the tao of steve

steve carrell tina feySteve Carrell has been a very, very busy man.   So far this year he’s put out three movies and as fate would have it, I’ve seen them all within the last month.  And overall, I gotta say…the guy’s on a roll.

First up was Date Night, in which he co-starred with Tina Fey (she’s on a roll these days too).  This was actually filmed back in 2008 but not released until early in 2010.  I watched it on the plane to Scotland, so the version I saw was formatted for a tiny screen and may have been missing content deemed to risque for family viewing.  That said, it was an enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half in the wee hours of morning over the north Atlantic.   Carrell and Fey play Phil and Claire Foster, a  married couple whose lives have settled into the routine of kids, job, and no sex.  After being blind-sided by news of their best friends’  impending divorce, Phil decides to spice up their weekly Date Night and takes Claire to a trendy midtown Manhattan restaurant (complete with cliche snotty maitre d’) for dinner.  With no reservation and no hope of getting a table, Phil impulsively decides to impersonate an apparent no-show couple, the Tripplehorns.  As it turns out, the Tripplehorns are in trouble with all the wrong sorts of people (the mob, crooked cops, etc) and the Fosters find themselves in deep water when it’s assumed they are in fact the Tripplehorns.  As they say, hilarity ensues.  Well, if not hilarity, then at least mild amusement.  This a pretty straight up screwball comedy, with the Fosters barely surviving one ludicrous mishap after another on their way to defeating the bad guys and rekindling their passion.   Standouts in the movie are Mark Wahlberg as a defiantly shirtless private security specialist and James Franco and Mila Kunis as the squabbling but loving Tripplehorns.

Next in the line-up is Despicable Me, an animated film in which Carrell voices Gru, a supervillain determined to commit the biggest heist of all time by shrinking and stealing the moon. His arch-nemesis is Vector, a younger breed of up and coming villain who seems mostly interested in being obnoxious.  Vector has the shrink ray that Gru needs to carry out his plan, but all Gru’s attempts to steal it himself are foiled.  When Gru notices that three small girls selling cookies are able to obtain access to Vector’s lair, he adopts the girls, has his scientist make cookie-shaped robots, and…well, mild amusement ensues.    Although the filmmakers make a few halfhearted stabs at adult humor (The Bank of Evil is formerly Lehman Bros., the bank president is an obvious homage to Dilbert’s pointy-haired boss) this is a kids’ movie all the way.   It’s cute and funny and mock-scary.  The evil-est guys in the world are inept and silly and no one is really in very much danger from them.  The plot is predictable: Gru is gruff in the beginning but he grows to love the girls and they him and ultimately everyone, even the bad guy,  lives happily after.  There is a big dance number at the end.  (It is completely not the filmmakers’ fault that every animated movie pales in comparison to Toy Story 3.)   Standouts are Russell Brand as Dr. Nefario, Gru’s remarkably restrained chief scientist and the oddly affecting army of small oval  “minions” that exist mostly as Nefario’s test subjects.

Finally, a few days ago I went to see Dinner for Schmucks, an American remake of a French movie.  Paul Rudd plays Tim Conrad, an analyst at a financial firm who manages to impress his boss with his ingenuity in negotiating with a big potential client.  In order to determine if he is executive material the boss invites Tim to his monthly “dinner for winners” and told to bring an eccentric guest.  In short order Tim finds out this dinner is really an opportunity for the firm’s executives to mock idiots and he promises his girlfriend, the lovely and sweet Julie, that he won’t attend.  As luck would have it, though, the next day he meets the perfect idiot, Steve Carrell’s Barry.  Barry collects dead mice, stuffs them, and arranges them in surprisingly moving dioramas, mostly involving his courtship of, marriage to, and eventual divorce from his wife.  After a series of increasingly convoluted plot devices revolving around Barry’s general obtuseness and misplaced enthusiasm, Tim and Barry end up attending the dinner after all.   And…hilarity ensues.  No, really.  I laughed almost nonstop during this movie (although the margaritas with dinner might have contributed to that).   Like the other two, this is not a challenging film.  It’s basically slapstick.  The plot depends variously on mistaken identity, the usual human foibles of greed and pomposity, and good old fashioned clumsiness.  It wraps up neatly in the end, with all the good people ending well and all the bad people ending up not so well and lots of personal growth all around.  It is very, very kind to the more unusual among us.  But as a comedy it delivered the goods: it made me laugh.  So what if it was completely predictable?  There are two standouts in this movie.  The first is Steve Carrell as Barry.   Although Carrell  plays the same slightly goofy but endearing character in nearly all of his movies, he hits a comfortable stride in Dinner for Schmucks, much as he did in The 40-Year Old Virgin.  Barry (who really is an idiot) is a surprisingly effective character, especially when he has to face his nemesis across a dinner table.   However, Jemaine Clement as the outrageously masculine performance artist  Keiran Vollard steals the movie.   His performance as an outsized eccentric reminds us that it is often only an accident that determines which side of the table the idiots are sitting on. After all, if  he wasn’t immensely trendy and popular Keiran, who often dresses up as a goat for his art, would be a prime candidate for a dinner guest.

I’ve always liked Steve Carrell, although I can’t claim to have followed his career closely (I was surprised to find out that he and Stephen Colbert voiced The Ambiguously Gay Duo).  In general, whether he is the lead in a movie or one of the supporting cast his work is solid, even if the vehicle itself is slight, and these three movies are not an exception.  So, all in all, it’s been a good summer for Steve.

Score:  two Mehs and a w00t!!

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~ by gun street girl on August 18, 2010.

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