REVIEW: “The Ridiculous 6”

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Adam Sandler is an living, breathing enigma. He started as a young, fairly entertaining comedian on Saturday Night Live who eventually put out a couple of fairly entertaining movies. Since then has put out one painfully awful film after another. A quick gander at his embarrassingly bad filmography should leave you wondering how this guy is still making movies. Here is why he is an enigma – his movies make a lot of money. People go see his stuff and many find it funny. That is a mystery I may never be able to crack.

Sandler’s latest is the western spoof “The Ridiculous 6” and you have to give the guy this – he’s consistent. This has every bit of the stupidity, annoyances, and laziness identified with Sandler’s previous ‘comedies’. The Wild West offers a new setting but Sandler and company do nothing more than stain it with their brand of asininity. I only managed a few grins in this entire dopey and overly long slog.

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Sandler plays Tommy who has been raised by the Apache after the murder of his mother. Tommy is given the name “White Knife” and is set to marry Smoking Fox (Julia Jones). A man named Frank Stockburn (Nick Nolte) arrives at the village claiming to be Tommy’s father. He reveals he is terminally ill and that he has $50,000 buried nearby. He wants Tommy and his village to have the money but before they can dig it up bandits arrive and take Frank away because of an outstanding debt. Tommy can’t find the buried loot so he sets out t0 swipe $50,000 in order to save his father.

Along the way Tommy finds that his father has been….active. He meets five different men claiming that Frank Stockburn is the father they have never met. They each join Tommy in his absurd quest to find enough money to pay off his father’s captives. Of course each have their on goofy quirk. Rob Schneider plays a Mexican with a gassy burro (it’s just as offensive as it sounds). Taylor Lautner is a village idiot with a strong neck. Terry Crews is a piano player who hides that he is black. Jorge Garcia is a hairy mute wildman. Luke Wilson is a guilt-ridden boozer.

Then there is the laundry list of cameos and brief appearances which Sandler movies are known for. Harvey Keitel, Jon Lovitz, Blake Shelton, Steve Buscemi, David Spade, Will Forte, Vanilla Ice, Chris Kattan, and John Turturro to name a few. Occasionally one of these will offer a mildly amusing moment, but most are just wedged in as a recognizable face. Why some of these guys signed on for such dumb roles and lame material is beyond me.

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“The Ridiculous 6” is supposedly a satire of the western genre and all of the formulas and stereotypes they often used. I tend to give movies a lot of leeway and feel some people are often too easily offended. But this film doesn’t have the smarts to sell itself as convincing satire and it’s no wonder some have viewed the characterizations as offensive. When material is this poor it’s hard to accept it as good satire.

Ultimately “The Ridiculous 6” is more of the same from a guy perfectly content with delivering cheap overused gags and the same boring, unfunny formulas. I suppose Sandler is happy cashing the big checks and as long as people still flock to these things I don’t see him challenging himself or changing directions. So we can expect more films like “The Ridiculous 6” – juvenile, aimless, and consistently idiotic wastes of time. Lucky us.

VERDICT – 1.5 STARS

1.5 stars

REVIEW: “Nebraska”

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In the comedy/drama “Nebraska” Bruce Dern plays an elderly man named Woody Grant from Billings, Montana. Woody receives a marketing flyer in the mail that convinces him he has won $1 million. All he needs to do to collect is travel to Lincoln, Nebraska and claim his prize. The problem is his two sons and his cantankerous wife all know it’s a scam. But Woody is determined that he is going to Lincoln even if he has to go on foot. To appease Woody, David (Will Forte) agrees to drive him to Lincoln and hopefully have some bonding time with the father he barely knew.

That’s the main story, but this is an Alexander Payne film so you know there is a lot more under the surface. Payne has always been interested in characters and this is a character-driven picture. “Nebraska” touches on a variety of real life subjects including alcoholism, greed, family dysfunction, and declining health of the elderly among others. And while there’s nothing inherently funny about these things, Payne and writer Bob Nelson don’t allow the movie to drown in its seriousness. In fact at times it’s a very funny film – that near perfect mix of comedy and drama.

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One of my favorite things about “Nebraska” is its authenticity. This could easily have been a conventional comedy featuring a stereotypical old codger. Instead it’s a very real story featuring real characters and set around a very real depiction of small-town America. With a few small exceptions, “Nebraska” never hits a false note. The majority of the time the characters feel just right and the Nebraska locations seem yanked out of real life.

I also love the choice to shoot the film in black-and-white. While it wasn’t popular with the studio, Payne and cinematographer Phedon Papamichael saw it as an intricate part of their storytelling. I think it was a brilliant choice. It creates a very gloomy and bleak look that is perfectly in tune with much of Woody’s story. But it also works in the film’s portrayal of America’s dying small towns. There is a striking parallel between Woody and these rural locales that I found fascinating and the black-and-white made it all the more powerful. But at the same time there is a beauty to the look of this picture – a classic beauty that I don’t think color could provide.

That hints at another facet of the movie that really worked me. As someone born and raised in a place very similar to Woody’s hometown of Hawthorne, I was impressed with the film’s accuracy in capturing the essence of the small town. Payne, a Nebraska native, was able to show the sad side of what these places look like now while also painting a beautiful picture of how they once were.

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But once again it’s the characters that gives this film its life. Bruce Dern delivers one of the most earnest and committed performances of the year. Woody is a captivating character with more layers than you may think. He’s deeply flawed yet genuinely sympathetic. He can be unintentionally hilarious yet also sad and depressing. There is also a cloud of mystery that surrounds Woody. We get hints that he’s battling some form of dementia but it’s never clearly stated. Also, through the eyes of his wife and sons, we see Woody as a pretty bad husband, father, and man. Yet we learn new things about him from the people in his hometown that tell a slightly different story. There are numerous other nuances to this character that I loved.

The great film critic Leonard Maltin noted that “Payne has a Fellini-like eye for great faces”. I couldn’t have said it better. Much like a Coen brothers film, there are an assortment of memorable faces which add so much character and detail to the setting and the story itself. Everywhere you look there is one small character that feels a part of the fabric that makes up “Nebraska”.

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There are also an assortment of other great characters many of which are comic spark plugs. Perhaps the most talked about is June Squibb as Woody’s mean and degrading wife Kate. She undoubtedly has some of the movie’s funniest moments, but she also exposes one of the film’s only problems. Payne takes her snarky, belligerent, and sometimes foul attitude a bit too far. Don’t get me wrong, I laughed my butt off at some of her antics, but Payne overdoes it. Here’s an example. There’s a great scene where Kate, Woody, and David are visiting family grave sites at a small country cemetery. It’s a fantastic scene with the right mix of drama and humor. That is until the Kate character suddenly does a vulgar act clearly intended for a cheap laugh. It really hurts what could have been a brilliant scene.

While Payne does overplay his hand which hurts the movie a bit, I still found “Nebraska” to be one of the strongest films of the year. Not only is it a piercing examination of some very real issues, it’s also one of the funniest movies of 2013. And if Bruce Dern doesn’t get a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his phenomenal work, it will be hard to take the category seriously. I really like “Nebraska” and I think it’s a better film than Payne’s beloved “The Descendants”. It is smart and fresh filmmaking that I really hope gets rewarded this awards season.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS