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Films I Neglected To Review: You Must Remember This. . .
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of "He's All That," "Reminiscence," "Together" and "Vacation Friends."

As turn-of-the-millennium-era teen comedies go, the original "She's All That" (1999) was never exactly my cup of tea--I preferred the likes of "10 Things I Hate About You" (1999), "Josie and the Pussycats" (2000) and the unjustly overlooked "Get Over It" (2000) myself. That said, while I harbor no particular nostalgia towards that film, I will concede that it certainly had a pretty loaded cast of rising young stars in the cast (one of them, Anna Paquin, already in possession of an Oscar), there were a couple of good laughs (mostly involving Kevin Pollack playing along with "Jeopardy") and even at its worst, it was more innocuous than actively annoying or offensive. None of this turns out to be true about "He's All That," a painfully unnecessary and generally wretched remake that, other than being updated for the Tik Tok age and with a gender switch at its center, basically rehashes the original virtually beat for beat into a soulless, charmless and mirthless contraption. Speaking of Tik Tok, one of the stars of that platform, Addison Rae, stars here as Padgett, a sweet-natured influencer who does makeup tutorials and such on Youtube in order to earn enough money to pay for college because she is not nearly as rich as she pretends to be. (Since we never see her in a class or demonstrate an interest in anything education-related, this seems like a bit of a waste, but never mind.) After catching her d-bag boyfriend, aspiring (emphasis on "aspiring") rapper Jordan (Peyton Meyer) with a backup dancer--which ends up being livestreamed--and losing followers and her all-important sponsorship at the same time, Padgett, who prides herself on her makeover abilities, bets frenemy Alden (Madison Pettis) that she can use her gifts to transform the biggest disaster in their high school class into prom king material. Enter Cameron (Tanner Buchanan), a anti-social cynic who takes photographs that he never shows to anyone (because he is sensitive and stuff), hates everything from school (he likes those Kubrick movies, yo) to online popularity and is so far gone in the looks department that it takes Padgett nearly an entire montage to discover the male model good looks barely hiding beneath the semi-scruffy hair and freshly pressed flannels. Even if you never saw the original, I suspect you can pretty much figure out how it plays out from here.

I confess that I sat down to watch "He's All That" with my expectations about as low as they could possibly be and yet the film still managed to exceed them. Anyone holding out hope that the presence of director Mark Waters--who has one undeniable teen classic under his belt with "Mean Girls" (2004)--might find something interesting to say with this version will be sorely disappointed. Instead of taking the originalís premise--which was already fairly troublesome even back in 1999--and twisting it around suitably to take its essential shallowness to task, it ends up celebrating it to such an extent that the vague stabs at offering viewers messages about the importance of being yourself and such come off as extraordinarily hollow. Speaking of hollow, the casting is largely appalling. While the original was not exactly Shakespeare, or even "Pygmalion," it was at least populated by performers who knew how to deliver lines and observe the other basic fundamentals of screen acting. Whatever Rae's talents as a TikTok star--and as a cranky old man, I am not entirely certain what that entails in the first place--they have not transferred to her performance here, which at best suggests a deer in the headlights and at worst the same deer after the headlights have passed. There is never a single moment in which she even remotely resembles a convincing human being and it is therefore impossible to give a shit about her blossoming relationship with Cameron, her dreams of regaining her sponsorship and going to college or anything else. The most tragic thing is that, as terrible as she is, Rae's performance isnít even the worst on display because as Padgett's finicky sponsor, Kourtney Kardashian delivers a performance so unremittingly wooden that it is almost worth seeing the film--or at least the inevitable YouTube compilation of her increasingly dubious line readings--just to be astonished by what she doesnít accomplish. The closest that "He's All That" comes to genuine humor or professional-caliber performances is due to the two members of the original cast who were induced to make appearances here. As Padgett's overworked mother, Rachael Leigh Cook has a couple of amusing moments, though some may be too startled and distracted by her final transmogrification into Winona Ryder to notice. Even better is Matthew Lillard, who pops up as the school's principal and who knows how to make even the dud lines he has been given come across as amusing by the sheer force of his delivery and personality. Unless you are a Lillard completist, my advice to you is to give "He's All That" the widest possible berth and instead try to track down and watch "Get Over It" for yourself--you will be infinitely happier in the long run.

In the Miami of the futuristic whodunnit "Reminiscence," most of the area is flooded due to the effects of global warming, the weather is so oppressively hot that the town has become nocturnal and people unwilling to face reality go to visit places where, for a fee, you can get plugged into a machine that allows you to revisit your most cherished memory in a way that allows you to feel as if you are experiencing it for the first time. Nick Bannister (Hugh Jackman), an ex-solider from the war perpetually raging just outside of view, runs just such a business with longtime associate Watts (Thandiwe Newton) and when femme fatale Mae (Rebecca Ferguson) comes in one night, ostensibly to use his machine to find some missing keys, he becomes instantly besotted with her for reasons that will become readily apparent once you see her slink around in her red dress. After a few months of bliss, Mae disappears and a despondent Nick begins using the machine on himself for solace until he stumbles into an increasingly complex conspiracy involving Mae that he pursues in the hopes of discovering who she really was and why she vanished.

Because it is an increasingly rare example of a decently-funded science-fiction project from a major studio that is not a sequel, remake or otherwise derived--at least officially--from an existing property, some may go into "Reminiscence" with a willingness to forgive at least some of its flaws on the basis that it is at least ostensibly trying to do something different. The problem with the directorial debut from Lisa Joy, co-creator of the "Westworld" series, is that while it has a nifty look and a potentially intriguing premise, it ends up squandering both on a tired and convoluted narrative that borrows ideas from any number of properties (Kathryn Bigelow's tragically unsung "Strange Days" in particular) but doesn't do anything new or interesting with them. There are a bunch of good and charismatic actors on hand here but the characters that they are given are so thinly drawn that they can't do much of anything with them--the only one who makes a real impression is Ferguson and when she vanishes, viewers will feel her loss as acutely as Jackman does. Technically impressive for the most part (though there are some dodgy moments here and there) but dramatically inert, "Reminiscence" is a film about the perils of living entirely in the past that ends up succumbing to that very same malady.

There will no doubt be plenty of movies coming out in the next year or so dealing explicitly with COVID-19 and the myriad ways in which things changed for people amidst the pandemic panic. (There are already a number of them currently on the festival circuit awaiting commercial release.) Some will be good, some will be bad but it is hard to imagine any of them being quite as annoying as "Together," a two-hander comedy-drama from director Stephen Daldry and writer Dennis Kelly that is so grindingly irritating at times that it almost seems to be challenging viewers to stick it out until the end. James McAvoy and Sharon Horgan star as a couple listed in the credits as He and She--a conceit that should serve as a red flag to astute viewers--who, as the film begins, are hunkering down during the shutdown in London in their home along with their young son, Artie (Samuel Logan). As we quickly find out, the relationship between the two was already fractured practically beyond repair before the pandemic and being forced into close quarters is not exactly helping things between them. When the two aren't bickering at length with each other, they are delivering extended fourth wall-breaking monologues directed at the audience about their pandemic experiences, ranging from the odd to the tragic, while reminding us of how much they hate each other--or do they?

"Together" is one of those films that starts off on the wrong foot and never manages to right itself. Kelly's screenplay is an annoyingly contrived and absurdly theatrical contraption that would be bad enough on its own but which comes off even worse due to the film's inexplicable belief that it is somehow saying something profound or thoughtful about the human condition that it most certainly is not. McAvoy and Horgan are certainly game enough to play characters this obnoxious but their considerable efforts are for naught because there is never a single moment in which we find ourselves believing in them or caring about anything they have to say. As for Daldry, he is unable to figure out an interesting way of presenting the material and it soon becomes as monotonous to look at as it is to listen to after a while. Maybe on stage, the sheer verbosity of the piece might have made for an interesting viewing experience but as is, "Together" offers viewers little more than the opportunity to spend 90 minutes in the company of people ultimately annoying enough to make one yearn for another shutdown.

"Vacation Friends" is a comedy that strives to be as dumb, crude and coarse as possible--at least while still maintaining the all-important "R" rating--and at this point, that may be enough for some viewers at this particular point in time. As it begins, strait-laced Marcus (Lil Rey Henry) takes his girlfriend, Emily (Yvonne Orji), to a Mexican resort in order to propose to her, only to find their suite destroyed by the antics of the people above them in the Presidential Suite. The two quickly find themselves taken under the wing of fun-loving couple Ron (Jon Cena) and Kyla (Meredith Hagner), the kind of heavy partiers who rim their margaritas with cocaine instead of salt, think nothing of wrecking expensive catamarans and blithely offer to let Marcus and Emily stay with them in their room--after all, there is plenty of space in the Presidential Suite. After a week of debauchery that Marcus and Emily only barely survive, the two couples part, seemingly forever, but on the weekend of Marcus and Emily's wedding--an occasion already fraught with tension because of the distaste of her family towards him--Ron and Kyla somehow show up, bringing wacky chaos along with them while Marcus struggles to somehow control them.

The film is basically built around a time-honored sitcom premise--albeit an extremely raunchy variation--and one's tolerance level for what transpires will depend to a great extent on how you feel about sitcoms in the first place. Personally, I don't care for many of them that much and as a result, much of "Vacation Friends" proved to be a bit of a chore. The situations are dumb, the comedy is not nearly as outrageous as it seems to think it is (at one point, a couple of characters ingest psychedelic mushrooms and begin having goofy hallucinations) and the conceit of the brash never-think-first goofballs just crashing into one situation after another and causing havoc that still wins people over is about as dubious as the attempts in the final scenes to psychologically justify such borderline psychotic behavior. Still, I suppose that there is something to be said about its complete lack of pretentiousness and although his character is ultimately kind of odious the more you think about it, John Cena certainly throws himself into the role of Ron with a heedless energy that is infectious enough to make the material somewhat more palatable than it might have been otherwise. These efforts arenít enough to make "Vacation Friends" worth watching in the end but his work does help to rescue it from complete disposability.

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originally posted: 08/28/21 01:24:26
last updated: 08/28/21 01:51:28
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