POSTED ON AUGUST 17, 2011:
Laugh Out Loud
Headline fact and fiction found in comedies
You wouldn't think there could be a hilarious comedy based on the true life event of a pizza delivery guy who tragically had his head blown off by a homemade bomb which had been clamped around his neck.
Yet, here it is.
In 2003, a 46-year-old pizza delivery specialist and all-around weirdo named Brian Wells made national headlines after he had the misfortune of having a bomb affixed next to his noggin by two accomplices in order to coerce him to fulfill a list of demands, one of which being that Wells rob a bank. Armed with a cane-gun and little brains Wells pulled off the job only to be surrounded by the cops before ultimately having his head vaporized on camera.
That's the concept of 30 Minutes or Less, a comedy that more or less adopts the plot of that tale (hint: it's not nearly as much of a downer) and casting Jesse Eisenberg as Nick, a Grand Rapids, MI pizza guy, browbeaten by his boss for never getting the pies delivered on time. Nick has a best (and only) friend, Chet (Aziz Ansari), a teacher at a local elementary school with whom he has a massive blow-out, after an escalating argument that reveals Chet's role on Nicks parents' divorce and that Nick had deflowered Chet's twin sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria).
Meanwhile, two sleazy criminal-wannabes, Dwayne (Danny McBride in quasi-Kenny Powers mode) and his best (and only) friend, Travis (Nick Swardson sporting an upper lip from the '70s) concoct a scheme to murder Dwayne's overbearing father (Fred Ward) a hard assed, retired Marine Major with a quickly dwindling patience for his son's middle-aged loserhood. Dwayne wants to more quickly inherit his father's even more quickly dwindling fortune.
When Dwayne blabs about the plan to an opportunistic stripper named Juci (Bianca Kajlich) she convinces him to hire a contract killer called Chongo (Michael Peña, stealing scenes left and right) who will do the job for $100,000. Being somewhat short of that, Dwayne and Travis decide the best way to get the money would be to rob a bank and that the best way to rob a bank would be to get someone else to do it for them. So the seemingly dull Travis crafts a bomb vest ("Camel jockeys do it in caves, dude. I have a garage. In America") and, after ordering some pizza, they strap it on Nick, demanding that he steal the $100G in 10 hours or be relieved of a torso. Should he succeed he'll get a code to defuse the vest. Should he not? Boom.
The casting of Aziz Ansari, Danny McBride, Nick Swardson, Michael Peña and to a lesser degree Jesse Eisenberg is like a Drake Equation of comedic certitude. These are immensely funny actors and it's a sort of joy to see them work magic from the economical, often gut-busting script from first time screenwriter Michael Diliberti and story man Matthew Sullivan, both of whom really knock it out of the park.
Director Ruben Fleischer knows his way around funny, economical and inventive, as evidenced by Zombieland. His acute sense of comedic timing, getting hilarious beats out of his actors, has only gotten better. The dueling pairs of misfits Eisenberg and Ansari; McBride and Swardson are the beating heart of 30 Minutes or Less. No one is really stretching here: Eisenberg is hapless but resourceful, Ansari shoots hilarity with every other volley of rapid fire angst (he's like the Indian-American Chris Tucker) while McBride postures baseless grandiose egotism and Swardson drips insolently sweet sarcasm. The dynamic between Swardson and McBride in particular recalls similar clueless yet likable villains, the drug addled contract killers played by William Hurt and Keanu Reeves in 1990s I Love You to Death (a decent comedy bested by 30 Minutes or Less) or even definitive hit man fuck-ups Steve Buscemi and Peter Stormare in the Coen Brothers 1996 classic Fargo.
Michael Peña once again owns every scene he's in as Chongo, a gang-banging hit man caricature made flesh by how seriously Peña plays him for unaffected laughs. It's a classic example of how an unwinking performance can make a ludicrous character even funnier.
Fred Ward as The Major and Bianca Kajlich as Juci pepper the periphery with their own memorable comedic moments while Dilshad Vadsaria is fine-looking as a plot device (or Kate, as the other characters call her), essentially popping up in the flick only when she has a purpose.
Fleisher as a director has a delightful penchant for not letting the proceedings get bogged down--neither 30 Minutes or Less nor Zombieland crack the 90 minute mark--almost to the point that he forgets to have an actual ending. (Think about the end of Zombieland for a moment, there really isn't one; in part because it was meant to be an ongoing television series) The Nick/Kate romantic angle is fine but its resolution is left up to speculation. By then, though, the film has amassed enough darkly genuine laughs and goodwill that it really doesn't matter much.
As black comedies go there have been drier and bleaker but fewer this funny. While not as visually inventive as Edgar Wright, Ruben Fleischer has crafted two comedies now that would make for as brutally fun a double feature as pairing Shaun of the Dead with Hot Fuzz. That's one of the best praises possible to bestow.
A sexy beauty queen, a Mormon missionary, kidnapping, alleged man-rape in the English countryside, BDSM and canine cloning are just a few of the salacious tidbits to titillate in brilliant documentarian Errol Morris' arty, Rashomon-esque new film, Tabloid.
Joyce McKinney, a former Miss Wyoming winner, actress and sexual free spirit meets a young Mormon missionary named Kirk Anderson in 1977. The two immediately fall in love, proposing to marry on their first night together. The seemingly incongruous pair, McKinney a bodacious sexpot with a North Carolina drawl and Anderson a shambling, po' faced ball of religiously bestowed sexual repression, are sundered when Anderson disappears into thin air. With the help of a private investigator McKinney learns Anderson has been abducted and spirited away to England by his Mormon overseers.
Hot Off the Press.
Enlisting the help of friend (and possible lover) Keith May and a contract pilot, McKinney hires a cadre of body builders to help her rescue Anderson from the clutches of the Mormon clergy and flies to England to do just that. After extricating Anderson and sequestering him to a bed in chains, where McKinney has sex with him for days in an attempt to conceive a child, she's apprehended by authorities just as the British tabloid press begins to realize it has the ultimate story on its hands. With headlines like "The Case of the Manacled Mormon" to keep papers flying off the stands, McKinney becomes a sensation in London (even upstaging Joan Collins at her own movie premiere) as the press dutifully and gleefully go to work unearthing the strange, kinky and utterly scandalous details of her outrageous, flat out weird life.
And that's only the beginning.
Errol Morris, with typical thoroughness, explores the viscera of his subject with an arty visual dexterity that belies the seeming conventionality of his talking-head interviews format, which themselves are compelling in terms of the frankness he elicits from his sources. Punctuating the words of McKinney (Anderson himself is notably absent), her cohorts and a slew of British tabloid press with well-placed directorial emphasis and visual flair, Morris crafts a flowing, bizarre tale of spiritual guilt colliding with the tail end of the sexual revolution into a whole that proves fact is invariably stranger than fiction.
Was Anderson willingly rescued? Was it possible to rape him? ("No, that'd be like trying to stuff a marshmallow in a parking meter." McKinney assures with a girlish laugh) Do Mormons believe that magic underwear protect them from Satanic temptations? Or for that matter do they really believe that they become Gods who rule their own planets in the afterlife? (Because that shit's weirder than magic underwear) In a case with so many known facts, the ultimate truth still occupies a gray area between McKinney, the opportunistic journalists and photographers who had a vested interest in keeping her story hot and the players who have been lost to time, adding a tantalizing layer of mystery to an incredibly strange and underexplored chain of events.
Marked by the opposite poles of McKinney's 'aw, shucks', self-aggrandizing yet down-to-earth recollections (she reminds me of Paula Deen if Paula Deen were in any sense genuine) and the dismissive sarcasm of her press detractors, Tabloid winds up being a totally engaging, funny, lascivious, bizarre and utterly human tale crafted with the effortless complexity and technical prowess of a Swiss clock powered by the Morris's sense of narrative perpetual motion.
In other words: It's great.
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