Winter Movie Preview 2011: Comedy

January and February tend to be romantic comedy months or “so obviously dumb” comedies. Last year we had critically ripped movies “The Spy Next Door,” “The Tooth Fairy,” “Leap Year” (Amy Adams’ only bad performance) and “When in Rome.” Only “Youth in Revolt,” which was hardly released, was decent. The 2011 slate looks much better on the whole for laughs, in theory. At the very least there are some big players with one featuring Vince Vaughn, one Adam Sandler and even a Farrelly brothers comedy.

6. Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son (Feb. 18)

Directed by John Whitesell
Written by Matthew Fogel and Don Rhymer, Darrel Quaryles (characters)
Starring: Martin Lawrence, Brandon T. Jackson, Faizon Love

The Word: “Big Momma’s House,” a movie starring Martin Lawrence as an FBI agent undercover as fat nanny, did fairly well for a comedy back in 2000 when dudes wearing prosthetics was all the rage, so “Big Momma’s House 2” came and despite a bigger opening, made less money (that was in January 2006). Nevertheless, Fox has decided to push this gag to the limit and five years later we now have “Big Mommas.” Up-and-comer Brandon T. Jackson joins the cast as Big Momma’s stepson in a move to appeal more to audiences too young to remember when “Big Momma” first hit the screen (or who Martin Lawrence is).

My Thoughts: If you thought studios milking a third installment in “Little Fockers” turned out to be a disastrous idea at Christmas time, what do you think we’re going to get here? Even if it opens decently thanks to the fan base, expect to hear nothing more of it after that.

5. Gnomeo and Juliet (Feb. 11)

Directed by Kelly Asbury
Written by Kelly Asbury, Mark Burton, Kevin Cecil, Emily Cook (and 7 others)
Starring: (voices) James McAvoy, Emily Blunt, Jason Statham, Maggie Smith

The Word: Starz Animation, the company behind films such as “9” (good) and “Space Chimps” (bad) brings literally a garden-variety retelling of Shakespeare’s classic story. Kelly Asbury, who has been in the art department for some of Disney’s classics including “The Little Mermaid,” directs. (He also directed “Shrek 2” and “Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron.”) A team of an inordinately large writers worked on telling the old tale for a G-rated audience. My guess is they won’t kill themselves in the end.

My Thoughts: I think this project has been in development for a long time and I’m surprised it ever surfaced. It looks like the angle here, based on the trailer, is goofy. It doesn’t focus on plot, just the sell points: action, adventure, comedy and the music of “Elton John.” Animation has been on a good run lately and it will be interesting to see if “Gnomeo” can keep up, even financially.

4. No Strings Attached (Jan. 21)

Directed by Ivan Reitman
Written by Elizabeth Meriwether
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashton Kutcher

The Word: One of two f***buddy films we’ll get in 2011, “No Strings” boasts Portman when hype will be high for her Oscar chances along with (strangely) Ivan Reitman directing (“Ghostbusters”). Reitman goes behind the camera for the first time since “My Super Ex-Girlfriend” which didn’t go over so well. Anyway, Kutcher and Portman play friends who finally sleep together and decide to be sex partners who are friends rather than lovers. A large supporting cast of friends (Mindy Kaling, Greta Gerwig, Jake M. Johnson, oh, and Ludacris) help them sort through it.

My Thoughts: When the trailer initially debuted for this film alongside this summer’s upcoming “Friends with Benefits,”  “Benefits” went the red band way with a dirtier trailer and “Strings” appeared to be the cutesier film. Now “Strings” has released a Red Band trailer and it makes the film seem that much funnier. Check it out below.

3. The Dilemma (Jan. 14)

Directed by Ron Howard
Written by  Allan Loeb
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder

The Word: How Ron Howard ended up directing a Vince Vaughn comedy is beyond me, but nevertheless, he tells this story of a guy (Vaughn) who instead of deciding to tell his best friend (James) that his wife (Ryder) is cheating on him, decides to spy on her. Queen Latifah and Channing Tatum also have supporting roles, the former as Ryder’s lover.

My Thoughts: A January release date as opposed to pre-Valentine’s Day has me thinking Vaughn has starred in another bust, but that’s only critically speaking. Despite bad reviews, Vaughn, who has become the face of middle-aged date night comedy, still gets the 35- to 55-year-olds out to the theaters and still pulls in some of the younger demographic too for some impressive totals.

2. Just Go With It (Feb. 11)

Directed by Dennis Dugan
Written by Allan Loeb and Timothy Dowling, I.A.L. Diamond (“Cactus Flower”)
Starring: Adam Sandler, Jennifer Aniston, Brooklyn Decker, Nick Swardson

The Word: Adam Sandler and Dennis Dugan’s yearly Happy Madison film comes early this year and pairs the comedian with Jennifer Aniston. Sandler plays a bachelor whose “angle” to score chicks is pretending he’s married. When he meets the girl of his dreams (supermodel Brooklyn Decker), she accidentally discovers his prop wedding ring and he must lie that he’s getting divorced in order not to lose her. He recruits his secretary (Aniston) and her kids to be his family.

My Thoughts: I tend to like it when Sandler goes for the romance angle on occasion (“Grown Ups” was awful last year), but we all know how these elaborate hoax movies go. You also have to wonder for how much longer audiences will believe that all the overweight middle-aged Jewish characters that Sandler plays (this one’s named Danny Maccabee) can land hotties like Decker. Interestingly, this is loosely based on a French play and written for the screen by Allan Loeb, who wrote the previous film on this list “The Dilemma,” along with “Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps” and “The Switch.” Apparently Loeb is a hot commodity, though his movies have all gotten average reviews.

1. Hall Pass (Feb. 25)

Directed by Peter and Bobby Farrelly
Written by Peter and Bobby Farrelly, Pete Jones and Kevin Barnett
Starring: Owen Wilson, Jenna Fischer, Jason Sudeikis, Christina Applegate

The Word: When Peter and Bobby Farrelly deliver a comedy, most people pay attention. Although the “Dumb and Dumber” and “There’s Something About Mary” filmmakers’ last film, “The Heartbreak Kid,” flopped, “Hall Pass” — with exception of Wilson — boasts a fresher cast including “SNL” star Sudeikis in his first big feature film role. Wilson and Sudeikis play buddies whose wives, instead of reprimanding them for checking out other women, decide to give them a “hall pass” to do whatever they like outside the marriage for a week in hopes of teaching them a lesson.

My Thoughts: Hollywood has, based on this film, others on this list and some upcoming ones, apparently has decided we think monogamy is passé. It’s funny, I guess, or at least funny when situations arise, from cheating or entering casual sexual relationships. I’m not old-fashioned, but it’s annoying when trends build like this because it creates the perception that this is what’s “in.” Part of it, I think, is the sexual liberation of R-rated comedy that’s emerged in the last decade. Anyway, that said, I think “Hall Pass” has the most potential of any of these films.


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