Die Soft With a Mac Spokesperson: Why I’m Not Paying to See the New John McLane Adventure

          
         “You know my name but who are you? Just another American who saw too many movies as a child? Another orphan of a bankrupt culture who thinks he’s John Wayne? Rambo? Marshall Dillon?” said terrorist Hans Gruber to our hero, the badass cop John McLane (Bruce Willis), in a famous moment in the 1988 action film Die Hard.  McLane responded to the “euro-trash” bank robber in his own sarcastic way: “Was always kinda’ partial to Roy Rogers actually. I really dig those sequined shirts.”  Gruber, continuing his Bourgeois dismissal of the American hero McLane goads McLane by saying “Do you really think you have a chance against us, Mister Cowboy?”
           
McLane could have responded to Gruber with a simple “fuck you” instead he responded with the iconic line “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” a line that defined John McLane.   Die Hard came out toward the end of the 80’s action era.  Cinema screens were filled with strong, silent type like Schwarzenegger and Stallone.  They were inarticulate behemoths, cast not for their personalities but for their stature.  These silent macho men did their jobs and did them well, but they got boring fast.  Then Bruce Willis was cast in Die Hard and thus ushered in a new era of action movies.  John McLane was hardly invincible; he was beat up throughout the film, by the end he was bloody and exhausted.  More importantly though, he was a charming guy.  McLane was the type of guy you’d want to have a drink with.  He had a good sense of humor that came off natural on the screen.  McLane was a human protagonist with human weaknesses, but human charm; the exact opposite of the robotic killing machines I most prior action films.
         A big part of what made McLane so down to earth and human was the salty language he used.  Like anyone would, McLane responded to the extraordinary situations he found himself in with strings of profanity.  McLane was a badass cop, cursing like a sailor simply went with the territory.
        
Like many fans of the series I was cautiously optimistic when I heard a fourth installment was coming out, the unfortunately titled Live Free or Die Hard.  When the film’s trailer was released I remained cautiously optimistic: on one hand the trailer showed that the film would indeed deliver large explosions, however it would also star Justin long (of “hi, I’m a Mac” commercial fame) and would be directed by Len Wiseman whose previous credits include the craptastic Underworld and its sequel Underworld: Evolution.  Still, this was a Die Hard movie, it was hard to believe that Bruce Willis would allow his flagship franchise to descend into mediocrity.  Then all my hopes for the movie shattered when the film’s official website announced that the film would be rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of violence and action, language and a brief sexual situation.”
           “How could this be” I asked myself.  “PG-13” and “Die Hard” just seemed like two things that didn’t belong in the same sentence.  The first three Die Hard movies were all hard R rated thrillers full of bloody violence and strong language.  A PG-13 movie would mean significantly tamer violence.  It would also mean that McLane could only use one F-word.  That one F-word most likely couldn’t be used in the famous “Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker” line that had been featured in all of the previous Die Hard movies because it was attached to the word “mother” and thus took on a slightly sexual meaning.  The MPAA had previously handed down an R-rating to Woody Allen’s Everyone Says I Love You for a single use of that twelve letter adjetive. Could a Die Hard movie remove this harsh content and still be good?  Probably; but that’s beside the point.
            
On a recent episode of his hip IFC talk show, punk icon Henry Rollins perfectly defined selling out: “When you make the album you’re told to make instead of the album you want to make; that’s selling out” and that’s exactly what producers Bruce Willis and John McTiernan have done here.  They’ve watered down an iconic hero just to make slightly more money than they would have otherwise.
           
This likely comes as no surprise to those monitoring the trend of watered down Hollywood action movies.  The trend probably started in 1996 when Roland Emerich’s PG-13 Independence Day made more than twice as much money as Michael Bay’s hyper-violent R-rated The Rock.  Large amounts of bloodless CGI explosions were simply making more cash than violent action.  Inoffensive nice guys like Will Smith had replaced foul-mouthed badasses like Bruce Willis.  Michael Bay’s next film was the PG-13 effects extravaganza Armageddon and if one looks closely at that film’s advertising campaign it seems Ben Affleck was more heavily emphasized than the movie’s star Bruce Willis.  The torch had been passed, the wimps had taken over action movies.
          
The success of these PG-13 action movies is the result of the younger-age of theater goers.  Simply put, adults have been very fussy in their movie going, as such studios have been a lot less willing to put very much money into R-rated movies for fear of adult audiences leaving them at the alter.  Those under 17 however seem willing to show up to whatever non-age-restricted crap Hollywood shoves into theaters.  This audience has become far too powerful.  A testament to the power of this audience can be noted by the fact that another 80’s franchise being resurrected this summer, Transformers, is also getting a PG-13.  If a studio executive in the 80’s had decided to pitch these two franchises at the same audience he would have been laughed out of the room, and rightfully so when one considers just how absurd the notion is.
           This new breed of action movies hasn’t been all bad.  I love the PG-13 Matt Damon staring Bourne series as much as the next guy.  I just resent the notion of this Iconic series being censored to appeal to younger film goers.  What truly boggles the mind is that the younger theater-goers theoretically aren’t allowed to have seen the original Die Hard trilogy.  One wonders just how many 13-17 will walk into the theater unaware that this is part of an iconic franchise thinking it is just a generic Bruce Willis action film. As one of the series old fans I feel betrayed and abandoned.
          
Had this been a matter of NC-17 vs. R it would be understandable.  An NC-17 would indeed be a kiss of death for a large budget movie.  R-rated movies however are not instant bombs.  Arnold Schwarzenegger managed to return to his Terminator franchise with a full R-rating, this third sequel in that franchise had its own set of problems, but at least it had the dignity to respect what its original audience was expecting.   Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines more than doubled its budget in world wide grosses, hardly a financial bomb.  I doubt the rating really hurt or helped Terminator 3, rather the audiences showed up knowing simply on the series high reputation.
          
Another highly successful R-rated action franchise in recent years was the Matrix series.  The original Matrix was able to avoid selling out to a PG-13 rating because it was a modestly budgeted film made by strong minded film-makers who were more interested in making the best movie possible than making the highest grossing movie of the year.  Oddly enough, both of Director Len Wiseman’s Underworld movies had the balls to go for an R-rating instead of a watered down PG-13 cut.An 80’s action movie that did not have the dignity to stick to its guns and deliver an R-rated sequel were the Alien and Predator movies.  This lackluster film exemplifies everything that is wrong with selling out to teenage audiences.  The Alien movies were goring horror romps best known for gruesome special effects sequences like the infamous chartbuster scene.  The Predator series was known for an evil alien monster that kills people and rips their skulls out, and Schwarzenegger one-liners like “You are one ugly motherfucker!”  For some reason (namely money) the studio felt that bringing these two R-rated franchises together as Alien Vs. Predator would result in a truncated PG-13 movie.  Some delusional internet fans hoped that this wouldn’t be so bad, and that they’d still be able to get away with most of what was in the original films.  These fans were wrong.  Alien Vs. Predator was a pathetically awful movie that was accepted by fans of neither series.
          
Unfortunately for filmgoers Alien Vs. Predator still made a decent profit.  The message this sent to Hollywood was that fans of their favorite series will still fork out their hard earned money even when they know their memories of these original movies have been cynically sold out.  That is why I will not pay to see this tame Die Hard sequel, I may end up sneaking into the movie after paying to see something else, but I refuse to support this Hollywood perversion.

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1408(6/22/2007)

 

                Stephen King may be the undisputed leader in the world of horror fiction.  Even the best masters of horror cinema like Wes Craven and John Carpenter can’t claim to be remotely as iconic or consistently excellent as the best selling author is within the genre.  Few authors have had as many feature films made about their work than King, nearly fifty feature length theatrical and made-for-tv movies have been made from his work.  The adaptations of King’s work that Hollywood has been putting out are inconsistent to say the least: for every The Shining, The Green Mile, and or Misery there’s a bomb like Thinner, Maximum Overdrive, or The Mangler, and for every one of those there’s a middle of the road moderate success like Secret Window, Hearts in Atlantis, and Apt Pupil.
           
Hollywood loves adapting King’s work so much that they’ve pretty much run out of novels to adapt.  The new trend in making King works into movies is to adapt his short novellas and short stories into feature length movies.  Interestingly these story adaptations generally haven’t been any more or less consistently successful than the adaptations of the novels.  It’s interesting how different an adaptation of a short story can be than of a novel, rather than cutting down a story one must build up and expand upon the initial framework provided by the written work.  Such movies are less reliant on King’s talent and more reliant of the talent of the screenwriter with the unenviable task of out King-ing King.  The new Stephen King adaptation 1408 was made by film-makers who were up to that challenge.
          The film revolves Mike Enslin (John Cusack), a writer of psudo-non-ficion books about the nights he spends in places that are supposedly haunted.  Unbeknownst to his readers the nights Enslin spends in these locations are quite uneventful.  Enslin is in fact a closet-skeptic, he advises one enthusiastic fan that his best place in America to spot a ghost is in the Haunted Mansion in Orlando, Florida.  Enslin, an alcoholic writer who recently lost a daughter to an unspecified disease, is currently working on a book about haunted hotel rooms when he hears about the perfect haunted place to put in the last chapter of his book: Room 1408 at the Dolphin Hotel in New York where 56 people had supposedly been killed by an evil force that resides in the room.  Upon his arrival at the Dolphin, Enslin is greeted by the hotel’s manager Mr. Orlin (Samuel L. Jackson) who begs Enslin not to go into the room because “no one has lasted more than an hour in 1408.”  Despite Mr. Orlin’s warnings, Enslin refuses to be turned away.  Orlin finally gives in and lets Enslin into the room, but it becomes readily apparent that there really is something very wrong with room 1408.
          1408 was directed by Mikael Håfström, an unproven Swedish director whose English language debut, Derailed, opened to mostly negative reviews.  Håfström proves here that, when given better material, he does have a promising career.  But it is with the actors, or rather actor that the real credit is due.  Once Enslin is in the room the film basicly turns into a one man show with John Cusack holding the only major speaking role.  As such, much of the movie lives or dies by the quality of Cusacks acting.  Cusack meets this challenge with a tour-de-force performance that single-handedly makes the movie worth seeing.  Samuel L. Jackson is also very fun in his brief, but memorable, role.
         
King’s short story was one of the best in his collection Everything’s Eventual.  The story was largely a tribute to the early twentieth century horror writer H.P. Lovecraft.  The Enslin in the book resembled the one here, but this version of the character has been expanded.  The writing team cleverly expands Enslin to be more like a typical King character, he’s an alcoholic writer who’s lost a child.  Enslin is a much better developed character than the victims to be in most horror movies.  One really begins to feel they know him well by the end of the movie.
         
The film isn’t the scariest or most tense thing you’ll ever see, but it does have a number of good jump scenes.  Many of the tricks the room uses to torture Enslin are really interesting, most memorably a McCabe twist on Harpo Marx’s mirror sketch.  The real terror here is psychological, one really gets into Enslin’s head and feels for him during the maddening emotional rape the room is trying to drive him to suicide with.  Also chilling is the history of the room which Orlin describes to Enslin while trying to persuade him not to stay in the room.
          The movie is not perfect.  The order in which Enslin tries to escape is a bit loopy, Enslin tries to escape through the vents only after he tries climbing out the window to the next room.  There’s also twist toward the end that is interesting but ultimately unnecessary.  This twist breaks the claustrophobic atmosphere, and it takes the movie a while to recover, which it does just in time before the emotional climax.  The ending was also a little bit too easy.
         
1408 may not be “extreme” enough for the new generation of horror fans.  But it is sometimes refreshing in this era of torture porn to see just how effective rattling chains in a haunted house (or hotel room) can be.
***1/2 out of four

DVD Catch Up: Ghost Rider-Extended Cut(6/19/2007)

            Ghost Rider is a second tier comic book character.  His fanbase is weak compared to the likes of Spider-Man, Batman, or even the X-Men.  Created in the 70’s by writer Gary Friedrich, Ghost Rider an awesome looking character; as such they frequently try to revive him, but his titles usually stop selling as soon as people realize that his coolness is skin (or rather skull) deep.  None of this means the film adaptation Ghost Rider is doomed to failure, another character of similar caliber, Blade, was turned into one of the better action series of recent memory.             The film is about motorcycle stuntman Johnny Blaze (Nicholas Cage).  As a teenager Blaze made a deal with the Devil, literally.  Blaze met Mephistopheles (Peter Fonda) in an old carnival and sold his soul to save his father from lung cancer.  His father dies later in a motorcycle crash.  Years later Blaze is a famous Evel Knievel-esque motorcycle stuntman.  After a major stunt he get a chance to reunite with Roxanne Simpson, a girl he left when his father died.  Before his dinner with Roxanne, Mephistopheles finally cashes in his contract.  Blaze turns into the Ghost Rider, and at night when he’s around evil he turns into a flaming skeleton biker dude on a flaming motorcycle.  Mephistopheles tasks Blaze with defeating Blackheart (Wes Bentley) son of Mephistopheles, a fallen angel who’s trying to replace Mephistopheles as the ruler of Hell.  Once Blackheart is defeated Blaze will regain his soul.
            Ghost Rider was directed by Mark Steven Johnson, Johnson had previously directed the over-bashed comic book movie DaredevilDaredevil was able to create a very good tone and atmosphere, it was able to capture Frank Miller’s aesthetic and storyline, unfortunately it was marred by poor casting and a number of absolutely cringe-inducing out of place moments.  Flawed as it was, there was definitely a good movie to be found somewhere in Daredevil, it could have been great in better hands, or completely without merit in worse hands.
Ghost Rider suffers much the same fate as Daredevil.  Like Daredevil the film makes a number of good aesthetic choices; the film embraces a certain Texas mythos.  The Ghost Rider is depicted as a modern day cowboy from Hell.  The deal with the Devil is rightfully made at the crossroads.  Casting the legendary Peter Fonda as Mephistopheles was a stroke of genius, it fits right in to this mythos.  Additionally the Ghost Rider himself does look really cool, its hard not to make a motorcycle guy with a flaming skull for a head to not look cool.
           
Also like Daredevil, Ghost Rider is marred by a lot of cringe inducing moments, unfortunately there are so many of them that they stop feeling out of place.  A scene where Blaze catches up with Roxanne on a freeway is just as bad as the terrible scene in Daredevil where Matt Murdock fights Elektra on a playground for no reason.
           
Nicholas Cage is pretty bad here, he’s doing the same old stock-Cage performance we’ve seen a million times.  The Blaze charater is pretty odd, he comes across as a pretty stupid guy with a bunch of strange quirks.  The film also has one of the worst villains in recent comic book movie history.  Blackheart and his elemental-emo sidekicks are very lame and make the film’s stakes very low.  The romantic sub-plot is poorly handled.  Additionally the movie breaks a number of rules it establishes.  The effects of how the damage Ghost Rider receive affects Blaze changes whenever the script needs it to.
          
Ghost Rider could have transcended its roots in a poor comic book but it didn’t.  Instead this poor comic book has been turned into a poor movie by a director who really should probably not be working in this genre. 
** out of four

DVD Catch Up: Breach (6/16/2007)

 
          Spy movies come in many breeds; some are action packed thrillers featuring tuxedo clad agents with complex gadgets.  Some feature cloaks, daggers, double crosses and intrigue.  Breach is actually quite unique from these types of fictional spy thrillers in its own modest way.  In fact it more closely resembles the business intrigue of director Billy Ray’s previous film, 2003’s above average Shattered Glass.

          The film tells the true story of Eric O’Neill (Ryan Phillippe), a young FBI employee in the computer intelligence division.  O’Neill hopes to be promoted to agent, but first he must take a special assignment to be an assistant to Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), a veteran agent who the FBI says is under suspicion of being a sexual deviant.   O’Neill is asked to spy on Hanssen and dig up as much dirt as he can on Hanssen before his activities are discovered and cause embarrassment for the bureau.  To O’Neill’s surprise, Hanssen (who is pushing sixty) seems like a squeaky clean individual;  a devout catholic who goes to church daily, doesn’t drink, and doesn’t cheat on his wife; hardly the behavior of a deviant.  When he confronts the agent who gave him the assignment (Laura Linney) he learns that Robert Hanssen’s corruption goes much deeper than sexual deviance.

           Chris Cooper is most definitely the main attraction here, Cooper (who won an Oscar for his supporting performance in Spike Jonzes Adaptation) is a great actor who doesn’t get many chances to really carry movies and truly develop a character.  Cooper is terrific here in what may be the best performance I’ve seen all year.  Ryan Philleppe is solid but unremarkable, he doesn’t hurt the film but he seems pretty lightweight compared to Cooper’s Oscar worthy acting.  Cooper is interestingly in one of those supporting performances that feel like leads.  Like 2006’s The Last King of Scottland, Breach looks at a complicated figure from the perspective of a simple character.

          Perhaps part of why this true story works it that it is internal and took place in a time of peace and thus wasn’t classified beyond comprehension.  Unlike last year’s The Good Sheppard which felt like nothing more than elaborate guesswork about decades worth of deeply classified spycraft, Breach feels like a very accurate representation of the events surrounding Robert Hanssen.  The film is a dramatized movie, it never feels like a recreation, but it also never feels like total fiction.  This believability helps keep Breach down to Earth, which is a very good thing.  The film never stoops to sensationalism; in fact it doesn’t even try to be a thriller.  This is no James Bond movie, nor is it a Ludlum, Clancy, or le Carré movie for that matter.  Breach isn’t even a thriller for that matter; the film is really a dramatic character study that happens to be set in the intelligence community.

            The fact that the film stays grounded is what prevents it from going off the tracks, but its also what keeps the film from flirting with greatness.  The film never risks anything and pulls many of its punches.  Breach will never be a classic but its well worth seeing.

***1/2 out of four

Ocean’s Thirteen(6/10/2007)

 

            Heist films like this have a pretty well established formula, a group of thieves plan an elaborate robbery then execute the plan while improvising solutions to everything that goes wrong.  Ocean’s Eleven utilized this formula masterfully, Ocean’s Twelve tried to depart from the formula and it didn’t work, now Ocean’s Thirteen returns to this formula and delivers again.  Gore Verbinski should start taking notes, this is how empty entertainment should be.  Ocean’s Thirteen is the worthy sequel that Ocean’s Twelve wasn’t.  

            Ocean’s Thirteen is actually better than Ocean’s Eleven in that the cast by now has a more developed chemistry. The whole gang is back; George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Elliott Gould, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, Casey Affleck, Scott Caan, Shaobo Qin, Carl Reiner, and Eddie Jemison are all back reprising their roles from the original Oceans Eleven.  Andy Garcia, the victim of the first film’s heist, is also back helping Ocean’s gang for his own reason.  Eddie Izzard is also back reprising his role from Ocean’s Twelve.  The one major star from the original films that has declined to return is Julia Roberts, her loss.  New to the cast is Al Pacino, who has stepped into Andy Garcia’s shoes as the violent casino owner who will soon be robbed.  Also new is Ellen Barkin, who plays his assistant.

            Pacino plays Willie Bank, an old school casino owner with possible ties to the mafia.  Bank is opening a new top of the line casino on the Las Vegas strip called The Bank.  To open this casino Bank got financing from Reuben Tishkoff (Elliott Gould) who was part of the original Ocean’s eleven.  Bank then rips Reuben off and drives him to have a near fatal stroke.  Ocean’s gang reassembles and decides to come up with a plan for revenge.  Their plan is to sabotage the opening day festivities of Bank’s new casino; they make an important critic’s stay a living hell, they rig the games to all pay off at once, and they plan to steal a number of diamonds from Bank’s vault (no pun intended).

            The one thing Ocean’s Twelve improved on over Oceans Eleven is the chemistry between the cast members. The gang of thieves had gone from being unrelated strangers to being a band of friends who work together to accomplish jobs; the cast interacted a lot better the lines really flowed off the script.  The new film in the franchise adds this improved chemistry to a superior script more worthy of the improved cast interactions.  You don’t really have to have seen Ocean’s Twelve to enjoy Ocean’s Thirteen, although you will need a familiarity with Eleven.  

           The scheme is as complicated as ever, but you don’t really need to take notes to understand it, like the works of Tarentino the storytelling is so good that the fact that what you’re watching is complicated seems incidental.  Also like its predecessors, the heist isn’t overly believable, at times your ability to suspend disbelief will be stretched to its limits.  However if you could get past the holographic Fabergé egg in Ocean’s Twelve you should be fine here.

            Also interesting is that now more then before Steven Soderbergh is reveling in retro.  Thematically the film harkens back to retro Las Vegas.  Characters discuss how much Sin City has changed.  Bank’s new casino seems to be channeling old Las Vegas, Bank himself behaves like an old school casino owner, he’s willing to kill and maim anyone who tries to cross him, a trait that makes his inevitable defeat all the more sweet.

            But it isn’t retro Vegas that rules here, its retro Hollywood.  This movie could easily have been made in the mid sixties.  It’s a film that celebrates celebrity, the film makes you appreciate what star power can accomplish.  Also present are character actors like Don Cheadle who briefly steals the show while imitating a James Brown like Motorcycle stuntman.

              The film is amazingly entertaining, there’s significantly more fun to be had here than in Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End a film with at least fifty times the special effects budget.  One wonder if the fun had at Ocean’s Thirteen is the result of lowered expectations after a month of disappointing third installments.  Previous movies this summer have done everything they could to entertain by simply throwing as much CGI on the screen as money could buy.  Ocean’s Thirteen proves that the old school of Hollywood entertainment is alive and well.

            Many are speculating as to whether this sequel will lead to an Ocean’s Fourteen.  Many of the cast and crew have said this will be the last film in the franchise.  However the ending is just as open for a sequel as the last two film’s, and that’s no a bad thing.  I’d welcom a fourth film in the series sometime in the future.  I’ve had a lot of fun with this band of thieves and I don’t think the series has really run out of steam.   

***1/2 out of four

Knocked Up(6/7/2007)

 

            Knocked up is one of the most creative unoriginal movies ever made.  A simple plot summery will sound like a movie we’ve all seen many times.  The expecting mother storyline has been a staple of T.V. sitcoms since season 2 of I Love Lucy.  What sets Knocked Up apart is the execution, the jokes are funnier, the characters are more likable and the message comes across better than most other movies of its type. 

           The film centers around two worlds.  The world of Alison Scott (Katherine Heigl) is that of average suburbia.  Alison is a journalist for the “E!” cable network, she makes decent money and is close to her sister Debbie (Leslie Mann).  The other world is that of Ben Stone (Seth Rogen) a stoner who lives with four other roommates in a messy house.  He has been living of a fourteen thousand dollar check he received a few years prior when a mail truck ran him over and has plans to start a website not unlike Mrskin.com.  These two worlds collide when Alison is impregnated by Ben during a drunken one night stand.  With the prospect a baby coming along Ben and Alison must get to know one another and get their affairs in order before the child is born.

            Knocked Up was directed by Judd Apatow, the exciting new filmmaker who created the cult T.V. show Freaks and Geeks and 2005’s hilarious sleeper hit The 40 Year Old VirginKnocked Up is clearly in the same vein as The 40 Year Old Virgin, it’s filled with colorful but realistic and believable characters delivering very funny, profanity laced, dialogue.  Unlike The 40 Year Old Virgin, however, Knocked Up has a distinctly feminine half to it.  This will likely open up the audience that this will play well to. 

            The humor style here is well crafted.  The film delivers R-rated humor without resorting to the type gross out physical humor many R-rated comedies tend to fall prey too.  Rather the film is mercifully free of any lame physical comedy, instead it relies on great dialogue to make laughs, which is great because the film provides great dialogue in droves.  The film is also free of absurdism, a form of comedy this reviewer generally can’t stand.

            The cast here is mostly excellent.  Seth Rogen effectively proves that he can hold a feature film, this feature film anyway.  It’s hard to see Rogen becoming a regular comedy star like Steve Carell, but this roll was right for him and he does it well.  I doubt Rogen really brings all that much to the roll that another solid frat packer like Vince Vaughn wouldn’t have, but that shouldn’t diminish his success.  Katherine Heigl is also great here, she’s in somewhat of a “straight man” roll here which makes her performance a little less noticeable, but she’s still good at what she’s needed to do.

            It’s the supporting performances however that really make this work.  All of Ben’s slacker friend/roommates are cast perfectly and add tremendously to the humor.  Many movies like this focus so heavily on making the main character funny and reserves supporting players to merely being quirky presences that one-liners get bounced off of, here however all of these supporting performances toss just as many funny lines as the lead.  Plenty of humor also comes from Alison’s sister Debbie and her dysfunctional marriage to Pete (Paul Rudd).

            Knocked Up is filled with unorthodox pop culture references for those in the know.  While many lesser movies like Epic Movie drop references to whatever is making the most money at the time, Knocked Up references such relative obscurities as In The Cut, Tombstone, and Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.  The film also sports a very decent, very eclectic, soundtrack that features artists and bands as diverse as Sublime, The Scorpions, and Ol’ Dirty Bastard.

            Not all of the movie works perfectly, firstly it warms up for a while before it really gets going, there aren’t nearly as many hard laughs as there should be for the first fifteen to twenty minutes.  Conversely, the movie begins to loose some steam towards the end when Alison begins going into labor, we’ve all seen this before, a screaming, swearing, woman in labor deciding whether or not to use painkillers. 

            Another problematic element is a character named Jodi (Charlyne Yi) who hangs around with Ben’s circle of stoned slackers.  She’s a bizarre, inarticulate, seemingly retarded character.  All the scenes involving her seem to fall flat.

            Despite these problems, as a whole Knocked Up is a lot funnier than most movies coming out of Hollywood.  Ultimately it isn’t as good a The 40 Year Old Virgin, there are probably as many laughs, but the laughs in the previous Apatow movie were simply deeper belly laughs.  Still The 40 Year Old Virgin isn’t a half bad thing to be second best to.

***1/2 out of four