At The Movies

Silly Summer Movies

During the summer, I’ll sometimes find myself watching films I’d might not from other times of year. Maybe it’s an excuse to escape into dark air conditioning, or the likelihood of being on a plane (though I’ve refused to watch “Old Dogs” on airplanes three times this year).

This summer, I’ve had a chance to check out some pretty silly offerings. In most cases, these were a bit like eating too much ice cream—fun at the time, but might make you feel a little sick afterwards.

One key summer destination is the West Wind Sacramento 6 Drive-In (9616 Oates Drive, Sacramento, CA – (916) 363-6572), one of nearly 400 drive-in theaters left around the country. On the recent Saturday night when we went, the place was sold out. Sacramento is the perfect location for a drive-in—cool evenings and no rain all summer. And at $6.50 a person, with our own lawn chairs and take-out milkshakes, it’s a real bargain (see below).

Unfortunately, we didn’t arrive as early as we should have, and ended up really close to the screen. The screens here are made with wooden slats, which you can’t see if you’re a couple rows back. But we were close enough that they really diminished the image quality of that awesome Pixar animation in “Toy Story 3.”

I love this series. One of the best moments of my movie-going life was seeing a review screening of the first “Toy Story” back in 1995, sitting in an easy chair at Dolby Labs in San Francisco in a theater that was essentially a big speaker. This was the first full-length animated feature of any note, and back then it was like a revelation.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that the final offering of the trilogy felt a little dated 15 years later. Stars like Tim Allen and John Ratzenberger (Cliff the mailman from “Cheers”) seemed a bit like a “Where Are They Now?” episode. The characters and jokes felt a little played out.

But, this being Pixar, they took that into account. This is a film all about the end of childhood. The toys have been whittled down to a few favorites as the kid who owns them, Andy, prepares to go to college (which will probably eat him alive, I found myself thinking, because he doesn’t actually seem very grown up mentally).

There is a real sadness here. This is easily the darkest of the “Toy Story” films. Which is actually saying something, given that all three films take on the fleeting nature of youth, attachment and life itself. Without giving too much away, in an effort to stay together, the toys find themselves living in a totalitarian society—complete with an awesome bad guy hench-baby. Even being maybe the weakest Pixar film I’ve seen, some of the other summer offerings made me realize the genius of John Lasseter and company.

Because it was a beautiful night, we ended up staying for the double feature. Perhaps the best thing you can say about the “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” is that you might watch it on an airplane and be pleasantly surprised. It is an utterly forgettable, completely derivative, by-the-numbers tale with a tacked-on love story and only one really great line in the whole thing. But you have to kind of admire Nicolas Cage’s willingness to do any script. Alfred Molina has lots of fun as the evil wizard villain, and Jay Baruchel as the title character adds a dose of likeability to this pleasant bit of fluff.

Though it’s a better movie than “Sorcerer,” I was disappointed with “Despicable Me” because I was expecting more. We also paid a lot more, because it was in 3D – $12.50 for adults and $10 for a kid. It was another example of how Pixar’s worst work trumps anything Dreamworks has to offer—and this isn’t Dreamwork’s best film.

It looked great—yes, the 3D did add something. And the voice talent was there, with Steve Carell and Russell Brand in lead roles. There were some great sight gags. But even taking into account that it was kid-oriented, the script was shallow and unimaginative, relying too heavily on pop culture references. Why does an aging criminal mastermind with an Eastern European accent and no social life know all the latest slang? There’s an adoptive family story tacked on here, and it actually helps lend some cuteness and humanity to the proceedings—though not enough.

A better Steve Carell vehicle this summer is “Dinner for Schmucks.” Paul Rudd plays an ambitious junior finance executive who wants to impress his boss in a contest to bring the biggest idiot to dinner. Which, of course, is where Carell comes in, as a lonely IRS employee whose hobby in making cheery taxidermy scenes with dead mice.

The moral here, of course, is that the real schmucks are the executives holding the dinner. Rudd is a good enough comic actor that you nearly forgive him for his part in all this—though seen outside the light of his despicable co-workers, he’s still kind of a dick. Carell is at his cringe-inducing best, even though you know deep down that no one would actually be that clueless and inappropriate without being mentally disabled in some way. Jemaine Clement (“Flight of the Conchords”) does a nice turn as a pompous but ultimately goodhearted artist—think his standard moron character crossed with Aldous Snow from “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” None of it holds up if you think about it too hard. But I laughed. Kind of a lot.

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