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Review: ‘The Boss Baby: Family Business,’ Teachers and Students

Designed and built strictly for family audiences, The Boss Baby: Family Business pumps out a steady stream of jokes, wisecracks, and cultural references in a boldly frank endeavor to appeal to both parents and their pre-teen children (but no real-life babies). 

The sequel to The Boss Baby (2017) requires absolutely no knowledge of the first film, since the premise remains the same: babies are far more intelligent that their parents will ever know. The sequel reheats the same tropes as before, while obeying a surefire rule for all subsequent installments of films that earn a multiple returns on the studio’s investment: add even more characters, doing the same kind of thing. 

The titular baby was introduced originally as the younger, infant, suit-wearing brother of putative hero Tim. Subsequently it was revealed that he had an adult mind, thanks to a secret formula that enabled him to serve as a secret agent for a mysterious company. 

Tweaking the premise a bit, the sequel finds Tim (James Marsden) and Ted (Alec Baldwin) all grown up and living separate and very different lives. Tim is married to Carol (Eva Longoria) and a stay-at-home dad to two daughters, Tabitha (Ariana Greenblatt) and her baby sister Tina (Amy Sedaris), while Ted is a fabulously successful single businessman. 

An inciting incident brings Ted home to help out Tim, where they both discover that Tina is actually the new Boss Baby with a fresh new mission to go undercover and investigate a suspicious school started by Dr. Armstrong (Jeff Goldblum). That’s also where Tabitha already attends, and so Tim is eager to help out, hoping that he can learn why Tabitha has been drawing away from him recently, even after Tina explains that he will need to drink a new secret formulate that de-ages him into childhood. 

Returning screenwriter Michael McCullers wrote the first film, adapted from a book by Marla Frazee, and his style of witticisms is clever and rapid-fire, as he demonstrated in his past. He is a Saturday Night Live veteran from the late 90s and has been writing live-action comedies like the Austin Powers movies and animated films starting with The Boss Baby. His script meshes well with the visual style developed by director Tom McGrath over the years in films such as Madagascar and Megamind and their sequels. 

From its opening frames,  The Boss Baby: Family Business never pretends to flesh out anything resembling real life. That’s not its intention. Instead, it wants to teach good solid family lessons, stretching that here to encompass good reminders for adults. 

With its plethora of jokes and snappy pace, the film avoids the “sag” that is common to sequels, even though it spends a considerable amount of time on elaborate action sequences that don’t necessarily add to the story at all. It doesn’t present anything new or unexpected, but it does supplies a thirsty audience with a few cups of water on a parched day. That’s not bad at all. 

The film opens in Dallas, Fort Worth and surrounding cities on July 2. It will also be available to stream on Peacock. For more information about the film, visit the official site

Review: ‘Life of the Party’

dfn-life_of_the_party-300It’s tempting to dismiss the cheery and heartfelt Life of the Party as an unofficial, politically correct, female-led remake of Back to School and leave it at that. Indeed, the premise sounds the same: a parent enrolls in college to help their child graduate and comic shenanigans ensue.

Very early on, however, Life of the Party makes clear that it’s taking a different approach, which bolsters its attempt to establish its own identity. In fashioning a third personal star vehicle, Melissa McCarthy and her creative collaborator Ben Falcone have taken pains to ensure that the lead role is immediately more likable and sympathetic, making it easy to empathize with her throughout this rather light comedy.

Deanna (McCarthy) and her husband Dan (Matt Welsh) drop their daughter Maddie (Molly Gordon) off at college at the beginning of her senior year. It’s apparent that Deanna and Maddie have a close, loving relationship, and she’s sad when they depart, but they’re barely inches away before Dan blurts off to Deanna that he wants a divorce.

It seems that Dan has fallen in love with a realtor named Marcie (Julie Bowen), and so he naturally wants to sell the family home right away, which throws Deanna for a big loop. Before she could complete her final year of college, Dan urged her to drop out of school because she was pregnant with Maddie. The agreeable and supportive Deanna did just that, so after some hilarious soul-searching with her parents (Stephen Root and Jacki Weaver) and her best friend Christine (a hilarious, scene-stealing Maya Rudolph), she decides to return to her alma mater and get her degree in archeology.

Initially, this does not sit well with Maddie, who is already accustomed to the college life and wants to enjoy her final year with her friends Helen (Gillian Jacobs), Jennifer (Debby Ryan) and Amanda (Adria Arjona), as well as her boyfriend Tyler (Jimmy O. Yang). Soon enough, however, Maddie realizes that her mother is more than a bit lost, despite her perpetually positive attitude, and is far too quick to subjugate her own desires in order for other people to have their way.

Maddie has learned this, and she is too much for mother’s daughter not to catch on (eventually) to what her mother is doing. She is then motivated to be more proactive in helping her mother to get the most out of her college year; her friends, too, quickly adapt to having a middle-aged woman around to lean upon.

McCarthy has a far wider acting range than Rodney Dangerfield in Back to School, yet eventually Life of the Party falls victim to script and tonal issues, leaving too many conflicts to be resolved in too short a period of time, which then prompts the tone to lurch unsteadily from comedy to drama.

Frankly, it’s more than a bit of a mess, and serves as a reminder that the film, overall, struggles to prove itself to be more than a simple, if pleasing, time-killer comedy. Still, as the problems are ironed out neatly, with more starch than needed, Life of the Party keeps waving its cheery, self-empowerment flag, signaling its good and true intentions, which may be enough to justify the price of a movie ticket.

It did for me.

Life of the Party opens today in theaters throughout Dallas.

Review: ‘Trainwreck,’ The Strange Attraction of Amy Schumer and Bill Hader

Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in 'Trainwreck'
Amy Schumer and Bill Hader in ‘Trainwreck’
Why are Amy Schumer and Bill Hader attracted to each other in Trainwreck?

The easy answer is to say, “It’s a romantic comedy, stupid; it needs to be built around someone falling in love and the problems that are caused.” That’s certainly how many Hollywood studio products — and far too many independently-produced romantic pictures — are constructed. The emphasis is placed on the initial fireworks of a “meet cute,” followed by one or more obstacles that are thrown in front of the new couple, followed by a disruption in the relationship, followed by a repair in the relationship and, quite likely, a happy ending when the couple ends up together.

Trainwreck sticks to that tried-and-true formula for the most part — except for how the relationship sparks. Amy Schumer’s original screenplay sets up a modest “meet cute” by having Schumer’s character, a magazine writer in New York, get assigned to do a story she doesn’t want to do, a profile of a sports doctor named Aaron (Bill Hader). Amy doesn’t know or like sports or, apparently, medicine, which quickly becomes apparent to Aaron as the interview progresses. Yet she’s goofy and funny and she amuses Aaron, which prompts him to invite her out for a drink after they’ve both let their hair down for a bit at dinner. One drink leads to more drinks, right up to closing time at a bar, and then Amy invites herself along to Aaron’s apartment for a little sex.

The movie has already shown that Amy is not interested in monogamy, dating one guy after another in search of a quick sexual encounter before shoving the guy out the door. The one exception to that is Steven (John Cena), a very fit man with a very dim brain, who she has seen more than once. She enjoys the sex, but wants more; she encourages him to “talk dirty” to her during sex, but he’s too dense to come up with anything that could be considered remotely sensual.

It’s no surprise, then, when she comes on to Aaron on their first night together. He looks presentable, he’s very polite and kind, and he makes her laugh. It probably doesn’t hurt that he has a more than respectable career and a more than respectable income. True, nothing on that “first date” shoots off fireworks, but neither of them are kids, either. Their expectations have been adjusted by a degree of maturity that comes with age.

Aaron, it’s soon revealed, has not been in a serious relationship for six years. Amy, as already indicated with Steven, wants something more than the physical pleasures of sex, though she’s not quite ready to accept all the challenges involved. After their first night together, Aaron shocks Amy by calling and asking for a date. She resists the idea of a relationship, but she meets him to finish off the interview. Then she gets a call; her cranky and sickly father Gordon (Colin Quinn), who always preached against monogamy, has taken a tumble at the assisted living facility where he resides, and Aaron accompanies Amy as she rushes to his side.

Conveniently, Aaron is a doctor, and has brought his medical bag, so he is able to patch up Gordon with some stitches. Aaron has a good bedside manner, helping Gordon to relax, and this impresses Amy, since Gordon doesn’t like anyone. She’s already gone drinking with Aaron and had a satisfying sexual experience — apparently, two of her favorite activities — plus Aaron made her laugh (note how he concludes their dinner together), and now he’s been kinder than he needed to be with Gordon. That pushes her toward going out with Aaron again.

As for Aaron, he is not the love ’em and leave ’em type. He takes relationships seriously, and finds Amy funny (he’s a grinner and a smiler, as opposed to a garrulous laugh-out-loud kind of fellow), and enjoys spending time with her. He’s enveloped by his medical environment and surrounded with athletes; Amy is neither, yet she’s intelligent and sharp-witted and treats people, including her often insulting father, with respect for the most part, even if she puts them down under her breath. She keep her sniping to herself, and increasingly to Aaron, and he’s okay with that.

The movie’s humor is raunchy and sometimes mean-spirited, but rarely nasty. Eventually, the story runs into trouble when it decides it’s time to assert its serious intent, revolving around Gordon, Amy, and Amy’s younger sister Kim (Brie Larson), who has chosen monogamy and is happy with her marriage to Tom (Mike Birbiglia), a dowdy but loyal and supportive man, and cherishes her relationship with Tom’s precocious son. Kim, in other words, is the opposite of Amy, and the movie becomes overly didactic in setting the siblings up in such a manner and then dealing with the conflict.

Judd Apatow’s direction cements the movie as part of his filmography, an often loose assemblage of scenes that are only tangentially related to the central narrative, and is, as is usually the case with Apatow, excessive. As always, Apatow wants to pack as much as possible into the movie, not just comic bits and celebrity/athlete cameos, but also the drama of a dysfunctional family relationship.

That weighs the movie down unnecessarily, but at least it’s Schumer’s voice that is heard more often than others, which helps to distinguish it from other Apatow films that he’s either directed or produced. Schumer’s characters can sometimes be shrill and offensively stupid, but more often they are truly witty and distinctively daft, which makes Trainwreck anything but.

The film opens wide throughout Dallas on Friday, July 17.

Review: ’22 Jump Street,’ Good, Silly Fun

'22 Jump Street'
’22 Jump Street’
Cheerfully embracing its existence as a cash-grab sequel, 22 Jump Street delivers another big slab of good, silly fun.

Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum return as Schmidt and Jenko, respectively, police officers who were sent undercover to crack a high-school drug ring in 2012’s 21 Jump Street. The first film tracked the development of their friendship as their own high school experience was flipped upside down: Schmidt, the lonely geek, found himself in favor, while Jenko, the popular jock, found himself on the outside looking in.

The new film recycles the drug-related plot, sending the partners to live in a college dorm. It also reverses their social acceptance: Jenko’s athletic abilities are instantly recognized on the football field, while Schmidt has trouble fitting in.

Once again, 22 Jump Street mixes jokes, quips, and humorous line readings with a generous assortment of physical gags. It’s a scattershot approach that leans heavily toward nonsensical antics and a healthy disinterest in reality. Yet the film also relentlessly jokes about the nature of the relationship between Schmidt and Jenko; it seems that nearly everyone believes them to be gay and romantically involved, while the two men remain oblivious to the signals they’re giving off.

Using the f-word to refer to gay people is specifically condemned in a scene that comes late in the movie, though it feels like it was inserted to ward off any possible criticism of the earlier sequences that are reliant on two men “acting” gay. Frankly, it’s discomfiting, and not in a way that has anything to do with being politically correct.

In any event, the hit-or-miss nature of the comedy here is not as sure-handed as it was in the original, and occasionally the film slows down to the point where it’s a bit too aware that it’s a sequel and that expectations have, rightfully, been lowered. When the comedy kicks in, though, it’s very funny indeed, and the hits outnumber the misses by a good percentage.

Hill and Tatum make for a good comedy team; their physical differences and varied styles of delivery are used to fine advantage. Ice Cube returns to give good glare as their always-angry supervisor. The supporting cast features delightful turns by Amber Stevens (in the thankless role of Schmidt’s love interest, Maya); real-life twins The Lucas Brothers (as new dorm mates), and Jillian Bell, who practically steals the show as Maya’s roommate Mercedes, a dour young woman who rattles off insults like an out-of-control vending machine.

Returning directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller, working from a script credited to Michael Bacall, Oren Uziel, and Rodney Rothman, keep things lively, though it feels as though there are fewer flights of fancy. Perhaps they spent all their creativity on the end-credits sequence, which, without spoiling things, is the funniest thing in the movie.

Still, 22 Jump Street is a bright and funny picture, and generates more than enough laughs to justify its existence.

The film opens wide in theaters across North Texas on Friday, June 13.

Review: ‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ Disarms the Apocalypse

'Seeking a Friend for the End of the World' (Focus Features)
‘Seeking a Friend for the End of the World’ (Focus Features)

A disarmingly lighthearted, sweet, romantic approach to the Apocalypse is presented in Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, a film that wavers erratically until it settles into an altogether pleasing groove.

To be sure, the tone splashes deeper into a pool of traditional sentimentality as it progresses. And throughout, as the story shifts gears between the dryly amusing and the wistfully romantic, first-time feature director Lorene Scafaria struggles to keep the narrative engine on track, as though she were learning how to drive a manual transmission.

Scafaria’s screenplay, however, shares a comradery with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which she also scripted, in that it has a clear ambition to mix tonally-opposite elements in the same sequence. It’s a tricky dance, and though the film is not always as nimble as needed, it builds up a large reservoir of cheerful eccentricity early on, which smooths over the rough patches that develop as it makes its run for the exits.

The end of the world has always been fertile ground for filmmakers looking to make a statement, and Seeking a Friend is no different in that regard; Scafaria wants to Say Something About What’s Truly Important In Life. Its modest bearing, however, suggests sufficient self-knowledge that it’s only One Statement, not The Only Statement, saving the film from a ponderous, santimonious weight that might otherwise cripple it. And it helps that the film’s overriding concern is human-sized, a ground-level view of the varying reactions that might be expected if the date for the end of the world was fixed in stone and known to everyone.

Steve Carell is properly forlorn and despairing as an insurance salesman named Dodge, whose wife flees him on the night they hear the definitive word that a large asteroid will crash on Earth in three weeks, ending life as we know it. In shock, Dodge continues to report to work, as the world around him goes mad and his friends (Connie Britton, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt) shuck off all societal conventions and/or try to fix him up with a lady (Melanie Lynskey) so he won’t die alone.

Dodge is too filled with regrets to give into pleasures of the flesh, however, and he finds a fellow traveler in Penny (Keira Knightley), a neighbor who weeps with regret that she will never see her family in England again. A few contrivances later, and the regret-filled couple hit the road, Dodge to reunite with the lost love of his life and Penny to find a private plane that will take her home (the commercial airlines have shut down).

From there, Seeking a Friend becomes a more traditional road movie, allowing for cameos from the likes of William Petersen, Gillian Jacobs, Derek Luke, and others. While the episodic nature solidifies the film’s themes, it’s also in these passages that more conventional notions take hold, leading to a conclusion that was less than satisfying.

But that’s only from my perspective, of course. And even if the film ultimately proves to be less daring than it could have been, Carell and Knightley make for amusing, yes, friendly company as the doomsday clock winds down to zero.

Seeking a Friend for the End of the World opens wide across the Metroplex on Friday, June 22..

Review: ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’

Audrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (FilmDistrict)     Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in 'Safety Not Guaranteed' (FilmDistrict)
Aubrey Plaza and Mark Duplass in ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (FilmDistrict)

Everyone carries around the baggage of personal experience. At best, it’s distilled into a handy guidebook, available for reference as needed, and light enough not to weigh down the bearer.

With its references to time-travel, mental instability, the pangs of lost love, and the possibilities of romantic adventure, Safety Not Guaranteed starts by strapping itself down to routine expectations. And if the viewer is familiar with lead actors Aubrey Plaza, Mark Duplass, and Jake Johnson from their other creative endeavors, the combined weight could prove to be a serious drag.

In the genial atmosphere created by writer Derek Connolly and director Colin Trevorrow, however, a strange chemical reaction occurs, and the result is not at all according to formula; the baggage is cut loose and the characters float upward, if not quite into the stratosphere. Safety Not Guaranteed is amiable, lovable, adorable, and winning.

The humor is silly, broad, and varied; mostly it consists of one-liners delivered in a familiar, deadpan rhythm: boom, chicka-chicka boom, seasoned by visual jokes and carefully-observed, well-timed facial reactions. Some of it erupts, no doubt, from familiarity with the performers; if you’ve watched Parks and Recreation and/or New Girl during the past broadcast television season(s), then you’ve been indoctrinated into the sly style of humor practiced by Plaza and Johnson; if you’ve seen any other movie in which Duplass has acted, you can pretty much anticipate his every move.

Perhaps my familiarity with Plaza and Johnson — especiall Plaza, who has blossomed into a more versatile performer in the last year and displayed a wider range on TV than shown here — makes me more susceptible to the humor, which I found to be sly and clever. As someone who is allergic to broad, studio-system comedies that aim at the lowest common denominator, Safety Not Guaranteed is, happily, not that. It’s much smarter, aiming at the heart rather than the belly or the groin.

Darius (Plaza) is an intern for Seattle Magazine who desperately wants a break; Jeff (Johnson) is a complacent staff writer. When an unusual classified ad catches the attention of the magazine’s editor at a pitch meeting, Jeff grabs the out-of-town assignment and requests two interns for assistance. Darius quickly volunteers, as does the prototypical nerdy Amau (Karan Soni).

Soon it’s revealed that Jeff is only interested in the assignment because he wants to reunite with high school love Liz (Jenica Bergere), who lives in town. While he tries to spark up old romantic fires, Darius is left to investigate the individual who advertised for a companion to “go back in time.” When she makes contact with Kenneth Calloway (Duplass), he appears to be a delusional paranoid who works at a grocery store, a basically harmless type who charms her without necessarily meaning to do so, even as he sounds and acts more and more unhinged.

Darius pretends to take Kenneth (and his claims to have built a time machine) seriously so she can get a story for the magazine, but soon finds herself falling for him. Other than the secrets that he harbors, he is an open and honest person, friendly to a point and pretty adorable to someone like Darius, who has built a self-protective shell around herself.

Meanwhile, Jeff pursues Liz with a clear agenda set in his own mind. Most obviously, he wants to time travel in the emotional sense, to go back to a period when the world was simpler and, he and Liz enjoyed a pure love, unhindred by real-life (i.e., adult) responsibilities.

While these emotional currents are swirling quite obviously below the surface — as though the emotional lives of the characters were covered only in a thin layer of transparent material — the story moves forward and the humor keeps flowing in an agreeable manner.

No one hides in Safety Not Guaranteed; not really. The characters plainly lay bare their attributes and flaws to those they care about the most, sometimes without even realizing it, all of which helps to make the film a rousing success.

Safety Not Guaranteed opens today at Angelika Dallas and Cinemark West Plano.

Originally published, in slightly different form, at Twitch. Photos courtesy of FilmDistrict and Big Beach.