Two shorter reviews this week, in lieu of anything more headline-grabbing (that’ll be next week’s return to the wonderful world of the MCU). Birds that deliver babies and people dressed up as…things. A nice mix for late October.
Neither Nicholas Stoller nor Doug Sweetland could credibly describe themselves as household names, despite their key involvement in some recent comedy and animated classics, but this venture, co-directed by the two, forms a nice union of the kind of by-the-numbers CGI animation that is comfortable if not inspiring, and the darker “for the grown-ups” type stuff that is straight from the mind of the man who was behind Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Storks is the story of Junior (Andy Samberg), the would be heir to a package delivery empire run by the titular birds, who have long since given up on their once critical role of baby providers. But before he can take the reins from his manipulative father (Kelsey Grammer), Junior has to escort the orphaned Tulip (Katie Crown) back to the human world, with an unexpected item in tow.
I don’t want that comment of “by-the-numbers” to come off the wrong way: sometimes it’s nice to actually sit back, relax and just enjoy a film that won’t challenge all that much. And Storks is that film, following the Snyder beat-sheet process as closely as it can, and getting by on the laughs it generates, which are varied and extensive. The Stoller/Sweetland team, with Stoller on writing duties, scores big on that front, with a number of really wonderful set-pieces, not least the wolf pack of Alpha and Beta, voiced by Key and Peele, who orchestrate their canine brethrens’ transformation into a variety of forms during the hunt for the baby Junior is saddled with, or a mostly silent fight scene involving some penguins. Samberg’s movie outings have been more miss than hit in his career, but this is a nice addendum to his TV work on Brooklyn 99, and a sight better than Pop Star: here, he actually seems to be enjoying himself, in a role where his adorable frustration and infectious enthusiasm works very well.
Of course, Storks won’t be winning too many plaudits for other aspects of its production: the forgettable score for example, or the visual element, which fails to really leave a mark in a genre now saturated with middling efforts. In a more incisive sense, one can’t help but wonder how some of the …mythology of the film will be received by its primary audience: you might be surprised how Storks goes about explaining where babies come from. In the supporting cast, only Grammer and a few others already mentioned are pulling their weight: Ty Burrell and Jennifer Aniston as unknowing expectant parents are rather lame, with Burrell literally playing the exact same character as he does on Modern Family.
But, really, you can forget about all that. Storks knows when to go dark, knows when to go for slapstick, and has a bit of inventiveness here and there with its script, mostly with the wolf pack who pop frequently, and always amusingly. It won’t stay long in the mind and doesn’t even approach the kind of impact that even the lesser Pixar films can make, but it’s a fun 90 minute diversion with the right kind of approach for small viewers and bigger viewers. Recommended.
Oh man, was I looking forward to this, my recent lack of internet preventing me from taking in Christopher Guests’ Netflix exclusive continuation of his series of mockumentaries, the genre he himself launched into the stratosphere with This Is Spinal Tap. Mascots, following the lead of Best In Show, is a depiction of a World Mascot Association’s annual championship gathering, replete with every variety of sporting pep machine, many of whom could be considered the dregs of humanity.
All of Guest’s usual skill in the mockumentary are on display here, even if Mascots can’t really reach the heights previously achieved with This Is Spinal Tap. At the end of the day, it seems as if Guest did what he does best, and assembled a really great cadre of comedians and just let them at it: Zach Woods and Sarah Baker as a brilliantly bickering married couple (at one point, Woods suggests she enter the “succubus Olympics”), Chris O’ Dowd as a violent Irish ice hockey performer known as “the Fist”, Parker Posey and Susan Yeagley as a white trash sisters with an utterly incomprehensible modern dance act, Christopher Moynihan as the endlessly optimistic loser and Tom Bennett as an English footballing hedgehog desperate to strike out from his fathers tutelage.
While all of the above are great, each ridiculous segment merging seamlessly into the next, it’s the others that really make Mascots great, like Michael Hitchcocks’ endlessly put upon event organiser (a notable treat being to watch him try and explain furries to people, while hunting one down), Jane Lynch’s trail-blazing female mascot (author of a book describing her path to God, and real-estate success) paired excellently with Ed Begley Jr’s less notable and far more bitter mascot performer and Bob Balaban’s heedless billionaire sporting his atrocious trophy wife/hooker, Jennifer Coolridge, around the event in some great sidebar scenes.
Mascots barely has a plot worth talking about, but it does have nearly a dozen finely crafted scenes of what I can only assume is partially improvised comedic gold, ranging from some of the bizarre acts at the competition itself to more traditional set-pieces: Mascots featured a rather well executed vaudevillian scene late on, that forms an appetising cherry on top of all that has come before. Everyone is giving it socks here, playing to a director whose sense of timing in terms of cutting and skill at placing all of the varied strands together in the editing booth in second to none for this, now rather overdone, sub-genre of comedy.
Sure, you might occasionally feel so awkward you forward the movie on, and may even be a little grossed out by some of the acts, but this is a film that I think you’d have to have ice in your heart not to enjoy just a little bit. Guest will never top his magnum opus – probably – but he doesn’t have to, not if he keeps making really great mockumentaries like this one every once in a while. Recommended.
(All images coptright of Warner Bros. Pictures and Netflix).