On Monday morning, I headed over to the ArcLight Cinemas on Sunset for a promising double feature: "Wedding Crashers" at 11:35, followed by "Bad News Bears" at 1:30. Much like a baseball doubleheader, it's impossible to have a crummy time at a double feature. For one thing, you can't beat the two-for-one price. You have the little break in the middle where you can decorate a urinal, buy some Sour Patch Kids and check cell phone messages. Sneaking into that second film feels like breaking the law ... but not really. And when you step into the sunlight hours later, it feels as though weeks have passed since you were last outside. I love everything about double features.
Well, except one thing.
At the ArcLight, you have to pay twice. Not only do you buy an actual ticket with seat numbers and everything, they have ushers standing in the doorways to make sure nobody sneaks in. What is this, a U2 concert? It was Monday afternoon! There were like 25 people in the entire building! Good Lord, what's happening to this country? After "Wedding Crashers" ended, I actually had to walk back downstairs, then spend another $11 on a ticket for "Bad News Bears." Total cost: $20 for two movies. Only one of which I liked.
(Now, this is where you say, "Hey Simmons, screw you! I was stuck in an office on Monday while you were traipsing around Hollywood for double features that you can write off for ESPN. Did you stop at Starbucks for a mocha Frappuccino on the way home, you loser? I hate you! Kill yourself!" And you know what? I have no defense. In college, my entire life was consumed with coming up with a schedule of classes where I didn't have to wake up before noon. In the real world, my life has been carefully constructed so that I never had to work a real 9-5 job. So far so good. You might despise me today, but decades from now, I'm going to look like an absolute genius, an inspiration to every lazy person who ever wanted to continue to be lazy through adulthood without accidentally going too far and becoming a homeless person. That will be my legacy. You just don't see it yet. Back to the column.)
Before we get to the "Bears" remake, I wanted to review "Wedding Crashers" on the heels of my last mailbag, where I ranted about the lack of Rewatchable Movies over the past five years. When suggestions from the readers came pouring in, I watched as many as I could over the past few weeks, even agreeing with two suggestions: "Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle" (a tour de force under the right conditions) and a second movie that I'm not revealing until later this summer (for reasons that will become clear on that day). And "Crashers" had similar potential. When it was released two weeks ago, it broke the record for "most e-mails from readers telling me that I had to go see a movie."
Were we looking at the defining comedy of the decade, as well as the most Rewatchable Movie in years? I had to see for myself.
And the first hour? Fantastic. Uproariously funny. I laughed and laughed. I kept laughing. My stomach started hurting. I kept laughing. It's one of those comedies that you watch and think to yourself, "Crap, what a great idea, I wish I had thought of this" -- like you're getting angry even as you're laughing. The premise: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson play two slimy buddies in their mid-30s who make a living crashing various weddings to meet women, under the time-proven philosophy, "There's no better place to get lucky than at a wedding, where all the women are dressed up, there's an open bar and romance is in the air."
The weird thing is that everyone knows this, we've discussed it with our buddies ad nauseam ... and yet nobody ever made a movie about it. What took so long? I have my stories. You have your stories. All of us have our stories. If you're in your 20s and can't hook up at a wedding, either the talent pool was nonexistent or you have a worse game than Rick Brunson. See, that's why you get mad watching this movie -- it was a blatantly obvious idea, and for the first hour, it's executed flawlessly. At least I thought so.
Some of the highlights:
• Vince Vaughn in full Double Down Trent mode. After "Swingers," we all wanted him to keep playing Double Down Trent. For whatever reason, he resisted and kept making movies like "Clay Pigeons," "A Cool Dry Place" and "The Cell." He played Norman Bates in the awful "Psycho" remake. Then he hit rock bottom with an unfathomably absymal performance in "Domestic Disturbance," probably the single-worst Hollywood movie of this decade (of course, much like "Pacific Heights," "Unlawful Entry" and "Bad Influence," it gets funnier as the years pass.) But after "Disturbance," Vince decided to stick with what he does best: only playing variations of Double Down Trent. Now he's scorching hot again, which makes me wonder why he ever decided to stop being Trent in the first place. Anyway, he's funny as hell in this movie. As is Owen Wilson, and I don't even like the Wilsons that much.
• There are some genuinely inspired "hey, I have a friend who does that!" and "hey, I've made that joke with my buddies, I can't believe it's in here!" moments in the first hour, including Vaughn explaining the real purpose of a woman's lower-back tattoo (sadly, I'm not allowed to print the answer here), the "just the tip" theory (ditto) and Vaughn pretending to be a professional bullfighter at one wedding (shades of my buddy Bug, who always told women in bars that he was a Formula One race car driver). Not everything works, but the ongoing "rules" gimmick was a fun twist. Usually when movies go in the "we're going to be realistic and tackle the stuff that guys talk about with their buddies!" direction, it's a complete, unmitigated disaster. Not this time.
• Weddings have always been an untapped resource for movie comedy. For instance, I once went to a wedding where the couple used Aerosmith's theme song from "Armageddon" for their first dance. How can you ever forget something like that? That might have been the comedy highlight of 1999 for me. And "Crashers" nails most of those dopey wedding angles (with the black sheep sibling, the I'm-hitting-on-a-hot-girl-at-a-wedding-when-her-boyfriend-suddenly-appears stomach-punch moment and the rambling/awkward toast from a kid just out a drug rehab being my favorites), although I can't believe they forgot to include one 250-pound bridesmaid awkwardly crammed into her dress for the Cleary wedding, which should have been an absolute layup.
(The highlight of the first hour? A montage with the boys crashing various weddings and dancing to "Shout" in different outfits, culminating in a barrage of naked bridesmaids and cousins falling on beds to hook up with Vaughn and Wilson. One of the funnier montages in recent memory ... and with gratuitous nudity, no less. I give that sequence a 15 out of 10.)
• They nailed something else rarely done correctly in movies: The clingy sex fiend with crazy eyes who scares the living hell out of you, then you end up dating her for a few months just because she makes you fear for your life. We all have that one friend who couldn't stop dating girls like this (I wish I could name mine, but he's getting married soon and probably wouldn't appreciate it), and only for one reason: "The sex is FEEEEEE-nomenal." These are usually the girls who end up slashing your tires or causing you to change your phone number 20 different times in a five-month span. But you never see them in movies unless it's one of those "Basic Instinct" ripoffs, like "The Temp," or "The Ex" or pretty much every Shannon Tweed movie. It's nice to see one in a comedy.
• Rachel McAdams plays the daughter of Christopher Walken's powerful politician character (the one Wilson ends up falling for), which is spectacular because she's That Girl from "Mean Girls" and "The Notebook." Let's see ... she's funny as hell ... she's likable ... she's a good actress ... everyone I know loves her ... and yet she probably gets 1/100th of the attention of Lindsay Lohan, Jessica Alba, Reese Witherspoon, the Hiltons and 65-pound Nicole Richie. You figure it out. Hopefully this will be her breakout movie -- she's been the Dwyane Wade of Hollywood for two years running.
• Two words: Christopher Walken.
• There's a rich dude/bully/snob character out of the Chas Osborne/Johnny Lawrence/Cole from "Bachelor Party" mode -- the fiance of McAdams' character, played by Bradley Cooper (the character's name is "Sack Lodge," which is funny in itself). And that's another lost art over the past few years. Where have the bullies gone? Where are the Billy Zabkas of this generation? Sack Lodge was the first good one in a while. And yes, I like thinking of excuses to keep writing the name "Sack Lodge."
• I don't want to spoil it, but the touch football scene damn near killed me. Hysterical.
And we were cruising along, and I was thinking about things like "has a raunchy comedy ever won the Oscar before?" ... and then, something terrible happened. About an hour in, after Vaughn was tied up and "raped" by his crazy girlfriend, Walken comes in to check on him (whaaaaaaaaat?). For whatever reason, Walken sits down on the bed and the two of them have a cryptic conversation, even though it's the middle of the night. Then, Walken leaves. At no point does he ask, "Um, why are you tied up?"
In my notebook, I wrote down the words, "Rope scene -- uh-oh."
Up until that point, everything about the plot was somewhat believable. Watching that scene unfold, instinctively, I knew we were in trouble ... and I was right. Because suddenly Wilson was falling in love with McAdams, and they threw in a couple of sappy scenes, and Vince stopped being funny, and we were taking a turn to Chickflickville, and I kept waiting for the car to turn toward Comedy City again, but that damn car kept going straight ... and finally, we were plunging off a cliff. It's almost as though they decided one of two things:
1. "You know what? That first hour was too good. We might have the best comedy since 'There's Something About Mary' on our hands. Let's botch this thing to smithereens."
2. "We have the funniest first hour of a script in years, and the last half definitely needs a ton of work, but we can get Vince Vaughn and one of the Wilsons if we start filming right now. You know what? Screw it. We can still make $100 million with this thing. Hire a line producer, let's make a budget."
Maybe the last half of the movie isn't a total lost cause (I did enjoy Ferrell's inevitable cameo), but after everything that happened in the first hour ... I mean, not even "Stripes" fell apart this swiftly. Looking back, this was almost like one of Pedro Martinez's Red Sox starts in Boston during the past three seasons: Superb until the 100th pitch (when all hell breaks loose). Of course, the key with those Pedro starts was knowing that he needed to come out after 100 pitches, and the key with "Crashers" is knowing that the last 45 minutes pretty much stinks.
So yes, to recap: I'm highly recommending a movie that only manages to stay funny for the first hour. Things are that bleak in Hollywood right now.
As for the second movie from Monday's double feature, remember when I wrote last week that, yes, it was probably time to remake "The Bad News Bears"?
Is it too late to recant that statement?
I didn't hate this movie as much as the spirit behind it. First of all, Hollywood has already remade "Bears" three times -- as a hockey movie ("Mighty Ducks"), a football movie ("Little Giants") and an urban Little League movie ("Hardball," or as I like to call it, "The Black News Bears"). If you want to include "Major League," "Unnecessary Roughness," "Eddie," and "Slapshot" as borrowing the whole "screwed-up team with bizarre characters that comes together thanks to extenuating circumstances," theme, that's another four times, plus there probably have been 5-7 other crappy movies I blocked out of my mind. So they weren't exactly breaking new ground here.
Second, what's the point of a remake? Either you take it in a totally new direction, or you modernize the old movie under the hope that an entire audience hasn't seen it. Well, who hasn't seen "The Bad News Bears"? At the very least, has anyone over 15 not seen this movie? Forty-five minutes into the remake, after a number of "modern" twists fell flat, they basically gave up and rehashed the old movie scene by scene. Again, what's the point? I can see the original on cable whenever I want (and for free).
Third, if you're rehashing a beloved movie within a 30-year span, and the actors playing the five crucial parts (Buttermaker, Amanda, Tanner, Kelly Leak and coach Turner) aren't as good as the original actors -- in the case of Amanda (I don't want to be mean, so I'm biting my tongue here), Kelly (runs like a girl) and Turner (inexplicably played by Greg Kinnear), they're dramatically worse, and the Matthau-Billy Bob contest was a TKO decision for Matthau in the second round -- then aren't you dead coming out of the gates?
The answer: Of course you are.
Admittedly, the old "Bears" is a little dated. But it's not like the remake is overwhelmingly modern -- in fact, Buttermaker makes not one but two Helen Keller jokes during the course of the movie. Helen Keller? Really? So you're updating a beloved baseball comedy from 1976 and you're adding Helen Keller jokes? That has to be the most perplexing comedy moment of the year that doesn't involve the words "Comedy Central just gave D.L. Hughley his own talk show."
Anyway, this time around, Buttermaker is still a no-good drunk, only he's an exterminator who used to pitch for the Mariners -- an interesting twist because Billy Bob Thornton is 5-foot-7 and weighs maybe 125 pounds. Whatever. They also updated the Bears for the 21st century -- Ogilvie and Rudi Stein are out, replaced by an Indian, an Armenian and a kid in a wheelchair. I wish I were making this up. Tanner's famous line that I'm not even allowed to think about reprinting on ESPN.com is out. The classical music has a hip-hop feel; a skateboarding scene replaces the air hockey scene; and "Bo's Gentleman's Club" replaces "Chico's Bail Bonds" on the jerseys. Also, Buttermaker's Sugar Daddy is played by Marcia Gay Harden, who has an "I don't have to give back my Oscar because I'm in this crap, do I?" look on her face for two hours. Maybe the only funny modern twist was Buttermaker taking the kids to Hooters after every game -- 25 more funny ideas like that and we would have been right back in this thing.
Am I angry? Absolutely. Two talents such as Billy Bob and Richard Linklater (who did "Slacker," "Dazed and Confused" and the Before Sunrise/Sunset movies and certainly didn't need to sully his IMDB.com page) shouldn't have come within 20 miles of a no-win idea like this. In Billy Bob's case, I'm assuming they tossed a giant check his way, because he doesn't seem even remotely interested in carrying this movie. It's like watching Tom Bosley on an old Love Boat rerun, when he had that look on his face like, "Why am I on this show? I was Mr. C! Even the Fonz looked up to me! Now I'm trying to seduce Vicki Lawrence ... what the hell happened to my career?"
That's Billy Bob for two straight hours. At one point, I instinctively started to fast-forward the movie with an imaginary TiVo remote in my hand -- have you ever done that before, when you zone out during a bad movie and forget that you're not at home? Well, it happened to me. Let's see them stick that blurb on the TV ad.
Unfortunately, midway through the movie, one of Those Guys showed up in the theater. You know Those Guys. They're in their late 30's, weigh about 300 pounds, have a knapsack, look as though they haven't showered in a few days, and probably still live at home. These are the guys that cruise from matinee to matinee for entire days, the ones who show up 40 minutes into a comedy, sit near the back and laugh hysterically at scenes that aren't funny (and if you're really lucky, they might even start talking out loud to themselves). Back in 1991, I saw "Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer" at the Nickelodeon near Boston University, and it was me and 14 of Those Guys -- between the movie and the audience, I've never been more scared in my life. In fact, that would be a good movie -- a weird dude who kills people in nearly empty theaters during bad matinees.
Why am I telling you this? Because these are the things I was thinking about during the agonizing last 45 minutes of "Bad News Bears," as I was praying to the Movie Gods for it to end and the fat guy behind me to stop laughing. And yes, I knew how the movie would end, mainly because I've seen it about 50 times -- only this time, the kid in the wheelchair catches the flyball (not Lupus), and the Armenian kid gets thrown out at home plate to lose the Yankees game (not Kelly). I'm telling you this because I never, ever, ever want you to pay money for this movie. And after the climactic game ended, and the Indian kid told the Yankees to shove the trophy -- as an aside, not giving Tanner that line would be like remaking "Hoosiers" and having Strap say "I love you guys" -- and the Bears were pouring nonalcoholic beer on one another (yes, nonalcoholic beer -- just kill me), that's when I stood up and stormed out of the theater. About an hour too late.
Then again, that always happens with doubleheaders and double features: Every time you hope for a sweep, you end up settling for a split.
Grade for "Wedding Crashers": B-plus
Grade for "Bad News Bears": D-plus
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine. His Sports Guy's World site is updated every day Monday through Friday.