Monday, February 23, 2015

Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The D.U.F.F., McFarland, USA

Hot Tub Time Machine 2
The D.U.F.F.

McFarland, USA

One mild recommendation and an affectionate discommendation in a slow week at the movies:

The less said, the better about the sophomoric sequel "Hot Tub Time Machine 2," which in 90 minutes destroys all the goodwill of the infinitely funnier original. Returning director Steve Pink - who also made last year's terrific "About Last Night" - never finds a consistent comic tone, leaving us to hurtle through time and space in a vomit-inducing vortex of anatomical and scatological jokes and pantomimed anal intercourse. Craig Robinson and Adam Scott survive intact, but this may mark the end for Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, and certainly for any notional franchise.

Smart, quirky high schooler Bianca (Mae Whitman) is besties with Jess (Skyler Samuels) and Casey (Bianca A. Santos) and has a crush on feckless guitarist Toby (Nick Eversman, a ringer for Joe, the object of Lili Taylor's obsession in "say anything…"), but has her content life turned upside down when football jock Wesley (hunky Robbie Amell, a ringer for a young Tom Cruise) explains to her that she's a D.U.F.F. (Designated Ugly Fat Friend), a gatekeeper whom guys only use to get to her hot friends. Bianca cuts a deal with Wesley: she'll get him through chemistry so he can stay on the team if he turns her into a hottie so she can land Toby. There are a number of laughs in "The D.U.F.F.," most of them owing to Whitman's comic talents and her casually comfortable chemistry with Amell. But it tries too hard to make its titular acronym a "thing," its anti-bullying message lacks thrust, and fundamentally, Bianca's not ugly or fat; at worst, maybe frumpy.

The inspirational Disney sports drama "McFarland, USA" is better than that description might make you fear. Its heart is in the right place. Kevin Costner plays Jim White, a high school football coach who, after losing his job for throwing a cleat at a player, moves with his wife (Maria Bello) and two daughters to McFarland, California, an almost all-Latino town of produce pickers who can't afford Bakersfield. He takes note of how fast his players can run - they work the fields before and after school - and, seizing on some new government funding, starts a cross-country team that, despite disparities in budget and experience, will go on to claim nine state titles over the next fifteen years.

It's a feel-good story to be sure, a perfect fit for Costner's taciturn geniality, and directed with good humor by "Whale Rider's" Niki Caro. I do wish she had found a way to trim, say, 20 of its 129 minutes, or to make better use of Maria Bello, who gave such a harrowing and raw performance as the mother of a school shooter in 2010's "Beautiful Boy," it's a shame to see her reduced to lines like, "It's your decision, baby." My friend Adrienne - who, you may recall, had tears in her eyes at the end of "Draft Day" - was a mess after "McFarland." Mascara everywhere. She had to take back the tissues she'd lent me for my runny nose.

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