“Zero Charisma” Review

While shows like The Big Bang Theory seem to emphasize that geek is chic, Zero Charisma doesn’t shy away from the destructive personalities of the culture. It may seem like a dated perspective, but the truth is anyone who frequents comic & game shops is aware of this exact individual. He’s the self-righteous game master who thinks so highly of himself that a mere pebble thrown at his towering ego will unleash a storm of dork fury. We may choose not to acknowledge him in the “cool geek” crowd, but he still exists and makes for the perfect destructive character in this film.

Scott doesn’t have much to look forward to in his life. He works part-time at a Chinese take-out joint, lives with his bitter grandma and his flaky mother is attempting to sell her house to pay off her debt. The only thing Scott lives for is his original tabletop roleplaying game which he spends the majority of his time assembling each week for his gaming group. When one of his members departs due to marriage problems, he seek to bring a new player into the fold. Enter Miles, the hipster geek who happens to be an outgoing journalist and comic artist. He is charming enough to work his way into the hearts of the D&D group and begins taking the gaming group in a different direction. It isn’t long before his warm personality and talent breed jealousy within Scott turning him into his rival. And with everything else in his life going downhill, Scott’s rage boils over into insanity as he alienates and attacks everyone in his wake. He can start fights so effortlessly over the most trivial of matters. This soon turns into a battle of the casual geek versus the hardcore geek.

This film is essentially a portrait of a self-destructive individual born within the realm of basement dwelling fantasy lovers. He has become so dedicated to his craft and routine that any altercation sparks his own personal war. This makes him both frightening and hilarious. You hate to see somebody go through such anguish, but you also feel that he’s painted himself into this corner. And you just can’t help but laugh at the fact that Scott lacks the proper mentality to deal with these issues. His life is a mess and he lacks the tools to clean it up. This does, however, provide an interesting enough conclusion that doesn’t take the Taxi Driver way out. Rather, it brings an air of uncomfortable truth and resolution to social relationships in these small-knit communities. Scott is given some heart, but just enough so he doesn’t make any wild leaps in personality.

The script for this project has a biting and insightful wit as when Scott grows irritated by Miles showing him up with his geek knowledge. Scott claims that arguing over starship speeds is irrelevant, but Miles brings references and math into the equation to solve it. Scott at one point claims he was the original writer of The Matrix to which Miles buries his statement in the dirt with several sources. There’s even some strange and uncomfortable bits as when Scott attempts to pop a zit on his pal’s forehead in a rape-esque moment. Scenes like that took me out of the picture, but the hilarious dialogue that goes on at these D&D gaming sessions kept winning me back over. In its own morbid little way, Zero Charisma is a triumph of nerd depiction that I sure hope echos within the various communities to which it plays off of.

“Son of Batman” Review

I fear that Warner Brothers may have exhausted their Batman animated movie ideas if they’re now resorting to estranged child plots. Such a concept seems like something more common for a television program in the twilight of its run. It’s a move that one would have to be very brave and very capable of pulling off to make for an entertaining movie. This is not that movie as the whole idea is given a very lukewarm presentation.

Damien Wayne has grown up far from his father Bruce Wayne in the mountain HQ for the League of Assassins. His entire life has been spent on intense warrior training with his mother Talia and his grandfather Ra’s. Terror strikes, however, when the evil Deathstroke descends on the stronghold with his highly-trained minions to destroy the League. When Ra’s is murdered in the scuffle, Damien vows swift revenge for the death of his grandfather. His quest leads him to Gotham City where he finally comes face to face with his father. Naturally, being the dark knight, it isn’t long before Damien takes an interest in the Robin costume and the dynamic duo takes on a father-son relationship.

The two are polar opposites, however, with Damien being more of a killer than a crime fighter. Growing up with assassins, he’s been taught some rather nasty lessons that Bruce must now rectify with his more humane approach to vigilantism. He shows him the ropes by following the trail of clues that leads them to some fights with Killer Croc and a gang of Man Bats. Those fight scenes are decent, but never really ascend past the level of television animation. And the final showdown between the two and Deathstroke is so underwhelming for a fight with swords and martial arts. These three are supposed to be masters of their fighting craft and here they’re pulling out amateur moves and mistakes. This could have been an impressive display and instead it just feels like another uninspired moment.

What’s really so disappointing about the film is the very poor choice in voice talents. None of these voices really fit all that well. I couldn’t buy the emotion of Bruce Wayne, the cruelness of Damien and the evil of Deathstroke. All of the voice acting either feels ill-fitting or phoned in with a dry delivery. The animation looks decent, but does appear to be a step down from Warner Brothers’ previous direct-to-video animations. It has that sort of stylized jerkiness you’d see on ‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’. For television, it looks great. But as an animated film for video, this needs an upgrade. I wasn’t entirely uninvested in the film as there are some great dialogue exchanges between Bruce and Damien as well as some fun lines for Alfred and Nightwing. As a whole, however, I was more distracted by the dip in quality for just about every department. In the canon of these direct-to-video DC Comics movies, this is certainly not a highlight and may be one of the worst they’ve made.

“Better Living Through Chemistry” Review

Even great actors can falter in a film if they’re not used properly. Take Sam Rockwell, a fantastic personality who can ooze charisma for any upbeat role. The only roles I could not buy him in are the sad wimp or the aggressive bully. ‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ likes to think he can fill both designations and lets the trainwreck unfold in a terribly hateable script. Sam Rockwell is a great talent, but even he can’t save a comedy so vile and unlikable that’s devoid of almost all humor.

Doug Varney (Sam Rockwell) is the meekly innocent pharmacist in a town packed with jerks. His wife is a neglectful health nut, his son is a school shooting waiting to happen and everybody he knows more or less walks all over him. It isn’t until he meets lonely housewife Elizabeth Roberts (Olivia Wilde) when he actually feels needed and appreciated. Fed up with both their lives leading nowhere with little appreciation, the two have an affair behind closed doors or in a car when presumably nobody is watching.

Then, in a strange jump, Doug decides it would also be fun to start pilfering pills from the pharmacy he runs. I guess he figured that if you’re going to be unfaithful you might as well commit felonies and get high in the process. He also uses these pills to his advantage in order to beat his wife at a bike race and then ravish like never before in the bedroom. He’s also finally able to connect with his son, but only through cussing and causing public property damage with ninja stars.

I know this whole experience should be seen as a warped way for Doug to gain some backbone, but it’s more of the makings of a villain ala Falling Down. You wish you could be happy for Doug, but it’s hard to root for him when he sinks down lower than the awful characters who spit on him. It isn’t long before Doug and Elizabeth decide to off her old man so they can runaway together. By this point you naturally don’t expect the plan to work and look forward to the inevitable downfall of the character.

But guess what? That moment never comes and were instead treated to a happy ending via left-field accidents that resolve everything. Such an ending would imply that we like the character of Doug and want to see everything work out nice for him in the end. It’s a little hard to feel that when the character is committing all these illegal and immoral acts with a devilish sensibility. You’d almost feel sorry for his dark descent if it weren’t for the fact that he got away with everything. Instead, you just end up hating Doug the same way you despise all the other characters. He sinks to their level and succeeds.

I’m still hung up on how he decided to make the massive leap from having an affair to stealing prescription drugs. Maybe if he’d actually fantasized or considered it at one point in the film it would actually make sense. Heck, the film had a perfect opportunity to use his drugged up and party-boy delivery assistant as an inspiration. It wouldn’t make Doug anymore likable with this added in, but it would at least make some sense of his actions.

There are some early moments where I was convinced that this could be an acceptable dark comedy. In a scene similar to ‘One Hour Photo’, Doug explains the various customers of the small town and the secrets he keeps on all of them. That right there would’ve been a great starting point for the story, but it’s rarely taken advantage of in the movie. We’re instead led down a not-so-likable path of drug abuse and wild sex, but not the kind where anybody gets hurt. After all, that would ruin all of Doug’s “fun”.

I know that Geoff Moore and David Posamentier were aiming for dark comedy here, but I fear they have forgotten the comedy part. Every character just ends up becoming so over-the-top in their mean-spirited nature that they all turn into cartoonish villains. These two writers just cannot conceive likable characters with a script like this.

Doug bursts into his anti-social son’s room and gets on his good side not by being a dad, but trying act cool with foul language and encouraging violence. If my dad did that to me when I was 12, I would’ve called the cops on him. Instead, Doug’s kid learns to trust his dad and confess what’s wrong at school. And all it took was some illegal acts of destruction to get on his good side.

What’s really disheartening is that all these characters are so vile that you don’t feel anything for any of them. Then when the movie actually wants you to feel some emotions when the characters are sweet or placed in jeopardy, you couldn’t care less about how things play out. Then you see how things actually play out and you’re pissed at how lazy the writers were with the conclusion. This is one of the few films with an ending so terrible you may want to bolt yourself to the couch to prevent your fist from flying through the screen.

‘Better Living Through Chemistry’ never really delivers on being either a dark comedy or an uplifting tale of gaining confidence. If it weren’t so ridiculous in its plot and motivations, it could almost pass for a drama. But the combining of the two genres for a good-pharmacist-gone-bad story just doesn’t work here. The film has about two or three decent chuckles and maybe one or two moments of satisfying revenge, but nothing more than that.

“Best Night Ever” Review

Sometimes a filmmaker can surprise you. Take the writing/directing duo Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg for example. Up until now, they’ve only made awful parody films such as ‘Epic Movie’, ‘Disaster Movie’ and ‘Meet the Spartans’. But their latest film, ‘Best Night Ever’, is their first original film. There are no cutaway movie references or pop culture satire gags in sight. I’m impressed as I didn’t think these two could ever conceive a film without relying on making fun of films. And guess what? They’re still the worst filmmakers ever.

Told in the popular found-footage format, ‘Best Night Ever’ follows a bachelorette party bound for Las Vegas. When they arrive, however, a case of stolen credit card info leaves the four girls without a swanky room in the city of lights. Deciding not to let this set back their partying, they check in to a low-grade motel on the bad part of town. It’s then that the movie starts struggling to find things for these characters to do by throwing them into wild scenarios.

At one point they decide to buy cocaine from a valet. The valet then robs them and the girls are forced to find money via strange acts such as mud wrestling. The mud wrestling could’ve been interesting, but it’s entirely cut as it proceeds straight to the bloody aftermath. And then it’s just one forced scene after another including taking drugs they swiped from an ambulance because they literally do not know what to do next. This is a plot so bad even the characters know it.

As for the characters, you care for none of them because they never get proper development. All the ingredients are there as you have an uptight wife with criminal tendencies and a new mom who wants to be a party girl. Those are both great foundations to work from, but they never build to anything. You don’t make us care about characters by just slapping them with traits and then never using them. Without any characters to become attached to on any level, all we’re really watching is a bunch of crazy women running around Las Vegas doing stupid and illegal acts. No story, no character, no great lines; just random acts of stupidity and vulgarity.

The one good thing I can say about the direction is that Seltzer and Friedberg are committed to the found-footage format. They make sure a character is always holding the camera at some point with no weird or out-of-place shots. Everything else is a mess.

For making so many comedy films, Seltzer and Friedberg have zero sense of timing. Towards the end of the film, the girls run afoul of a naked, obese black woman that chases them through a hotel. That type of shock humor only has a lifespan of 30 seconds max. But, no, we follow her for what seems like forever in a chase scene that will not end.

But the worst moment by far is a sequence that lasts over 10 minutes in which the girls dash around Las Vegas fulfilling the bachelorette party scavenger hunt. These scenes are not scripted nor do they have any dialogue as that would detract from the annoying overlaying music. There are some films that feel like they were made just so the celebrities involved would get a chance to travel. It’s clear that these actresses were doing this for a chance to run around Las Vegas like loons and we get to watch them have fun without any acting.

Is it really a surprise that these guys don’t know how to write either? They may have done their best to stay original with the script, but their unfunny nature and terrible ideas remain intact. There is no real story or characters present in this movie. There are components that if properly assembled could make at least a cohesive story, but why use any of that when you can just cram in as many vulgar jokes as possible. Oh, and because they’re women partying, make sure they scream and squeal as much as possible at the top of their lungs.

Also, was I supposed to laugh at the scene where they kidnap the wrong guy who ripped them off, raid his house and then urinate and defecate on his face? Is this what comedy has come to in this day and age? I know some women would like to praise this film for being a raunchy comedy with an all female cast, but do you really want to bestow that progressive title on a picture that involves pooping on people’s faces for revenge? Even ‘The Hangover’, for all its vulgarity, still had some standards. Chalk this up to Seltzer and Friedberg’s inability to write women, characters, gags and comedy movies in general.

This is ground zero for humor. It’s as if an A-bomb of awful went off in this movie leaving nothing but plot-puppet characters dancing around Las Vegas. I know I’ve said this with every film they’ve ever made, but Adam Seltzer and Jason Friedberg need to stop making movies. There is no hope for these two as they’ve been making terrible movies for years and have shown zero sign of improvement. Move over, Ed Wood and Uwe Boll. Seltzer and Friedberg have secured their spot as the worst directors of all time and this being their first original movie ensures that title.

“The Hidden Fortress” Review

Akira Kurosawa is one of the best directors of all-time not just for his exceptional camera work, but for making samurai films both unique and fun. No film is more true of this then ‘The Hidden Fortress’, an adventure in feudal Japan seen through the eyes of two bumbling soldiers. It adds an unparalleled level of comic relief to a tale of sword fights and brutal warfare.

Trapped behind enemy lines after a failed campaign, Tahei and Matashichi try to lay low and find a way out of enemy territory. On their journey, they stumble upon a secret base for what they do not realize is a fallen clan. Within the mountains hides samurai general Rokurota and princess Akizuki who offer the two greedy men gold for safe passage to safer land. Agreeing to the task, Tahei and Matashichi try to maintain their friendship over monetary gain while Rokurota fends off any enemies and Akizuki deals with her lack of power. The journey is made all the more difficult as they hide the gold they’re transferring within wooden sticks that even the local authorities are aware of. Not to mention there is actually a price on the princess’ head.

This is easily one of my favorite Kurosawa films for the perspectives of both the characters and the camera. Several of the shots in the film are grand in scale involving hundreds of extras. One of the best scenes involves a massive wave of slaves rushing down a steep flight of stairs as guards attempt to fire on them before being rushed. The most memorable, however, is a pike duel Rokurota accepts with an old military buddy in a circle of soldiers.

The two comical soldiers are usually the trickster characters saddled to supporting roles, but it’s infinitely entertaining to watch them take center stage. They don’t become the heroes per se and they don’t exactly mend their ways all that much either. It’s a refreshing change of pace to the usual hero tale. Rokurota is best suited for this role as he makes the tough decisions that guides his group across shady ground. Princess Akizuki, however, has the most interesting development as she attempts to handle her fall from grace while still trying to do good for others.

It’s easy enough to see how this film was a large inspiration for ‘Star Wars’. The characters of C3Po and R2-D2 were clearly inspired by Tahei and Matashichi. I shouldn’t even have to mention who the samurai general and princess were inspired to create for George Lucas’ sci-fi epic. I cannot get enough of this movie as it just gets better every time I watch it. The film manages to mix perfect cinematography with an exceptional level of fun and cool. I still prefer ‘The Seven Samurai’ and ‘Yojimbo’ as the definitive samurai films of the genre, but ‘The Hidden Fortress’ is a close third simply for how much it redefined the architecture and looked good while doing it.

“VEEP: Season 2” Review

Does the need for jokes really outweigh the need for characters? I ask because the entire appeal of “VEEP” seems to be about nothing more than political officials spouting obscenities behind closed doors. Sure, that can be funny for a while, but after a few minutes the jokes gets old real fast. At that point you start looking for any likable characters you can latch onto that are not just vehicles for stupidity. Except once you start looking for something outside the crass humor and mean-spirited nature, there’s just nothing there.

Julia Louis-Dreyful once again plays the vice president who ends up being thrown into uncomfortable political situations. Some times they’re unavoidable and some times she walks right into them without any foresight. Her tactical team is just as inept and dumbfounded at both making smart tactical decision and generating a proper public image. Their angry frustration is mildly warranted by how the vice president just doesn’t take her job that seriously or stumbles into traps. At one point she ends up talking about Middle Eastern politics at a pig roast with a skewered hog directly behind her. Most political figures wouldn’t be able to recover so easily from such a fiasco, but the veep manages to come out of every disaster with few scratches. It sounds like her team works a miracle for this to happen, but it’s really just an unexplained miracle of wiping the slate clean for another troublesome scenario.

I kept trying to find something likable about any of these characters to make me route for them, but there is just nothing to them. Every single one if manipulative and only in the political game for their own gains. Most of these characters hardly bat an eye if given the opportunity to run for a higher office if they can sell out the vice president. And the vice president isn’t all that likable either given her awful mistakes, berating of her staff, constantly cussing and making some rather awful assumptions. There is nobody in this show to root for at all. In the season finale, it looks as though the vice president has a shot at being the actual president. Honestly, who cares about that if all the characters are vile messes? The only way these scripts could have been entertaining is if these characters got their just desserts in the end, but, again, they all come out of these incidents with flying colors. So, once again, who cares about them?

You can have a show with deeply flawed main characters that happen to be antagonists. Just look at “House of Cards”, “Breaking Bad” and “Archer”. However, those shows managed to be enjoyable simply for how well their little schemes were executed and the layered nature of their characters. “VEEP” has none of that; just jokes. Yeah, I laughed once or twice, but that was between long stretches of being bored and tired of the venom these characters spit at each other. It’s much more like “The Office” where it appears more focused on telling a real good joke no matter how out of place or inappropriate it appears for a story.

“American Hustle” Review

Director David O. Russel takes a con job tale and transforms it into a fast and stylish ride. He doesn’t gussy it up with lots of guns, gangsters and explosions, but keeps the plot moving so quickly with so many characters working on multiple levels. When it logically makes sense to take a dramatic approach, it goes for it. When there is a perfect moment for some comedy, Russel takes advantage of it. All of this feels organic and looks pretty darn sexy with the late-70’s backdrop.

Based on a true story, Irving Rosenfeld (Christian Bale) figures himself to be a mastermind con artist. He swindles many with various operations and his female partner Sydney (Amy Adams). They keep getting better and eventually fool around, despite Irving’s bitter wife (Jennifer Lawrence) and innocent son at home. Their scam operations are soon foiled by FBI agent Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper), but he’s willing to let them off the hook if they work undercover to scam and blow the lid off a corrupt congressman. Irving ends up using all of his smarts to pull off a successful scam when the odds keep raising with so many changing variables involving the FBI, the mob and even his wife.

‘American Hustle’ has an organic flow, but still moves at a breakneck pace. It knows exactly when to be emotional, when to be hysterical and when to be sexy without wasting a beat. There are so many levels at play in this script for all these characters to shine and there is an undeniable charm in how they set out to achieve their own goals. Every character feels real and smart, including Jennifer Lawrence’s character. At first she just appears as an obnoxious wife who smokes too much and blows up the microwave, but she’s smart enough to keep a grip on her husband until she finally discovers what truly makes her happy in life. Needless to say, the performances from this all-star cast is a joy to witness. Christian Bale proves that he can fill just about any role as he embodies Irving with a potbelly and comb over.

At over 2 hours, ‘American Hustle’ felt like it went by too quickly given the quickness of the script and direction. We get to spend a lot of time with these characters and witness only the important and juicy scenes of this operation. Everything is kept extremely tight with hardly a single scene that doesn’t garner a laugh, a cringe or leave you salivating for more. At times the movie moves so fast that if you blink you’ll miss the ending. This may be a deterrent for some, but I just couldn’t get enough of how director David O. Russel was able to keep things moving with a smart and sexy vibe. It’s most certainly a film I’m going to want to come back to if not for the layered performances than for the amount of details that zooms past the screen.

“Saving Mr. Banks” Review

If you’re familiar with the life of Walt Disney, you know there was a little more than fairy dust and magic that went into his works. There’s a tale to be told of just about every film he’s credited on with some charming and some scandalous. ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ is a little of both in how the cocky dreamer attempts to acquire the rights for adapting ‘Mary Poppins’ into a feature film.

His biggest hurdle is the original author, P.L. Travers (Emma Thompson). She completely loathes the Disney machine and can’t stand the thought of her novel being slapped up on the big screen by a cartoonist. It’s especially insulting given how personal the story and character are to her, relating to her rocky childhood in Australia. As we’re slowly given bits and pieces about Travers’ youth and the relationship with her father, the author finally decides to sell her novel to avoid poverty, but only under her conditions. A jaded Traver’ pops on over to Los Angeles where she supervises the writing process with meticulous and absurd demands. She even comments on the way the script should appear as she doesn’t understand or much care for the script writing format. The majority of the movie is a battle of personal goals as Walt Disney (Tom Hanks) and his team attempt to woo Travers into reaching a compromise.

The film jumps back and forth between Travers’ youth and her fight with Disney. Sometimes the two stories match up with the tone and other times it feels like an opportunity was missed for transitions. The story of young Travers’ eccentric father (Collin Farrell) and his downward spiral is certainly a tragic tale, but it feels very melodramatic in several aspects. To tell the truth, I was much more moved by the relationship adult Travers forms with her limo driver (Paul Giamatti). He first appears as an over-eager Disney servant, but ends up being the most sympathetic and interesting character that Travers comes into contact with. That’s not to say that Tom Hanks doesn’t do an exceptional job as the legendary Walt Disney. I honestly couldn’t imagine anyone else in that role and the playful bickering he has with Travers is priceless. Credit should also be given to the ‘Poppins’ creative team (Bradley Whitford, B.J. Novak, Jason Scwartzman) who put up with most of her crazy suggestions including the removal of the color red entirely from the film.

Ultimately, the performances were the main draw of ‘Saving Mr. Banks’ more than anything. Considering the film was actually a Walt Disney production, it does embellish the story in how Travers eventually comes to accept the screen version of ‘Mary Poppins’ (despite going against many of her initial wishes). The drama of both Travers’ father and her acceptance of what her novel really means feels a tad bit overdone the way it was written. Thankfully, the performances by every single cast member is pitch-perfect. I especially couldn’t keep my eyes off Thompson and Hanks whenever they’re clashing on screen. The most memorable moment is when a stone-faced Travers is lured into Disney Land with a vibrantly grinning Walt. She isn’t impressed or swayed by his words, but Walt is still happy as he was at least able to win a bet by getting her on the carousel. The constant back and forth between them make this otherwise exaggerated script much more appealing and entertaining than it should be.

“Frozen” Review

Disney’s latest animated musical certainly has a lot to offer. There are a lot of songs, plenty of characters and a story that’s more focused on sisterly love than finding prince charming. While ‘Frozen’ certainly does bring a lot of new elements to the table, it ends up like Chinese food; it tastes pretty good, but ultimately leaves you empty desiring more.

Anna spends her youth completely separated from her sister Elsa, hidden away in a room with her icy powers. When Elsa finally comes of age to inherit the throne, the two sisters finally connect for the first time in several years. But their reunion is cut short when Elsa accidentally exposes her dangerous powers and nearly injures her guests. Convinced she is a monster, Elsa retreats to nearby mountain where she assembles her ice fortress and casts a spell of eternal winter on the land. It’s up to Anna to save her sister and restore order with the help of the mountaineer Kristof, his trusty reindeer Sven and the comical snowman Olaf.

As Disney’s follow-up musical to ‘Tangled’ (from most of the same team no less), I couldn’t help but make comparisons. The songs, for example, are not as memorable and don’t have that same energy. For having twice as many musical numbers as ‘Tangled’, there wasn’t a single one that I found myself admiring. Some of them are still amusing as when Anna harps on life outside the castle and Olaf dreaming of being able to experience summer. Other songs just feel entirely out of place. The biggest song of the movie, “Let It Go”, feels somewhat misleading. Based on the tone and melody of that sequence, it seems as though Elsa finally embraced her powers with an upbeat outlook on her new sanctuary. It almost looked as if she were going to go into full-on villain mode which would’ve made the film a lot more interesting. Instead, she reverts back to being sad and ashamed when we next see her. Either “Let It Go” was a poor choice of music or Elsa has strange mood swings.

While the music and tone may not be impressive, the animation manages to pick up the slack. There are some gorgeous sequences involving lots of snow and perfectly timed slapstick. Most of the humor is in the department of Olaf, a character who I wasn’t fond of at first but soon warmed up to. Being a snowman, there are so many possibilities with removing body parts and reassembling himself with the abundant white resource. I ended up liking Olaf so much I almost wanted the story to be entirely about him. The other characters have some hilarious lines and physical gags as well, but they hardly compare. For instance, the reindeer Sven gets in some great expressions and poses, but all I could think of was the horse from ‘Tangled’. We’ve seen this same character with the same bit before. Give us something more than just a carbon copy, Disney.

I’ll give ‘Frozen’ some credit for taking a few risks and trying out some new material as it leads up to the happy ending we all see coming. But as far as Disney animated musicals go, this one was lukewarm. It attempts to juggle many characters with a plot that may be too intricate for its own good. There is still some detailed animation and exceptional gags, but I’ve come to expect most of this from Disney anyway. If they ever hope to top their surprise hit ‘Tangled’, they’re going to have to serve up something warmer than ‘Frozen’.

“Jeff Dunham: Achmed Saves America” Review

Jeff Dunham’s one-note ventriloquism puppet Achmed takes a leap into the world of animation. The result of a failed suicide bomber mission, Achmed is plucked from his Middle Eastern home and transported to America. Choosing to accept his now skeletal appearance, a family takes him as they mistake Achmed for a French exchange student. Though the tiny terrorist is still hellbent on destroying the Western world, he soon comes to adore the country via friendly people and all-you-can-eat buffets. Before you know it, he’s on a mission to save his new family.

I’ll preference this review by stating that I am not a fan of Jeff Dunham’s brand of comedy. All of his puppet characters spout mostly simplistic politically incorrect statements with a subtle tone of racism. That can be funny for a few bits, but this style seems to comprise the majority of his puppets. Achmed’s angle is that he keeps shouting “Silence! I kill you!” while making stereotypical observations of Western and Middle Eastern culture. Sure enough, this animated feature does just that by featuring all aforementioned exaggerations. Some of the characters Achmed meets includes the sexually confused teenage girl, the anal-retentive liberal, the gun-toting redneck and the angry terrorist leader who rolls over easily for something as simple as frozen yogurt.

Oddly enough, this seems a little toned down for Jeff Dunham. There is nothing that risque in any of the humor. In fact, most of it feels like watered down ‘Family Guy’ jokes with the constant pop culture references and questionable observations. There are a few jabs made at both east and west, but nothing all that biting. It’s almost as if Dunham is trying to steer his act in a new direction as he paints Achmed as a more sympathetic character who learns to love. It’s a logical progression for the story, but it kind of ruins the whole point of the character.

Speaking of ‘Family Guy’, the animation designs feel very uninspired with simplistic round faces and eyes. Thankfully, the actual animation itself is impressive for the sheer timing and detail in movement. If anybody deserves praise for this special, it’s the technical team that make most of the visual gags work and take full advantage of Achmed’s skeletal form. Achmed’s jaw literally drops in shock to which he replaces as if they were his contacts. He shatters when hit by a car and struggles to put himself back together. These are all solid gags that are handled rather well by the visual team.

But, wow, the majority of the written jokes are flat. Jeff even resorts to old-as-dirt bits such as the rabbi and the priest who walk into a bar. If you’re going to dig up those corpses, you better have an original idea to dress them up in. Sadly, Jeff mostly just goes for the easy laughs. He never really shocks and he never really surprises with originality. There are some amusing bits here and there (thanks mostly to the quality animation direction), but they hardly warrant an hour-long fish-out-of-water movie. This may have worked better as a TV pilot, but it sure wears thin for its movie-style length.