The A-Team: The Potato loves it when a film comes together!

1983. A legendary network television show was born. It featured action, adventure, comedy, brotherhood and, of course, Mr. T. Creators Stephen J. Cannell and Frank Lupo found a way to combine the popular detective procedural drama with a boys-with-Tonka-trucks sense of precocious male abandon.  It was a huge hit, and ran for 5 seasons until it was canceled in 1987. After 23 years of the franchise lying dormant, the world will be reintroduced to: The A-Team.

::Cue burst of machine gun fire::

That’s right everybody, Hannibal Smith, Faceman Peck, B.A. Baracus, and Howlin’ Mad Murdock are back, and they’ve finally brought their particular brand of military justice to the big screen.  At the helm of this camouflaged runaway freight train is a particular brand of director, and his name is Joe “Blood, Guts, Bullets, and Octane” Carnahan.  A perfect marriage if I’ve ever seen one.  Of course, as with all resurrected franchises, we have to reintroduce it to the younger folks who only know The A-Team as some show that Dad can’t shut up about, and so the film version is an origin story of sorts: the team forms, the team is shown in action, they get framed and arrested, they break out, and then they begin their quest to clear their names.  It couldn’t be the exact same story, because it was so much of its time and politics that it would ring false today.  Instead of being made up of Vietnam vets, they’re Gulf War vets, and so their circumstances behind their framing, arrest, and escape have all been tweaked to serve this contemporary update.  The major plot points and characters, however, remain the same.  The result is a cigar-chomping, testosterone-dripping comic action opera that satisfies the inner child’s need for danger and adventure, with as many one-liners fired as bullets.

For a TV show that contained such memorable characters that all had an unlikely chemistry (the very chemistry that made the show what it was), their big screen counterparts did not disappoint.  The two versions of the cast are proportionate to the action universes they inhabit.  The TV show features military heroes. The film is a big-budget, explosive, 80’s-informed blockbuster (in the best way), requiring the cast to do more heavy lifting.  They have to be more than military heroes; they have to be action heroes. Of course, comparisons are inevitable, and they may also be warranted.  How could anyone replace Dwight Schultz?  How could anyone truly replace Mr. T.? Mr. T. built his entire legacy around the B.A. Baracus character.  He is B.A. Baracus.  Even in an updated film, the best that any actor can do is imitate him and for an imitation, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson did a good job.  He could definitely handle the action, he pitied fools constantly, and he could keep up with his lively costars.  The script gave also his Baracus an emotional depth that could be expressed with fewer words and more actions.  Though the updated Baracus is not as cuddly, he comes from a similar place.

Much like George Peppard before him, Liam Neeson plays Hannibal Smith as a tough-as-nails Army colonel, with a big heart and mischievous look in his eyes.  Anyone who has seen the action opus Taken knows that Liam Neeson can growl painfully and dispatch movie baddies with convincing aplomb.  In this film, Hannibal Smith is still the man with the best laid plans, and he still never hesitates to get in the fight.  The most perfect casting comes in the form of Bradley Cooper as Faceman Peck.  Cooper matches Dirk Benedict’s old school urban swashbuckling charm perfectly and is the glue that holds all the other performances together. Faceman is the most complicated because he is both the finesse and the fire, and while Dirk Benedict is responsible for creating him, Bradley Cooper is keeping Faceman alive and well.  The big surprise is District 9’s Sharlto Copley who is able to effortlessly capture the constant mania that Dwight Schultz brought to the Howlin’ Mad Murdock character.

After his performance in last year’s District 9, which was largely improvisational with little written dialog to work from, Copley was tested with the A-Team’s more traditional script and had to show that he could sustain an already existing character. Any skeptics should worry not, for Copley’s performance is the heart and soul of The A-Team’s dynamic.

As far as supporting casts go, this one is game.  As Captain Sosa (and Faceman’s former flame), Jessica Biel does a lot with a thankless role, holding the line between love interest and woman-of-action.  Gerald McRaney (Major Dad?) starts out playing General Morrison as the General from Predator, but his character gets more complicated as the plot thickens.  Extra kudos goes to Lakeview Terrace’s Patrick Wilson as CIA Agent Lynch, a wormy, sociopathic G-Man so duplicitous that you love him as much as you hate him.

Making an impact with his first feature Blood, Guts, Bullets and Octane, and making a smaller yet deeper impact with Narc, Joe Carnahan should have made his action smashup debut with 2006’s  Smokin’ Aces, but it was a misstep. The cinematography and offbeat dialogue suggested that Carnahan would be a director who could handle large action while maintaining a uniquely graphic vision, but Aces fails because the story falls apart in the third act, and also does not deliver the action that it was building towards.  In The A-Team, I must say, I love it when a Joe Carnahan movie comes together.  His cinematic vision for the franchise is a combination of Tony Scott and True Lies-era James Cameron.  It is an immensely entertaining homage to old-school Hollywood spectacle. The script, co-written by Joe Carnahan, Skip Woods, and Brian Bloom (who also plays rogue mercenary Mr. Pike) is a breezy, expertly strung together tapestry of one-liners with a clever plot and a few interesting twists along the way. The action sequences are fierce, fun, and impossible, culminating with an unbelievably destructive scene at the Long Beach harbor.  Amidst the chaos, Carnahan keeps the film moving in its quieter moments, and though there aren’t many, they’re very well placed. In The A-Team, Carnahan is tasked with aiming a shotgun at a target, and instead pulls out a rocket launcher and fraggs the entire mountain. Hoo-yah.

If you’re an A-Team fan, if you’re an action fan, a Liam Neeson fan, or pretty much a fan of all things loud, fun, and awesome, then maybe you can hire…The A-Team! I give it an enthusiastic 4 out of 4 stars/bullets.

The Potato stayed up late for “Iron Man 2”

Tony Stark.  In the Marvel-verse, he is the eccentric billionaire weapons manufacturer turned superhero.  In Jon Favreau’s follow up to the Marvel megahit “Iron Man”, Robert Downey Jr. is the undisputed star of the summer kickoff tentpole “Iron Man 2”.  Stark is a man haunted by the sins of which he and his father are both guilty.  In this sequel, the sins of the Stark family catch up to Tony in the form of criminally insane Russian physicist Ivan Vanko aka Whiplash.  Nefariously connected to the Stark family legacy, Vanko will not rest until he has turned Tony Stark’s advanced technology against him and everyone he loves.  Also on the offensive is weapons manufacturer and Stark rival Justin Hammer, who will stop at nothing to steal the Iron Man technology, and Vanko is the key to making that happen.

At the beginning of the film, Tony Stark justifies withholding of his benevolently destructive supersuit from the U.S. government with the reason that he and the Iron Man suit are a singular entity.  If you take one, you take the other, and Mr. Stark bows to no one.  There couldn’t be a more perfect analogy for Downey’s performance.  For lack of a better phrase, Downey IS Tony Stark/Iron Man.  Like Stark, Downey is all charm and wit when the flashbulbs are popping. When the spotlights finally dim, Downey shows a depth of emotion so subtle yet so present that it’s sometimes hard to imagine that it’s the same person.  This was also true for the first film, and this is where the criticism lies.  To be fair, it’s not Downey’s fault.  He does everything that the role requires.  The fault has to lie with the script.  When Tony Stark comes face to face with the possibility that his Iron Man suit might be slowly killing him, it causes him to fall into a (brief) self-destructive spiral.  This could have been a compelling section of the film, but the script passes over this character moment in favor of more comic relief.  As a result, Downey gives the same performance in this film as he did in the last Iron Man movie, with a few brief moments of darkness that serve little more than to move the clunky plot forward.

The rest of the returning cast are all up to their jobs:  As Pepper Potts, the new CEO of Stark Industries and the only woman Tony Stark will ever love, Gwyneth Paltrow is just as solid here as in the first film.  Her character gets more face time, and her chemistry with Downey is apparent, but the role is little more than a flustered girlfriend who exists only to yell and be frustrated with Tony Stark.  As Lt. Col. “Rhodey” Rhodes, Don Cheadle does a fine job, yet doesn’t really build on the character that Terrence Howard created in the first film.  In another Avengers-setup cameo, Samuel L. Jackson brings wily fire to the mysterious eyepatched Nick Fury character, but I just kept waiting for Jackson to slip into some silver-tongued soliloquy from “Pulp Fiction” and then rule ass singlehandedly.  I mean, he and Stark share breakfast at a classic diner, for crying out loud.  Extra props go to Clark Gregg for reprising his role as S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent Coulson.

The new additions to the cast are also quite good: Sam Rockwell nearly steals the show as Stark wannabe Justin Hammer.  Every scene that he and Downey share is gold.  I would love to see the two of these guys do another movie together.  Human method acting exercise Mickey Rourke was inspired casting for the vengeful Whiplash and he is indeed as menacing as he is in the film’s trailers.  Rourke doesn’t get as much screen time as one would hope, and he actually disappears from the film for about twenty minutes during the second act.  As S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Natasha Romanoff, Scarlett Johansson wears a Marvel-made tactical leotard very well and proves she can handle herself both as an action heroine and as a competing love interest for Downey.  In a hilarious cameo as Senator Stern, Garry Shandling crawls out from his comfortable rock and shows these juniors just how sarcasm is done.

Jon Favreau can make a hell of a comic book picture.  He’s obviously a director who loves the source material and loves to entertain.  The action of “Iron Man 2” is shot with the audience in mind, designed to show the viewer just how powerful these weapons can be, and how much destruction they can cause.  Retaining Matthew Libatique as Director of Photography, Favreau creates an Iron Man world that is backlit by technology and fueled by a playfulness that recalls swinging 60’s action romps.  “Iron Man 2” is a fun movie for what it is.  The criticism, again, lies with Justin Theroux’s script.  I’m not sure how many constraints he may have been working with, since he was challenged with continuing Tony Stark’s storyline along with setting up characters who will undoubtedly be appearing in future Marvel films.  Unfortunately, this left the plot of “Iron Man 2” very convoluted and disjointed.  Characters appear and disappear for long periods of time.  The film seems to be a collection of action scenes strung together by a weak revenge narrative and survives on the charm of its actors, specifically Downey and Rockwell.  On a positive note, the dialogue is very cool and funny with enough puns to compete with at least half of the James Bond series.  As a complete film, “Iron Man 2” fails to capture the magic of the first film, and while high expectations may have had something to do with that, the film doesn’t feel complete.

Overall, “Iron Man 2” is a fun summer blockbuster, but when you’re exiting the theater, you’re going to feel one of two ways: “I liked it.  That movie was fun” or “It was awesome, and I can’t wait for The Avengers!!!” Both reactions were overheard in the theater as I exited.  If you liked “Iron Man”, if you like Robert Downey Jr., or if you just want to have some well deserved fun watching some colorful expensive comic book explosions, blast off to the theater for this one.  I give it a 2.5 out of 4 stars.

The Potato wins with “The Losers”

Exactly 4 months ago, a crack commando unit was framed for a crime they didn’t commit.  These men survived assassination and promptly escaped to the Bolivian underground.  Today, thought dead by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have an ass that needs kicked, if the government sets them up, and if you can find them, then maybe you can hire…The Losers? ::cue machine gun fire and explosions:: BOOM!

Sound familiar? You were expecting maybe a different ending? Ok, so maybe 2010’s “The Losers” isn’t exactly “The A-Team”, but it is damn close.  If you sort of know the opening narration from the classic TV show, I could recite that synopsis and easily fool you.  The lyrics are different, but they’re both singing the same tune.  This may sound like I’m unfairly criticizing “The Losers” for being basically DC Comics’ answer to “The A-Team”, but no.  “The Losers” is a cool, snarky, cigar-chewing action adventure that is both a throwback to the action comedies of the 80’s (specifically a certain aforementioned TV show) and a great showcase of hyper-stylized comic book thrills of today.  Part “The A-Team”, part “Smokin’ Aces”, and part “Beverly Hills Cop”, “The Losers” just plain rocks the socks off.

The casting of “The Losers” is spot-on perfect in the kind of way that made “The Hangover” so watchable.  With the wrong cast, both films would have been absolutely dreadful to watch.  As the leader known as Clay, Jeffrey Dean Morgan proves that his performance in “Watchmen” was not an action fluke.  Like a Bruce Willis, Morgan knows how to portray the tough guy without having to sacrifice vulnerability.  Likewise for Idris Elba’s character, known simply as Roque.  The scenes that these two men share rival even the manliest scenes of “Predator”, and that’s a manly movie.  This film will benefit Morgan just fine, but I hope that Idris Elba gets some more lead roles as well.  He manages to be completely entertaining and still remain underrated as an actor.  As the wheelman and techie of the group, respectively, Columbus Short and Chris “Captain America/Human Torch” Evans both hold their own in the fight, and also wield the comic relief like two kids who found their dad’s pellet guns.  They’re having fun, and that means we’re having fun too.

As the sole lady of action, Zoe Saldana continues to tear apart the screen and Jeffrey Dean Morgan (in a very well shot fight sequence in a flaming hotel room that obviously is meant to set up their sexual tension).  For being in so many blockbusters in her short career including the highest grossing movie of all time, Zoe Saldana STILL needs that big role.  She doesn’t get it in “The Losers”, but her presence makes the film just that much better.  But the big, big surprise performance in the film comes from its main villain, played to the absolute lunatic hilt by Jason f*cking Patric.  He’s always been a favorite of mine, and it’s great to see him chew the scenery in a film like this.  Every time he walks into the frame, insanity ensues.  Think of his character as a mixture of every Connery-era James Bond villain with Nicolas Cage’s character in “Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans”.  You have to see it to believe it.

Peter Berg and James Vanderbilt have crafted a very fun and funny script.  Its tone resembles Tarantino’s self-awareness and Lethal Weapon-style badassedness.  As far as the direction goes: Sylvain White, where did you come from, sir?  I had only seen his previous collaboration with Columbus Short known as “Stomp The Yard”, and as fun a dance movie as it was, it did nothing to predict that Mr. White could emerge as a “get this guy an action franchise right now” kind of director.  The man can clearly handle very large action set pieces, special effects, and edgy camera work.  I’ll be very interested to see what his next project is going to be.

Overall, if you like action films, if you like comic book films, if you like “The A-Team”, you will have a crazy good time during “The Losers”.  I give it a 3.5 out of 4 stars.

The Potato on the Edge…of Darkness

Mel Gibson is back in action again as veteran Boston cop Thomas Craven in Martin Campbell’s tight thriller “Edge Of Darkness”.  The story is simple: Cop tries to reconnect with his daughter, before he can, she’s gunned down outside of his home. He thinks the shot was meant for him, but as he digs deeper he finds that his daughter was not the innocent baby girl that he remembers, and goes on an increasingly futile quest for revenge against her killers.  I say futile because the movie becomes more than just a revenge tale as the plot thickens.  Evil government contractors, evil weapons corporations, dirty cops, dirty lawyers, and dirty politicians all come into play during “Edge Of Darkness”.

Even for being in his fifties, Mel Gibson looks like he’s seen better days.  I also don’t approve of his personal life choices. Going into the film, I was worried that I couldn’t divorce “Mel Gibson: Actor” from “Mel Gibson: Asshole.”  At first, when Tom tries to reconnect with his daughter Emma, all I could do was think: “I just bought a ticket to see a movie starring the guy who dislikes Jews and likes to comment on women’s body parts in a less than flattering manner.” Ok, so my thoughts were a bit harsher, but that’s not the focus…right?  I started connecting with the film as soon as Emma was brutally gunned down by a shotgun on the doorsteps of her father’s house.  Mel Gibson may be, well, Mel Gibson, but he’s still got it. His presence has only become more intense with age, and I found myself rooting for his character all the way to the film’s violent climax.  I hope this marks a return to form for the actor, and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more movies.  As far as supporting performances go, it’s hard to tell if Mel Gibson is a supporting actor in his own movie.  More characters and villains start popping up from this way and that, and they all do a fine job in their limited parts.  Danny Huston turns in another genuinely (if not over the top) evil performance as malevolent CEO of the Haliburton-esque company called Northmoor.  As government spook with a (possible) heart of gold Jedburgh, Ray Winstone sufficiently creeps and charms.  “That guy” actor Jay O. Sanders is also very good as Gibson’s friend and fellow Boston police detective with a secret of his own.

Martin Campbell could direct a movie like this in his sleep.  The action beats are all there, the sets are believable, the tension is felt, and the cinematography is solid.  Campbell has directed better in better pictures, but it’s a fine film to further pad to a great career.  The film doesn’t come close to “Casino Royale” or “The Mask of Zorro” or even “No Escape”, but it’s certainly better than “The Legend Of Zorro”, “Beyond Borders”, or “Vertical Limit”.  The script, penned by William Monahan, is full of Bostonian references, snappy dialogue and plot twists (it better be, after all, he did win an Oscar for writing “The Departed”).  Monahan could be the next David Mamet if his career continues on the same path.

Overall, I liked this film more than I thought I would, and I’m glad that I gave it a chance.   If you like action thrillers or Mel Gibson or both, I recommend renting “Edge Of Darkness”.

So the Potato watched “Legion”…

The plot in a nutshell:  God has lost faith in humanity. The worst parts of the Bible are starting to come true, and God’s avenging angels have arrived from heaven to make sure this happens.  The Archangel Michael (Paul Bettany) believes humanity isn’t beyond saving and tries to stop said apocalypse.  The key to our salvation lies in a young pregnant waitress named Charlie (Adrianne Palicki), for the baby she carries (for some reason) is humanity’s only hope for survival.  Michael finds Charlie and the rest of the middle-of-nowhere-diner patrons already under attack by humans possessed by angels.  Much chaos, and much more talking ensues.

Paul Bettany shows a different side to his range, playing Michael more crass than saintly.  For an action film with a lot of talking, the lead role would have to be someone who is compelling to watch, and Bettany fills that role effortlessly.  The cast as a whole would be considered an all-star cast, just not major league.  More of a AAA squad than anything.  Lucas “Sling Blade” Black is an actor of a very specific type (read: southern), and he has a strong ability to communicate earnest and pensive emotions.  In “Legion”, Black makes you care for his fraidy-cat character, but fails to connect with any other actor on screen.  Same goes for Friday Night Lights’s Adrianne Palicki.  We care for her unwed-soon-to-be mother-of-the-possible-messiah character, but she makes no connection with the other characters.  It felt like these two actors were starring in different films with the same plot.  Tyrese and Charles “Roc” Dutton both make memorable moments with their limited screen time, and Private Practice’s Kate Walsh gets an honorable mention for turning in a good performance of a character that completely destroys her own likeability by the end.  As the biggest name involved with the film, Dennis Quaid is entertaining but is unfortunately the weak link in the cast. Extra props to “that guy” Canadian actor Kevin Durand for his performance of Archangel Gabriel, and pretty much for making Gabriel the most badass angel ever. If Jesus need bodyguards, this guy’s the one to call.

“Legion” is a film that asks the audience to make gigantic leaps of logic while permanently suspending disbelief.  I am no snob to these types of films.  It’s a very slippery slope when a director attempts to create a universe from the ground up that is separate from our own.  Director Scott Stewart obviously had a vision when making this film, and I give major effort points to him for that.  The special effects are solid and vibrant, if not a bit unoriginal.  We’ve seen this story before in films like Frank Darabont’s “The Mist”, and that film is more effective because Darabont keeps the audience in the dark about the source of the terror.  The premise behind “Legion” seems to be plucked from the pages of an obscure Stephen King short story, but it spends far too much time explaining the pseudo-biblical universe and not enough time with the scares.  It has elements of horror, action, suspense, and drama (believe it or not), but none of them gel together to create a complete film.  Other critics have been harsher, specifically targeting the amount of talking that occurs.  I would agree that there is a lot of talking, but the script and the acting were strong enough to carry the film’s verbosity.  I enjoyed the “follow your dreams” scene between Quaid and Black in the first half of the film.  The scene illustrates the film’s potential for greatness.  As a whole, however, “Legion” is an entertaining talkfest of a horror-action film that will satisfy the action junkie, but will leave everyone else wanting much more.  If you have to see this film in the theater, make it a matinee show.  Otherwise, make this one a rental.

Nice try, guys.

The Potato’s “Best” of The Decade

Ok, so there are too many films.  I wish I had a team of researchers to track down every film I have ever seen so that I could come up with a really awesome list.  In fact, I’m making it one of my resolutions for 2010.  I really do need a team of something…but I digress.  The only two criteria for the list are that the film must have been released between the years 2000 and 2009, and the film must not suck.  That’s it.  I also tried to pick films that hold some sort of significance in the film world/pop culture.  Some of my favorite films didn’t make the list, and other critically acclaimed films didn’t make the list.  I suppose I would need a top 50 in order to capture them all, but who has time for that?  In chronological order, here’s The Potato’s “best” films of the decade list:

Memento (2000)

Christopher Nolan payed homage to the classic Hitchcockian thriller while also managing to reinvent the genre.  With this film, Nolan declared that he would be one of the directors to watch in the coming years, and he delivered on that promise.

The Lord of The Rings Trilogy (2001-2003)

Peter Jackson captured lightning in a bottle three times with his Epic-with-a-capitol-E fantasy series.  In the post-9/11 world, we prefer even our diversions to be as realistic and as dangerous as ever, but LOTR dared audiences to suspend disbelief and use their imaginations once again.

The Royal Tenenbaums (2001)

Wes Anderson was considered a director to watch back when he released 1996’s Bottle Rocket and 1998’s Rushmore, but this is the film that made even the mainstream film fan stand up and take notice.  A director with uncompromising, intricate visions, Wes Anderson has never been better.

28 Days Later (2002)

The film that changed horror, reinvigorated the zombie craze, and the film that made people finally appreciate how great a director Danny Boyle is.  It’s scary, it’s intelligent, and it’s a ride from start to finish.

The Bourne Identity/Supremacy/Ultimatum (2002, 2004, 2007)

The film series that changed spy films, action films, and Bond films.  It also made Matt Damon both an action hero and earned him a spot on the moviestar shortlist.  The Bourne series convinced us that we want our heroes to be recognizable, fallible, and still extraordinary.  They are also action films that film buffs can enjoy openly.  Also, the film Casino Royale, in its current form, wouldn’t exist without this series.

Eternal Sunshine of The Spotless Mind (2004)

Charlie Kaufman is one of the greatest screenwriters working today, and this film is the reason why.  Michel Gondry is one of the greatest directors working today, and this film is the reason why.  Both have had success before and since, but Eternal Sunshine is an achievement that transcends any lines or labels such as “indie” or “mainstream”.  The film immortalized Kate Winslet and Jim Carrey as one of the great complicated screen couples, and it revolutionized the way we think of storytelling and how it relates to human nature.

Spider-Man 2 (2002)/The Dark Knight (2008)

So this is another listing cheat.  I wanted each film to have their own spot, but we all know that superhero films have pretty much blanketed the Hollywood landscape, and we don’t need another reminder.  These two films, however, are both superb and also changed how superhero films are made.  While on both sides of the spectrum (Spidey being more comic-book-ish, Batman being darker and more realistic), both films are the benchmarks of the genre, and have not been topped since.

The Incredibles (2004)

The film that changed mainstream animation.  Pixar and Disney proved with this film that even adults could enjoy PG-rated animated action.  The visuals are eye-popping, the voice talents are awesome (with special shoutouts to Jason Lee and Craig T. Nelson as Syndrome and Mr. Incredible, respectively), and the music is super cool.

The 40 Year-Old Virgin (2005)

The film that changed comedy, and also made the name “Apatow” into an adjective.  The film introduced us to Steve Carell, Seth Rogen, Jane Lynch, and reintroduced us to Paul Rudd.  The film speaks for itself, since nearly every critically acclaimed comedy since has been compared to it, and will be listed as one of the most influential comedies ever made.

No Country For Old Men (2007)

The film that finally made me a forever Coen brothers devotee.  I was always a fan, but had never fully appreciated their genius until this film.  It also introduced us to one of the scariest film icons in decades, in the form of Javier Bardem’s sublime portrayal of assassin Anton Chigurrh.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

I’m sorry, Mr. Soderbergh.  If I had a top 20, you’d rule it for sure.  Same goes for Mr. Tarantino, Sr. Del Toro, Mr. Reitman, and Mr. Abrams.

Traffic (2000)

Kill Bill vol. 1 & 2 (2003-2004)

Pan’s Labyrinth (2006)

Juno (2007)

Star Trek (2009)

The Potato celebrates “Humpday”

Every film invites the audience to emotionally include themselves in the events unfolding on screen. While Hollywood is now using 3D technology and IMAX screens to draw audiences in, sometimes all you need is a good story about people we can relate to on some level. When I turned on 2009’s “Humpday”, I expected to watch a comedy about two random dude friends who decide to make porn together on a whim. I had seen the trailer months ago and had decided that it would be a rental, as the trailer played up its bromantic comedy elements, and I had already seen “I Love You, Man” a few months prior. As I scoured my Netflix instant play options for something new, I noticed that “Humpday” was available for streaming. After some technical difficulties with the internet connection, I was ready to experience 100 minutes of male bonding gone awry.

You first! No, you first!

The plot is simplicity itself: Ben is just a normal suburban guy with a great wife, a good job, and a white picket fence existence. Andrew is an artist who travels the world looking for the great inspiration that will allow him to finally complete an art project. When Andrew unexpectedly drops in on Ben and his wife Anna (at 1:30 in the morning, no less), it shakes up all their worlds in ways that no one could anticipate. During a drunken stream of consciousness, Ben and Andrew decide to shoot an amateur porn scene together on the pretense that two straight male buddies having sex on camera could be the “next great artistic statement” and of course, Anna has no idea of their plans.

As the viewer, you have to believe that these two guys would come up with such an idea and actually want to realize it. I think that the film being set in Seattle helped me believe the premise right away. If it were set in a place more thematically obvious like San Francisco, the film could almost be read as satire. Putting the film in Seattle allows the viewer to believe that these guys could be open minded enough to shoot a pseudo-gay art-porn scene while not having to pay lip service to any gay stereotypes. Not to say that San Francisco is full of gay stereotypes, but some viewers who have never been to San Francisco or only have a limited exposure to alternative cultures might unfairly judge the film or write it off as just “another one of those crazy indies.”

As Ben and Andrew respectively, Mark Duplass and Joshua Leonard have great chemistry. I could see how these two disparate characters would be friends, and their performances suggest a past that the characters shared without having to use a lot of expository dialogue to explain it. Duplass reminds me of John Krasinski while Leonard’s performance has shades of Owen Wilson (with a sprinkle of Zach Galifianakis, and I’m not just talking about the beard). As Ben’s wife Anna, Alycia Delmore gives a very honest performance. Anna serves as the female perspective to all the male-centric craziness that it happening around her and Delmore’s performance keeps the viewers (and the male leads) grounded in reality. She’s the one that gets to ask the questions that we all want to initially ask: “Hey, what do you mean you’re going to make a porn with your best friend? What the f*ck is up with that?” I only wish that Delmore had more screen time, as her character unfortunately takes a back seat to her male co-stars. I would love to see these three do another movie together.

Alycia Delmore

Writer-director Lynn Shelton frames the actors in simple, home video style scenes that feel intimate almost to the point of sheer discomfort. I kept listening to the dialogue but sometimes I couldn’t look at the screen as they were saying it. I was so embarrassed for these characters at times because they felt so real and familiar. It very much feels like you are in these conversations, and that you are a party to the events that are unfolding in front of your eyes. Shelton directed the film from her own script, but I wonder about how much the actors improvised because the dialogue feels very natural and flows as real conversations would. The opening scene with Ben and Anna in bed together is one of the most true to life moments between a man and a woman I have ever seen in a film, and it’s not even that shocking or important to the story. It isn’t necessarily a film about sex or pornography or even art. It’s about all of these, and none of these. It’s a film about two men discovering what it means to be close friends, and the crazy ends that some friends will go to understand the nature of that closeness. Mainstream films like “The Hangover”, “Pineapple Express”, and “I Love You, Man” deal with the same issues but use homoeroticism as more of a sight gag than a statement, which is fine because these films do it well and it’s good to laugh at masculinity sometimes. “Humpday” plays less like an addition to the new bromantic comedy pantheon, and more like a deconstruction of it. The film simultaneously questions male masculinity while reaffirming it as well. The film ends in exactly the way that it should, but you have to see it to believe how it all turns out. All around, “Humpday” is one of the best films I’ve seen all year, and I recommend it to anyone who loves independent film as well as people who might have thought “I Love You, Man” played it a little too safe. I give it a 9 out of 10.