POSTED ON JUNE 20, 2012:
Different Strokes for Different Folks
A Norwegian mystery and Sandler's buffoonery -- Choose accordingly
Last time I had to review an Adam Sandler vehicle, the torturous Grown Ups, I pretty much accused the audience of crimes by keeping the train of Happy Madison-produced mediocrity going with their appreciation of subterranean common denominator jokes and sitcom-level narratives; films that exist mainly to get a bunch of people I don't like (David Spade, Rob Schneider, Colin Quinn, and the rest of the pre-The State MTV era hacks that somehow maintained careers in comedy) on the same screen to have far more fun than anyone in the theater. Kind of like Tyler Perry's audience -- except paler, preppier and with a lot more Creed fans -- Sandler fans keep turning out for the same dumb schtick.
To be fair there are degrees of shitty Sandler films. The Waterboy isn't half bad when compared to something like Little Nicky. So contrasted against Grown Ups, That's My Boy didn't actually make me wish I had spent 114-minutes punching myself with a live porcupine.
Donny Berger is a horny 12 year-old, deeply in lust with his smoking hot teacher, Mary. It's 1984 (get it?), rock is not dead, and Donny is loaded with the hormones and attitude to get Mary to teach him a few things about getting laid. The pair get caught and Donny becomes nationally famous when Mary goes to trial for rape. Pregnant with his child, her unrepentant love for Donny earns Mary a 30-year prison sentence.
Forced into fatherhood by the judge, Donny epically fails to raise his new son, Han Solo Berger. The kid balloons to 400 lbs. on a diet of lollipops and ice cream. So at 18, Han dumps his party animal father, changes his name to Todd Peterson and creates a new life; telling everyone his parents died in a terrible explosion.
Fast forward to 2012, and "Todd" (Andy Samberg) is on the verge of marrying his gorgeous, yet shrewish, fiancée Jamie (Leighton Meester), the daughter of a rich business man. Todd only seems happy since he's still loaded with the residual neuroses of his upbringing. He carries around an extra pair of underwear because he shit his pants when his father once forgot to pick him up from school.
Meanwhile Donny (Sandler) is on the ropes. Still hopelessly mired in the regressed peak of his life -- he drives a dilapidated Fiero, hood emblazoned with the cover of Rush's "2112" -- the money from his notoriety has dried up. With no job besides being himself, and debt to the IRS for $48,000 dollars in back taxes, Donny cajoles a meeting with an opportunistic television host and convinces him a family reunion would make for killer reality TV ratings.
So Donnie crashes the wedding weekend to re-connect with his son and talk him into coming to visit his mother in prison. "Todd" convinces his new family that Donny is his best friend, but his ire at his father's buffoonish immaturity -- and the way it wins over his soon to be in-laws -- has him reliving the traumas of his hated childhood at the worst possible time.
And if you're into Sandler you know what you're getting here. Low brow, obvious gags, though with a dose of sweet sincerity that doesn't feel quite as contrived as That's My Boy's vacuous plotting.
There are a few funny moments brought on by Andy Samberg's able comic timing and, oddly, Sandler's endearing Donny, who isn't really dumb, just happy in his retrograde world. Both of them strike a nice chemistry that helps the middle-of-the-road script by David Caspe (in his feature debut) and accentuates the decent comedic direction from Sean Anders (Sex Drive); who renders slightly amusing moments into sometimes memorable, occasionally funny ones.
Will Forte mirthfully leads a small sub-cast of cameos that include regulars like Nick Swardson and Colin Quinn to the meta-casting of Vanilla Ice and Susan Sarandon as the adult Mary, the role played in its 1984 incarnation by real-life daughter, Ava Amurri.
And That's My Boy is somewhat a raunchy affair. Granny sex, fat strippers and Sandler's tumescent schlong all make appearances with a joviality that kind of disarms any general ill-will towards his earning yet another craven paycheck with over-the-top, generic yucks and fist pumping rock -- the soundtrack alone speaks to a generation (the first 15 minutes seem to delight in on-the-nose musical cues from KISS's "I Was Made for Loving You" to Rush's "Limelight" -- though thankfully not Van Halen's "Hot for Teacher") that still blasts "Slow Ride" by the pool while drinking rivers of Budweiser, not unlike Donny.
None of it bowled me over with hilarity, but perhaps the attrition of Sandler's cult of personality has finally worn me down. Or, perhaps, That's My Boy is actually good enough for me not to hate its crude existence. Either way, it will leave its audience satisfied.
Isn't it weird when you spend a movie trying to place the faces? It's a nagging tug on your subconscious as you try to concentrate on the world that is being revealed while wondering where you've seen that guy (or girl) before.
And it's even more acute with a foreign film. I spent the entirety of Headhunters (Hodejegerne) wondering at the neat resemblance its star, Aksel Hennie bears to a young Christopher Walken, though what really had me frustrated was trying to place Nikolaj Coster-Waldau. Throughout his calmly engaging performance as a cold-blooded hunter, it was on the tip of my tongue. I've seen this dude in something I really like; a lot.
When the end credits hit, it hit me. Jamie Lannister. I've been obsessed with Game of Thrones for a year. How did the incestuous, Kingslaying brother to the evil Cersei Lannister get past me? I must be getting old.
Let that be a warning not to get distracted -- because Headhunters is a slickly-paced amalgam of propulsive crime thriller and stylish mystery that hurtles through its twisting narrative with distinctly Nordic precision.
Roger Brown (Hennie) is a corporate headhunter working for a Norwegian security firm, looking to find a candidate for a project known as Pathfinder. That sounds like a high paying gig, but the cool, collected businessman has some esteem issues concerning his height, and his leggy, gorgeous, art curating wife, Diana (Synnøve Macody Lund). Roger is going broke to keep her satisfied -- though all she's really asking for is a child -- as a means of covering up his insecurity that she will find another (taller?) man. Fortunately, he has a nice side gig as an art thief to bolster his annual salary.
Enter Clas Greve (Lannister), a German executive working for a competing security firm whom Roger meets at his wife's gallery opening. The chiseled, Teutonic hunk garners Roger's interest as a masculine threat--and also the apparent owner of an original Rubens worth $100 million.
But all is not as it seems. When Roger discovers his wife's cell phone in Clas's bedroom during the heist, and later his prostitute-loving, accomplice Ove (Eivind Sander, who shuts off the burglar alarms for a cut) poisoned in the couple's garage, Roger finds himself on a run for his life while trying to figure out who he can trust -- which seems to be no one.
Headhunters is a delightful fusion of heist film, Bond-esque techno-thriller and action mystery that ticks with the economical exactness of a Swiss clock. Director Morten Tyldum (with writers Lars Gudmestad and Ulf Ryberg adapting Jo Nesbø's namesake novel) tightly and adeptly renders the serpentine narrative, a plot loaded with double crosses and surprises, while effortlessly crafting a world populated by memorable, well-layered characters. Just when you think you know where Headhunters is going it takes an unexpected, sometimes brutal turn.
Tyldum's visual chops flirt with the precision of David Fincher's cool compositions, while the performances he garners from his cast are good enough to offset the somewhat stiff, if unexpected, espionage elements of the narrative.
Roger is flawed and narcissistic, but his arc (which takes him from opportunistic weasel to sympathetic victim) totally works in getting the audience on his side. Hennie is outstanding in the role, while Coster-Waldau is memorable in tightly-controlled performance that's equal parts charming rogue and single-minded mercenary -- kind of like Jamie Lannister with 21st Century weapons.
What's ultimately so pleasing about Headhunters is the skill of its story-telling. Tyldum's direction isn't so organic as to make the audience overlook the narrative cards he's holding close to the chest--you can sometimes feel the tell, a character like Lotte (Julie Ølgaard) is perfunctorily revealed and would seem to go nowhere until she does -- but that hardly matters when you really want to find out what happens next and wind up being so startled and satisfied when it does.
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