Cinema Review: In a World…

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WRI/DIR: Lake Bell  PRO: Mark Roberts, Jett Steiger, Eddie Vaisman, Lake Bell  DOP: Seamus Tierney  ED: Tom McArdle  DES: Megan Fenton  Cast: Lake Bell, Fred Melamed, Demetri Martin, Ken Merino, Rob Corddry, Michaela Watkins, Nick Offerman

 

The second I heard the title and premise of this film my mind instantly leapt to the sublime trailer that Jerry Seinfeld crafted for his documentary ‘Comedian’. Seinfeld himself is nowhere to be seen on-screen in the inspired promo. Instead we are treated to an increasingly frustrated sound engineer trying to coach an experienced voice over artist (Hal Douglas) away from clichés like ‘In a world…….’ .

Who knows whether the same skit had a similar impact on the writer/ director and star of this film Lake Bell but I was curious whether there is more comedic material to be mined in this area. The answer is – kind of.

This specialist corner of the movie industry should be fertile territory for laughs populated as it is by rich-voiced purveyors of bombast and hyperbole. The grave and portentous intonings of a talented voiceover artist can confer gravitas on even the most creatively bankrupt project while out on the promotion trail. It’s a marketing tool fundamentally but there can also be magic in the alchemy of a truly rousing voiceover. Injecting drama where none exists. Imbuing levity in the witless. Inferring class upon trash.

And in the western world, it’s a profession seemingly dominated by a male monopoly. That’s the clever entry point for this fiction as Bell’s vocal coach Carol strives to venture into the lucrative movie voiceover market. As depicted, studio approved vocal artists are drawn from a shallow pool. A very shallow pool including Carol’s own competitive father (Fred Melamed) who is an industry legend but still as insecure as any novice. Carol is intimidated at the prospect of breaking up the boys’ club but she is encouraged by a smitten sound engineer Louis (Demitri Martin) and her older sister.

Bizarrely, as Carol finally makes inroads in her career, her father resorts to subtly undermining her at first before turning openly hostile. The prize of securing the narration for a guaranteed blockbuster franchise ‘The Amazon Games’ becomes the crucible in which family allegiances are tested to the limit.

If that sounds a bit slight, you’ll have to sift through many subplots to keep track of the film’s central spine. Bell clutters proceedings with a variety of tangents and cameos that occasionally entertain but mainly distract. The conclusion that the film is being padded out to reach ninety minutes is hard to shake. For instance, a soapy relationship crisis for Carol’s sister generates few moments that would be missed if excised in its’ entirety. Similarly, an early brief appearance by Eva Longoria displays promise as Carol is hired to salvage the star’s apparently diabolical botching of a Cockney accent. It’s a funny notion, yet the scene fails to raise a smile nevermind a laugh.

In the end In a World is amiable and often impressive. It contains a couple of rib tickling moments and several sparkling one liners. It is uneven however. Logically enough because if all her roles before and behind the camera were judged separately, Bell would receive differing grades in each discipline. As a vehicle she designed for herself, the resultant film is more sturdy station wagon than Porsche.

And still my thoughts return to that ‘Comedian’ promo and the irrefutable feeling that it achieved more in a minute and a half than this feature manages in an hour and a half.

James Phelan 

 15A (See IFCO for details)

92 mins
In a World… is released on 13th September 2013

In a World… – Official Website

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Hot Tub Time Machine

Hot Tub Time Machine

DIR: Steve Pink • WRI: Josh Heald, Sean Anders, John Morris • PRO: John Cusack, Grace Loh, Matt Moore, John Morris • DOP: Jack N. Green • ED: George Folsey Jr., James Thomas • DES: Bob Ziembicki • CAST: John Cusack, Clark Duke, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry

As far as proverbs go, ‘never judge a book by its cover’, is a goodie. It’s a proverb rich with open-mindedness and a good mantra for day-to-day life. However, another goodie is ‘never say never’, and in line with this, Hot Tub Time Machine is exactly what its title suggests.

The film begins in the present and introduces us to three middle-aged friends who have grown apart and are each unhappy with their lives due to a divorce, failed music career and suicidal tendencies. They decide to return to the ski resort where they had their ’80’s heyday for some good old-fashioned male bonding and to show the nephew of Adam (John Cusack) how cool they used to be. The resort isn’t what they remember but thanks to a (spoiler alert, but not really) hot tub time machine they’re transported back to 1986 and are in for one crazy weekend!

As far as premises go for this genre, it’s quite a strong one. Hot Tub… looked promising as a successor to last year’s The Hangover and it’s distributor, MGM, would have been praying for a hit of that magnitude to help them with their current dire straits. Sadly, you can’t get money for nothing (pun always intended) and Hot Tub… is a few guitar solos short of a fully-fledged 80’s power ballad.

Hot Tub… isn’t without laughs. At its best it is brilliantly funny but these instances are too few. The film becomes burdened with explaining ‘the butterfly effect’; a central component of time travel in films. A quick visit to dictionary.com explains it as such: ‘a chaotic effect caused by something seemingly insignificant, the phenomenon whereby a small change in a complex system can have a large effect somewhere else’. Hot Tub… stubbornly feels the need to explain this repeatedly and at great lengths when they should have been concentrating on more important things within this genre, i.e. dick jokes. Don’t get me wrong, there are quite a few dick jokes; there’s just a lot more chaos theory.

Hot Tub… is simply not equal to the sum of its parts. There is a very strong cast headed by the three friends Adam, Nick (Craig Robinson) and Lou (Rob Corddry) along with Adam’s nephew Jacob (Clark Duke). They all work well together and there is an excellent supporting role for Crispin Glover as the accident-prone bellboy; no stranger to time-travel himself thanks to his part in Back to the Future. The comic possibilities of a return to the ’80s is frustratingly underused in the narrative, as typified by the too-brief cameo of Chevy Chase. Hot Tub… should have paid closer attention to the extensive research on display in The Wedding Singer.

Hot Tub Time Machine is ultimately a disappointment. It is an adequate comedy but the untapped potential of the concept left me with a rebel yell; crying out for more, more, more… more, more, more.

Peter White
(See biog here)

Rated 16 (see IFCO website for details)
Hot Tub Time Machine is released on 7 May 2010

Hot Tub Time Machine – Official Website

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