The Judge Review – In His Defence…


Director: David Dobkin

Writers: Nick Schenk, Bill Dubuque

Stars: Robert Downey, Jr., Robert Duvall, Vera Farmiga, Vincent D’Onofrio


Release date: October 10th, 2014

Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 142 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: The winning performances.

Worst part: The underdeveloped sub-plots.

In one of legal drama The Judge‘s many courtroom scenes, our ‘antagonist’, Judge Joseph Palmer (Robert Duvall) delivers a line which proverbially sums up the movie. Dealing with a deadbeat defendant refusing to pay child support, the second-billed character takes away the keys to his new pick-up truck and gives them to the pregnant, white trash plaintiff. As the man complains, Judge Palmer stops him and says: “You’re standing in one of the last great cathedrals in this country, built on the premise that you and you alone are responsible for the consequences of your actions”.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Robert Downey, Jr. & Robert Duvall.

Oddly enough, this momentous line encompasses The Judge‘s positives and negatives. On the one hand, there has been a lot of love poured into the movie’s production and distribution. Shortly before its release, critics and audiences were given hope. With each new image and trailer, our anticipation levels grew over the prospect of Duvall and Robert Downey, Jr. earning serious Oscar contention. In addition, Downey, Jr. and Duvall made for interesting interviewees. So, how does the final product compare to our overwhelming expectations? Sadly, not so well. Compared to 2014’s other Oscar hopefuls, The Judge doesn’t do enough to guarantee statuettes. However, if judged on its own, the movie delivers enough positives to scrape by. The story, despite being encapsulated by Duvall’s character, does not centre around the veteran performer. Instead, we get Robert Downey, Jr. playing Tony Stark playing a whip-smart lawyer. As one of Chicago’s most valuable defense attorneys, Henry “Hank” Palmer (Downey, Jr.) knows the ins and outs of the judicial system like no one else. Dodging morally-sound prosecutors left and right, this big-shot lawyer – whilst defending an infamous insurance scammer – gets the shock of his life. After learning of his mother’s death, he packs an overnight bag and heads straight for the modest town of Carlinville, Indiana. Juggling a messy divorce, a young child, and a valuable case, Hank doesn’t plan on staying too long after the funeral.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

Downey, Jr. & Vera Farmiga.

The Judge‘s central conceit revolves around an ethically-inconsistent, big-city lawyer and his law-abiding father. Joseph, known to everyone in town as “Judge”, is a friendly citizen and true professional. At the wake, everyone gives Joseph a big, ol’ hug. Hank simply shakes his hand and slips back into the shadows. However, after Joseph becomes a hit-and-run murder’s prime suspect, Hank agrees to stick around. So, why do they hate each other so much? This question should have been the movie’s biggest concern. With two talented A-listers at the helm, the movie hinges on their stellar reputations and likeable personas. In fact, aided by their spirited back-and-forths about the past, present, and future, the movie excels whenever they drop their guards to shout at one another. One scene, in which Hank and Joseph conduct a shouting match whilst a record-breaking storm screeches through town, is worth the price of admission. However, I’m going to give Hollywood some advice: for the love of God, make shorter movies again! Pushing The Judge to a ridiculous 142-minute run-time, director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Shanghai Knights), makes several easily avoidable mistakes. Like Wedding Crashers, most of drama revolves around   meaningless and peculiar sub-plots. Here, the plot-threads include Joseph’s fight against cancer, Hank’s mentally-challenged brother (Jeremy Strong) and his Super-8 camera, his older brother(Vincent D’Onofrio)’s ruined baseball career, Hank’s re-connection with an old flame (Vera Farmiga), Hank butting heads with a local lawyer (Dax Shepard), the prosecutor (Billy Bob Thornton), and a questionable hook-up (Leighton Meester).

“Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub” (Henry “Hank” Palmer (Robert Downey, Jr.), The Judge).

Downey, Jr., Vincent D'Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Downey, Jr., Vincent D’Onofrio & Jeremy Strong.

Throwing intriguing ideas across multiple story-lines, The Judge reeks of desperation, self-consciousness, and carelessness. Throughout its hodge-podge story, the tone drastically switches every few minutes. Stalling its own momentum, the movie fails to add up to the sum of its parts. In addition, the movie doesn’t know what to say. Despite criticising Middle America’s wholesomeness, the movie unfairly condemns Hank for following making a living in the urban jungle. This Oscar-baiter, revelling in cliches, is an unremarkable concoction of A Few Good Men, Up in the Air, and Garden State. In fact, a wily filmmaker like Jason Reitman, Alexander Payne, or Jon Favreau would yell “objection” at its inconsistent pacing, undeveloped supporting characters, and irritating sub-plots. However, Dobkin makes several succinct directorial choices. Its visual flourishes – including Janusz Kaminski’s light-and-shadow-fuelled cinematography, Thomas Newman’s uplifting soundtrack choices (ranging from Willie Nelson to Bon Iver), and Mark Livolsi’s fluid editing – bolster certain moments whilst crafting an approachable glow. Like Jerry Maguire, the movie aptly centres around its most interesting character. The Judge – the first production from Downey, Jr. and wife Susan Downey’s production company, Team Downey – comes from good intentions. Downey, Jr., crafting one of Hollywood’s most successful comebacks, is charismatic as the cynical and pithy lead. Duvall, crafting one of Hollywood’s most inspiring careers, is brilliant in prick mode. Meanwhile, despite the lack of attention, Farmiga, D’Onofrio, and Strong deliver powerful turns.

As a homage to Hollywood’s best courtroom battles and familial dramas, The Judge strives to be relevant and award-worthy. Despite the gravitas, the story is summed up in one line: “Everyone wants Atticus Finch until there’s a dead hooker in a hot tub”. In fact, Downey, Jr. and Duvall do trim some fat. So, why is the movie still so long? As studio-driven Oscar bait, it unyieldingly becomes its own judge, jury, and executioner.

Verdict: A enjoyable yet inconsistent courtroom-drama.

Let’s Be Cops Review – Bullets, Badges, & Bromances


Director: Luke Greenfield

Writers: Luke Greenfield, Nicholas Thomas

Stars: Jake Johnson, Damon Wayans, Jr., Nina Dobrev, Rob Riggle


Release Date: August 27th, 2014

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Country: USA

Running time: 104 minutes


 

3/5

Best part: Johnson and Wayans, Jr.’s chemistry.

Worst part: The banal gross-out gags.

Over a short period, TV  has surpassed film as the go-to form of entertainment. With A-listers including Kevin Spacey and Matthew McConaughey jumping ship, the small screen is developing increasingly more ambitious projects featuring our favourite performers. So, who are the actors jumping from TV to film? Nowadays, this responsibility rests with sitcom stars of varying ages and talents. With Let’s Be Cops, two New Girl leads hurriedly leaped formats. Despite the movie’s flaws, their involvement saves it from being wholly mediocre.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Jake Johnson and Damon Wayans, Jr. leaving their New Girl comrades behind.

Obviously, Director Luke Greenfield (The Girl Next Door) didn’t have to do much to win over New Girl fans or buddy-cop aficionados. Sadly, despite the cast and crew’s hard work, Let’s Be Cops might be overshadowed by recent real-life atrocities. With the Ferguson, Missouri issue concerning the US Government, varying authoritative bodies, and the country’s citizens, this movie’s outlandish premise comes off as tasteless and desperate. With news media calling America’s police practices into question, this action-comedy’s tactless approach may rub some groups the wrong way. So, should we blame this production for trying to have fun? The cast and crew, completing everything before this atrocity took place, deserve a fair assessment. So, with that in mind, does this buddy-cop farce stand up to scrutiny? Definitive answer: yes and no. Unsurprisingly, the story never delves past the title. Former football hopeful Ryan O’Malley (Jake Johnson) and submissive video game designer Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.) are unsuccessful, thirty-something man-children struggling to face reality. Bafflingly, after an embarrassing college reunion mishap, their elaborate police costumes are far more convincing than expected. Strutting through LA, the immediate acclaim gives them a blissful adrenaline rush. Convinced of this newfound ‘life purpose’, Ryan, ignoring Justin’s concerns, becomes addicted to the gun and badge. Buying a patrol vehicle off eBay, Ryan continually pulls Justin into trouble.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

Nina Dobrev as Josie.

From the first patrol scene onward, several disturbing plot elements distort Let’s Be Cops’ light-hearted narrative. Obviously, Ryan and Justin’s actions serve to abuse police power. In fact, impersonating a police officer offers up significant prison time and fines. Therefore, with said penalties on the line, the narrative needed to be interesting enough to distract the average filmgoer from reality. Sadly, despite being an enjoyable buddy-actioner, these plot gripes hover above the audience throughout its 102-minute run-time. The story relies on two opposing viewpoints to keep the comedy and drama in line. From the get-go, the odd-couple relationship is hammered across our heads. With Ryan’s oppressive attitude clashing with Justin’s do-gooder personality, this central relationship brings up major questions. In addition, as it transitions from intriguing dramedy to goofy buddy-cop flick, their back-and-fourths become tiresome and dumbfounding. Though Johnson’s character is given suitable, albeit disastrously idiotic, motivations, Wayans, Jr.’s role becomes a series of alliance switches and reluctant decisions. Despite Justin’s desire to become a stronger person, the movie makes him the butt of almost every joke. Failing to get his video game idea, ‘Patrolman’, off the ground, the movie’s mean-streak occasionally weights down this breezy, laugh-fuelled romp. Despite this inconsistent bromance, Johnson and Wayans, jr.’s snappy New Girl dynamic boosts this simplistic venture.

“I feel like Danny Glover before he got too old for this sh*t.” (Justin Miller (Damon Wayans, Jr.), Let’s Be Cops).

Keenan Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Keegan-Michael Key without Jordan Peele.

Despite the exhaustive improv. sequences, Johnson and Wayans, jr. enliven their stock-standard characters. In this and Safety Not Guaranteed, Johnson proves himself an adventurous and efficient leading man. Conquering the slacker archetype, his likeable presence rescues his conventional character arc. In addition, Wayans, Jr. – stepping out of his family’s shadow – delivers enough charisma and levity when required. Along the way, his comic timing and slapstick gags deliver several laugh-out-loud moments. Meanwhile, Rob Riggle delivers some worthwhile jabs as an enthusiastic yet gullible lawman. Undoubtedly, Let’s Be Cops was designed specifically for our two sitcom-bred stars. Sadly, thanks to hit-and-miss humour, the movie becomes a 21/22 Jump Street rip-off. Despite the potential, its gross-out gags merely degrade certain action beats. The underlying cop-mobster storyline – revolving around Russian mob boss Massi Kasic(James D’Arcy)’s threats against cute waitress Josie (Nina Dobrev) – never sparks any excitement. In fact, this sub-plot exists simply to deliver action, Andy Garcia in another villain role, and D’Arcy’s convincing Ethan Hawke impersonation. Shifting around this sub-plot, the movie’s half-processed skits reek of desperation. Some scenes – featuring our leads strutting into nightclubs, flirting with drunk chicks, and forcing innocent people into uncomfortable situations – add nothing to the story.

Let’s Be Cops – despite the lazy premise and production’s laid-back attitude – overcame several obstacles before hitting the box office. Hindered by a major socio-political scandal, a poor release date, and a derivative marketing campaign (seriously, the image of police partners screaming has been used a million times!), it’s a miracle this buddy-cop flick is even watchable. In addition, Johnson and Wayans, jr. deliver more big laughs than expected. Thanks to their flawless dynamic, these two pull off the uniforms with ease.

Verdict: A charming yet lazy action-comedy.