#108 - The Embezzler

Dedicated To
Malcolm McLaren
1946 - 2010

Added 4/13/10

Hey there, cats and kittens. Time for another fun-tabulous installment of Jahnke’s Electric Theatre! I hope you’ve got your salty snacks and gallon-sized tub of Diet Fresca ready.


Date Night

More than any other genre, going to see a new comedy is always a crapshoot. Trailers are no indication of quality. It’s possible to put together a preview for a lousy movie that gives away all of the best jokes but I’ve also seen terrible trailers for movies that turned out to be genuinely hilarious. In the end, all you can rely on is the track record of the talent involved and hope for the best. With Date Night, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve been a fan of Steve Carell since his time on The Daily Show. He can be relied on to deliver some laughs even when the movie itself sinks beneath its own weight (see Get Smart, for example). I like Tina Fey but I’ve always wanted to enjoy her work more than I actually do. I’ve tried to get into 30 Rock a few times but it doesn’t really do much for me. Still, the idea of a Carell/Fey team-up was appealing enough that I was willing to overlook the fact that their big-screen adventure was helmed by Night At The Museum mastermind Shawn Levy.

Sure enough, Carell and Fey do provide some spark to this otherwise tepid comedy-adventure. As a bored married couple looking to spice up their weekly date night, the two stars are ideally matched. It’s something of an unusual relationship for a mainstream American comedy. Carell and Fey seem to be a bona fide couple here. You get a sense of their shared history from the very beginning. Even without delving into their back story (and I’m glad the movie doesn’t waste time with that), you understand why they were attracted to each other and that they clearly do love each other very much. It’s a refreshing change of pace from other movies of this type. Usually we just get to see couples who have fallen out of love with each other and rediscover the attraction through a series of wacky misadventures.

Which is not to say that Date Night is lacking in the wacky misadventure department and, unfortunately, that’s by far the weakest part of the film. I’ve heard Date Night compared to Martin Scorsese’s 1985 comedy After Hours but the movie bears more of a similarity to another 80s up-all-night action-comedy: Adventures In Babysitting. There is a real dark side to After Hours that’s entirely, willfully absent from Date Night. The movie takes place in a candy-colored theme-park version of New York populated by soft-spoken, shirtless security experts (an amusing Mark Wahlberg), classic movie mob bosses (Ray Liotta) and two-bit hustlers (James Franco and Mila Kunis) who are apparently quite well-read judging by their overly set-decorated apartment. It’s a place where strippers aren’t expected to strip and no one ever swears, no matter how stressful the situation.

As in Adventures In Babysitting, you either go with the flow and accept the increasingly improbable plot or you reject it and the entire movie outright. With less capable actors, I probably would have opted for the latter choice. But Steve Carell and Tina Fey do provide a reason to watch, although not necessarily in the cinema. This would probably be a good rental option this summer on a Thursday night when The Office and 30 Rock are in repeats. I hope this isn’t their last film together because I’d really love to see them go to town in a much smarter movie. While you may be disappointed that Date Night isn’t better, the reality is that it easily could have been much, much worse. (* * ½)


Dead Snow

When it comes to recent horror movies, I’m suffering from a serious case of zombie fatigue. Granted, a surprisingly large percentage of recent zombie flicks have been entertaining, energetic and even original. But I don’t find zombies themselves to be inherently interesting creatures. For me to want to see a zombie movie, you need to find a pretty good hook. Now we have Tommy Wirkola’s Dead Snow, promising Nazi zombies amidst the snowy mountains of Norway. OK, keep talking…

Oh well, that’s about it really. Nazi zombies. Norway. Isn’t that enough?

Sigh…OK, fine. The setup here is the same as in countless other horror movies. A group of friends head off to a remote cabin for a vacation. It’s all fun and games until a mysterious stranger turns up, warning them of evil. Turns out that the Norwegian townsfolk chased the occupying German army into these mountains at the end of WWII, where they presumably froze to death. But they’re still around and still after the gold and silver they stole all those years ago.

I’ll readily admit that Dead Snow has a few things working in its favor. Wirkola clearly is setting out to make a hypergory horror-comedy in the vein of Evil Dead II or an early Peter Jackson movie. When the arterial juices begin to flow in the second half, they do spray every which way. The violence is so over-the-top that I don’t think Wirkola can even see the top from where he ends up. The carnage is goofy, crazy fun and the image of undead Nazi soldiers rising up from the snow is undeniably powerful. But Wirkola saves all his originality for the second half. The movie is annoyingly self-aware. Simply acknowledging the fact that your setup is a cliché doesn’t let you off the hook for filming a cliché. Worse yet, Dead Snow has plot holes you could float zeppelins through. The mysterious stranger is even more mysterious because we have absolutely no idea who he is or where he comes from. The zombies seem to be after the gold but they’re up before the gold is even discovered and they’re killing people who have no connection to it. For that matter, the one aspect of Nazism that Wirkola chooses to focus on is…that they were greedy thieves? Seriously? I’m no history buff but it seems to me that there were other things Nazis were better known for. Once you’ve taken the leap and decided to make a horror-comedy about Nazi zombies, you’d might just as well go all out. In an odd way, Dead Snow plays it safe, as though Wirkola doesn’t want to offend anyone. In a movie like this, you should be worried if you don’t offend people.

In the end, Dead Snow isn’t a bad little movie. It has some sequences that are a lot of fun and Wirkola shows talent in these scenes. But while it brings some new imagery to the table, it doesn’t really bring any new ideas. Instead of a movie about Nazi zombies, this is more like a movie about zombies dressed up as Nazis. And that’s no more or less interesting than a movie about zombies dressed up as clowns or astronauts or firemen would be. Dead Snow is a good example of why I’m bored with zombies. It’s all guts, no brains. (* * ½)

Thanks to everyone who suggested this week’s TFTQ selection! I’ve been getting a lot of recommendations lately and I’m working on a better way of keeping track of who suggested what, so I apologize that I can’t locate the names of everyone who recommended this particular title. If you’ve written in with a suggestion, please be patient. It will appear sooner or later. It you haven’t, why not? Email me your recommendations for underrated and little-known favorites today!

Your pal,

Jahnke's Electric Theater

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