Friday, November 20, 2015

34. Simon Sez

The movie: Simon Sez (Kevin Elders, 1999)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Greg Rosen

The rationale: I happened upon this illustrious film one day in college. I was about to leave for class and my roommate Dave was watching it. I immediately recognized Dane Cook so I decided to stay and watch for a few minutes before I hit the road. A few minutes turned into a few hours, and I skipped class. I considered myself a pretty committed student throughout my scholarly life, but I literally skipped my class for this. After the movie ended, Dave and I laughed for what seemed like a half hour. I was delirious and felt like I had been hit with a Mack truck. I never skipped class again.

My familiarity with this movie: On multiple occasions, I (and others) have confused this film with the other major Rodman film, Double Team, which also features Jean-Claude Van Damme. Rodman really worked with some great teammates in his career: Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Dane Cook, and Jean-Claude Van Damme, to name a few. I also like the idea of Dane Cook trying to play Rodman in a pickup game while they were filming this movie, and Rodman just swatting him all over the court. (I’m not a huge Dane Cook fan.)

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “Basketball superstar Dennis Rodman stars as a hip Interpol agent who's attempting to defeat the deadly plans of a crazed arms dealer when he runs into Nick (Dane Cook), a CIA flunky attempting to deliver a ransom and bring home his client's daughter. Soon Simon joins Nick in a deadly, action-packed game of espionage and murder.”

What I thought of the movie: I can definitely understand why Greg was intrigued by this film. If he caught the very beginning, he’d have seen Dennis Rodman wearing a bright yellow jumpsuit and sitting atop a bright yellow motorcycle, tracking a big-time late-night drug deal. Dennis Rodman, lest we forget, is a gentleman who stands six feet, seven inches tall, with bleached blond hair and an array of tattoos and piercings, and he is playing an undercover Interpol agent. I was instantly hooked.

Ultimately, it was hard for Simon Sez to fully deliver on the “Dennis Rodman is essentially James Bond” premise. There were multiple reasons for this, aside from the fact that that’s a pretty outrageous premise. I’m going to try to deflect blame from Rodman for this as much as possible, though, since he’s a two-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year and arguably the greatest rebounder of all time. He’s earned some leeway here.

The dialogue in this movie is a few steps below James Bond-level, which is shocking, considering how many bad puns are in James Bond movies. Simon Sez doesn’t even try to get any solid wordplay going here, preferring to let Dane Cook do extended impressions of various animals for little or no reason. (Watching him do those impressions was somehow preferable to hearing the characters talk, for the most part. He does a pretty solid dinosaur.)

While the plot is straightforward enough, the acting here is difficult to take. Cook yelps and squeals and squawks for minutes on end, and the fact that his character isn’t killed by either the bad guys or the good guys at any point is probably the most unrealistic thing about the movie. The supporting actors struggle as well, with a particularly bad “giggly archvillain” trope on show. And while I hate to say it, the mumbly Rodman shares much of the blame here. He’s hypnotic in this film, by which I mean I fell asleep while watching him act.

The action scenes here actually aren’t that bad, with some decent martial arts sequences spicing things up. But my favorite aspect of the movie was its brilliant special effects. There are some of the worst green-screen scenes I have ever, EVER seen in this movie. They’re laughably bad, particularly in a scene where Rodman and Cook drive off a cliff and their car deploys a parachute, a scene which rips off both Fast Five and Furious Seven. And yes, I know this movie came out years before both of those did, but still. There is such a thing as a retroactive rip-off.

(Side note: I IMDb-ed the budget of this movie to see if it explained the cheapness of the effects. It was $10 million, a large portion of which I imagine went toward Rodman’s hair products. HOWEVER, I also learned that the movie grossed less than $300,000 at the box office! EL FLOPPO.)

But for all its faults, Simon Sez made me pine for the halcyon era when NBA superstars frequently plied their trade on the silver screen. Jordan in Space Jam, Shaq in Kazaam, Dwayne Schintzius in Eddie. It was a beautiful time, and watching LeBron James be the best part of Trainwreck this summer wasn’t enough to scratch this particular itch. I need more. Basically, I'm proposing this: remake Simon Sez with Kristaps Porzingis. It’ll gross more than $300K.

Am I happy I took Greg’s recommendation? It’s the second-most exciting basketball-related thing we’ve experienced together this week. #RaiseHigh. #RodmanHigh.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Katie Hovanec takes advantage of the “new folks can recommend three movies now” rule, as her third choice, Milk Money, wins. I know nothing about this movie, and I am very excited about that fact.

1. Once Bitten (Alex Tucciarone)
2. The Road to El Dorado (Alexis Hipp)
3. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
4. Tooken (Pat Ambrosio)
5-7. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
8. Airheads (Katie Hovanec)
9. Airborne (Katie Hovanec)
10. Milk Money (Katie Hovanec)
11. The Descent (Tony Krizel)
12. Freeway (Molly Brady)

Friday, November 6, 2015

33. The Pest

NEW BLOG RULE: Brilliant FOTB John Frascella, having been thwarted in his recent attempts to secure his first recommendation, proposed a new rule that the blog is adopting. If you have not yet successfully recommended a movie for the blog, you can now recommend up to three (3) movies per post. (You can recommend the same movie three times to increase your odds.) If there's one thing this blog needs, it's more rules. Try to keep up, y'all.

The movie: The Pest (Paul Miller, 1997)

Have I seen this movie before? No.

How I saw it: DVD (via Netflix).

The recommender: Brendan Hunt

The rationale: Okay. So I first saw this movie when I was at the tender age of 14 or 15, at a sleepover. One of my friends at the time (who I am certainly not friends with anymore) said it was 'hilarious', so we rented it (whoa), and proceeded to watch it.

I had never been grown-man angry in my life up to this point, but I remember within ten minutes of watching that I started to get seriously, seriously pissed at how bad the movie was. It wasn't “bad movie” funny. It was “the rest of 9th grade is ruined” bad. Here's the trick -- I don't remember much at all about the movie, except that I despised it in a way I wouldn't be able to muster until much later in my life. And that's why you have to watch it. You have to validate ol' teenage Brendan's rage. Get ready.

My familiarity with this movie: I have seen Brendan get grown-man angry, folks. It’s usually because I’ve come up with some dumb pun, so I always like it. He’s a fun man to grown-man anger. I don’t think it will be fun, though, to discover how this grown-man anger was born, because this movie looks like hot trash. But I suppose I owe him this. Taste My Turnabout Is Fair Play.

Plot summary yoinked from Netflix: “When thugs threaten to break an amateur con artist’s legs unless he repays the money he owes them, he takes a high-paying, one-day job -- unaware that he’s about to become human quarry for some well-heeled hunters.”

What I thought of the movie: As I sat down to watch the movie, it occurred to me that ninth graders, even ones that will eventually grow into sophisticated gents like Brendan, generally have pretty bad taste. Generally speaking, puerile nonsense is the ninth grader’s home court, and so the fact that young Brendan had such a visceral dislike for this movie meant that it must be real, real bad.

And ooooooh how bad it was. The movie is pretty much an hour and a half of John Leguizamo doing as many annoying bits as he possibly can. The opening credits feature Leguizamo mincing about in the shower, lip-syncing along to some generic ‘90s dance groove, and making all manner of fart noises for several minutes. (Brendan's immediate distaste for the movie was thus easily explained.) Leguizamo’s going for something in between “Latino Adam Sandler” and “Latino the Genie from Aladdin,” which is a dangerous thing to go for. I would later learn that the movie increases the danger by adding a healthy dollop of wild racism to those two paradigms, as he impersonates, and offends, African-Americans, Asians, Jews, and more throughout the film. It’s really, really, cringe-inducingly bad stuff.

I should note here that John Leguizamo is a really great actor. He’s been critically acclaimed for his one-man shows on Broadway, hes had a distinguished film career, and, not for nothing, it's unequivocally a good thing that he got to play the lead role in a major studio film. One year before The Pest was released, he appeared as Tybalt in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, and, as it happens, he was also given the opportunity to show off his talent for Shakespearean dialogue in The Pest. However, in The Pest, and I swear I am not making this up, that opportunity manifests itself when he delivers part of the “To be or not to be” soliloquy while literally defecating in the woods. Alas, poor Yorick! Its trash.

Leguizamo’s manic energy, which has been such a huge asset in other movies, is just wasted on this tripe. It’s hard to criticize him for being such a pest when the movie (and his character) is literally called The Pest. As noted earlier, this is a movie about hunting a human being for sport, a take-off on The Most Dangerous Game. First of all, shoutout to recent birthday girl and FOTB Ellen Barr for her recent Christmas-song-related bit, “It’s the most dangerous gaaaaaaaame of the year.” Top-notch. Second of all, I consider myself a humanist, but I was rooting for the hunter.

I must admit that I laughed a couple of times. The movie throws a lot of things at the wall, and very, very few of them stick, but it would be unfair to call it completely, irredeemably terrible. There’s a female character named Malaria. That’s pretty good. And Leguizamo gets beaten up a lot, which is also pretty good.

But it’s all just so throwaway. Great movies demand your attention. This movie demands your inattention. It is unfathomably inessential. I don’t think anyone involved in the making of this movie cared at all about its quality. It’s a waste of my time, it’s a waste of any ninth grader’s time, and it’s enough to make me grown-man angry for about the twelfth time this week.

Am I happy I took Brendan’s recommendation? I feel like I just covered this.

What’s next?

UPDATE: Greg Rosen, at long last, gets in with the Dane Cook-Dennis Rodman vehicle Simon Sez.

1. Goodbye to Language (Micah Lubens)
2. Fighting (Pat Ambrosio)
3. Simon Sez (Greg Rosen)
4. Spice World (Allison Shuster)
5. Spirited Away (Alexis Hipp)
6-8. The Holy Mountain (Zach Gibson)
9. Freeway (Molly Brady)
10. Beyond the Lights (Anne Whipp)
11. The Worst Witch (Katie Hovanec)
12. Bound (Katie Hovanec)
13-15. In the Name of the Father (Lorna Mulvaney)
16. Oldboy (Steve Isaac)