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The Bottom Shelf by Adam Jahnke

Revenge of the 80s Child Stars

Adam Jahnke - Main Page

Let us pause for a moment to consider the weirdly parallel careers of Drew Barrymore and Peter Billingsley. In 1982, 7-year-old Drew was on top of the world as one of the stars of E.T. In 1983, 11-year-old Peter achieved stardom thanks to A Christmas Story and a ubiquitous Hershey's Syrup commercial. Drew became ever more popular in movies like Firestarter before falling in with a bad crowd and dropping out of sight for awhile, returning to prominence in the early 90s. Eventually she moved behind the camera, producing such films as Donnie Darko and the Charlie's Angels flicks. Peter's star continued to rise with... um... The Dirt Bike Kid and Russkies. He hasn't returned to acting with the same splash but, like Drew, has achieved success behind the scenes, producing movies like The Break-Up and Iron Man. And in 2009, both Drew and Peter made their feature film directorial debuts, working with a close-knit group of friends. Wow, it's like they're twins! OK, not really. Especially when you take a closer look at their respective movies. One of them is a modest but pretty decent little flick. The other is virtually unwatchable.

Whip It

Whip It
2009 (2010) - Fox Searchlight (20th Century Fox)

It would be a stretch to say there is a long, proud tradition of roller derby movies. You've got Claudia Jennings in The Unholy Rollers, Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber and that's about it, really. Still, there is a history to live up to and Drew Barrymore's Whip It succeeds admirably as a fluffy but entertaining girl power flick.

Ellen Page from Juno stars as Bliss Cavendar, a teenager in Bodeen, Texas, rebelling against her mom's beauty-pageant ideal of young womanhood. She spots a roller derby flier and sneaks off with best friend Alia Shawkat to Austin to check it out.

She's instantly smitten by the rough n' tough rollergirls and works up the courage to try out, landing a place on perennial losing team The Hurl Scouts. Using the nom de derby Babe Ruthless, she learns valuable life lessons about being yourself and rallies the team enough that they land in the big championships.

As you may have guessed, there are not a lot of narrative surprises to be found in Whip It. But Shauna Cross's screenplay deserves credit for tackling its standard coming-of-age themes in a believable, if not completely realistic, manner. Page is sympathetic and identifiable as Bliss and Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are top-notch as her parents, fleshing out what could have been a pair of extremely shallow characters. The other skaters are very well cast, especially Juliette Lewis as arch-rival Iron Maven and Kristen Wiig as the maternal Maggie Mayhem. Barrymore proves to be a skillful director, whether it's an intimate dialogue scene or a visceral, adrenaline-fueled skate-off. She also has terrific taste in music, filling the soundtrack with well-chosen tracks from the likes of The Raveonettes, Peaches, The Strokes (big surprise there) and more.

Fox's Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely terrific, although the extras are a little on the skimpy side. There are a number of deleted scenes, all of which are pretty good. There are some particularly choice moments with Andrew Wilson as the girls' frustrated coach that I'm glad were preserved here. There's also a brief Fox Movie Channel spotlight on screenwriter Shauna Cross and a spot for the soundtrack album. Unfortunately, we don't get to hear anything from the director herself. A Drew-driven commentary track would have been nice. Inevitably, the package also includes one of those digital copy discs. For all I know, those things are completely blank because I never touch em but if you're a fan, have at it.

Nobody is going to argue that Whip It was robbed of richly-deserved Oscar nominations but it's a difficult movie to dislike. The story is familiar but it's told with such an easy, low-key charm that it sweeps you right along. If Whip It is Drew Barrymore's idea of what a chick flick should be, I vote we turn the entire genre over to her capable hands.

Film Rating: B-
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): 17/18/C+

Dr. Adam Jahnke

Couples Retreat

Couples Retreat
2009 (2010) - Universal

Here's a tip from Dr. Jahnke. When a movie comes out featuring a large ensemble cast frolicking in one of the most beautiful locations on the planet, avoid it. It doesn't matter how talented the actors are or how much you enjoyed their previous work. This one will stink like month-old eggs dropped down an outhouse. These people signed on because they wanted to get paid and take a vacation simultaneously. They are going to be having a much better time than you will. If you don't believe me, program a day of watching Club Paradise, Ocean's Twelve and Couples Retreat back to back. If you haven't killed yourself at the end of the day, you can write me a note saying you now understand what I'm talking about.

Jason Bateman and Kristen Bell play a couple whose marriage is in trouble. They want to go to Eden, a couples therapy resort, to try and patch things up. But they can only afford to go on a group rate, so they coerce their friends into joining them. Before you can say "Margaritaville", everybody's relationship has hit the skids. Jon Favreau and Kristin Davis contemplate cheating on each other. Recently divorced Faizon Love has a hard time keeping up with much younger girlfriend Kali Hawk. Even ideal couple Vince Vaughn and Malin Akerman worry that they're in a rut.

As written by Vaughn, Favreau and Dana Fox, Couples Retreat is a dull, laugh-free experience that takes an annoyingly simplistic view of marriage. There's no question that these folks are meant to be with each other (except for Faizon Love, of course, who's really supposed to be with his ex-wife). They just need to go on a journey to figure that out. The journey includes lame jabs at hippy-dippy therapy, jokes that assume that the sight of a guy in a Speedo is hilarious, and a climactic Guitar Hero duel. Not lame enough for you yet? Try this on for size. The Guitar Hero scene is set to a Billy Squier song. The entire cast is capable of good work but here, they're reduced to a bunch of shrill, whiny, completely unlikable brats. Saddest of all, the island is run by none other than Jean Reno. Reno has managed to escape everything from Godzilla to The Pink Panther 2 with his dignity more or less intact but after this, he should stop answering calls from American production companies altogether.

In the closest thing the movie has to an amusing joke, Favreau remarks that the island paradise "looks like a screen-saver" and that comparison is even more apt on Blu-ray. The disc looks gorgeous and sounds just fine, although it's hard to judge audio quality when the audio consists entirely of unpleasant bickering and Billy Squier music. There's no shortage of extra material, either. There's an alternate ending, deleted and extended scenes, all of which feature optional commentary by Vaughn and Peter Billingsley. Vaughn and Billingsley also contribute to a video commentary accessible through Universal's U-Control feature. You also get a gag reel, deleted improv from the therapy scenes, a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes and, of course, a digital copy. The disc also has all the latest cutting edge Blu-ray features, including BD-Live and something called Social Blu, which apparently allows you to go directly to Facebook or Twitter from your Blu-ray player and immediately tell your friends what a crappy movie this was.

Often when a comedy doesn't work, it's because the people involved are trying too hard to get you to laugh. They get louder, faster, and more frantic in the vain hope that it'll sell the gag. Couples Retreat suffers from the opposite problem. These guys aren't trying at all. They probably had a great time making this and for them, this Blu-ray will make a lovely souvenir of their holiday. But their fun does not translate to a good time for the home viewer.

Film Rating: F
Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): 18/17/B-

Dr. Adam Jahnke

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