Review: “Lego Batman” is endlessly funny, sweetly sincere

 

Perhaps Hollywood really is at the point where Lego-ified franchises understand their characters better than their grounded, live-action counterparts. “The Lego Batman Movie” certainly makes that case.

And if we are at that point, moviegoers had best get comfortable with seeing more and more of their favorite cinematic icons get the brick treatment, if these films continue to be as smart as they are hilarious. If the success of last year’s “Deadpool” relied on taking jabs at itself, “Lego Batman” is a total onslaught of self-deprecating humor.

The concept would have been ridiculed a few years ago, yet here we are. Nine years after receiving the best big-screen version of the Bat in “The Dark Knight,” and less than a year removed from washing the sour taste of “Batman v. Superman” out of our mouths, we have the delightful and delightfully self-aware “Lego Batman Movie.”

A spinoff of a breakout character from the breakout animated hit from 2014, “Lego Batman” is hyper, overattentive little brother to “The Lego Movie,” a whirlwind of everything that universe has to offer (and indeed, beyond the realm of DC Comics) that dares to step out from its big brother’s shadow.

A year after being confused and frustrated by “Batman v. Superman,” “Lego Batman” comes along and shows that some in Hollywood still understand the brooding superhero.

As much for adults as it is for children in both humor (a surprising amount of which is very mature) and substance, “Lego Batman” dwells on the lonely aspect of the hero’s life – the quiet contrast to the colorful high of fighting Gotham crime. With his own theme song to boot, of course (though it’s nowhere near as euphoric as “Everything Is Awesome”).

The film boasts an incredible array of actors lending their voices, including Will Arnett as Batman, Michael Cera as the innocent and untested Robin, Zach Galifianakis as a creepily sentimental Joker, and, in a particularly entertaining “cameo,” Siri as the Batcave’s computer.

They all perform to charming effect, even when there seems to be so much happening that it’s hard to catch some of the most memorable one-liners. This movie is chock-full of them, but so much of its success relies on the endless stream of Easter eggs and references that it never feels like its overbloated with them.

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You don’t have to be world’s biggest Batman fan to catch them, either. There are jokes for fans who are only familiar with the most recent films, the entire universe, and everything in between The film doesn’t discriminate, and it demands multiple viewings to catch all the gags.

You’d probably want to watch a second time anyway, that’s how charming the movie is. Though perhaps not as contemplative as “The Lego Movie,” “Lego Batman” is just as fun, and even more bombastic. The less you know about the plot – especially the constantly surprising third act – the better the experience will be.

Arnett’s Batman is 100 percent aware of how awesome and fun he can be; in other words, he’s completely in on the joke. The movie embraces the character’s history in that way.

Even before we see anything on the screen, as Batman proclaims in a darkened theater that “All important movies start with a black screen,” we know we’re in on it too. And it’s a wonderful joke to be a part of – sincere, thrilling and oh so awesome.

 

“The Lego Batman Movie” is rated PG for rude humor and some action 

Starring: Will Arnett, Michael Cera, Rosario Dawson, Ralph Fiennes

Directed by Chris McKay

2017

 

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Review: Trust me, you’re already ahead of “Joneses

 

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

 

Comedy is subjective, the notion of creating a successful entry in the genre as much of a gamble as anything in Hollywood. What directors and writers and producers perceive as funny could go through one ear and out the other of moviegoers.

You can come to a consensus about the quality of an actor’s performance, sure, or even how strongly a score impacts a movie’s tone. But you’ll never be able to convince a die-hard “Ace Ventura” fan that Will Ferrell is a funnier actor than Jim Carrey, or find widespread agreement that “Superbad” offers more laughs than “40-Year-Old Virgin.”

It’s inevitable, then, that some will think “Keeping Up With The Joneses,” in all its lazy and (to this critic) unfunny glory is the greatest comedy ever created, ensuring that directors in the future know that utilizing everything in the cliché playbook guarantees, at the very least, some filled seats in the theater.

Nevermind comparing “Keeping Up With The Joneses” to, say, the works of Mel Brooks, who offered comedy that is simultaneously cutting social commentary while also remembering that there’s more to a film than “Joneses” provides.

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Logic and emotion, for example. Director Greg Mottle (Adventureland, Superbad) could have utilized some of that. Really, any bit of substance to create something memorable out of a film that anyone can predict the major plot points to as they settle into their seats.

The chronic issue with these kinds of films is that – because people are going to be okay with choosing to pay $10 for a ticket (I could think of several things to better spend $10 on) to this – they’re going to keep getting made.

And it’s easy to understand why. People like the superficial comedy, the kind of jokes that mean nothing beyond the on-screen moment in which they happen. What’s the fun anyway in thinking too hard about why something is funny or not? Hell, even cringeworthy quips about the pros and cons of the “hyena” sex position, we’ll take that over jokes of substance that speak to contemporary race relations, for instance. Politics be damned.

That’s what makes it so hard for this critic and, I’m sure, for others who aren’t easily fooled by Hollywood’s recycled moneymaking tactics. Movies like “Keeping Up With The Joneses” believe they are so smug in the way that they can (attempt to) create what passes as humor out of the absence of logic.

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I’ll give this to “Joneses”: the acting is tolerable. A couple notches above tolerable, actually; Zach Galifianakis (Th Hangover, BirdMan) makes the best of what he’s given as we can expect him to; Jon Hamm’s (Mad Men, The Town) nuanced performance as a smooth but troubled spy is as enticing as it is seductive; Isla Fisher’s (Now You See Me, Wedding Crashers) bits are memorable for someone who hasn’t done much in the realm of comedy.

They work with what they have. Unfortunately, what they have isn’t very much, but I guess actors just need to make a paycheck every once in a while.

You’ve seen this movie before, trust me. You’ve probably seen it in shortened SNL skit form, or otherwise read one of countless novels that utilize a similar premise. So should you see this film?

Let me put it this way: if just the thought of pairing up the charismatic and smooth Hamm with his contrast in Galifianakis for an action comedy flick makes you chuckle… buy a ticket, for God’s sake, you’ll have a riot.

For those that need a movie to justify that pairing and what they’re truly capable of…rest assured, this isn’t it.

 

“Keeping Up With The Joneses” is rated PG-13 for sexual content, action/violence and brief strong language

Starring: Zach Galifianakis, Isla Fisher, Jon Hamm, Gal Gadot

Directed by Greg Mottola

2016