Channing Tatum stars in "White House Down" as Cale, a wannabe Secret Service agent who brings his political-junkie daughter to the White House for his big interview (with my bête noire Maggie Gyllenhaal) on the exact day terrorists and hackers seize control of the property and take a tour group Cale and the kid had joined as hostages. It's not long before Cale - who didn't get the job - has assumed active duty and personally guards President Sawyer (Jamie Foxx), running in slow motion through the island of the White House kitchen while the most courteous bullets in movie history wait for him to tackle Sawyer safely to the ground. As you'd expect from director Roland Emmerich, every cliché in each of half a dozen genres makes an appearance. What you might not expect is how much fun you'll have (ten times more than the similarly themed "Olympus Has Fallen"). Tatum makes an appealing lead, Foxx provides some nice comic relief, and Richard Jenkins and James Woods earn their paychecks as, respectively, a seemingly idealistic House Speaker and the turncoat Secret Service head who masterminds the takeover. The best line comes from an unnamed aide who comes racing into the room as the bad guys wreak apocalyptic havoc throughout the grounds. "Mr. Vice President," she pants, "the stock market is collapsing!"
An airplane circling Toledo waiting for clearance to make an emergency landing provides Pedro Almodovar's metaphor for today's financial scandal-plagued Spain in the director's campy allegory "I'm So Excited!" The stewardesses put coach to sleep by spiking their drinks with a muscle relaxant, leaving us in the company of the first class cabin and the crew. All the flight attendants are gay. The pilot and co-pilot claim to be merely bisexual, but are equally obsessed with cock. So too are the few women we meet, from a paranoid madam who shtups the mustachioed hit man flying to Mexico to kill her to a virgin seeress in her thirties who has visions of death (just what you want to hear on such a flight) and sucks off a groom returning from his honeymoon as well as one of the sleeping schlemiels in economy. There are some moments of exquisite farce in the short running time of "I'm So Excited!", and one great scene near the end - they've made their landing on a foam-lathered airstrip (of course, several of the passengers use the opportunity to fuck some more), and Almodovar films the newlywed bride (who's been unconscious the entire time) in slow motion as the crew sends her squealing down the evacuation slide. It's a sight and sound that makes me laugh even thinking about it now.
"The Heat" is a typical example of what the late Roger Ebert called a "Wunza" movie, as in one's a buttoned-up, straitlaced FBI agent (Sandra Bullock) and one's a foul-mouthed, ass-kicking Boston street cop (Melissa McCarthy). This formula of conflicting policing styles can produce brilliant comedy, as for example in "Beverly Hills Cop" (both I and II), in which Eddie Murphy's streetwise Axel Foley clashed hilariously with John Ashton's by-the-book Sergeant Taggart and Judge Reinhold's loose-cannon Detective Rosewood ("Billy, we've got to talk."). There are some moments in "The Heat" strong enough to trigger memories of those 80's classics, and to make us think we might be witnessing the next big thing in movie comedy. McCarthy, who gave us an entirely new comic character in Paul Feig's 2011 "Bridesmaids," shows she can carry a major release, though going forward filmmakers will have to find more for her to do than hurl profanities (a certain redundancy sets in, and a whiff of desperation). "The Heat" is a little long and plot-heavy at two hours, and at times too estrogenic even for me. But for an audience of Westsiders rolling in the aisles this weekend, it put to rest the old chauvinist concept that women can't be funny. They can't be funny if they're just acting and talking like unfunny men. If they've got situationally funny things to say and do, they can be hysterical.
For unadulterated chauvinism, it might be tough to top Clément Michel's cloying French import "The Stroller Strategy," an outré romantic comedy devoid of romance and comedy. Thomas (blandly cute Raphael Personnaz), a freelance illustrator, and Marie (Charlotte Le Bon), a pediatric nurse, have been seeing each other for years after meet-cuting at a party (they guess strangers' names, and one of them is always right). It suddenly dawns on Marie that Thomas doesn't want to have kids, and on Thomas that Marie does (shocking, I know, given her line of work), and she dumps him on his birthday. Five months later, sitting forlornly in front of his apartment, he inadvertently catches a neighbor's baby after she trips on the stairs. The EMT's rush her to a hospital, where (conveniently enough) the doctors keep her in an induced coma for several days. Advised by his oafish, loutish best friend Paul (with whom he has nothing in common) that little Léo will make him irresistible to women ("Divorced moms love dads"), he schemes to pass the tyke off as his own and win back Marie (who's since opened a highly successful baby care center and has a long-distance boyfriend - fast worker). If you're wondering what planet this movie takes place on, I can't help. I can tell you that characters' personalities shift on a dime (after coaching Thomas on his sexy-dad moves in one scene, in the next Paul tells him not to build his relationship on a lie), that Marie lacks any development whatsoever (she's a pair of pretty brown eyes), and that the only element of surprise to the happy ending is that it arrives, abruptly, out of nowhere, belying all that's come before. Oh well. I wasn't about to complain.