Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Hell and Back

There are a lot of people who really like writing negative reviews, but I'm not one of them, and I sometimes wonder if people look at my blog or my reviews on eFilmCritic and think I'm a soft touch rather than someone who just does a pretty good job at choosing what I want to see. Maybe I'm a little reluctant to give the lowest rating out because it's rare to find a film I can't say anything good about.

Yeah, this one's pretty bad.

And, for as much as I don't relish writing negative reviews, I must admit to being kind of curious if Nick Swarsdon is still touchy about critics and eFilmCritic in particular, because lots of folks reported getting harassed by the guy after panning his stuff. I don't want angry emails, but who wants to be left out?

On a positive note: Mila Kunis is in this, probably the biggest draw aside from the rarity of animated movies for adults in the United States, at least hitting theaters, and she's pretty much the best thing in it. Her voice acting is a lot of fun and it strikes me that her voice is always going to be a lot of fun, and while she is getting the sexy roles while she can, you can sort of tell that she'll probably be playing great sarcastic grandmas in forty years; she's got the persona and tone for it.

Hell and Back

* (out of four)
Seen 5 October 2015 in AMC Boston Common #3 (first-run, DCP)

There's a running gag in Hell & Back, arguably the funniest thing in the movie, where a demon voiced by John Farley subjects souls to various mildly annoying situations (stopped escalators, a Pizza Hut/Taco Bell that has no pizza, etc.) and zings them with "welcome to Hell!" Naturally, I doubt that any of these "tortures" can come close to being the crew of stop-motion animators spending weeks on end moving plasticene models and changing their poses bit by bit to give this nearly witless film some illusion of life. Spending days moving a mouth up and down so that it syncs up with a bored-sounding Nick Swarsdon delivering a line that uses the word "fuck" like a comma must crush a soul like nothing else.

Swarsdon plays Remy, a barker at the extremely run-down amusement park where he spent much of his childhood, now working there along with lifelong friends Augie (voice of T.J. Miller), who is constantly kept busy fixing things, and Curt (voice of Rob Riggle), now the assistant manager. When the fortune teller's magic book and a trivial blood oath suck Curt into a portal to Hell, Augie and Remy follow, only to discover that the demons intend to sacrifice Curt. Hearing that Orpheus (voice of Danny McBride) is the guy you talk to when you want to bust someone out of Hell, they go looking for him along with sexy half-demon Deema (voice of Mila Kunis), while the Devil (voice of Bob Odenkirk) chases them in the hopes of impressing Barb (voice of Susan Sarandon), the angel he's had a crush on for centuries.

Trips to Hell have been used as a means to comedic and satiric ends for millennia, but in the hands of writers Tom Gianas, Zeb Wells, and Hugh Sterbakov, this fertile ground is used mainly for weak stand-up jokes, pounding away at minor irritants and shrugging off the truly dark material. Sometimes that inversion can work, especially if the writers have a point to make about the characters' priorities, but not here. Instead, it mostly comes across as mean-spirited and misplaced, crass without being lively. It tries to be self-deprecating at points, but if you can't pull back the curtain and reveal something clever behind your idiocy, that doesn't gain much.

Full review on EFC.

No comments: