Guy (Ryan Reynolds) is an everyday, ordinary bank employee, who wears a blue shirt and khaki pants and enjoys chatting with his pal, Buddy, (Lil Rel Howry) a bank security guard.  The bank gets held up every day, but Guy knows the duck and cover drill, so he’s unfazed by the robberies.  Guy’s life starts to change when he meets Molotov Girl (Jodie Comer) and falls in love with her instantly.  Molotov Girl is on a mission and Guy will follow her to the ends of the earth if necessary.  What Guy doesn’t realize is that he is a non-player character in a video game named Free City, and Molotov Girl is a character being controlled by a gamer named Mille. (Jodie Comer) 

Millie and her co-worker, Walter “Keys” McKee (Joe Keery) developed a Sims like video game where the characters interact with each other instead of shooting one another.  Millie and Keys think that Free City creator Antwan Hovachelik (Takia Waititi) has stolen code from their game and hidden it in Free City.  Keys and Millie realize they need Guy’s help to find the secret code, Complicating matters is the fact that Antoine is planning to come out with Free City 2, and overwrite the code from Free City 1, killing all the characters, including Guy.  Further complicating matters, Millie realizes that she may be falling in love with Guy.  Will Guy help Millie find Millie and Keys original code?  Will Millie tell Guy that he’s not human?  Will Guy save himself and the other inhabitants of Free City?  Who is controlling Guy?  Is it a hacker? 

There’s a lot of good things packed in this script, it could have been an instant classic.  It’s a good satire of those urban crime video games like Grand Theft Auto.  Free Guy asks some intriguing questions about those disposable NPC characters and artificial intelligence.  Free Guy also features a multi-layered love triangle between two humans and a video game character, but suddenly, all the intelligence seems to seep out, and it resembles a less profound version of The Truman Show.  The secondary characters are not well-developed, the set piece is a narcissist’s dream, while also being derivative, using iconic objects from other movies.  This might not be a legal problem for Disney, given their recent acquisitions, but creatively, it’s a big letdown.  The ending of Free Guy is the most disappointing of all.  The movie ends without the romantic couple even expressing their love for each other, that is the definition of a frustrating ending.  There was a much better ending, an ending where the couple kiss, and say, “Let’s work on our relationship while the inhabitants of Free Life work on theirs.” 

The acting makes this movie seem better than it is.  Ryan Reynolds plays a likeable guy named Guy.  He’s an everyman.  Who can’t relate to getting bored with the same routine at work?  Who can’t relate to yearning for the woman of your dreams and then meeting her? Jodie Comer is also excellent in a kind of double role as American Millie, and British Molotov Girl, and she’s likeable too, unlike the psychopath she plays on Killing Eve.   Joe Keery has a love interest, unlike his character in Stranger Things.  Keery plays a shy programmer, which is a steretype, but in this movie, a harmless one. Takia Waititi is hilariously over the top as Antwan, the villain, Waititi is chewing scenery and loving it. Lil Rel Howry brings a lot of enthusiasm to a severely underwritten role. And all of these things add up to a good movie. 

Shawn Levy has not directed a whole lot of good movies.  The best thing he’s probably directed is eight episodes of the TV show Stranger Things.  Despite that, he does a pretty good job here.  The pacing is good, yes there are special effects, but they don’t overwhelm the movie, and he gets very good performances from the cast.  One of the few things he did wrong was cut the last scene short.  There was no reason to do it. 

Free Guy With wit and Guy-le Free Guy is an entertaining if uneven film. 

Charlie Brown (Peter Robbins) has the Christmas blues.  He’s depressed because he thinks Christmas has become too materialistic.  Poor Charlie has plenty of evidence to prove his point.  His sister, Sally (Cathy Steinberg) asks Charlie Brown to write to Santa for her, and Sally has a long list of gifts for Santa to bring her.  Distraught, Charlie goes to Lucy Van Pelt (Tracy Stratford) who puts on her psychiatrist hat and analyzes Charlie Brown’s fears, but she also makes him director of the school Christmas play.   Charlie Brown starts giving directorial orders, but his friends are too busy listening to music and dancing to listen, so Charlie Brown decides that buying a Christmas tree will focus his friends’ attention on Christmas.  Charlie and his friend Linus Van Pelt (Christopher Shea) go to a lot, and buy a tree.  Unfortunately, for Charlie Brown, it’s a tiny tree, with barely any foliage.  How do Charlie Brown’s friends react to the tiny tree? 

A Charlie Brown Christmas is the quintessential Christmas special.  Not only does it quote the Bible about the birth of Jesus, but then it illustrates true Christian values of love, community, and fellowship.  It also shows the value of humility, Charlie Brown could have picked an elaborate aluminum tree, but he chose the smallest tree in the lot, and maybe that engendered an extra outpouring of sympathy from Charlie Brown’s friends, but whatever the case, the tree embodies what a little Christmas spirit can do.  A Charlie Brown Christmas imparts these values subtlety, and gently, showing that a little kindness goes a long way All of Charlie Brown’s friends play a part, Lucy, playing the part of a psychiatrist, with her superiority complex is ironically funny, but she gets Charlie Brown involved in the school play and that pulls him out of his funk. Linus helps him pick out the tree, and never dissuades him.  Even though Snoopy gets caught up in the materialism, he demonstrates his free spirit with a wonderful skating routine. Schroeder plays the piano with impeccable feeling, even Pig Pen is proud of his contribution to the play. 

The acting is done by real kids, who often couldn’t read and therefore had to be fed their lines, which accounts for the many pauses in the line readings.  But having kids act out these roles somehow makes the feelings and emotions more real and heartfelt, and funnier too, when the script calls for humor. 

The animation is not up to Disney/Pixar standards, but maybe that’s why it’s so endearing to watch, this was hand drawn animation and every imperfection in every character brings back such warm feelings that can’t compare to the perfectly animated Pixar films.  The music, by jazz musician Vince Guaraldi, is integral to the success of this special.  The music sets the mood for the whole story.  There’s the plaintive yet melodic “Christmastime is Here” the jazzy take on “O Tannenbaum” and the jaunty playful “Linus and Lucy” which became the trademark song of all Peanuts specials to come.  All the songs fit a specific part of this Christmas special, and the special on the whole. 

The only thing that mars this wonderful special is the fact that Tim Cook, current CEO of mega- conglomerate Apple, bought the rights to A Charlie Brown Christmas and took it off network TV.  Public Broadcasting gets to show it twice, but they have to thank Apple for allowing them to show it.  So, the anti-commercial message of the special is somewhat diluted, but that’s always been the case.  When it was first aired in 1965, the product placement of Coca-Cola was actually drawn into the cartoon.  Later, the FCC blocked such product placement, so later versions of A Charlie Brown Christmas were missing the Coke product placement.  Sponsors were nervous about the religious content, reading of the Bible verse, but Charles Shultz fought to keep it in.  Good for him.  A Charlie Brown Christmas epitomizes the best of Christianity.  But even in a Christmas special with the theme of anti-commercialism, commercialism, in the form of Apple, & Coca-Cola rears its ugly head. 

If you don’t like A Charlie Brown Christmas, nuts to you, Peanuts to you! 

Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) is undecided on whether to go to college or not, his working-class parents can’t afford the 8,000 dollar a year price tag for a college education, so Danny, who’s a caddy at a local country club, asks one of the members of the club, Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) if he should go to college.  Ty doesn’t give Danny any meaningful advice, so Danny decides to try for a scholarship open to caddies, but the scholarship is controlled by uptight, old money stuffed shirt, Judge Elihu Smails (Ted Knight) who doesn’t like Danny or nuevo riche developer Al Czervik (Rodney Dangerfield) Smails feels they are too common for his ritzy country club. But when Judge Smails and Dr. Beeper (Dan Resin) challenge Al and Ty to a golf match for big money stakes, and Al gets hurt, will Danny jeopardize the scholarship and team up with Ty against Judge Smails or will he play it safe and continue to kiss up to the judge? 

Caddyshack is a teen sex comedy with an actual storyline.  And it is actually funny.  Sure, there are detours and adlibs that mess with the storyline, but most of the laughs come with the establishment of a rivalry between Judge Smails and developer Al, and the comedic byplay between Dangerfield and Ted Knight, who are both at the top of their game in this film.  The same cannot be said for SNL alums Chase and Murray, who waste their only scene together trying to out ad-lib each other, to no big laughs.  There are two iconic scenes featuring Murray’s groundskeeper character, one where he daydreams about winning the Masters golf tournament, the other where he caddies for a Bishop during a thunderstorm, both scenes are memorable and funny.  There are also wasted characters, like the sexually liberated judge’s niece, there’s also a stereotypical Italian caddy, but on the whole, there are plenty of laugh out loud moments that save this movie from being another Stripes or Meatballs.  Watching it again, after 41 years, Caddyshack holds up surprisingly well. 

The superb comedic timing by the actors is what saves Caddyshack from being an also-ran 80’s comedy.  Ted Knight is extremely funny as Judge Smails, the snobby old money judge who wants to keep the country club free of riff-raff.  Knight does well playing an ostensibly unlikeable character.  Rodney Dangerfield plays the perfect foil for the snotty Judge character in free-wheeling wise-cracking land developer Al Czervik.  Dangerfield is essentially doing his stand-up routine during the movie, but it works, he is hilarious, and plays the perfect vehicle for Smails to get his comeuppance.  Less funny is Chevy Chase, who does his usual smug, arrogant reading of an essentially likable character, and fills the role with non-sequitur ad-libs that just aren’t funny, but are his trademark. Bill Murray, plays a drugged-up, boozed-up burnout groundskeeper named Carl Spackler, and it’s refreshing, because he’s not playing another version of his usual hip slacker character.  He adds dimensions to Carl that make him even funnier than written, one of Murray’s better performances in a smaller role. 

Harold Ramis co-wrote and directed this film.  Ramis lost control of the narrative, he let his stars ad-lib a lot, but thankfully kept the film to be short enough to be enjoyable, and built up to a somewhat exciting set piece. (It is golf after all, the dullest international sport ever created) Ramis got good performances from most of his cast, except for Chevy Chase.  The gopher, which tormented groundskeeper Carl was just a puppet, no high-tech special effects here, this was a low budget comedy.  In fact, the puppeteer from Caddyshack, Pat Brymer, just passed away in 2020. 

The Caddyshack soundtrack had two big hits on it.  “I’m Alright” by Kenny Loggins, and “Any Way You Want It” by Journey.  Seeing Rodney Dangerfield dance to “Any Way You Want It” is hilarious, but more importantly, “I’m Alright” was the beginning of Kenny Loggins’ career as King of The 80’s Movie Soundtracks, including songs like “Danger Zone” and “Footloose.” 

Caddyshack: Gopher it. 

It is Christmas, in the 1940’s and all little 9-year-old Ralphie Parker (Peter Billingsley) wants is a Red Ryder BB gun, but he has to convince his old man (Darren McGavin) and his mother (Melinda Dillon) that getting a gun is a good idea.  Mom Parker dismisses the idea with the simple but effective “You’ll shoot your eye out.”  Dad Parker is too busy cursing out his boiler, or waiting for a mystery award to care what Ralphie wants for Christmas. 

Ralphie is going through quite a bit in school, one of his friends, Flick (Scott Schwartz) gets his tongue stuck on a frozen pole on a dare, Ralphie and his friends are getting bulled by a fellow student, Scut Farcas (Zack Ward) but finally Ralphie sees one glimmer of hope.  Ralphie’s teacher Miss Shields (Tedde Moore) asks Ralphie’s class to write an essay about what they want for Christmas.  Ralphie thinks he will be inundated with praise for his essay, but he gets a mediocre grade and an ironic warning from Miss Shields.  Ralphie has one more chance to make his BB gun wish come true.  He’s going to ask Santa himself at the department store his family visits.  Does Ralphie ask Santa for his dream gift?  Does Santa give Ralphie his dream gift? 

A Christmas Story is a true Christmas classic, it has a simple premise, but it doesn’t get bogged down with Ralphie’s obsession with the BB gun.  His dad is always cursing about something, his brother is the whiny type, his mother is trying to hold the family together.  Ralphie daydreams about how great things would be if he had this pellet gun, but he also has to deal with bullying, strange friends, and a Santa Claus who is not the jolly old elf of legend either.  A Christmas Story is a view of family life, but it’s a skewed view of family life, and the humor is what makes it a classic, because everyone in the movie has their own quirks.  The ending is expected but still satisfying.  Repeated viewing doesn’t diminish its humor or nostalgia for the days before video games, cell phones, and the internet. 

The acting is fantastic. Peter Billingsley is perfect as cherubic Ralphie Parker, Billingsley displays all the fear, anticipation and yes, anxiety of a nine-year-old kid hoping to get his dream gift.  Darren McGavin is also very good as the expletive hurling, turkey loving, Mr. Fix-It father.  McGavin’s character always seems like he’s about to blow his top, but always restrains himself. McGavin gives the father a grumpy charm. Jean Sheppard does an incredible job with the voice over narration, he sounds like a mischievous kid himself and that adds to the fun of the film.  Melinda Dillon is the put-upon mom who has to deal with her temperamental husband, one son who wants a gun, the other son who won’t eat without coaxing, and yet Dillon keeps her character optimistic. 

 Director Bob Clark keeps the film at a good pace, gets great performances from the whole cast, even the kids, and he also makes the scenes of Ralphie’s daydreams visually interesting.  Clark makes the meeting with Santa Claus seem nightmarish, by using a fisheye lens of some type to give the scene a distorted look.  But before Clark gets a lifetime achievement Oscar for this movie it’s important to remember that he directed the voyeuristic and sexist Porky’s 1 & 2.  He’s not Frank Capra, but this film was his finest moment. 

A Christmas Story:  Ralphie takes a shot at getting the perfect gift 

Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris) relates the story of how he got his Nintendo Entertainment System to his daughter Annie (Sophia Reid Gantzert) who wants to get a smartphone.  In 1989, young Jake (Winslow Fegley) lives in Chicago with his parents, John (Steve Zahn and Kathy (June Diane Raphael) All Jake wants for Christmas is a Nintendo video game system, but John and Kathy being working class parents can’t afford luxuries like video games for Jake, so Jake has to live vicariously through a rich kid named Timmy Keane (Chandler Dean) who the neighborhood kids have to bribe to play with his Nintendo.  Well, Timmy is so spoiled that he breaks his Nintendo when he loses a game to one of Jake’s friends Tammy Hodges. (Brielle Rankins) Just as he us about to give up, Jake hears that his scout troop is giving away a new Nintendo video game system to the scout who sells the most Christmas wreaths to the neighborhood.  Jake enters the contest, but does he win? 

8 Bit Christmas is a thoroughly disappointing movie.  First, it clearly and unashamedly rips off A Christmas Story, and doesn’t even try to hide the fact.  Also, Jake is not really a kid worthy of a video game system, he signs up old people for wreaths when they’re asleep, he loses his sister at the mall, while playing video games, he complains about his sister getting the gift she asks for, while he gets nothing.  The story also inadvertently makes the point that video games are bad for kids.  One kid destroys his video game and tv in a rage, Jake, the main character loses his sister while being transfixed by a video game.  And the story doesn’t give Jake one disappointment, but multiple disappointments, to the point of point of punishing the kid.  It’s also just one big ad for Nintendo, and product placement, which is a pet peeve.  The rewarding part of this movie doesn’t come until much too late, and Jake never really learns the true meaning of Christmas. 

The acting is not very good.  Neil Patrick Harris only does the voiceover narration, which leaves the role of Jake Doyle to a child actor, who acts essentially like a spoiled materialistic brat. That’s not Winslow Fegley’s fault, but he doesn’t come off as sweet or sympathetic. Steve Zahn does a really good job as a working-class father trying to make his wife and kids happy on his meager salary.  He’s the only character grounded in reality.  Brielle Rankins does a pretty good job as the only girl in a bunch of boys, being assertive of herself and supportive of Jake.  The other kids are just stereotypes, nerd, geek, bully, and those kids overact, and the other adults are just props for the kids to fool. 

Michael Dowse, the director, lets the pacing lag, it’s a very slow movie, which essentially repeats the same gags again and again, with different forms of the same payoff.  It would have been a better movie if the audience wasn’t subjected to the same punchline over and over again.  The acting is sub-par, and the warm sentimental denouement of the film comes much too late to save it. 

8 Bit Christmas, a bit too long, a bit too boring and a bit too derivative to be a Christmas classic. 

Tripper Harrison (Bill Murray) is a camp counselor at camp North Star.  Tripper befriends a kid named Rudy, (Chris Makepeace) who is a small uncoordinated boy who is not good at sports.  After Rudy scores an own goal in soccer, he contemplates running away, but is talked into staying by Tripper. Tripper plays blackjack with Rudy and starts going long distance running with Rudy.  When the camp Olympics competition with rival camp Mohawk comes down to the last event, a long-distance run, Tripper suggests Rudy runs the race, will camp director Morty (Harvey Atkin) agree to let Rudy run the race?  Does Rudy want to run the race? 

Meatballs is a formulaic teen comedy that tries to be a mix between Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, but it fails because of a lack of structure.  The rival camps are never really identified until the Olympic events about two-thirds of the way into the movie, the camp counselors are stereotypical teens with names like Spaz (nerd) and Fink (fat guy) there is no chemistry between Tripper and Roxanne, the female counselor he’s supposed to be interested in, so all the audience is left with is the saccharine sweet story of Rudy and Tripper, which is cloyingly sweet and doesn’t really belong in a teen sex movie.  There’s even an attempt at an Animal House type inspirational speech, but even that flops. As with Stripes, Harold Ramis co-wrote this schlockfest, but it’s even worse than Stripes. It amazingly grossed 70 million dollars, but it does not age well at all.  Some of the 1979 scenes are cringeworthy in 2021, Murray’s character, for example, doesn’t flirt with the woman playing Roxanne, in one scene, he basically wrestles her, pins her on a sofa, and then plays the victim for laughs, incredibly distasteful.  Watching this movie again,42 years later reveals all its flaws, and none of its humor, if there is any humor to be had. What was funny about Meatballs, again? 

This movie relies heavily on Bill Murray, and it seems like many of his lines are ad-libs, problem is none of the adlibs are funny, except one where Murray calls Chris Makepeace’s character Rudy the Rabbit in an Elmer Fudd voice.  Other than that scene, he’s basically the same jerky slacker character he plays in all his early films, but at this point, Murray hadn’t honed his acting skills enough to make this character likeable.  Chris Makepeace does a very good job playing Rudy, the lonely overlooked kid who looks to Murray to be a father figure.  None of the other roles are notable. 

Director Ivan Reitman disserves some of the blame for this floundering celluloid waste of time.  Instead of building a cohesive narrative about summer camp rivalry, Reitman sits back and lets Bill Murray ad lib, and none of Murray’s ad libs are funny. Reitman could have cut some of the camp North Star scenes, and added scenes with camp Mohawk to make the rich Mohawk campers look like bratty, entitled rich kids, but Reitman didn’t emphasize the camp rivalry until an hour into the film and by that time who cares? This movie made a lot of money, so Reitman and Murray learned no lessons and made the equally unfocused and unfunny military comedy, Stripes. 

Meatballs:  The camp comedy is not even campy. 

Celina (Lorenza Izzo) us a promising Catholic school student until she gets impregnated by her boyfriend Mateo (Bryan Craig) who is just coming home from Vietnam.  Celina considers an illegal abortion as her friend Marti (Chrissie Fit) goes through with one, but reconsiders, and has the child while living with her parents.  Her father Don Juan (Stephen Bauer) asks for more rent, so Celina dutifully gets a night job as a janitor.  While watching Celina eat lunch alone, an executive at the bank, named Gilbert, (Simu Liu) invites her to lunch in his office. 

Gilbert takes Selina under wing, and teaches her about savings, investing, and real estate, but after Selina gets married to Mateo, Gilbert turns cold and Celina is suddenly fired from her job as a teller.  Were there strings attached to Gilbert’s help? Does Selina and Mateo’s relationship last given the on again off again nature of their relationship?

First and foremost, this movie deserves a lot of credit for showing a frank depiction of the choices that women faced with abortion before 1973.  And then it goes on to show the myriad of obstacles facing single mothers economically in the 1960’s and 70’s, job discrimination, pay discrimination, lending discrimination, abusive relationships, unwanted sexual advances. Women Is Losers presents these weighty issues with a large dose of realism, but it succeeds in not being preachy, by having a wry, self-aware sense of humor about its subject matter This movie is eminently relatable to anyone who’s worked in an office in any capacity, or been on a job interview of any kind. 

The acting is excellent by the younger actors, a little ham-handed by the older actors, but on balance a very good job of conveying the obstacles faced by young women in the 60’s and how these issues persist.  Lorenza Izzo is smart, funny, tough and vulnerable all at once, that’s a very tough thing to pull off and sound credible doing it, but Izzo did a fantastic job of putting all those critical elements in this character, and she made Celina human, not just a walking billboard for women’s issues.  Chrissie Fit is also quite convincing as Celina’s friend Marty, the role started out as a comedic sidekick, but suddenly turns into a tragically serious role.  It’s a small but pivotal role.  Stephen Bauer overplays the Don Juan role badly, but it’s a poorly written role to begin with, a stereotypically macho father and husband who’s both physically and verbally abusive to Celina and her mother, Dona Carolina (Alejandra Miranda) It’s a one-dimensional role, and Bauer doesn’t seem interested in adding anything else to the role. Alejandra Miranda doesn’t do much with her character, she plays a submissive passive aggressive type mom, who gets dumped on, and in turn dumps on her daughter.  Nothing stands out in the role, or her portrayal of the role. 

The directing is quite good.  Early on, the film looked like a remake of West Side Story, director Lissette Feliciano actually stages a musical number, but deftly steers the movie onto more weighty topics.  Feliciano employs a tactic called breaking down the fourth wall, which allowed Celina to speak directly to the audience.  This device was used often by Woody Allen in his early movies, in Women Is Losers, breaking down the fourth wall serves to inject some humor into the film and cuts the dramatic tension, which makes the material rise above the usual after school special or very special episode of a television show.  The pacing was good, the acting was mostly good.  This is an impressive debut for Ms. Feliciano. 

Women Is Losers:  Wades into deep waters, using humor 

A meek, gullible bank employee named Stanley Ipkiss (Jim Carey) is about to get jolted from his mundane existence. A beautiful chanteuse named Tina Carlyle (Cameron Diaz) comes into Stanley’s branch and asks him to open an account for her. Little does Stanley know that Tina is casing the bank, so her boyfriend, Dorian (Peter Greene) can rob it. Before Dorian and his mobster friends can rob the bank, Stanley finds a mask and when he puts it on, all his inhibitions disappear, and he goes to see Tina perform. In order to get into the club, Stanley robs the bank Dorian was planning to rob. Now, not only are mobsters after Stanley, so are the police in the form of Lieutenant Mitch Kellaway. (Peter Riegert) Will the Mask save Stanley from the police and the mob?

This movie fails for many reasons. The Mask was supposed to be Carey’s breakout film, and it was a box office smash for sure, but Jim Carrey did a lot of the same mugging that he did on In Living Color and the Pet Detective movies, except he had a more cartoonish medium in which to do his mugging. The characters are pretty unappealing, with moral compasses that are broken or at least not working well. And the romantic comedy aspect o0f the film is not believable, because there’s no reason why Tina would fall for a simpleton like Stanley.

There are reasons to watch this film. The special effects are a tribute to Tex Avery and Chuck Jones, The Mask character is a combination of the frenetic energy of The Tasmanian Devil from Warner Brothers, and the googly eyed objectifying wolf from MGM animation Even Stanley’s dog becomes a tribute to Hanna Barbera’s Muttley. There is also an interesting revelation about the spirit that possesses the Mask, which would probably result in an inter-studio lawsuit if the Mask were made today. This is also Cameron Diaz first movie, and she didn’t hesitate to take the spotlight away from Amy Yasbeck, the other female lead.

Despite these positives, the Mask tries very hard to be a throwback film, The Mask character is seen wearing a Zoot Suit like Cab Calloway, and singing Cuban Pete popularized by Desi Arnaz. But try as it might, the Mask was really was a failed attempt at a tribute to a noir film. Who Framed Roger Rabbit was an actual tribute to noir films, was a much better film. The Mask needs a major re-write to make the story cohesive and enjoyable.

The acting in this film is not that great. Jim Carrey showed no growth in his acting skills with this film, he performed the same face making immature antics he showed in the Ace Ventura movies and in Dumb and Dumber, but because this film was actually part cartoon, critics gave him a pass. Part of the problem is Carrey plays a loud, obnoxious, not very likeable character. and the rest of the time, he’s playing a simpering simpleton. The real growth for Carrey as an actor came when he started appearing in movies like the Truman Show or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, where the comedy was more subtle, or there was no comedy at all where Carrey played a victim of circumstance, and had to draw on acting skills that he had not shown before, essentially playing a straight man with no clownish behavior to bail him out. Cameron Diaz is mere eye candy, as well as a love interest for Carrey’s character in this film, she was much funnier in There’s Something about Mary. And no, she did not sing in the Mask, her singing voice was dubbed. Ben Stein appears in a few scenes as his usual bookish professorial type.

The direction is ok, the special effects enhance the film, they don’t overwhelm the film, the singing and dancing scenes were staged well, the acting was average. It’s an average film.

Jim Carreys this movie, but it doesn’t go anywhere.

Richard Williams (Will Smith) has been training daughters Venus (Saniyya Sidney) and her sister Serena (Demi Singleton) for a while.  They live in Compton California, notorious for its gang violence.  Richard’s main goal is to keep his family together, and keep Venus Serena and his three other girls in school, and keep them away from young gang members who harass them.  He contemplates shooting a young tough named Monsta (Vaughn Hebron) after Monsta beats up Richard several times, but a drive by shooter kills Monsta, and the gang threat recedes.   

Richard’s wife Oracene (Aunjanue Ellis) suggests that Richard get the girls a professional coach, after striking out with Vic Braden,(Kevin Dunn) Richard drives to a country club in California, and introduces Venus and Serena to Paul Cohen (Tony Goldwyn) and he is sufficiently impressed that he wants to work with them.  Venus plays on the juniors circuit for a while, and does not lose.  Agents and managers start circling, Richard Williams abruptly movies the family to Florida, and signs with tennis coach Rick Macci.(Jon Bernthal) Macci also wants Venus to play on the juniors circuit.  Does Richard give in? 

King Richard is telling the story of the success of tennis stars Venus and Serena Williams by focusing on their father, Richard.  This is absolutely the wrong focus of the film.  The filmmakers are trying to illustrate the importance of fatherhood on the African American community, and that is a laudable aspiration, but without the hard work tenacity and talent of the Williams sisters themselves, Richard could have been the best parent/coach in the world and it wouldn’t have mattered in the least.  The script also underplays the threat of gang violence against the African American community and worse turns it into a joke.  By concentrating on Richard and Venus, the writers treat Serena as an aside, which is ridiculous, because she is the more successful sister by far.  The writers also underplay Oracene’s role in the sisters’ success.  The script also includes a reference to their faith, which was completely superfluous. The film also ends on a down note, which is supposed to be uplifting. 

The acting is very good except for Will Smith, who unfortunately plays the lead and kills any chance of taking his acting or Richard Williams seriously.  The accent Smith uses is somewhere between Stepin Fetchit and Muhammad Ali, it did not sound like Richard Williams at all.  That accent sounded like a man desperate for an award.  Smith hasn’t done a movie worth watching since Ali, and although he has a few good scenes, he does not carry that intensity throughout the whole film.  Idris Elba would’ve have been a better choice to play Williams, but since Smith and his wife Jada were producers, Will Smith was going to play Richard Williams.  Aunjanue Ellis is very good as Oracene, she made the most of her scenes, showing assertiveness and righteous indignation when her accomplishments are ignored by Richard.  But Ellis is not in many scenes and that’s the problem with this movie, Will Smith is expected to carry this film and he can’t. Tony Goldwyn and Jon Berenthal are fine as Venus’ coaches, but again, they’re only in a few montage scenes training Venus, not much acting ability is needed for those scenes. 

The direction is also poor.  The pacing is very slow, the movie is almost 2 ½ hours, and lots of that time drags.  Director Renaldo Marcus Green seems to be known for his documentary work, so why not make this movie a documentary, rather than dealing with the horrendous scenery chewing of Will Smith and a movie about as exciting about watching grass grow at Wimbledon.  Green made a movie that spanned 2 ½ hours and results inn a climax showing Venus’ first professional match, and cut Serena out of the narrative almost completely.  That is not good time management, that is certainly not good storytelling.  A young director making his first feature film is not going to tell Will Smith his Southern accent is an abomination, or cut out unnecessary scenes, so the end result is a bloated, boring biopic, and the director shares responsibility for that result. 

King Richard:  I wanted to love it, but it has too many faults 

In 1672, before being burned at the stake a witch named Jennifer (Veronica Lake) puts a curse on the Wooley family that no male member of the Wooley family would have a happy married life.   The Wooleys, in turn burn Jennifer and her father, Daniel. (Cecil Calloway) and bury them under an oak tree.  In 1942, a lightning bolt hits the oak tree and sets Jennifer and Daniel free as spirits.  Jennifer still wants to mess with the men in the Wooley family, so she appears as a sexy victim in a hotel fire that her father Daniel sets.  Who saves her, none other than Jonathan Wooley, (Fredric March) which drives his fiancé Estelle Masterson (Susan Howard) crazy with jealousy.  But flirting and jealousy is not enough, so Jennifer whips up a love potion, and wants Jonathan to drink it, while she plays hard to get. But Jennifer drinks the love potion herself and falls in madly love with Jonathan.  Will Jennifer find an antidote for the potion? Will Jonathan marry Estelle?  Or will the attraction of the gorgeous Jennfer throwing herself at Jonathan be too much to resist?  

I Married A Witch is a good premise for a romantic comedy, but this is another case of bad casting. For a romantic comedy to work, there has to be chemistry between the two leads and in this film, there was none.  Joel McCrea was scheduled to star opposite Lake, but he had a hard time with her on another screwball comedy, Sullivan’s Travels, so McCrea dropped out. There was already bad blood between March and Lake before filming started, saying some derogatory things about Lake that found their way into a newspaper article, so no wonder the pair didn’t send sparks flying.  There is a noticeable age difference too, March is 45, Lake is 20 at the time.  Hollywood didn’t seem to mind then, but the stars themselves looked uncomfortable.  The story is much darker than the usual screwball comedy because of the Daniel character, who starts out as an arsonist and gets more depraved as the film goes on, as he tries to break up Jennifer and Jonathan. 

The acting is so-so and most of the blame for that lies with Fredric March, Narch might be a great actor, but he’s hardly a great comedic actor, and could barely hide his disdain for Lake who he’s supposed to be in love with.  He mostly looks disinterested throughout the film, and he couldn’t even pretend to act like he loved Lake’s character.  Veronica Lake was completely believable as the witch who has to deal with the consequences of her own spell.  Whatever Lake’s feelings for March, she didn’t let any animosity show, and was incredibly funny sharp, and lovelorn in character.    This was a surprisingly versatile comedic performance from Lake, who became well known later as a femme fatale in noir films Cecil Calloway delivers a complex performance as Daniel, Jennifer’s father.  He doesn’t play a trickster in this film who wants to beguile humans, he wants to destroy humankind and avenge his burning at the stake. 

The direction is pretty straightforward, the pacing is good, the magic is simplistic, but somewhat impressive for the 1940; s.  Most of the acting is good, and the ending fits the overall whimsy of the premise.  

I Married A Witch:  Despite Lake’s Hex Appeal, the movie fails to be magical.