Starring: Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, Richard Ayoade & Billy Crudup.
Seen At: Didsbury.
On: Monday, 3rd September, 2012.
Comedy in populist, mainstream Hollywood is currently in quite a transitional phase. The mid-to-late nineties were Jim Carrey’s broadly comedic rubber-faced golden years; with the likes of Dumb and Dumber The Mask, Liar Liar, but also the slightly darker, edgier, left-field idiosyncratic gem: The Cable Guy, in 1996, directed by a certain, (then up-and-coming) Ben Stiller.
Late nineties teen-comedy, was the next order of the day, followed in the light of audiences Screaming for the parodied side of Wes Craven’s Ghostface thanks to Scary Movie, or high-school-set students either: cleverly consulting Shakespeare’s more shrewish side, to brilliantly decide exactly what were the 10 Things (they) Hate(d) About You in 1999. Just before that, a bunch of teenagers were ravenous for their next raunchy slice of American Pie.
In 2001, Stiller burst onto that very same mainstream scene with the uproarious Meet The Parents. Two sequels intermittently followed, with varying success, and a steady stream of commercially successful crowd-pleasers in between. Among them was 2004’s Dodgeball, an enjoyable, if somewhat rather overrated ‘gross-out’ sports comedy.
This was the film that, if little else established the dynamite pairing of Stiller’s collaboration with one of my very favourite actors – Vince Vaughn.
Now they’re starring again, as one half of four suburbanites, thrown together through the most implausibly outrageous of circumstances. An alien attack has come to fruition in a Costco-inspired megastore of all barely conceivable locations. Stiller and Vaughn, together with Moneyball’s Jonah Hill and British actor/director Richard Ayoade - playing a self-assured but ultimately unfulfilled misfit, form a Neighbourhood Watch group.
The style and premise – namely that of forming a quartet of contrasting, 21st Century Ghostbusters, actually works (if not up to those dizzily entertaining, box-office-smashing standards) – considerably better, and in a slightly funnier, more involving way than Dodgeball did.
That most fiendishly difficult of equilibriums – the one between broadly comedic laughs while coupled with the occasional innocuous scare – is actually obtained marginally successfully – if not particularly memorably.
The dialogue is never quite as sharp as expected, but in Vaughn’s wonderfully cynical vernacular of course, is delivered with his now customarily quick-fire rapidity. He steals the film, away from Stiller in a sense, with Stiller still stuck to playing it rather straight-laced, while remaining a reliably staple presence in the comedy cannon.
It’s more left to Vaughn (as a likeable everyman) and particularly Ayoade and Hill, to provide the majority of what are, more often than not, fairly muted giggles when they should be unstoppable ones.
The aliens themselves - summoned after the impulsive meddling of a futuristic, spherical metal orb that blows up a cow (much to their open-mouthed, enthused incredulity) – are welcomed rather than run-from.
One of the funniest scenes, involves them revelling in the prospect of having pictures taken with the seemingly dormant alien (now in sunglasses), only to be the perilous, hapless victims of another attack, moments later.
Human form also comes under suspicious question, with a clever sequence where members of the public are assessed for their extra-terrestrial potential.
First on the list of possible culprits, is a very funny performance from Billy Crudup as an outwardly sinister, voyeuristic next-door neighbour figure, somewhat reminiscent of Norman Bates – all squinty-eyed and cold emotion - a vast antithesis to the reveal as to what’s actually happening behind his front door!
Proceedings become more elaborate, but slightly overblown in the latter stages, and it’s quite male-centric throughout, but overall this is fizzy, undemanding fare, with a typically appealing cast – it’s just not written with quite enough of the comic pop as you’d hope for, given the talent involved.
Rating: * * *