“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.

“Bad Grandpa” Review

Since the release of the first Jackass movie in 2002, the stunt and shock of these good old boys have slowly been replaced by many amateur imitators on both television and YouTube. Thankfully, the elaborate team behind the Jackass trilogy has taken a slight step up by following the formula of Sacha Baron Cohen’s shock comedy. And while Bad Grandpa may not be on the same laugh level of Borat, it’s at least refreshing to see that they’re trying something more innovative than just Jackass 4. And as long as this means no Jackass 4, I’m all for it.

This time around there is actually a story and characters to go along with all the public pranks. Through an elaborate makeup process, Johnny Knoxville inhabits the role of Irving, a horny old man who is overjoyed at the recent death of his wife. He even confesses his glee to a woman sitting next to him in the waiting room. His newfound freedom is soon put on hold, however, as his witty 8-year-old grandson Billy (Jackson Nicoll) needs to be driven to his dad while his mom is in prison. The dad happens to be a deadbeat drug dealer who only accepts the child for the government paycheck, but it’s of little concern to Irving who is more interested in getting rid of Billy and chasing tail. However, after spending some time on the road having fun with Billy…well, you can see where this is going to end up. But, let’s be honest, the story isn’t what is important here. It’s just a thin narrative used as an excuse for some skits ranging from vulgar wordplay to slapstick to the gross-out.

While I didn’t exactly get a hard laugh, there were a few moments that caught me off guard. Just about every segment here is very well thought out and funny for the sheer length these two characters are willing to go. I got to give credit to both Johnny Knoxville and Jackson Nicoll for maintaining face and always delivering a great line for whoever they run into. I also think it’s worth noting how Johnny Knoxville does a great acting job with Irving not just for the crass remarks but the genuine emotion. When he confesses to a bar patron about how he feels bad about leaving Billy with his father, you really believe the sincerity in his voice. It’s not exactly a grand performance, but the believability he displays in certain scenes is impressive. Even Jackson Nicoll does a fantastic job as a slick speaking youngster that comes off more innocent than condescending.

It feels a bit odd to write this about a movie with defecation and punches to the groin, but the antics of Johnny Knoxville and company seem a little soft in comparison to their competition. The movie is still quite funny, but it never really hit that heavy laugh point I had with Borat or even the Jackass trilogy. To be honest, though, that may be a good thing. I’ve seen plenty of public prank movies/TV series and some of them end up going way too far for a joke. Maybe I’m still just fuming over how awful The Amazing Racist bits were in InAPPropriate Comedy, but Johnny Knoxville impersonating an old man with a smart-mouthed kid just came off as charming. Again, it feels a bit odd writing that about a film where the kid drinks beer and chucks his grandma’s corpse off a bridge.

The movie ends with footage of the people in public finally being informed of the joke after each segment. Everybody seemed cool with the prank and nobody was irate at being lied to from those clips. It’s a perfect cap to a film that comes off a little more good-natured than you may be expecting from Jackass. Bad Grandpa certainly has brilliant moments of the shocking and the grotesque, but it never really crossed that line of being too offensive or trying too hard for a joke. It just has that certain level of crude that never boils over into complete disgust.

I probably won’t be quoting this duo anytime in the future, but I was sufficiently entertained by their road trip excuse for some fun skits. As far as pranks go, the Jackass team prove once again that they’re still the best both for the laughs and the technique. And if they’re willing to try new ideas like wrap more narratives and characters around their comedy, the future looks bright for these old geezers. My only hope is that they retire to something less draining before Johnny Knoxville really doesn’t need makeup for this role anymore.

“About Time” Review

Time travel isn’t a science fiction element exclusive to the genre that birthed it. If I’ve learned anything from the Back to the Future trilogy, it’s that the ability to manipulate the past and future can spawn many different stories. About Time does just that: it takes a character with the ability to change the past and has him use his powers to find the perfect woman romantic comedy style.

Right off the bat, I had serious doubts about this story. I’ve been burned before with this concept as with the incredibly boring The Time Traveler’s Wife and the predictably routine Click. Luckily, this was a movie in the hands of Richard Curtis (Love Actually). And while Curtis doesn’t really think through the whole time travel angle, he does know how to craft an enjoyable rom-com.

When Nick has finally come of age to move out of his parents lush home, his dad reveals that the men of the family have the amazing ability to turn back time by simply thinking about a point in time. He tests this out by going into the closet, thinking about the New Years party he was at last night and ends up back at that very point in time. Every element recurs unless of course Nick desires to change it. This allows him to craft the perfect life where just about every mistake he makes with the girl he desires most can be averted. Every line can be a gem, every kiss can be the best and every move will be perfect. But there’s always a catch when it comes to messing with time and Nick soon learns the consequences and how he can’t exactly save everyone.

Though the film’s main goal is to present a charming romantic comedy involving time travel, it also has a lot to do with the relationship between Nick and his father. The two of them, sharing the same ability, chat a lot about what good can come of this power and how best to use it. You really get a sense of more or less the reality of these powers as Nick’s father covers what he’s spent most of his life achieving and regretting with changing time. You can use this power to read every book in the world twice or become a famous actor several times over, but none of it beats a date with your favorite girl or a game of ping pong with your dad.

As a warning, don’t go in expecting a satisfying portrayal of time travel. The whole concept of time travel itself doesn’t make much sense in cinema to begin with, but the inconsistencies are a little more visible here. The rules of Nick and has dad’s abilities are played very loose as you can apparently take others with you as you travel to the past. The implied paradoxes of adding another character for the journey not to mention that Nick at one point uses his power to travel back to his childhood would make one’s head explode. Take a cue from the Austin Powers films and don’t overanalyze it too much.

If you’re willing to go along with suspension of disbelief, About Time is a very pleasing romance romp with a unique concept. There are plenty of likable characters, genuine comedy and real emotion to fuel the entire redoing a timeline concept. As someone who wasn’t fond of the concept or romantic comedies in general, I was very surprised at how entertained I was by the whole scenario. For being Richard Curtis’ final film, he certainly turns in an astonishingly heartwarming story that touches so many bases about life, love and family. It’s not exactly a masterpiece of the genre, but the movie is irresistible enough to bring a smile to even the most jaded audience.