January 15, 2009
Movie Reviews: Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Iron Man
Forgetting Sarah Marshall tends to get thrown into the massive and ever-expanding Judd Apatow pile, but his producer-only influence appears to be pretty minimal compared to his writing and directing. Most of Apatow's movies are filled with obvious laughs in funny scenes built around goofy banter that's seemingly pieced together around a basic plot to make a film, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall is much more story driven and ultimately more cute than funny.
There are still plenty of laughs, but the memorable one-liners are more or less non-existent and aside from a little male nudity the film more easily fits under the umbrella of modern romantic comedies than something out of the Apatow factory. Jason Segel is bumbling at times and very charming at others as a relatively unique leading man, and Russell Brand is a perfect fit as the swarthy rock star who breaks up Segel's relationship with Kristen Bell's character.
Of course, perhaps the movie's biggest flaw is that while Bell plays a television actress on a hit show she gets overshadowed by Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com third runner-up Mila Kunis, who plays what can only be described as the world's most beautiful and down-to-earth hotel desk clerk. Perhaps not enough setup is devoted to showing why Segel's character would be so crushed by breaking up with Sarah Marshall, or perhaps her celebrity implies the heartbreak and Kunis steals her spotlight anyway.
Either way, at no time during the film did it seem like Segel should be leaning toward Bell over Kunis, which given the plot was a fairly big bump to get over. Apatow favorites Jonah Hill and Paul Rudd make amusing quasi-cameos, 30 Rock co-star Jack McBrayer provides the most laughs per second as an out-of-his-element honeymooner, and there are a pair of obese hotel workers who account for a large percentage of the movie's big laughs.
Ultimately the movie is a step above the average romantic comedy because of some well-placed adult-themed humor and a good cast, but fails to hit as many high points as the average Apatow flick thanks to the Segel-penned script refusing to stray quite as far into the world of absurd dialogue. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because several of Apatow's latest films are more hit than miss anyway, but Forgetting Sarah Marshall didn't give itself a chance to be a truly memorable comedy.
Cheesy and incredibly forced baseball-related rating: Line-drive single.
I'm not usually a huge fan of superhero movies or even films that revolve around special effects and/or action sequences, but Iron Man is far more than that thanks to Robert Downey Jr.'s excellent portrayal of Tony Stark. Downey as Stark is so amusingly charming and the actual creation of his superhero is so intriguing that my favorite parts of the movie were the non-action scenes and the story captivated me despite zero prior knowledge of the comic book.
Most of the secondary characters lacked depth because the movie focused on establishing Downey as the uber-cool hero, but Jeff Bridges still managed to play a plenty convincing, slick villain and Gwyneth Paltrow was fetching enough in an extremely understated role to convince you that Stark could develop a crush on his longtime assistant even while being a brash billionaire genius super-celebrity who has everything and everyone else he wants.
Jon Favreau directed a sleek, fast-paced film that seemed a half-hour shorter than the 126-minute run time despite needing about 30 minutes of setup before completely diving in. I'm rarely blown away by superhero attempts and Iron Man certainly doesn't come close to ranking among my all-time favorite movies, but it's clear to me how much comic book fans would adore the film and even as a non-comic book guy it definitely had little trouble holding my attention.
In fact, between great special effects, interesting action scenes that avoided being overdone, a likable yet slick hero, snappy dialogue, and a cameo by Marvel icon Stan Lee it was nearly a perfect comic film for a non-fanatic. Downey carried the film far more than the story or effects, and Bridges again showed that he can thrive playing just about any type of character with any type of haircut. Not a perfect movie by any means and no hugely memorable moments, but two hours of non-stop enjoyment.
Cheesy and incredibly forced baseball-related rating: Ground-rule double.