Summer Comedy Preview: Movies
We’re only a week into summer movie season, and it’s already overloaded with superheroes. More excitement is coming too, as Hollywood rolls out what are expected to be its biggest hits this time ever year. There’s no shortage of comedies this summer, as Batman and Spider-man will be duking it out at the box office with the likes of Adam Sandler, Will Ferrell, and, um, Wes Anderson.
What’s in store for us comedy wise? The return of the Men in Black! A movie based on a pregnancy guidebook! A comedy based on a novel by Saddam Hussein! And a comedy that had to change its name because of the tragic shooting of Trayvon Martin! Summer fun!
Come with me as I dive deep into this summer’s batch of big-screen comedies and take a closer look at what movie theaters have to offer us this summer, in addition to air conditioning.
The Dictator (watch trailer)
It’s been three years since the last movie Sacha Baron Cohen starred in (Brüno), but The Dictator sees him trading in his technique of ambushing unsuspecting real people into being his costars to make a more conventional, scripted movie that lacks the deer-in-the-headlights humor of Borat and Brüno. The only other time Baron Cohen has written a vehicle for himself in this style was the poorly-received 2002 film Ali G Indahouse, but The Dictator has more going for it than that one did, boasting an all-star cast that includes Oscar winner Ben Kingsley, Oscar nominee John C. Reilly, Anna Faris, and Jason Mantzoukas. Also, the movie was loosely-based on Zabibah and the King, a novel written by Saddam Hussein. This could be the start of Hussein usurping Nicholas Sparks as Hollywood’s favorite author.
What to Expect When You’re Expecting (watch trailer)
This movie based on a pregnancy manual is gearing up to be the best movie based on a pregnancy manual ever. It’s another one of these Love Actually/New Year’s Eve-style movies with a cast so large that the set must have been some kind of fire code violation. In addition to chick-flick mainstays like Jennifer Lopez and Cameron Diaz, What to Expect also stars beloved figures in the comedy community like Thomas Lennon, Chris Rock, Rob Huebel, Elizabeth Banks, and Bridesmaids stars Wendi McLendon-Covey, Ben Falcone, and Rebel Wilson.
Men in Black III (watch trailer)
It’s been 10 years since the last Men in Black movie, but after what must have been a long, joyless decade for MIB diehards, Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back in action this summer. Well, sorta. Although Jones is still in the movie, the plot follows Will Smith going back in time to the 60s to fight aliens with a younger version of Jones’s character (Josh Brolin). Men in Black boss Rip Torn unfortunately seems to be missing this time around, which I’m assuming is because the movie’s shooting schedule conflicted with that time he got drunk and broke into a bank. The fact that the movie had script problems (i.e. they started making it without a finished script and then took a hiatus to try to work out the kinks and write the rest of the thing) should be a red flag, but Men in Black III will be worth seeing for Bill Hader’s turn as Andy Warhol, Flight of the Conchords’ Jemaine Clement as the main villain, and Will Smith’s weird circle-bike thing that bears a striking resemblance to something Mr. Garrison invented on South Park several years ago. I’m guessing the Will Smith version doesn’t require simultaneous oral/anal/hand sex to operate.
Moonrise Kingdom (watch trailer)
Wes Anderson’s first live-action movie since Darjeeling Limited in 2007, Moonrise Kingdom sees him working with some new collaborators (Edward Norton, Bruce Willis, Tilda Swinton, Frances McDormand) and some old ones (Bill Murray, Jason Schwartzman). The movie follows a pair of young lovers who run away from home together and the quirky, pastel color-filled search party that ensues thereafter. The Wilson brothers, Luke and Owen, are conspicuously absent, making this the first time Wes Anderson has ever made a movie without them, but good luck charm Bill Murray seems to have a meaty role, so it’s all good.
Piranha 3DD (watch trailer)
The makers of Piranha 3DD, the sequel to 2010’s campy remake Piranha 3D, seem to be upping the campiness with their new movie, or so the casting additions of Gary Busey and David Hasselhoff would suggest. Paul Scheer and Ving Rhames from the last movie have extended cameos, and Christoper Lloyd is back as well. I haven’t confirmed this anywhere, but I’m assuming Gary Busey is voicing all of the piranhas.
Safety Not Guaranteed (watch trailer)
Aubrey Plaza (Parks and Rec), Jake Johnson (New Girl) and Mark Duplass (The League) star in this indie movie based on an infamous classified ad posted several years ago by a guy looking for someone to travel through time with him. Plaza and Johnson play reporters on an assignment to interview the guy who placed the ad (Duplass) and to see whether he’s full of shit or not. Safety Not Guaranteed was screened at Sundance and South by Southwest this year and earned overwhelmingly-positive reviews, indicating that it could be the sleeper hit of the summer.
Rock of Ages (watch trailer)
The director of Hairspray brings us this hair metal musical comedy based on the hit Broadway play of the same name. Of note to fans of comedy, Will Forte, Alec Baldwin, and Russell Brand all have roles in the movie. Of note to fans of unintentional comedy, Tom Cruise is playing a Bon Jovi-esque rocker.
That’s My Boy (watch trailer)
Similarly-named SNL stars Adam Sandler and Andy Samberg are playing two guys with the same name in their latest movie, That’s My Boy. Samberg is the fussy, neat son to Adam Sandler’s drunken lout of a father in a movie that looks like it could break Sandler free from a string of films that have received poor reviews – even by the already-low standards set by Adam Sandler movies. You should have some extra faith in this one because it’s Adam Sandler’s first movie without usual director Dennis Dugan (Jack and Jill, Grown Ups) since Funny People three years ago. That’s My Boy looks better than a typical Adam Sandler outing because of Andy Samberg’s presence, a script rewrite by David Wain and Ken Marino, and the fact that Adam Sandler isn’t playing his own twin sister.
Seeking a Friend at the End of the World (watch trailer)
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, and Rob Huebel all 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.
To Rome with Love (watch trailer)
After last year’s Midnight in Paris became Woody Allen’s biggest hit ever, the writer/director is sticking with using a famous European city in the title of his next movie. To Rome with Love features a nice mix of A-list talent that only Woody Allen can draw, including Alec Baldwin, Jesse Eisenberg, Ellen Page, Penélope Cruz, Greta Gerwig, and Woody himself in his first on-screen role since Scoop in 2006. It may seem redundant to cast Alec Baldwin and Woody Allen, who are both known for playing smooth-talking alpha males, in the same movie, but Woody Allen looks to be playing against type here as a neurotic, intellectual nebbish instead.
Magic Mike (watch trailer)
Indie film pioneer and acclaimed director Steven Soderbergh has been talking about retiring from the film industry for a few years now, but not before he makes a Channing Tatum stripper movie. Magic Mike is a comedy based on Channing Tatum’s own experiences working as a stripper in Florida when he was 19, and Tatum stars in the movie as a veteran stripper who takes a novice (Alex Pettyfer) under his wing. Tatum showed he can be really funny in 21 Jump Street earlier this year, and Magic Mike could see him continuing to show off his comedic chops on the big screen. Hopefully, for Channing Tatum’s sake, Magic Mike will be a big hit so that he won’t have to go back to his former profession.
Tyler Perry’s Madea’s Witness Protection (watch trailer)
I’ve been trying not to watch or read anything about the long-awaited fifth installment in the Madea saga so I can stay fresh and not spoil any of the surprises before I see the movie, but it’s kind of hard when stories and rumors about Madea’s Witness Protection are popping up on movie sites and on Twitter on a daily basis. The studio has been trying to keep a tight lid on the production, even filming under a false working title, but that hasn’t stopped obsessed fans from trying to get set photos, leaking key plot points, and engaging in a 24/7 discussion of news and rumors online. The buzz for the movie has only increased thanks to Madea’s Witness Protection’s savvy viral marketing campaign, which centered on the launch of a website where e-mails sent by fans slowly removed pixels to reveal the first official image of Madea in the movie and a collection of time-coded photos were provided to visitors to piece together a series of plot points and interpret their meanings. During Comic-Con 2010 in San Diego, fans were sent on a scavenger hunt to unlock a teaser trailer. The clues combined to reveal a new photograph of Madea and an audio clip of her from the film saying her catchphrase, “Good afternoont.” When Madea’s Witness Protection comes out this June, it’ll have a lot of hype to live up to, but one thing’s for sure: as the twist ending of Madea’s Big Happy Family proved, this old franchise still has some new tricks.
Ted (watch trailer)
Seth MacFarlane is like the Stanley Kubrick of comedy, taking his time to make sure his projects are perfect before unleashing them upon his fans who can’t wait for these lengthy hiatuses to end so they can get their next MacFarlane fix. Seth MacFarlane enthusiasts will have to wait an entire two months after the season finales of his current three sitcoms before his first feature film, Ted, comes out, which completely outdoes the excruciating one-week wait MacFarlane puts us through in between new episodes of his three shows. It’s gonna be a rough couple of months, but we’ll make it. Ted also sees MacFarlane breaking free of his inability to make anything without a talking animal as the movie’s title character is a talking stuffed animal, not an actual living animal that talks. Mark Wahlberg stars as a guy who’s best friends with a talking stuffed teddy bear. Will MacFarlane be able to find the same success with talking stuffed animals that he’s found with talking real animals? We’ll have to wait and see.
Ruby Sparks (watch trailer)
Just when you thought Moonrise Kingdom and Safety Not Guaranteed were in a two-horse race for twee-est movie of the summer, Ruby Sparks enters the picture. Sparks stars Paul Dano and is the second movie from the husband-wife director team of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, the first movie they’ve made in the six years since Little Miss Sunshine. What will be the twee-est movie of the summer? It’s time for a twee-off!
Despite the fact the main character is not a writer, the winner looks to be Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom. Better luck next time, the People That Brought Us Little Miss Sunshine!
The Neighborhood Watch (watch trailer)
Originally called Neighborhood Watch, this comedy underwent a titled change following the Trayvon Martin tragedy, and is now called simply The Watch. It stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and The IT Crowd’s Richard Ayoade as a quartet of (neighborhood) watch volunteers in suburbia who stumble upon an alien invasion. The bad timing on the subject matter is a real shame, as this looks like it could be one of the summer’s better comedies. There’s a lot of great talent working behind the camera on this R-rated comedy, including Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg, who rewrote the screenplay, and The Lonely Island’s Akiva Schaffer, who directed the movie. It’s also great to see UK import Richard Ayoade on all the posters and promotional material alongside US heavyhitters Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, and Jonah Hill. Anglophiles know Ayoade for his awesome work on a whole slew of great UK comedies (IT Crowd, Mighty Boosh, Nathan Barley, Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace, Man to Man with Dean Learner), and with The Watch, he’s poised to win over audiences stateside, as well. Let’s just hope none of the aliens in this movie are wearing hoodies.
Celeste and Jesse Forever
Rashida Jones co-wrote this romantic comedy in which she stars alongside Andy Samberg. Celeste and Jesse debuted at Sundance earlier this year, where it received mixed reviews from critics, but given the two likeable leads, this one’ll be worth watching anyway. The story follows a husband and wife who grow apart and divorce but try to remain friends anyway. Hopefully, it’ll be funny enough to not remind you of your parents’ divorce.
The Campaign (watch trailer)
One of the most anticipated comedies of the summer, The Campaign stars Will Ferrell and Zach Galifianakis as dueling presidential candidates. The movie was directed by Jay Roach (Austin Powers, Meet the Parents), produced by Adam McKay, and also stars Jason Sudeikis, Dylan McDermott, John Lithgow, and Dan Aykroyd. The Campaign will mark the big-screen debut of Zach Galifianakis’s “Seth Galifianakis” persona. Seth is a fictional character that Galifianakis created, his own twin brother, and he’s played him on stage and on talk shows for years. Although Zach Galifianakis’s character will have a different name than Seth and obviously won’t be his own brother, he’s still using the same voice and mannerisms as this popular character here. The Campaign has all the makings of a funny comedy, but it’ll be hard for Ferrell and Galifianakis’s faux-politicians to top the antics of those real clowns in Washington, right? Right?
Hope Springs (watch trailer)
I proclaim this summer the Summer of Tommy Lee Jones! Jones stars alongside Meryl Streep in this comedy-drama about a middle-aged couple who attend an intense week-long counseling session to save their marriage. Steve Carell plays the marriage guru whose advice they seek. I’m guessing that the title has a double meaning and that Hope Springs is the place where the marriage retreat is held and also refers to hope returning to Jones and Streep’s characters’ marriage. There are layers here, people. I could talk for an hour and a half about the complexity of that title alone.
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.