Thursday, May 8, 2008

Mini Reviews--"Baby Mama" and "88 Minutes"

It's been forever and a day since I posted here. Busy, graduating from college and all (thank you, thank you) plus working on a feature film, but sticking with it. On the grind, as they say. Since I saw Baby Mama and 88 Minutes so long ago, I'll be making my review of each a little shorter.

Baby Mama:
This is the type of movie I feel kind of conflicted about. I love Tina Fey, love Amy Poehler and even liked most of this movie. But I can't help thinking about how much better the film would have been with Tina Fey at the helm as writer, or even director. I was surprised to find that Tina Fey neither produced nor wrote the script for this film when I saw the trailer many months ago. I've mentioned before how 30 Rock is one of the most consistently funny shows on television, and I really commend Tina Fey for making it successful. But I digress.

By now, everyone knows the plot of Baby Mama. Tina Fey plays a successful, career-driven woman who, because of her responsibilities, may have missed the biological window for having a baby. So she enlists the help of an uncouthed surrogate (Amy Poehler) to carry her baby. Hilarity ensues. I'm not being sarcastic either. This movie is very funny, even in all its absurdity, which often undermines the moments when it's trying to be a serious(?) acting showcase for Tina Fey. Okay, maybe I didn't word that correctly. Tina Fey is playing it like she's in an actual movie, while Poehler plays it likes she's in the confines of a really funny SNL sketch--but in a good way. I think it totally works, despite what critics are saying about the film. A few talking points to discuss in this shortened review:

  1. What was up with Romany Malco's character? While I love the guy, he was totally unnecessary here, and bordered on offensive.
  2. Why does Maura Tierney keep showing up in these thankless film roles? It's more forgivable here because Baby Mama is infinitely better than the hot mess that was Semi-Pro. But is she seriously trying to forge a film career out of these bit parts in comedic films where she neither says anything interesting, nor does she get to crack a joke.
  3. Who knew Sigourney Weaver was funny?
There are more if I think of them. Ultimately, for someone who's a fan of Tina Fey and her self-deprecating brand of comedy, you'll at the very least find Baby Mama worth a rental (save it's ending, which is a such a colossal miscalculation it almost made me forget everything I'd seen before it.) Like I stated earlier, I have no doubt in my mind that Fey can write and direct a better film for herself. She actually has the potential to be the female Judd Apatow, building up a repertory of regular female players...herself, Poehler and dear God, please throw poor but talented Rachel Dratch a bone.

Grade: B-

88 Minutes
I now think that it may have been a bit of a mistake to wait so long after seeing this movie to write a review. 88 Minutes is a ridiculously contrived movie. Needlessly complicated, so much so that I'm struggling to remember what it was even about. Al Pacino (and his crazy hair) plays a psychiatrist/college professor who (as far as I can tell) sometimes works with the FBI. Whatever. He put this serial killer away, who liked to hang women upside down and do terrible things to them. The killer is days (hours actually) away from execution, but then women start showing up murdered, in the same fashion as his victims(gasp!) And now Al Pacino's character has received a phone call from a mysterious voice, saying that he will die in 88 minutes. Doesn't say how, except we can assume that he wasn't injected with anything or otherwise poisoned. I'm sure he could get that checked out by a doctor if he explained the situation, then he could just go to a police station and chill out until the 88 minutes are up...wait, that would all make sense. Not that kind of movie.

Instead, the movie wants us on the edge of our seats, asking ourselves if Al Pacino's testimony put away the wrong man? Suspense abounds...except, not. Because we saw the guy killing some girl at the beginning of the movie, so we already know that he did it. So what we're essentially watching is an entire film (that's more than 88 minutes, mind you) of Pacino trying to find out who the copycat killer is. Is it his lesbian co-worker, played by Amy Brenneman? Is it the Dean, played by Deborah Kara Unger? Or is it one of his students? Leelee Sobieski, Alicia Witt (love her. Hate that she's here) or Benjamin McKenzie?

Ultimately, you do find out and it all feels kind of anti-climatic for several reasons.
  1. You probably already guessed it (jokingly), but you were right.
  2. There's nothing here that makes you care even remotely about these characters, so why start now?
  3. It's all so ridiculous that you gasp that the half-jest guess you made about the film's conclusion turned out to be correct.
I've already spoken about Leelee Sobieski, so I won't pick on her any more here. She's had more than 88 minutes to prove her worth, and I still remain unconvinced. I so want to see Alicia Witt do well, but I fear her time is running out for a truly great role. And finally, it's a shame to see someone like Al Pacino taking such a nosedive in the quality of work he puts out there. His last good project was Angels in America, which you may not even want to count since it was a mini-series. If we're just talking features, I would feel safe in saying he hasn't had a great film since The Insider, more than nine years ago. And the hair...

Grade: D

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