Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Pacific Rim

Somewhere between the minds that created Japanese Manga, mecha beasts and Hell demons comes Guillermo Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. Offering a glutinous feast of sight and sound for all the senses, Hollywood’s latest entry into the monster movie cannon is the personification of the Americanized Japanese blockbuster. While the spate of recent apocalyptic fare has offered up cynicism with its dose of explosive, Del Toro’s monster flick has far more optimism written in. Like the historical nature of the Japanese monster movie, there is a very clear definition between good and evil, and much of the characters’ hope comes from the promise of a rising sun.

Pacific Rim is massive, both in size and detail, and throws the viewer into the middle of the coda from the onset. Humanity has been thrust into a titanic battle with giant monsters that have emerged from the depths of our oceans. These leviathans (known as Kaijus) came through the seas and have forced humanity to build equally terrifying mechanical beasts (built as Jaegers) in retaliation. This exposition comes very quickly in the opening stanza of the film, and before you can dig in to your popcorn we’re shot 5 years into the present where the battle between man-made beast and beast is at its pinnacle. It’s a little bit of a shame we do not get the same gradual storytelling the way Independence Day unfolded, as while there is no time wasted before we’re into the meat of Pacific Rim, it would be have been a fascinating exploration into the reveal of these monsters if Del Toro would have spent more than 5 minutes explaining their sudden appearance on Earth.

jaegerThe cast is led by the booming presence of Idris Elba, whose headstrong-into-battle marshalling of the supporting cast is a pretty decent homage to Bill Pullman’s noble Presidential turn in ID4 (right down to the motivational speech). Alongside, Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) portrays Raleigh Beckett, your everyman hero; talented and charismatic, leading the charge against the monsters. His occasional brooding is brought upon by the burden of his past, and serves as both motivation and a hindrance to his return into the Jaeger program. His new co-pilot is Rinko Kikuchi’s (Babel) Mako Mori, whose deft touch to deceiving Asian frailty is offset by her ability to nail down her need to kick-ass when required. Similarly, her backstory takes the audience to perhaps the film’s most touching moment- the young Mako hunted through the city streets by a Kaiju (played by youngster Mana Ashida, who already has 23 titles to her resume). There is a real terrifying sense of hopelessness and fear to her character, and it really takes the audience far into the film’s best human moment.

As humanity and their machines battle the beasts, we find that the Kaiju continue to evolve and that their end game is unexpected. It is up to two wily scientists (played with some timely humour by Charlie Day and with odd Britishness by Burn Gorman) to figure out a way to effectively end the Kaiju menace. From here, we’re treated to some of the most exhilarating and breathtaking big screen CGI battles we’ve ever seen, and there is almost an operatic tone to Del Toro’s vision. While Michael Bay and Zack Snyder are happy to punch you in the head for 2+ hours, Del Toro adds a little song and dance to the fold. From the oceans to the metropolis streets, the collision of steel and flesh unfolds in the most effective and detailed carnage yet. It’s beautiful destruction without the fatigue.

“Those who grew up with Japanese robot cinema, or even kooky television shows like Dai Sentai Goggle-V, will know that there is a youthful veneer to all the beasts and destruction.”

Expectedly, there is some glorious cheese to the dialogue (and the Australian accents placed on the Australian Jaeger pilots are at times, excruciating), but Del Toro and screenwriter Travis Beacham know that it isn’t Shakespearean context that will successfully connect all the action. It’s about being funny at the right times, being overly dramatic in others, and doing their best to be human the rest. Those who grew up with Japanese robot cinema, or even kooky television shows like Dai Sentai Goggle-V, will know that there is a youthful veneer to all the beasts and destruction. It says that while there is evil, there are good protectors that will defend and fight for the rest of humanity. And in contrast to all the computer generated modernity of the picture, much of Pacific Rim is old fashioned in its sensibilities.

With Del Toro’s eye for detail, some good casting and a seriously fun attitude, Pacific Rim does what films like the Hollywood version of Godzilla couldn’t do; make the ridiculous believable, exciting and at times, just immensely breathtaking. Go see Pacific Rim at the largest screened cinema you can find, where the audio is cranked up to 11, and where they’ll charge you an extra few dollars for 3D glasses. You will be entertained.

Pacific Rim is in cinemas July 11th in Australia and July 12th in the United States.

 

PACIFIC RIM
Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Written by: Travis Beachham, Guillermo Del Toro
Cast: Idris Elba, Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kickuchi, Charlie Day
Released by: Warner Bros.
Website: pacificrimmovie.com

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Featured, Film Reviews

Film Review: The Hangover Part III

If there was any doubt that Todd Phillips wanted his Hangover franchise to end with as much bang as it began, then the first 10 minutes of The Hangover 3 will swiftly put that to rest. Two deaths including the beheading of a giraffe and the final installment of the longest night in history is well on its way. And after suffering a dreadful case of what can be (poorly) put as a ‘cinematic hangover’, the finale is thankfully near as much fun as the first.

Alan (Zach Galifianakis) is sent to rehab to clean up his crazy behavior, but along the way, the Wolfpack; Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Doug (Justin Bartha), cross paths with Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who is back to ruin their night one last time. The adventure unravels quicker than a cheap sweater as Chow takes the Pack on a harrowing evening of Tijuana trouble, stolen bars of gold, prescription medicine, bullets and John Goodman’s best mobster impression. Along the way, there’s more then your fair share of Alan being Alan, snappy one-liners, and Stu’s often bewildering realization at just where he finds himself at the moment, proclaiming with immense frustration and sadness that, “I’m just a dentist”.

And Poor Doug. Few people can claim they’ve been kidnapped, harassed, and lost, more times than Doug. So why not one more time? This time held hostage by Goodman’s burly underworld figure as ransom for Chow’s past. Bartha is once again surplus material, like much of the surrounding cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Jamie Chung, Heather Graham), their parts serve only momentary breaks from the often cranked up comedy and behavior of the main cast. And good God there’s a lot of Chow. If Jeong’s hyper-stereotyped Asianness is a bother to you, then you’ll probably dislike 95% of the film, but there’s enough goodwill and heart in the end that you’ll almost forget being subjected to micro-penis again.

Unlike the second outing, the third is less ill-willed, and returns the more jovial, gross out freshness the original brought. While the second movie found itself trapped in the mires of sequel-dom; recycling much of the original plot and chain of events, the third is able to cut loose the strains of the sophomore slump and let the natural and unnatural characters drive the movie. Symmetrically, the film finds its finale on the streets of Vegas, completing the story arch’s cycle. The return to the locale reminds the audience just how well the backdrop set the scene.

The film strives to turkey slap you in the face for the majority of its duration, but the gentle underbelly is proof to you that there is a heart in there as well. Phillips’ direction and general vision of the third is less grating than its predecessor and is a great way for the story to end. The Hangover 3 is genuinely fun and yes, really funny. You don’t have to stay until the end of the credits, but stay for a few minutes after it starts rolling, and you’ll be reminded why The Hangover is still outrageous. Like it should be.

The Hangover Part III opens in the United States and Australia on May 23rd.

 

THE HANGOVER PART III
Directed by: Todd Phillips
Written by: Todd Phillips, Craig Mazin
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, Zach Galifianakis, Justin Bartha, Ken Jeong, John Goodman
Released by: Warner Bros.
Website: hangoverpart3.com

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Film Reviews

Film Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

There are few action characters as iconic as John McClane, yet through all the years of Die Hard, it is notable that McClane’s adventures have never been without a sidekick. With the exception of Die Hard 2, McClane has been flanked by important supplementary casting that has for the most part, complimented Bruce Willis’ almost one-tone McClane. From good hearted beat cops (Reginald VelJohnson’s do-good Al in Die Hard and Die Hard 2, albeit briefly) and tech wizzes (Justin Long in Live Free or Die Hard) to the ever present Samuel L. Jackson in Die Hard With A Vengeance, McClane’s theatrics has come accompanied by characters that tend to fill in the gaps.

In the fifth installment of the series, McClane is teamed up with his son, John “Jack” McClane Jr., whose character has been absent since the first. Played by Australian Jai Courtney, Jack is unlike many of John’s previous partners- he is very much like his father. Interestingly then, it is a one-one punch through the movie, opening with the older McClane on a trip to Russia to see his son, who he believes to have been caught up in unsavory business. What is soon discovered is that the younger McClane takes after his father; into the business of saving the world, more so intentionally than not.

As both McClane’s find themselves caught up in Russian political chess games, we are assaulted by frequent action sequences that would make Michael Bay proud. Packed with more explosives than a Transformers movie, A Good Day to Die Hard does not hold back on the histrionics; cutting back on exposition and development in favor of breakneck car chases, slow motion falling helicopters and exploding buildings. In between, we are peppered with Jai Courtney flexing his action chops while Willis is left with secondary gunfire and constantly reminding the bad guys (and us), that “he’s on vacation”.

The story itself is a throwback to 80s action fare- crazed Russian scientists, nuclear weapons and attractive Russian women- all with plot twists and goofy American-themed Russian one-liners. There isn’t much time to develop a fondness to the relationship with the two McClanes the way audiences were able to genuinely attach themselves to the bond between McClane and Samuel L. Jackson’s Zeus in Die Hard With A Vengeance. We are just not given enough to really feel the hurt Jack has harbored for his absentee Dad all the years growing up- just a lot of his refusal to call John “Dad”.

The latest is also the shortest of all Die Hards, clocking in at a measly 97 minutes, leaving it rather rushed. It also feels the most narrow in scope- and while Die Hard has flourished in the past with its limited locations (Nakatomi Plaza, Dulles Airport)- it really started to expand with its use of New York City and the Eastern seaboard in the following films. Russia on the other hand, feels very cardboard and lifeless and very small in comparison. On a side note, there is a brief moment that pays homage to Hans Gruber’s death scene which is a nice touch.

Directed by John Moore (Behind Enemy Lines, Flight of the Phoenix) on a screenplay written by Skip Woods (X-Men Origins: Wolverine, The A-Team), A Good Day to Die Hard isn’t as good as any of the first three, and is probably not as good as Live Free Or Die Hard, but it’s still got some good punch. The film feels in a way, a small passing of the torch from one McClane to another. Willis has said he’d like to do Die Hard 6 before calling it a day, and if that is the case, this film could be just an extended precursor to a great finale. If anything, it’s great that after more than a decade absent, the bad guys are Russian again.

A Good Day to Die Hard is now playing nationwide.

A GOOD DAY TO DIE HARD
Directed by: John Moore
Written by: Skip Woods
Cast: Bruce Willis, Jai Courtney
Released by: 20th Century Fox / Dune Entertainment
Website: http://www.diehardmovie.com

[xrr rating=2.5/5]

 

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Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Transformers: Dark of the Moon

Few directors know how to throw a farewell party the way Michael Bay does. With this, the supposed final installment of the globe conquering Transformers series, he proves once again that there are few that truly understand the movie-going public as well as he does. Dark of the Moon is leaps and bounds above Revenge of the Fallen, narrowing the scope of the film while taking advantage of 3D and amplifying its excess and sonic poundage. Rarely will a film ever be this loud and unforgiving on the human senses, an audio/visual hammer with the subtlety of a brick to the skull. But that is what makes this film so ridiculously brilliant; it is what we, as a global movie-going audience, wants. If you don’t believe a word of the previous sentence, feel free to check the box office in a few days time.

Dark of the Moon reaches far deeper into the Transformers mythology bringing the world of Cybertron closer to Earth than ever before. It back tracks to the human space race of the 1960s to set the tone of the film, giving Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s (who makes a cameo appearance) moon landing a more sinister undertone. Humanity is once again at peril as it stands between the Autobots and Decepticons’ never ending galactic battle for supremacy. Yet in Dark of the Moon, we find that there may be more than meets the eye when it comes to the role of humans in the historical context of this great fight. It almost circumvents the plot of Revenge of the Fallen, but this progression of the Transformers history seems much better (or maybe Revenge just sucked so much that they hoped to simply sweep it under the rug) as soon as you throw out any sense of plausibility (but what’s plausible about Transformers anyway?)

Shia LaBeouf continues to do a lot of running and yelling and kicking as Sam, struggling for a job after the events of the first two movies, stumbles into employment thanks to his new squeeze, the rather well shot (God bless Michael Bay and the way he shoots lingerie models) Rosie Huntington-Whitely. And for all the hullabaloo, she is genuinely better than Megan Fox, a far less irritating caricature and a better actress. We are given some genuinely funny moments as his struggles for employment crosses paths with the likes of a slightly underused John Malkovich, an as-expected Ken Jeong and Alan Tudyk. The cast in general (which includes Frances McDormand and Patrick Dempsey) is far more rounded, having jettisoned the annoying Ramon Rodriguez and keeping the role of Sam’s parents to a minimum, which gives the film a solid human presence amongst the sentient destruction. Most of them do the best they can with the lines they’re fed, that while isn’t quite Aaron Sorkin, is better than “I’ll drive, you shoot”.

Writer Ehren Kruger does the film its biggest service by limiting the film’s landscape to but a few destinations. While we traveled to the far reaches of the Earth in Revenge of the Fallen, we are most restricted to only a few (setting the film’s final set piece within the city confines of Chicago), avoiding the travel fatigue we got in the second.

With these parts in place, Michael Bay gives the film its much-needed finality. It is unlikely that another film in our lifetime will showcase the kind of visual magnificence displayed in Dark of the Moon (unless Bay signs on for Transformers 4). A highway chase scene featuring Decepticons gunning after the Autobots is particularly mesmerizing; turning the frenzied blur we’ve seen in the previous two films into a refined, almost beautiful piece of futuristic roller derby. And there are nuances and subtleties that lacked before- the perfectly timed musical accompaniment to a scene for instance (when Sam is driving into Chicago)- that adds a rare moment of tranquility. For fans of the history, Leonard Nimoy returns to voice Sentinel Prime (the first time Nimoy returns to this universe since he voiced Galvatron in the original animated film), while the likes of Shockwave, with his newly added aura of destruction, will surely please diehards.

Critics enjoy savaging Michael Bay because he doesn’t bring the same kind of sensibilities to the art of filmmaking a Godard, a Fellini or an Orson Welles does. Yet they all had their trademarks that earned them their distinction; Godard with his Nouvelle Vague jump cuts, Fellini with his elegant imagery and Welles with his all-around innovation. And Bay, like them, has his cannon for generation now: explosive, A.D.D. ridden, sex-infused, glossy storytelling of excess proportions. You cannot compare Dark of the Moon to À bout de soufflé, but you can compare their connection to the cultural and global landscape of their time. As much as critics will pound and holler about the merits of Terrence Malick’s latest film and how we should go see that instead of Rosie Huntington-Whitely in her underwear, their gracious calls for cinematic justice will fall on deaf ears. Why? Because Michael Bay and Transformers: Dark of the Moon is the way we are now (and really, what the hell do you want from a movie about giant robots? Optimus Prime wandering the streets of Paris smoking cigarettes?) The collective applause by the audience through the film (and at its conclusion) will attest to that.

Transformers: Dark of the Moon isn’t perfect, and its conclusion rather abrupt, but as a send-off for this franchise (for now?), you couldn’t possibly ask for a bigger, more ridiculously explosive final chapter.

[rating=3]

 

TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON
Directed by: Michael Bay
Written by: Ehren Kruger
Cast: Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whitely, Josh Duhammel, Tyrese Gibson, John Malkovich, Frances McDormand, Patrick Dempsey
Website: transformersmovie.com

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Featured, Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Super 8

There was always an aura to Steven Spielberg’s earliest film work; a magical storytelling tone above all else that made films like E.T. and Jaws true cultural icons. Decades removed, J.J.Abrams, a new scholar in the Spielberg filmmaking cannon, does the very best ode to Spielberg in a film not so ironically produced by the man himself. Super 8 is a film borne of the many traits that became the Spielberg palette. It is a wonderful sequence of ideas that has elements of The Goonies, E.T. and yes, Cloverfield as it’s backdrops, juxtaposed together in a colorful weave of 70s nostalgia and the very tool in which a young Spielberg honed his craft; the 8mm film camera.

A group of 12-year-olds, led by Joel Courtney’s Joe Lamb and Riley Griffith’s Charles (a rambunctious filmmaker that is positively a tip to Spielberg’s imagination-laced youth), aspire to film their little 8mm zombie flick before an unexpected military train derails in their fictitious small town of Lillian, Ohio (an in action sequence fitting for one of the best in a very long time). From here, we discover that this Goonies-esque troupe is every bit as resourceful while their town becomes ground zero for unexplained alien-like activities. They band together with childlike wonderment and humor, buoyed by first loves and hopefulness to reach a befitting, heartfelt finality. Elle Fanning is just enough as the film’s primary ingénue and propels much of the young cast’s motivation. Abrams has been very good at divulging to the audience the film in slow trickles- and while the action is loud and eventful, the crux of the story is revealed with a sieve fine enough that it all unfolds with timely gravitas.

This is what is essential to Super 8; because it is not just a monster film and it is not just about a group of teenagers on an adventure of a lifetime, it is all of the wonderment found in good filmmaking that became synonymous with Spielberg. A great deal of Hollywood is as subtle as a hammer to the skull, while arthouse is far too consumed in its self-importance. While it isn’t perfect, Super 8 is simple storytelling made with a seemingly long-gone nuance, like a moonlit bike ride over the forest.

Directed by: J.J. Abrams
Written by: J.J. Abrams
Produced by: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney
Website: http://www.super8-movie.com
[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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Film, Film Reviews

Film Review: Skyline

There is a difficult line to tread between the introspection and scale of the two kinds of alien invasion films. The first, the Cloverfield and District 9 kind, are often heavy on the socio-political undertones and focus more on a close-knit group of individuals who drive the narrative along. The second, Independence Day types, are more the global event; with stories that interweave characters, nations, and feel in every sense, scaled to be as massive as the galaxies it places us within.

The Brothers Strause (known more for their special effects work, music videos, and the less than stellar Alien Vs. Predator Requiem) weave their alien invasion paradigm somewhere between the two schools of thought. With a fairly limited budget of around $10-20million (with only $500,000 of it spent on physical production), one can see that it would be tough to compete with the grandeur of a Roland Emmerich flick. Yet the duo, along with writers Joshua Cordes and Liam O’Donnell, do their damndest to stretch the boundaries of imagination with more than ample success. The difficult part is of course, when aliens invade, the entire world tends to know about it. So making a small slice of this pandemic work is no easy task. If Cloverfield was Blair Witch, then Skyline is your Paranormal Activity of alien invasion films.

Skyline focuses on a small group of the young and beautiful as they deal with the global alien attack. Led by Jarrod (Eric Balfour) and his girlfriend Elaine (Scottie Thompson), they find themselves trapped in a skyrise Los Angeles apartment alongside their friends as they fight for survival against an unknown alien entity that appear to feed off the human brain. But unlike Independence Day, we get to know very little about the humans. A light backstory has Balfour’s character visiting his good friend Terry (Donald Faison) while a seemingly interchangeable trio of beautiful female companions provides conflict within. The moral compass of the cast is strengthened by the hardnosed Oliver (Dexter’s David Zayas; the concierge of all people), who adds a sense of wisdom to the much younger cast’s angsty bravado. Some of the dialogue is painfully hokey but we do get pretty convincing performances from the entire cast. Balfour and Zayas carry their weight and would fit just as well in bigger productions of the same ilk.

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We know even less about the aliens- other than the fact they’re quite tough to kill, large in number and have very keen hunting skills. They just show up and kill everyone, using light to attract the weakness in humans and consume in mass quantities. The Strause’s special effects history and work means that the actual design and finish of the aliens are really quite good, with a believable sense of purpose and scale.

The limited budget however, means that the breadth of the film suffers from severe claustrophobia. We are enclosed within, literally, the apartment building and the immediate surroundings- never really letting the atmosphere of the film breathe and expand. Instead, the vastly unused terrain of Los Angeles and its surrounding vistas are merely a distant backdrop, seen in brief montages during the air battle between the largely anonymous human armed forces and their galactic counterparts.

The most frustrating aspect of the film is that it only feels like its getting started as it closes. The last frames of the film finally give the audience a sense of ambition, but before we can get really excited at the potential of the unfolding narrative, the end credits roll. Skyline isn’t a perfect venture but in its attempt to marry large-scale feel with gritty human complexion, finds itself comfortably straddling the line between the two types of alien invasion films. The Brothers Strause are good at getting as much as they can from limited resources, and one can only deduce from the way Skyline ended, that the pair have much more up their sleeves.

Directed by: The Brothers Strause
Written by: Joshua Cordes, Liam O’Donnell
Cast: Eric Balfour, David Zayas, Scottie Thompson, Brittany Daniel
Released by: Rogue Pictures / Relativity Media / Hopscotch
Website: http://www.iamrogue.com/skyline

[xrr rating=3/5]

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Film, Film Reviews, Highlights

Film Review: The Other Guys

Set to the backdrop of large-scale financial crime and scandal, the Adam McKay-directed The Other Guys is part buddy cop movie and part outrageous comedy sprinkled with dabs of absurdist action/drama. It is as unconventional as it sounds, and at times, proves to be a tough slog, but surprising results at its conclusion make this the surprise comedy hit of the year.

Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg are an out-of-sorts detective pairing that has spent more time at a desk than out in the field. Ferrell’s character (Allen Gamble) is tied to his computer because he’s hiding a less-than-savory past while Wahlberg’s Terry Hoitz was demoted for hilariously shooting Derek Jeter in the leg and conceding the Yankees to a World Series loss (and for any real New Yorker, a big deal). They’re both offbeat but of a different nature, Gamble is smart, reserved, painfully dorky, while Hoitz is angry and disgruntled. Their characters provide much of the movie’s comedic friction between two diverging points of view. It’s unexpected too, with Wahlberg proving to be as good as an action star as he is a deadpan humorist. He doesn’t do much laughing in the movie, just lots of shouting, blank stares and pitch-perfect one-liners delivered with unexpectedly great comic timing. Ferrell on the other hand, juggles his over-the-top routine with more subdued but equally funny quips that is typical Ferrell, but just a little less Ron Burgundy.

The two find themselves thrust into the center of the scandal after New York’s most ridiculous and gung-ho detective duo (brief but welcome appearances from Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson) are put out of commission. These two were the supercops of the city, and much of the humor comes from Gamble and Hoitz trying to emulate their success with their own brand of police work as they attempt to overcome one obstacle after another. Steve Coogan plays white-collar criminal and investment guru David Ershon, whose bumbling but conniving character is good enough to propel the story, if not a little underused. Michael Keaton and Eva Mendes are good in their supporting roles with Keaton’s police chief by day and Bed Bath & Beyond employee by weekend as funny as Keaton’s been in years. Mendes’ turn as Gamble’s suprisingly beautiful wife is a good running gag- played off well by the dumbfounded and perplexed reaction we get from Wahlberg’s character during their initial meeting. There’s a lot to take in with the smorgasbord of characters on show weaving in and out of the story, and the movie does its best to try and maintain cohesion amongst the humor. Gamble and Hoitz are no Riggs and Murtaugh, but there is a far more genuine bond between the two than any two-cop pairing since the first Bad Boys.

Collectively, the strong cast is able to offset the unstable nature of the movie’s comedic premise. Those expecting the same kind of brainless humor in Talladega Nights or Step Brothers will probably be disappointed with The Other Guys and it’s more textured jokes. It’s a modern hybrid of the absurd with the conventional, all done with ample intelligence. Alongside Judd Apatow, McKay has been on the forefront of the recent drive of changing comedy. It’s smarter humor, one without a laugh track, and unfortunately it’s lost amongst some. But regardless of its reception, The Other Guys is genuinely one of the funniest movies of the year, succeeding by telling a good joke with smarts and cool confidence.

Directed by: Adam McKay
Cast: Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, Eva Mendes, Michael Keaton, Samuel L. Jackson, Dwayne Johson
Released by: Gary Sanchez Productions / Columbia Pictures
Website: http://www.theotherguys-movie.com/

[xrr rating=3.5/5]

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