Winter Comedy Preview: Movies

2012 is here, and the new year offers up a whole new batch of comedies you didn’t know you wanted. The winter movie season starts slow with not a single comedy coming out in the month of January (unless you consider a light-hearted Queen Latifah musical to be a comedy), but things really start to pick up come late February when the Paul Rudd/David Wain/Judd Apatow movie Wanderlust is released, kicking off a string of high-profile comedies that includes Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie, Jonah Hill’s 21 Jump Street reboot, the latest installment in the American Pie franchise, and Will Ferrell’s Spanish-language telenovela-style comedy, Casa de mi Padre.

Let’s take a look at what’s coming our ways this winter and early spring, shall we?


This Means War (watch trailer)
McG, everyone’s favorite director whose name is only three letters long, is back with a new action-comedy starring Reese Witherspoon, Chris Pine, and Tom Hardy. This Means War follows two spies competing over the same woman by using any means necessary (explosions probably) to keep the other man down. Sam Worthington and Bradley Cooper each signed on to the movie and dropped out, while Seth Rogen flat-out turned it down. It sounds unlikely, but I think This Means War will outdo McG’s last action-comedy, Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle. Don’t hold me to that, it’s just a hunch.


Wanderlust (watch trailer)
Two behind-the-scenes comedy heavyweights joined forces last year when Judd Apatow and David Wain teamed up for the Paul Rudd/Jennifer Aniston vehicle Wanderlust. Directed by Wain, produced by Apatow, and written by Wain and writing partner Ken Marino (who’s also in it), Wanderlust tells the story of a married couple who give up big city life to join a free-thinking commune. When a movie’s release date is delayed, it usually means the studio doesn’t have much faith in it. Wanderlust‘s release was pushed back from last fall, but Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, and David Wain’s stellar track records inspire confidence and outshine those of the creative teams behind most other comedes this year. Add a supporting cast chock-full of beloved character actors from Wain’s usual stable of performers (Joe Lo Truglio, Jordan Peele, Kerri Kenney) and outside of it (Alan Alda, Ray Liotta, Melissa Joan Hart) and you have the makings of one of the year’s most promising comedies.


What looks to be the busiest weekend for movie comedies this year kicks off with two releases from Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s Gary Sanchez Productions, one from Todd Phillips, and a film by the Duplass brothers

Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie (watch red band trailer)
Those missing Tim Heidecker and Eric Wareheim’s surreal Adult Swim show Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job! have plenty to look forward to in the new year because the duo’s first feature film is headed to theaters in March after premiering via On Demand in January. Releasing the movie On Demand prior to putting it in theaters is a weird move, but maybe’s it’s just some kind of joke on Tim and Eric’s part. Judging by the trailers, Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie looks every bit as insane as you’d expect it to be. The movie is produced by Gary Sanchez Productions and features cameos and supporting performances from Will Ferrell, John C. Reilly, Zach Galifianakis, Will Forte, and Jeff Goldblum.

Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters
Another Gary Sanchez production, Hansel and Gretel: Witch Hunters sees the comedy company branching out with a horror/comedy hybrid about grown-up versions of the fairy tale characters Hansel and Gretel, who are now bounty hunters. Hansel and Gretel was directed by Norwegian filmmaker Tommy Wirkola, best known for helming the Nazi zombie horror-comedy Dead Snow. Jeremy Renner and Gemma Arterton play the titular brother and sister in a film that Adam McKay says could be a franchise.

Project X (watch trailer)
A strange experiment from Todd Phillips (director of The Hangover Pts. 1 and 2, and Old School), Project X is a teen comedy about an out-of-control high school party, starring a bunch of young unknown actors and actresses. Project X is the first comedy Todd Phillips has produced that he hasn’t directed (acclaimed music video director Nima Nourizadeh takes the reins here in his feature debut), and it’ll be interesting to see if his first teen comedy wins audiences over like the Judd Apatow-produced Superbad or fails to makes its mark like Will Ferrell and Adam McKay’s The Virginity Hit.

Jeff Who Lives at Home
Their first film since Cyrus in 2010, Jeff Who Lives at Home sees indie filmmakers Jay and Marc Duplass inching closer to mainstream, with two big comedy stars, Jason Segel and Ed Helms, in the lead roles. The movie follows a pair of brothers – one who still lives at home despite being 30 (Segel) and another who is struggling with a failed marriage (Helms). Jeff Who Lives at Home received mostly favorable reviews when it premiered at the Toronto Film Festival last year, and Segel and Helms are both talented comedic actors who will make this worth a watch.


Playing the Field
Everyone loves Gerard Butler comedies, right? Well, I’ve got some bad news for you: 2012 only holds one Gerard Butler comedy in store for us. At least we’ll only have to wait until March, though. Unlike most Gerard Butler rom-coms, this one was directed by Gabriele Muccino (The Pursuit of Happyness, Seven Pounds), so it at least sounds like an interesting choice of director. Butler will play a former pro athlete who coaches his son’s soccer team but has trouble turning down the advances of the other players’ mothers. Catherine Zeta-Jones, Uma Thurman, Jessica Biel, and Dennis Quaid also star, and I’m presuming all of them but Quaid play soccer moms.

Think Like a Man (watch trailer)
Also in theaters this weekend is Think Like a Man, a comedy based on a Steve Harvey book that stars Chris Brown, Romany Malco, Taraji P. Henson, Kevin Hart, and Turtle from Entourage. Chris Brown is playing a relationship expert in the movie, which should inspire Jay Leno to make jokes like this one come March: “So, uh, Chris Brown is playing a relationship expert in his newest movie. Did you hear about this? Did you guys hear about the Chris Brown movie? Mel Gibson said that if the Chris Brown movie’s a hit, he’s going to play a mental health expert in his next movie.” [Applause sign]


21 Jump Street (watch trailer)
The big-screen adaptation of the late 80’s/early 90’s TV drama 21 Jump Street stars Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum and takes a more comedic approach to the story. This will be the first film starring Skinny Jonah Hill, as well as the first movie that he’s written to be produced. The eclectic supporting cast also features Brie Larson, Ice Cube, Rob Riggle, Ellie Kemper, and Nick Offerman with a cameo by certain super-famous star of the original series (spoiler alert: it’s Johnny Depp).

The screenplay to this ensemble comedy, writer Jason Micallef’s first, landed on the Black List, an annual ranking of Hollywood’s best-like unproduced scripts in 2008. Starring Jennifer Garner, Ty Burrell, Alicia Silverstone, Hugh Jackman, Rob Corddry, and Kristen Schaal, Butter is about a young African-American orphan who discovers her talent for butter sculpture thanks to her adoptive family. The girl then takes on the driven, hard-edged wife of the champion butter sculpter in that year’s competition, in a story that intentionally parallels the 2008 race for the Democratic presidential nomination between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. That’s silly, though, because everyone knows that if the 2008 election had been a butter-sculpting competition, Hilldog would be our commander-in-chief right now.

Casa de mi Padre (watch trailer)
In perhaps his riskiest career move yet, Will Ferrell made a Spanish-language comedy (with English subtitles) that he’s putting out in the US. In Casa de mi Padre, which is said to have an overdramatic tone parodying telenovelas, Ferrell plays a Mexican man who works on his father’s ranch and finds himself at war with a drug kingpin. The bold choice to do the mostly-subtitled film should pay off, though, as the trailer proves the movie will pretty damned “loco.” Spanish, right? Like the movie? See what I did there? Case de Mi Padre is the second movie set for release this weekend that features Nick Offerman in a supporting role, which means 2012 will be the year the rest of Hollywood finally realizes how great Nick Offerman is. Here’s hoping for a Ron Swanson movie in 2013.


A Thousand Words (watch trailer)
As the writer of this seasonal comedy preview, I feel an obligation to warn you about Eddie Murphy’s new movie. Here are some facts you should know before you decide to buy a ticket to A Thousand Words:

1. It stars Eddie Murphy.
2. It was directed by the same guy that did Norbit and Meet Dave.
3. It was filmed in 2008 and has been sitting on the shelf for nearly four years.
4. It was filmed years before Murphy had some kind of epiphany about his current reputation in show business and swore off making mediocre family comedies.
5. I have a sneaking suspicion that releasing this movie in theaters is a ruse by the government to round up people with low IQs for crazy experiments. If you choose to see A Thousand Words in the theater, make sure the exits aren’t blocked before you go in.


Goon (watch trailer)
The first movie written by Seth Rogen’s writing partner Evan Goldberg without Rogen, Goon is a hockey comedy that stars Seann William Scott and Jay Baruchel. Goldberg and Baruchel wrote the script together, about a minor league hockey player who acts as an “enforcer,” protecting his teammates by hitting or fighting members of the other team. Hockey movies are rarely done right, and time will tell whether Goon is the next Slap Shot or the next MVP: Most Valuable Primate.


American Reunion (watch trailer)
The gang’s all back in this American Pie reunion – even the people from the original American Pie movies whom you completely forgot about. American Reunion is directed by Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg, who wrote the original Harold and Kumar, and the plot revolves around, you guessed it, the American Pie gang’s high school reunion. At the very least, we should be able to appreciate that this theatrically-released American Pie movie starring the original cast should put a stop to the sea of direct-to-video American Pie Presents movies for a little while.


Movie 43
A comedy anthology made up of several short segments, each by a different director, Movie 43 has been sitting on the shelf for a couple years because the studio that made it was shut down. A dozen directors, including Peter Farrelly, Brett Ratner, Elizabeth Banks, and Bob Odenkirk each helmed a segment for the movie, which features some presumably short appearances from big-name stars such as Anna Faris, Halle Berry, Johnny Knoxville, Jason Sudeikis, and Richard Gere. It’s been quite a while since anyone tried to make one of these anthology comedies (The Ten is the most recent one I can think of), but they rarely seem to work – not because of the talent involved, but because a movie made up of comedy sketches will always feel disjointed and hit-or-miss. Prove me wrong, Movie 43!

The Three Stooges (watch trailer)
The Farrelly Brothers’ long-in-gestation Three Stooges revival (which they first conceived in 1996) has come a long way since lofty stars like Sean Penn, Benicio Del Toro, and Jim Carrey were initially cast to play Moe, Larry, and Curly. The Farrellys went a different route, hiring a far lesser-known trio of performers to play the Stooges: MADtv alum Will Sasso as Curly, Will & Grace’s Sean Hayes as Larry, and fresh face Chris Diamantopoulos as Moe. The movie will follow the Stooges in a new series of adventures in present day, with Jane Lynch and Larry David both playing nuns. With the entire cast of Jersey Shore making a cameo, this will hopefully be the closest thing we ever get to a Jersey Shore movie. Fingers crossed.


Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
Seeking a Friend for the End of the World is the second film from writer Lorene Scafaria (after Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist), who’s making her directorial debut here. I’m not sure if it’s a conscious choice by Scafaria to try to come up with the longest titles possible for her movies, but she’s outdone Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist with the name on this one. Seeking a Friend is an apocalyptic ensemble comedy that stars Steve Carell and Keira Knightley, with T.J. Miller, Amy Schumer, Gillian Jacobs, Patton Oswalt, Rob Corddry, Rob Huebel, and more playing supporting parts. The story follows Carell’s character who, with Knightley’s help, tries to track down his childhood sweetheart in the final days before an asteroid obliterates the earth. This sounds amazing and the supporting cast is pretty impressive, but it’ll be hard to make a movie about a space rock about to decimate Earth that’s funnier than Armageddon.


The Five-Year Engagement (watch trailer)
Straight off the success of their Muppets redux, Jason Segel and writing partner Nick Stoller have teamed up once again to make a film for their old boss and mentor, Judd Apatow. The Five-Year Engagement, which was written by Segel and Stoller and will be directed by Stoller, stars Segel and Emily Blunt as a couple on a rocky five-year-long journey to the altar. Standouts from NBC’s twin Thursday night powerhouses, Alison Brie (Community) and Chris Pratt (Parks and Rec), play supporting roles, as do Kevin Hart, Rhys Ifans, Mindy Kaling, and Chris Parnell. Producer Judd Apatow has three movies coming out this year (this one, Wanderlust, and This is Forty, which is set for release this December). Just like the movie he produced last year, Bridesmaids, Apatow’s 2012 offerings look like they’ll be putting all other movie comedies to shame this year too.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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