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COMEDY GONE AWRY: Anghus reviews latest Judd Apatow and Will Ferrell films

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The King of Staten Island
Available for rent on iTunes

I imagine a lot of people could use a few laughs now. The world is a dumpster fire providing little levity, so why not turn to one of the 864 streaming services to watch something intentionally funny?

Judd Apatow is a filmmaker I find consistently frustrating—not because he’s a bad filmmaker but because the flaws that plague his comedies are both consistent and obvious. He turns potentially great movies into exasperating experiences. After years of writing and producing quality television, Apatow entered the theatrical realm with the exceptional comedy classic, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” Since then, he’s been making slight variations of the same movie, only longer and less finely tuned. It sucks because there are obvious entertaining embers glowing underneath a mass of kindling that never catches fire—mostly due to the fact Apatow is constantly adding way too much to the pile to smother his own creation.

Fire feels like an apt analogy for Apatow films because there’s always an element of warmth to his work. He’s a fan of lovable losers; misfits are his medium. His latest eccentric deviant is “SNL” star and comedian Pete Davidson, who takes the lead as Scott in the occasionally entertaining “The King of Staten Island.” Scott is dealing with a variety of issues while living in a state of arrested development. Medical, mental and existential quandaries have left him disinterested in moving on to the next stage of his life. Most of his drama stems from the death of his firefighter father who he barely remembers. He lives with his mother (Marissa Tomei) and spends most of his time getting stoned with his like-minded, equally detached friends.  Scott wants to be a tattoo artist but lacks the drive to put in the necessary work to improve his skills.

His perfect, lazy life is thrown into disarray when his mother meets Ray (Bill Burr), and they begin a hot and heavy relationship. When Ray becomes a threat to Scott’s cozy, stress-free existence, he sets out to try and sabotage the relationship. Just about everything good in the movie stems from the scenes that feature Davidson and Barr, who are both extremely likable and infuse the film with humor and heart.  The rest of the movie … well, yikes. There are a number of cinematic side quests that are grinding: The romance subplot feels tacked on, as do the subplots involving friends stealing prescription pills and a “very special episode” where Scott learns firefighters are not, in fact, selfish a-holes for wanting to have a family.

The failings of “The King of Staten Island” are the same of Apatow’s previous films like “Knocked Up,” “Trainwreck” or “Funny People”; there are too many errant strands that never get satisfactorily tied up. Also, his main character is able to lazily solve his problems with ridiculous ease.

There’s a solid hour of a good movie here. It’s just weighed down with a ton of garbage, which seems fitting for a movie about Staten Island.

 

Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga
Available on Netflix

I used to love Will Ferrell movies. For my money, “Anchorman” is the funniest movie of the 21st century—and I could make a strong argument for the comedic superiority of movies like “Step Brothers,” “The Other Guys,” “Talladega Nights” and “Elf.” Unfortunately, those movies seem like isolated diamonds in a pile of coal that continues to grow larger with duds like “Holmes & Watson,” “The House,” “Downhill” and “Daddy’s Home 2” dirtying up Ferrell’s résumé. His latest comedy, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is another dusty lump to add to the misguided mass.

Ferrell plays Lars, a dreamer from Iceland who has spent his life devoted to a singular cause: performing and winning the annual Eurovision Song Contest. Along with his best friend Sigrit (Rachel McAdams), they form the band Fire Saga and have spent nearly half their lives trying to create a hit song to propel them into international stardom. The entire setup is an excuse to put Ferrell in ridiculous outfits and perform a questionable Icelandic accent while using the world’s most popular musical competition as a backdrop for comedic effect.

 

 

While I wouldn’t call the film completely irredeemable, it just didn’t produce any laughs. Ferrell is his typical man-child goofball, stumbling and bumbling his way through every scene. He’s playing the slightest of variations on a character we’re all painfully familiar with and the whole comedic posit is becoming exhausted. How many more times can Ferrell play this character? Halfway through watching the movie, I had to fight the urge to hit stop and start watching “Anchorman” again.

Whether audiences enjoy “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” will be solely based on the amount of patience they have for watching Ferrell make another trip back to the well.

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