JUST GO WITH IT
Adam Sandler's latest catnip for knuckleheads, Just Go With It, is based on Cactus Flower, a farce that's been the basis for a French play, a Broadway hit, and a motion picture starring Walter Matthau, Ingrid Bergman and Goldie Hawn in her Oscar-winning role. But here's the thing: Not until I actually saw the words "Cactus" and "Flower" during the end credits did I even realize this was supposed to be another adaptation of that venerable comedy.
Upon reflection, it certainly contains similar ingredients to the 1969 film I caught on VHS years ago, but they've been buried under so much narrative rubble that my cluelessness was understandable. It's a shame, because the base story -- the usual formula about a man (in this case, Sandler's plastic surgeon) who spends all his time chasing the wrong woman (Brooklyn Decker's school teacher) before realizing that the Right One (Jennifer Aniston's office assistant) was by his side all along -- is workable, there are a few genuine chuckles (certainly more than in the atrocious Grown Ups, which contained, uh, maybe one). And -- shocker! -- the child actors (Bailee Madison and Griffin Gluck) have more personality than the usual plastic moppets dragged out for these types of films.
But any potential is negated by bad casting choices -- not Sports Illustrated swimsuit bombshell Decker, who fulfills the minimal demands of her role, but screen irritant Nick Swardson, a useless Dave Matthews and a slumming Nicole Kidman -- and the typical Sandler-Dugan concessions to fratboy humor. Whether it's a kid pooping on Swardson's hand or Sandler describing his own poop as "black pickles," these witless interludes destroy the film's raison d'Être: its romcom convictions. After all, it's hard to snuggle with your sweetie in the auditorium when both hands are required to cover your nose and mouth.
It's a tricky business, casting the roles of Romans in period spectacles. It's not that Americans are expecting actual Italians in these parts -- on the contrary, with rare exception, we've long been conditioned to believe that Roman soldiers, emperors and the like sound best with British (or Australian) accents.
We accepted Russell Crowe in Gladiator and Malcolm McDowell in Caligula; we did not accept John Wayne as the Centurion overseeing Christ's crucifixion in The Greatest Story Ever Told (you haven't lived until you hear The Duke drawl, "Truly, this man was the son of God"). So here we have the capable character actor Denis O'Hare (Michael Clayton, Milk, etc.), yet when he speaks as Roman officer Lutorius in The Eagle, his flat Yankee drone is enough to make the ears bleed.
Similar instances of awkwardness can be found throughout this adaptation of Rosemary Sutcliff's novel The Eagle of the Ninth, which casts dull Channing Tatum as Marcus Aquila, an honorably discharged Roman officer who marches into enemy territory (specifically, the nether regions of Britain) to retrieve the titular golden emblem with only a surly slave (Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell) by his side. The Eagle is a handsome production, but Jeremy Brock's ornate script flags at key junctures, and director Kevin Macdonald never convinces us that this is anything more than actors playing dress-up.
For a comparable lack of verisimilitude, I'd rather just stay home and pop Mel Brooks' History of the World: Part I into the DVD player -- a line like "The eagle is not a piece of metal. The eagle is Rome" doesn't stand a chance against the likes of "Don't get saucy with me, Bernaise!"
THE COMPANY MEN
Back in December, The Weinstein Company tentatively pushed The Company Men as a legitimate year-end award contender. Fortunately for the studio, it also had The King's Speech in its corner to pick up the Oscar slack. After all, the topic tackled in this lackluster drama -- the alarming rate of downsizing in corporate America -- was already handled perfectly in 2009's best film, Up in the Air.
The Company Men, on the other hand, is a superficial look at this contemporary crisis, following a group of polished suits -- shallow Bobby (Ben Affleck), panicky Phil (Chris Cooper) and introspective Gene (Tommy Lee Jones) -- who find themselves shown the door at the conglomerate for which they've long toiled. Humbled and humiliated, the men are forced to make sacrifices like giving up their country-club golf memberships and trading in their Porsches -- and, in the movie's most cringe-worthy moment, Bobby's son discards his Xbox for no discernible reason other than to bloodily claw at viewers' heartstrings.
Luckily, Bobby's brother-in-law Jack (Kevin Costner), a salt-of-the-earth construction worker, is on hand to remind everyone that it's better to dance with wolves than finagle with stockholders, or something like that. With its unconvincing stabs at real-world misery and a contrived ending that's one degree removed from a deus ex machina, The Company Men can easily be ignored for more pressing business.