Review: Limo Ride’s first half a cult classic, second half a mess

(An edited version of this review was originally published in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.) 

 

Limo Ride starts out incredibly promising, just like the excursion it depicts. It teases a fast-paced, stylistically creative, energetic romp that is also pretty hilarious.

From the very first moments, the film immerses the audience to about as much of an extent that a movie like this can, and probably should, given the crude material that awaits for around 80 minutes. Make sure you’re settled in, because the story is told in a way that makes you feel like the characters – themselves the narrators of the story – are right there with you.

And that’s something the audience had better be okay with, because they are about as forthright as could be. Get comfortable enough to know you’re going to feel uncomfortable with their antics.

The premise’s humble beginnings are simple enough – a group of longtime friends make their annual pilgrimage to a local polar plunge at the beach. Add a lot of booze and the crude humor associated with 30 and 40-something-year-olds acting like they’re still 23, and it’s easy to predict the kind of movie this could be.

Directors Gideon Kennedy and Marcus Rosentrater are aware of the audience’s intelligence level too, which is why they employ a unique style all their own that adds a whole new level of fun to the story in the early going.

The movie’s pacing mimics the breakneck, informal manner in which the story is being narrated by the same characters we’re seeing on-screen, and it works in conveying not only their nonchalant attitude about the events now that some time has passed, but also their varied personalities.

We all have stories we wish we could re-live and watch and comment on a la  Mystery Science Theater 3000, and to see that kind of storytelling played out for the audience is a gamble that works here.

It’s a free-spirited, and consistently laugh-inducing, first 45 minutes of a movie. Mercilessly so, almost to the point where it wouldn’t work at all if it conformed to Hollywood standards, like a superhero origin story we’ve seen a dozen times, or a successful comedian-turned-unfunny actor who gets the lead role in a Mel Brooks remake.

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That’s what this film could have been – standard, and forgettable.

And unfortunately, at a certain point, that is exactly what happens, when the groups’ limo ride takes a turn for the worst and, even worse, the unfunny. Unfortunately, and ironically in line with the plot, it loses its way in the second half, along with its humor.

The film’s third act shows that it can’t balance the humor from early on with a style of comedy one or two shades darker and more dramatic.

Limo Ride stumbles and loses its way, devoid of the energy and life it does such a good job of dispelling early on. By comparison, the film’s latter half is equivalent to running a marathon and realizing you’d used everything you had a little over halfway instead of being economical.

The writing takes a step back, the direction two or three. The film slows to a slog, hitting a wall. Limo Ride becomes what we trusted so hard it wasn’t. The sum of its parts, particularly its early parts, are so much greater than the whole, even when the whole seems to be so confident in its potential to reach cult status, complete with a pseudo-realistic poster that features a game of “How many liquor bottles can you see?”

Essentially, for how memorable the first half is, the conclusion is little more than a whimper, barely even providing us of a resolution worthy of making the audience just a little grateful they tagged along.

 

 

In a Nutshell

In its attempt to fulfill its tagline of “The Greatest Bar Story Ever Told,” Limo Ride’s latter acts assures it ends up being generally as mundane as the titular party vehicle.

But if you’ve only got an hour to kill at the theater, you’d be hard pressed to find a better excuse to pay for half a film.

6.5 / 10

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Review: Southside With You embraces familiarity while still being unexpected

(An edited version of this review was originally published in the ABQ Free Press, and can be viewed here.)

 

There are moments in Southside With You, several of them, in which Director Richard Tanne teases us with an unthinkable premise – what if young Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama never formed a kindred kinship and went on to accomplish all they’ve accomplished?

That’s how personal the film is in telling the story of how Michelle – with her steely stare and impenetrable demeanor – and casual, quietly powerful Barack connected, despite their immediately apparent differences and ways of perceiving the world.

Of course, we know that there is a second, third, fourth date beyond what we see on the screen, but Southside With You still manages to be an unexpected experience, driven by showing the audience how young Michelle and Barack eventually became much bigger than 1989 Chicago destined them to be.

This could easily be a “first date” story about any ol’ Sally and Joe, but it chooses to set a bar for itself by offering a glance at one of the most well-know and powerful couples in the world today, and it succeeds while still being a very entertaining watch.

To reach that end, Tanne offers a film that is consistently poignant, charming, and also very, very relevant. He struck gold with Tika Sumpter  (The Haves and the Have Nots, Ride Along) and Parker Sawyers (Zero Dark Thirty, Survivor), who embody everything that has come to be associated with the 21st century Obamas – their vocal and physical mannerisms, their grounded nature – while also reminding us that this version of the future presidential duo still have some things to learn about the world around them.

Working off one another in harmony, along with Tanne’s consistently engaging screenplay, helps the audience feel warmly welcomed along for the ride of their casual-turned-intimate summer day in Chicago.

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That isn’t to say Southside With You is a totally cathartic experience all the way through. It also compels and intellectually challenges us in moments of commenting on racial issues that in many ways reflect some of the ongoing national discourse of 2016. By touching on the social atmosphere of the late 1900s, we’re reminded that while much has changed for Michelle Robinson and Barack Obama, it has not been so for others they may have interacted with in southside Chicago.

The film also explores Barack’s complicated family history, one he dwells on consistently despite, as the film shows us, already playing a vital role in his community.

The film also comments on the consequences of judgment, as well as the sometimes difficult task of asking ourselves if we truly are where we deserve to be. In that vein, Tranne could have spent some more time exploring the titular “southside” of Chicago that hardened Michelle and Barack into the leaders they are, but he still strikes an acceptable balance between their environment and themselves as people navigating it.

While delving into these subjects, the film’s tone evolves rather nicely when it could have whisked us away to a place that is grim and obscure just as we’ve become accustomed to the generally light hearted nature of Southside With You.

Tanne respects the audience with his direction, and by keeping his focus on two young people navigating issues that anyone else could be trying to solve. At its core, it remains very much a film about how different Michelle and Barack were and are, in a way that is complimentary.

Southside With You is a film that definitely relies on dialogue, and it delivers on that front for the most part. From it’s buoyant opening moments, the writing is engaging and thoughtful, thrusting us into the psyches of two individuals who are at first glance different in every way. At the same time, it manages to be humorous and very tight, keeping the film rolling along at a lively pace.

It’s also a deeply layered screenplay to be sure, and while it doesn’t quite provide the payoff on every concept it touches on in its 84-minutes run time, it is still an immensely satisfying experience to behold.

Of course, the film has its winks and inevitable foreshadowing at the figures Michelle and Barack are to become, but it’s subtle enough so as to stay focused on this on-screen iteration of the pair. And while the story might leave us wanting just a little bit more, it’s a small complaint when the whole world already knows that this story is only just beginning when the credits roll.

 

In a Nutshell

While not the most memorable of films, Southside With You is sweet and engaging as it pulls back the curtains on the Obamas while touching on relevant contemporary issues.

7.5 / 10

 

 

Southside With You is rated PG-13 for brief strong language, smoking, a violent image and a drug reference

Starring: Tika Sumpter, Parker Sawyers

Directed by Richard Tanne

2016