Sunday, June 1, 2008

Virile Deficiency

Unbridled masculinity is usually the Brown Cary Grant's expertise, but on a weekend dominated by the media matriarchal maelstrom that is "Sex and the City" I couldn't help but provide an alternative for my fellow male brethren who feel the need to 'man up' following a girlfriend induced viewing of this two and a half hour spectacle. (Somehow I know I'll find myself hatewatching it, and I was even tempted to join the masses of ill-spirited spoiler folk. But I'll leave the horse comparisons and venomous inquisition to the experts.)

Now onto manning up:

"Bigger, Stronger, Faster*(*The Side Effects of Being American)" is an engaging, thoughtful and introspective dissection of American steroid culture. Hilarious, warm, and surprisingly affecting, unassuming director Christopher Bell's first documentary is arguably the most even-handed and intelligent study of the mainstream perception of steroids, sports, and the unrelenting American desire to manifest destiny by whatever means (be they natural or chemical) necessary. Bolstered by a Spurlockian accessibility that balances the personal with the informative, " "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" succeeds in being thought provoking while being limitlessly entertaining.

Bell's role as the inquisitive idealist torn by moral quandary and beleaguered by brothers bulking up posits us with the perfect protagonist. Unlike fellow "pop-documentary" directors who use their accessible sense of humor to 'pulpitize' their personal politics (too often too left or too right), Bell takes a modest, non-judgemental, though still effectively aggressive approach. Bell's world of deified heroes tarnished by the reality of chemical enhancement is an eviscerating indictment of the American ideal, personified by the detached celebrity of over paid athletes and the harsh humility of family members coming to grips with a dream deferred.

A wonderful achievement of informative introspection and male inadequacy, "Bigger, Stronger, Faster" is better than its supposed to be; and we're all the better for it.


This year's little indie comedy that could, "The Foot Fist Way" trades on the cache of awkward, uncomfortable humor and takes it as far as humanly possible. Adding to the pantheon of likably unlikable male leads (i.e. Gervais' David Brent) Danny McBride's Fred Simmons, is surly, self absorbed, petty, insecure, and pathetic: all the makings of a perfect alpha male archetype. To that end, McBride plays Simmons with unrelenting machismo, channeling the youthful hero worship of the aforementioned Bell's wrestling heroes with naive tunnel vision.

Hanging on the thinest of plot lines, "Foot Fist Way" is essentially a showcase for McBride, whose onscreen presence is repulsively enticing, whether he's berating tae kwon do hangers on, mortgaging his savings for the sake of having a 5th rate Chuck Norris knockoff appear at his class or awkwardly propositioning a female pupil; it's cringe inducing hilarity of the highest of lowest orders. Promoted as a potential "Napoleon Dynamite," "Foot Fist Way" is not as quote-worthy or sweet natured, but is darker and more tragic to a degree; while Dynamite delights with quirky individuality, Simmons is unrepentant.

As we root for Dynamite while embracing his awkwardness, we laugh at Simmons, for being the unmistakably familiar asshole we all know and love to not love.

John Cusack revisits his assassin aspirations in "War, Inc.", a well intentioned, but disjointed dark political satire. Tackling the sociopolitical issues of the current Iraq war, weapons profiteering, and commercial domestic indifference, "War, Inc." is buoyed by an interesting premise that gradually gets bogged down by a listless script that loses focus and doesn't seem to know whether it wants to take itself seriously. A cavalcade of stars join Cusack in his pursuit to skewer the hypocrisy of the current administration, with deliciously over the top performances by his sister Joan, Dan Aykroyd, and Ben Kingsley, an understated romantic/comedic turn by Marisa Tomei, and a surprising appearance by popular former jailbait Hilary Duff, who appears to have fulfilled every fan boy and middle aged Humbert Humbert enthusiast's fantasy by portraying a salty tongued slutty Central Asian pop star.

On the surface, it would look like a fun mix of characters to satirize the war, but the few fleeting funny moments are undermined by longwinded moments of exposition to set up jokes that fall flat, and extended sequences of violence create an inconsistent tone throughout the nearly two hour running time. For such an ambitious attempt at satire, "War, Inc." feels half empty, lost in a plot that appears to haphazardly throw an ending together while losing focus on the very subject matter it intends to critique and degenerating into a second rate action movie.

"War, Inc." plays more like an experiment in desperate need of a better script, better editing, and maybe a reminder that the key to a good comedy satire is actually being funny.

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