Sunday 23 August 2015


(Josh Trank, 2015)

Fantastic Four tries to do something different with the superhero genre, it really does. It aims for a considered, somewhat dark and gritty approach to the genre in stark contrast to the two (commercially successful) Fantastic Four films from the '00s. It tries to update the material, making it relevant for modern audiences. It also goes for a character-first angle on this super-hero origin story, largely eschewing action until the last act.
But it doesn't work.
There are too many weak spots and outright mistakes here, too many obvious compromises for it to ever feel like a film entirely confident about what it wants to be. The much-reported creative tensions on set and in post-production (which sound far more entertaining than anything in the finished film) are evident in the way the trailer is filled with shots and moments absent from the actual film and the way certain moments feel rushed and fudged.
The comic book - at its best - is as much sci-fi as super-hero, a story of science explorers, full of other dimensions and alien races, held fast by the familial bond and bickering of the four principals. The film at least retains that to some extent. Focused mostly on Reed Richards (Miles Teller, never entirely convincing as the super-genius the character is meant to be) who is attempting to create a teleporter from the moment we first see him, collaborating with local tough kid Ben Grimm (Jamie Bell, so sparely used he is basically in a cameo role) as fifth graders in his garage. Seeing his genius, he is recruited by Professor Storm (Reg E Cathey), whose son Johnny (Michael B Jordan, appropriately cocky) and adopted daughter Sue (Kate Mara, probably most convincing of any of the leads) are also involved in the programme to create a teleported similar to Reed's. The final scientist is Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebell, fine as the most interesting character, but still one who represents a grotesque mishandling of perhaps the greatest super-villain in the genre), an arrogant, genius with contempt for the powers that be.
Together they open a path to another dimension, but in the process all five are given powers and abilities which make them superhuman, with Victor turned into a powerful madman bent on the destruction of the world.
Yes, this is the type of super-hero film where the villain wants to destroy the world, the kind of failure of imagination that hurts a film so set on doing things differently as this one is. Another problem is how quickly all this happens. The film spends an age on exposition - who wants what and why, how they're trying to get it, etc - then rushes through the important part, where people become superhuman, and positively speeds through the final confrontation, which never in any way earns its own sense of climactic importance or apocalyptic emotional tone. We barely see these characters as super-heroes, and this is a true origin story, ending as it does at the first moment when they are together as a team. But this has its frustrations too.
In a film where action is at such a premium (in this genre, that is a bizarre decision), when it comes it better be memorable. And here it never is. The final confrontation is one of those vague face-offs with flying rocks and energy being tossed around. The inventive possibilities of some of the character's powers (Reed's stretching ability, Sue's telekinesis) are only very briefly explored, and virtually abandoned by the ending.
It looks dull too, that 'gritty' approach manifesting itself as an overly dark colour palette and the sort of burnished steel production design too common in modern blockbusters. The source material in contrast is as bright and poppy as super-hero comics get.
Perhaps most damningly, you just know that if Marvel Studios (rather than 20th Century Fox, who own the rights to these characters) had made this film, it would be much much better, and far more fun.

Saturday 22 August 2015


(Phil Joanou, 1990)

State of Grace came out in 1990, something of a banner year for mob stories in Cinema. Goodfellas, The Godfather Part III, Abel Ferrara's King of New York and another Irish-Mob movie, Millers Crossing were all released in 1990, and in the midst of those heavyweights, State of Grace got a little lost. But its a great little movie, surprisingly intense, dark and serious, and featuring three terrific performances from its leading men. it tells the story of Terry Noonan (Sean Penn) and his return to Hells Kitchen, the Irish neighbourhood of New York where he grew up running with teen hoods Jackie and Frankie Flannery (Gary Oldman and Ed Harris). Only now Noonan is an undercover cop, charged with bringing down the burgeoning empire built by Frankie, and Jackie is the neighbourhood psycho. Noonan soon rekindles his relationship with their sister, Kathleen (Robin Wright-Penn) and his loyalties are inevitably torn between duty and friendship. While that sounds like your stock undercover cop movie, its the gravity and intensity of the storytelling that makes State of Grace so memorable. Joanou has never put his visual sense to better use than he does here, with his camera conjuring up a vivid sense of Hells Kitchen in all its seedy glory, the gentrifying elements just beginning to crawl in alongside the taverns and the old tenements. The screenplay, by playwright Denis McIntyre, is resolutely serious and dour - it recalls the work of writer-director James Gray in its unremitting focus on the moral dilemma facing Noonan - and the story drifts inexorably towards a tragedy suggested from the first moments by Ennio Morricone's mournful, beautiful score. While Penn does his young-DeNiro thing and Ed Harris is as magnetic as ever, Oldman delivers what is possibly his best ever performance. If, in recent years, he has played one caricature too many, one shallow villain too many, revealed that manic grin one time too many, here he played a character who demanded such a performance. Jackie Flannery is a force of nature, prone to eruptions of ultra-violence, but loyal and sentimental and charming at the same time. Oldman makes him terrifying and hilarious and real, and he owes every psycho part he has gotten since to this performance. Joanou really gets to flex his directorial muscles in the films climax, an amazing slow motion gunfight in a bar while the St Patricks Day Parade passes by outside. Its a really self-conscious set-piece, the director calling attention to himself in the most obvious fashion possible, but it works brilliantly, somehow retaining the mood and style of the film while simultaneously exploding it.

Friday 21 August 2015


(Gary Ross, 2003)

The choice of David McCullough - his voice probably best known from a variety of Ken Burns' documentaries - as narrator is instructive about Gary Ross' aims for this film, and also about its flaws. The first act - and brief passages later on - is dominated by McCullough's narration over black and white photographs of the period. This was real, Ross seems to be telling us, this is important. This is no silly made-up story. This matters.
The story of the rise of the champion US racehorse Seabiscuit explicitly treats him as a metaphor for America itself during the great depression, seemingly taking a tip from the horse's owner (played here by Jeff Bridges) who publicised him as the horse of the people, an underdog who represented the way every American has a second chance.
That first act is problematic - Seabiscuit takes a long time getting to its actual story, so busy is it with context and background. After that, Ross hits a series of classical, reliable old beats. This film is handsome - too handsome in a rich, oaken way for a film set partly during the depression - has a classy score, courtesy of Randy Newman, a great cast, all of whom are good; and doesn't miss out on any sports movie cliches at all. So there are slow-motion climaxes, disappointments at crucial junctures, last minute comebacks, personal demons resolved through sporting effort, etc etc.
It works in the way that such films always work. Those cliches are so popular entirely because of their efficiency. But that is somewhat at odds with the straining for seriousness of the documentary passages.
And the closing narration, courtesy of Maguire, about fixing each other, is an embarrassment.

Thursday 20 August 2015


(Thomas Arslan, 2013)

The first scene depicts a group of prospectors in a canoe, then trekking along trails through dense forest before they pan for gold in a creek. The lighting is dark, the palette a collection of rich muddy browns and deep greens. Trees and undergrowth dominate each of Arslan's precise, patiently gliding shots. We see barely any sky and the prospectors are faceless, hunched, their hats obscuring their features. This land has almost swallowed them, it seems.
This sets the tone for the rest of the film, which focuses on the ways the landscape drains and breaks down a group of Germans on an exhibition up the Klondike in Canada in the late 18th century, in search of gold. Among their party is Nina Hoss, as usual communicating oceans of emotion with the tiniest of facial adjustments. The group is riven with tension from the start, and as the road gets more difficult, that worsens.
For a film about process, what it is perhaps best at is interpersonal relations; the way the group falls slowly apart, the way certain people try to dominate, the way others allow them. It is also excellent on landscape, using the wild Canadian expanses partly for their beauty but mainly as a sort of claustrophobia trigger. Arslan makes sure to film the party moving, on horseback, with the entirety of the background entirely composed of woodland, and he does this over and over. This makes the forest seem threatening and malevolent, an impression only echoed by Daniel Carlson's (Neil Young in Dead Man-style) guitar-playing.
There is little tension, no humour and only one spurt of action, but this is still a sort of slowly hypnotic experience, and brilliantly made.
That is not to say there is no incident - the repetitive nature of shots of the characters on horseback beating on through the wilderness are broken up by uncomfortable conversations, failed hunting expeditions, accidents, improvised surgeries (a memorable scene), encounters with Indians who are characterised as cynically though understandably doing everything for money, and the odd random encounter with other prospectors. The scene where a man wanders through their camp without a word at twilight is haunting and beautiful.

Wednesday 19 August 2015


(Noah Baumbach, 2015)

Screwball. I have read this film called a screwball comedy. But really, aside from a dominant female protagonist and some lightning-fast repartee, it doesn't have much screwball about it at all.
It is a sort of a farce, wrapped up in a character study (or two).
When Tracy (Lola Kirke, excellent) finds herself lonely and miserable at college in Manhattan, she follows her mother's advice and calls up Brooke (Gerwig), who will become her step-sister after their parents imminent marriage. Brooke is an energetic, creative young woman about town and jack-of-all-trades, teaching a cycling class, interior decorating, singing with a band, tutoring children inmates. She is also deeply pretentious and self-absorbed. Tracy finds herself fascinated and energised by this young woman, and resolves to aid her in her plan to persuade her ex-boyfriend to invest in her new restaurant project.
The first act rattles along when it should be light and frothy. Baumbach chops up scenes and there is always lots happening - we see Tracy's first weeks at college over the credits, then her introduction to Brooke's world is a blur of places and people. Despite this Gerwig makes Brooke a magnificently realistic monster - funny and clever but desperate and selfish at the same time. Her solipsism is made bearable by her wit and capacity for saying unbelievably oblivious things. Tracy's other world - a college where the literary society is a big deal and her roommate is a bitch - is vividly sketched in, the '80s cuts on the soundtrack (and Dean Wareham and Britta Phillips' score) recalling The Rules of Attraction and a slew of '80s movies.
Mistress America is full of great lines and character beats throughout but it only really kicks into high gear with the central comic sequence in the third act, when Brooke and her "posse" arrive at her exes house and she tries to pitch her restaurant to him and his wife (who happens to be her ex-best friend and sometime "nemesis"). Here Baumbach orchestrates the behaviour of eight characters through a few brilliant scenes and conversations, complete with mini-arcs and climaxes, and hilarious throughout. Just as in While We're Young (released before but completed after this film) he teases themes without ever really properly investigating any. So Mistress America is about friendship and inspiration, creativity and generational conflict. But only a bit. Really it's about the brilliance of Greta Gerwig. And the music of Hot Chocolate.

Monday 17 August 2015


(Naji Abu Nowar, 2014)

Theeb is the name of our protagonist here. A young boy, living with a Bedouin tribe somewhere in the Arabian desert, we first encounter him playing with his older brother, learning how to shoot a rifle, and watching the men as they chat and play games. Then an English soldier arrives at their camp in the dead of night, accompanied by a native guide, and we realise that it is some time during WW1 and the tribe exists somewhere on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire.
The Englishman needs a guide to a well across the desert, and Theeb's brother Hussein is chosen. Theeb, intrigued by this blonde-haired, blue-eyed foreigner (played by Jack Fox with more than a touch of T.E. Lawrence to him) and a bit bored with life, follows even though the trail is known for its raiders.
When some raiders are encountered in a brutal sequence of violence and suspense, Theeb learns much about the world, survival and himself.
Theeb feels like it could have been made at any point over the last four decades - it is a classic, timeless adventure story with old-fashioned virtues. The story-telling is clear and attentive to texture and sensual details; what it feels like to drink at a well after hours trekking across the desert, how it feels to know there is someone approaching in the darkness beyond a campfire, what rifle fire pinging off rock over your head is like. Because it is told from the perspective of a young boy, the plot moves in spurts - Theeb never understands why events occur or what they mean. The Englishman's reason for being there only becomes evident in the last scene, and the boy clings to the narrative with grim determination as events envelop him. Nowar makes sure that the story is always involving, and if the gripping material only kicks in during certain passages, his way with atmosphere and landscape are impressive for a debutant director.
Indeed, he is able to combine such a simple, exciting story with rich thematic ground - the film is really about the death of tradition at the hands of modernity, as one of its final shots makes clear, with Theeb riding a camel as a steam-train cuts across the desert ahead of him.

Sunday 16 August 2015


(Judd Apatow, 2015)

Extremely funny but more or less the same old romcom shit under the surface, Trainwreck is most notable for introducing Amy Schumer to the big screen. She should be a big star for years to come. Having written the screenplay, the lead role is obviously tailored beautifully to her personality. She plays Amy, a funny single girl in Manhattan, working as a writer for a laddish Mens Magazine (with stories like "You're Not Gay; She's Boring") and getting wasted as often as possible, she has a thing for casual sex. This is possibly based on the advice given to her as a young girl by her father (Colin Quinn) who informs her that monogamy is insane and can't work. When her aggressive editor (a brilliant Tilda Swinton) assigns her to write a story about a sports surgeon (Bill Hader) Amy and he fall in love, and Amy's equilibrium is destroyed. Can she change enough to enjoy a healthy relationship? The answer is obvious from the start, but the gags come thick and fast, many of them from Hader's relationship with client-turned-friend LeBron James, who gives him romantic advice and hilariously quibbles over who will pay for lunch. Most of them, however, come from Schumer's self-deprecating wit and her observations about male-female relationships, which are truthful and painful in equal measure. Apatow orchestrates it all with typical efficiency, although his tendency to glamorise is also typical.
Still, it is consistently funny, and never remotely boring.

Friday 7 August 2015



(Alberto Rodriguez, 2014)

Set in the political twilight between the death of Franco and the coming of democracy in early '80s Spain, Marshland is an extremely intense, emotionally charged thriller. When two girls disappear in rural Andalucia, a pair of detectives are dispatched to find them. When they do find them, the girls have been raped, tortured and killed. During their investigation, the detectives find themselves stonewalled by small-town Spain, where distrust and secretiveness are seemingly everywhere. Their own differences reflect the divides in Spanish society during that era; the younger Pedro (Raúl Arévalo) believes in democracy, talks angrily of Fascists, and was angling for a career in Madrid before a letter to a newspaper landed him in trouble with the government. The older Raul (Javier Gutiérrez) has a shadowed past working for the regime, medical problems (he urinates blood and pops pills) and a cynical attitude to the job of getting results. Together they stumble through an investigation that gets knottier and more complex by the day. Again, Rodriguez suggests that this reflects Spain itself; people protecting the powerful, a general sense of fear and suspicion, secrets and lies beneath the sun.
It is beautifully made. Rodriguez favours a series of lovely birds eye view shots of his marshes and the mighty river around which his action takes place, and they eerily contextualise the action. These human stories, however important they seem, are pitiful and minute compared to the nature surrounding them. Those shots do much of the work creating atmosphere; this little claustrophobic town is powerfully evoked, all smoky bars and sweaty car lots, as is life on the river and marshes, the abandoned hunting lodges and houses set around the bleak countryside which the detectives find themselves searching. The two leads are well-cast; they have great faces - Arévalo handsome in a cruel way, Gutiérrez kind and friendly-looking, which helps complicate their characters and relationship.
The whole thing is terrifically textured and visceral so that when the action starts in the last act, it has real impact - a couple of brilliantly intimate car chases and a shootout are utterly engrossing, and the film has a satisfyingly cynical ending. It is a superior piece of genre entertainment aimed squarely at grown-ups.

Wednesday 5 August 2015


(Walter Hill, 1996)

Early in his career, Hill was great at balancing genre pictures on the line right between arty abstraction and pulp detail. When he tries the same thing here, he miscalculates somewhat, meaning that Last Man Standing is a one-note trudge through the story of "Red Harvest" (actually credited as a remake of Yojimbo). The arty abstraction doesn't feel arty or interesting, the way it did in his classics two decades prior (The Warriors or Southern Comfort, say).
Instead this just feels like purest pulp, with Hill struggling to infuse it with some sort of poetry. That works to some extent in his film-making. Lloyd Ahern's beautiful dust-and-sunlight coppery photography and Ry Cooder's score are distinctively toned and make the film always worth watching and listening to. The action sequences are thunderous and cartoonish, with awesomely loud fusillades of gunfire filling the soundtrack while bodies tumble in slow motion through the air.
But the script is less successful. Bruce Willis is minimalist and cool as John Smith, a gunman trying to work both sides against each other in a prohibition-era Texan border town, but his hard-boiled narration is leaden and dull, and the tough guy dialogue feels rote and second-hand, without any sparkle or wit, so that he feels a bit like a strong star performance without a strong film around him, or even a strong character to play. In the past, Hill has dealt - well - with archetypes, but here he is dealing with sketches, and the difference is telling.
Other good actors - like Christopher Walken and David Patrick Kelly - enliven things as twitchy gangsters, but for all it's action and incident, Last Man Standing never really takes off. It's minor Hill, and while that means it's still worth a watch, it's frustrating seeing such a master in such a low gear.


(David Gregory, 2014)

Like an awful lot of modern documentaries, this is quite dull in the execution. Talking heads, still photos, the occasional piece of home video or camcorder footage - it's the default mode for narrative documentary these days. The obvious reason for that is pure efficiency; it works.
And in this case, the story director David Gregory is telling is fascinating enough that it doesn't really matter that he tells it in such an uninspired (if competent) way.
Richard Stanley is the main talking head for the first half of the film, and he is an interesting figure; very much a self-styled eccentric, his passion for his old project is still evident and endearing, despite his pretentiousness and sometime pomposity. He talks about his plans for The Island of Dr Moreau, his vision, what attracted him to the story, how it would work on screen. It all sounds convincing, an interesting little film from a young filmmaker. But as soon as other people begin giving their sides, the tale becomes more complex. Stanley was clearly talented but over his head on a major studio production; paranoid and insecure, the arrival of major egos in the form of Marlon Brando and Val Kilmer more or less ensured his exit from the production.
At this point, the documentary gets a shot in the arm as the tales from the shoot mount up and each successive outrage and anecdote gets more ridiculous than the last. Director John Frankenheimer could not cope with either Brando or Kilmer. Rob Morrow fled, replaced by David Thewlis (whose perspective is surely missed). Stanley disappeared into the jungle. Australian extras, hired for 3 weeks, were on set for 6 months, their mini-sociaety starting to reflect the one depicted in the movie. The crew detested Frankenheimer and worked against him. Brando made fun of everything about the film, something that is obvious in his actual performance. Kilmer acted every inch the movie star brat. And somehow a film got made; a bizarre mess with just enough of Stanley's vision still detectable (mainly in the make-up and creature effects) to keep it somewhat interesting, even if it is barely coherent and tonally erratic.
The documentary captures all this chaos but skimps on footage from the film, which would give it useful context. It ends up back with Stanley, bruised and older and only now really contemplating a return to filmmaking. Would make a great double bill with the finished product.

Monday 3 August 2015


(Pete Docter, 2015)

Pixar returns with the first Pixar film to feel like the way we used to see Pixar films in an age. That is to say that Inside Out is beautiful, and incredibly cleverly-conceived and moving without ever once becoming cloying. Its a Pixar film, in other words.
It explores some profound ideas with an incredibly light touch, and manages to remain a fun and colourful adventure through the beautifully-realised landscape of a little girls mind while also addressing the importance of sadness to growth, the way we process the end of childhood, the difficulty of abstract concepts like "bittersweet" and "nostalgia" and what elements actually constitute our personality and how and when they change.
It is lovely; sweet, imaginative, touching, full of great ideas, brilliant gags and nicely-executed drama.


(David Wain, 2001)

Something just a little off about Wain's parody, which is perhaps what has given it enduring appeal and made it a cult film, while so many movie spoofs date quickly and are never thought about again.
The sense of humour here is more Anchorman than Scary Movie - there is a decided strain of absurdism and an anarchic sensibility informing many of the jokes, which makes it feel like anything can happen (the trip into town that ends up in a crackhouse montage is the best example of this) -and the writing is generally very strong, and clever, making sure there is a variety of comic material throughout.
Firstly, it works as a spoof. Set on the last day of summer camp in 1981 and focused on a disparate group of characters mainly concerned with pairing off before they all go their separate ways, the plot could come verbatim from some lost American teen movie from that era. The music is hilarious, the hair and fashions just right, and the photography and montage sequences are note perfect. The obsession with sex of more or less every character also tunes into tasteless '80s teen cinema in a way no modern teen comedy can ever really approach.
Then there are the flashes of surrealism, absurdism and post-modernism, with talking vegetable tins, psychic powers and falling satellites all part of the story.
Lastly, the characters are frequently hilarious, most notably Paul Rudd as a rebellious camp counsellor given to gurning and posing, Amy Poehler as a pretentious drama teacher, and Ken Marino as a desperately virginal colleague who embarks on an odyssey to lose his cherry.
The cast seems incredible in retrospect, which perhaps says enough about how good most of them are here.

Sunday 2 August 2015


(Antoine Fuqua, 2015)

There is a certain level of automatic audience identification and interest generated by a story about a parent trying to get back their child. There is a similar level of automatic audience identification and interest generated by an underdog boxing story, following a fighter who loses everything and sets out on a road to redemption.
In its third act, Southpaw benefits from a confluence of both of these story types, and rides a mix of action and emotion to a stirring finale. With this kind of material, only bad filmmaking and awful acting can really prevent a movie from working to a certain extent, and Fuqua's best work here is in the boxing sequences, guaranteeing a level of tension as the climax approaches and the stakes are set as man against man. But the film has gotten to this point almost despite itself. Written by Kurt Sutter, the story is hilariously generic. Billy Hope (Jake Gyllenhal) is a World Champion Boxer, married to his childhood sweetheart Maureen (Rachel McAdams). Having met in the care system, they do their best to provide a loving environment for their daughter Leila. Billy's fighting style rests on taking a lot of punishment, and using his anger to power his own efforts. Maureen acts as his manager, and she doesn't see a future in such an approach. But a scuffle with the entourage of a title contender leads to a tragic accident, and a newly widowed Billy goes to pieces and loses everything, including his livelihood and Leila. Halfway through the film then, he approaches Tig Wells (Forest Whitaker), who trained the only man Billy regards as having outfought him, and asks him to train Billy in another way.
This all means that the film is split between two basic movements; the tawdry melodrama of Billy trying to put his life back together so that he is worthy of Leila's love, and the overly familiar stuff with Billy adapting his fighting style and disciplining himself so that he can become a far more effective boxer. The melodrama is marked by a collection of "intense" performances led by Gyllenhal as Billy. He emotes furiously and is convincing as a boxer - all tattoos and sweat and blood and muscles - but all the emoting and intensity never really adds up to a convincing or interesting character. McAdams is much better in her scenes as a warmly realist Maureen, as is Whitaker as wise old Tig. The boxing stuff is interestingly detailed, allows for a training montage or two, and yet makes for a curiously undramatic climax, since Billy has learned to fight with patience and caution rather than the blood and thunder of his old style. That all means that while Southpaw just about works, it is too generic, too forgettable and too familiar to be all that good.

Saturday 1 August 2015


(Ben Stiller, 2008)

This uber-comedy tries to all things as once, and just about succeeds. It is a Hollywood satire, mocking actorly pretension (brilliantly through Downey Jr's Russell Crowe skit, Kirk Lazarus, so deep in character he doesn't know who he is anymore), Executive arrogance (Tom Cruise having a great time riffing on Harvey Weinstein), agent desperation and obliviousness (Matthew McConaughey just on the verge of the McConnanaisance), and various stripes of movie star awfulness (Jack Black going cold turkey in the jungle, Ben Stiller trying to become a "serious" actor, Brandon T Jackson obsessing over his "Booty Sweat" branding), "visionary" British theatre directors (Steve Coogan) and generally just destroying cinema excess by almost personifying it. The opening sequence - after a series of genuinely hilarious and note perfect fake trailers - is a massive, epic battle in the Vietnamese jungle, parodying Platoon and other Vietnam movie cliches and culminating in an immense explosion.
Stiller seems to be telling us just how ridiculous Hollywood movies are, how obscene the expense and the spectacle, then going to ridiculous expense in order to deliver outrageous spectacle. The story picks up near the end of the shoot of a hugely ambitious and expensive Viet-epic called Tropic Thunder, based on the memoir by grizzled, hook-handed vet Nick Nolte. Fading action star Tuck Speedman (Stiller) leads the cast, supported by Downey, Jack Black's gross-out comedian, Jackson's crossover rapper, and Jay Baruchel as the lucky character actor given a small supporting part. But the director (Coogan) is over his head and unable to corral his cast of egos, and after a disastrous scene loses millions, he drags the principals out into the jungle to shoot guerrilla-style, and is promptly blown up by a mine, leaving the squabbling actors trekking through the jungle, pursued by armed drug militia and unsure of what is real and what is not.
Part of why Tropic Thunder works so well is because Stiller has gone to such lengths to make sure it looks, sounds and moves like one of the spectacles it so mercilessly mocks. Shot beautifully by John Toll and scored by Theodore Shapiro, it is only the script - alternately razor-sharp and full of deadpan stupidity - and the brilliant performances which make it clear it can be both broad and subtle by turns. The climax features a huge gun battle, jungle buildings exploding in huge orange fireballs, while also highlighting Downey Jr having a literal meltdown, shedding character personas like old lizard skins.
It is magnificently quotable - "Never go full retard" is just the start of it, and each of the main actors has at least one great or hilarious moment, exploring their characters many issues and insecurities.
It's one of the great comedies of the last decade, and it rewards multiple viewings.