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42 and Scary Movie 5

April 18, 2013

42 (***) PG-13

When one considers the fact that baseball hall of famer Jackie Robinson was such a pivotal figure in the checkered history of the sport, it’s awfully hard to believe that Robinson has only been the subject of a feature film twice. I mean, you would think that if studios can finance biopics of such morally dubious ball players as Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth—two films that saw the light of day in the 1990s—it would be an afterthought to get behind a film profiling a man such as Robinson, who faced such monumental odds. The first time out was 63 years ago when Robinson played himself in the 1950 film The Jackie Robinson Story, a film that has not aged well, to say the least. Now we have 42, a more contemporary look at Robinson’s early struggles as the first African American to play in the major leagues from writer-director Brian Helgeland—the Oscar winning scribe behind the 1997 film L.A. Confidential. Though 42 still isn’t the epic biopic that Robinson so richly deserves (there are many interesting details from his later life that are ripe for the plucking: a drug addicted son who died at age 24 and Robinson’s campaigning for Richard Nixon in 1960 are two that come to mind) I suppose it will do fine for now.

The one thing I can say about 42 is that at the very least the subject at the film’s center is portrayed as a likeable one, unlike the aforementioned baseball biopics from two decades ago. Actor Chadwick Roseman does a good job capturing the essence of Jackie Robinson and that helps the film immeasurably.

The film mostly takes place during 1947. As it opens we are introduced to Branch Rickey (Harrison Ford, one of his most vibrant performances in awhile), the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers who has decided, seemingly for no discernible reason at the time but one that is revealed later, that it is time to break the color barrier and allow an African American the chance to be part of a major league team.

Chadwick Roseman & Harrison Ford in 42

Jackie Robinson is Rickey’s choice, although Robinson is known to be something of a rabble-rouser when faced with situations that put him in the throes of blatant racism, as evidenced by his being court martialed from the military after refusing to move to the back of a bus. Rickey offers Robinson the opportunity to show him what he’s got with the only stipulation being that he must keep his anger in check. This proves to be not so easy for Robinson when the going starts to get tough, as the audience knows all too well it will.

The first hour of the film mostly lingers on Robinson’s time spent in spring training, attempting to prove himself as a competent player. This section drags from time to time, but the film picks up during its more compelling second half, which spotlights Robinson’s first season as part of the Dodgers. Helgeland illustrates Robinson’s struggles by giving the audience quite a few scenes of racist encounters along the way, baseball players and otherwise, testing Robinson’s patience. Though some of these scenes may be a bit uncomfortable for some of the audience members they are certain to resonate after the film is over.

If a complaint is to be made against the film then it would be that too many of the supporting characters are painted in strokes much too broad, bordering on heavy handedness at times. Most of these characters seem to come either in the variety of those who stand with Robinson and those who are ugly racist hicks, with very few grey areas to be found. If only life were that simple. If these characters were around, it’s something about which those who really knew Jackie Robinson might beg to differ.

Scary Movie 5 (* ½) PG-13

I’ll come clean and admit that the Scary Movie franchise has been something I’ve enjoyed from time to time. I mean I would be hard pressed to say that any of the Scary Movie films are good examples of film comedy, but they typically offer a decent ratio of jokes-that-fail to jokes-that-work, making the experience good for at least a few chuckles now and then. With the release of Scary Movie 5, I can’t say that anymore.

David Zucker, part of the team responsible for the Naked Gun films and Airplane, took over the franchise starting with the third film and he’s back again for the fifth installment of the franchise, though this time he’s just serving as a co-writer along with frequent writing partner Pat Proft. 

The directing chores have been given to Malcolm D. Lee, a director who will never be mistaken for Steven Spielberg. It’s too bad that the three of them didn’t bring along some laughs to the party with them. Scary Movie 5 is a comedy for those who like theirs devoid of laughs. With the exception of a fairly clever joke that riffs on The Evil Dead, there is nothing to like or laugh at in this film, a film that, incidentally, runs only 75 minutes minus the credits and feels like something of a ripoff.

The film’s opening scene features Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in a skit involving the two attempting to make a sex tape while navigating around their court-ordered tracking bracelets. It doesn’t come across as funny, just pathetic. Not helping is that Lohan looks and sounds at least a good twenty years older than her real age here.  Perhaps that’s the scary part of the film’s title, but I digress. At any rate, the segment comes across as forced and painfully obvious and will only elicit laughs from those who are functionally illiterate when it comes to contemporary popular culture.

As for the film’s targets, they include such varied films as Mama, Black Swan, Inception, Rise of the Planet of the Apes and, of course, the Paranormal Activity films. The filmmakers also manage to throw in a few jokes aimed at the Fifty Shades of Grey crowd with a subplot involving Jerry O’Connell that also falls flat. As I said, no one could ever accuse the Scary Movie franchise of being great art, but compared to this lame and uninspired mess, the other entries in the franchise look like masterworks on the level of Gone With the Wind.

These movies are at the Carmike in Hickory and other area theaters.

Questions or comments? - email Adam Long at filmfan1970@hotmail.com

 

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