Buck Privates (1941) review- Abbott and Costello finally make it big

If you’re trying to get a stubborn friend or family member to start watching older movies, I wouldn’t recommend starting them off with a comedy.

While all films are, in some way, influenced by the rapidly changing culture around them, comedies usually tap into something that is very unique to the specific time and place in which they were produced, more so than most other genres.

Plus, it goes without saying that what was once funny back in the day doesn’t always hold up to our [current year] sensibilities. I will never forget the first time I watched National Lampoon’s Animal House and was so confused when the filmmakers expected me to laugh at a scene where the joke basically boiled down to: BLACK PEOPLE ARE SCARY.

However, broad slapstick and clever wordplay usually breaks through these generational barriers, which is why comedy acts like the Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are still recognizable names to this day.

Even though this legendary duo starred in 36 features together, their first big hit came in 1941 with Buck Privates, a film that casts the two as sleazy con men who accidently enlist in the army during America’s peacetime draft.

As Abbott and Costello pratfall their way through basic training they also come into contact with a quirky cast characters, which includes a spoiled playboy and his former valet, who are fighting over the same woman, a disgruntled drill instructor, and a musical trio played by The Andrews Sister, who serve as a kind of Greek chorus for the developing plot.

Now, when it comes to reviewing comedies, most flowery analysis about things like cinematography, pacing, and structure can be thrown out the window in favour of one simple question: “is the movie funny?” And when it comes to Buck Privates, the answer is (mostly) “yes.”

Abbott and Costello’s act might be in its infancy on screen in 1941, since this is only their second film as a team, but their classic “skinny straight man-fat buffoon” routine is already very polished after years performing on stage and on the radio together.

The duo’s chemistry is so on-point that they even managed to make me chuckle at a reoccurring bit about math and probability, which is something I never thought possible for someone as allergic to numbers as myself.

And despite the fact that a lot of the scripted jokes are pretty corny, the two still managed to generate some pretty consistent laughs through sheer delivery alone, which is the true litmus test for any great comedian.

The Andrews Sisters also inject the film with a nice bit of musical variety, since they perform their hit songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” and “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Times” to punctuate every major story beat.

Unfortunately, the filmmakers did not entirely play to the movie’s strengths, since they  dedicated a lot of screen time to the dull love triangle featuring some satellite characters who wouldn’t be out of place in a daytime soap opera.

Maybe it’s because Abbott and Costello had yet to prove themselves as big box office draws in 1941 and the studio was trying to hedge their bets with two conventionally attractive leading men, but whenever the story cuts back to the boilerplate alpha males it seems like we’ve switched to a completely different movie.

The comedy duo doesn’t even factor into the film’s war games climax, which really downgrades them to the status of comedy sidekicks rather than protagonists you want to get behind.

Another thing worth noting is how this film is a pretty transparent recruitment tool to encourage movie-goers of the time to enlist in the US peacetime draft.

Unlike another WWII era propaganda film I reviewed earlier this year, Commandos Strike at Dawn, the filmmakers try to accomplish this feat by making the army look like a outdoorsy vacation spot instead of a dangerous environment where you get to prove your worth as a man.

I’m not necessarily saying this approach hurts the movie in any significant way, but I definitely noticed the sheer amount of scenes that would emphasize how the military is a great place to meet women, eat ice cream, and kill time playing dice with your buddies.

But then again, this movie was selling itself as a light comedy, so maybe writing jokes about amputated limbs and shell shock would have been too much for a 1941 US audience that hadn’t experienced the horrors of World War II just yet.

Ultimately, while Abbott and Costello would go on to star in better movies with higher production values, Buck Privates is still worth watching to catch a glimpse of the comedy duo’s first big break on screen.

It also serves as a good reminder of physical comedy’s universal appeal, since someone getting tripped up by their own loose pants is funny no matter what generation you were born into.

Verdict:

6/10

Corner store companion:

Raisin Bran cereal (because the little sugary bits make the surrounding blandness tolerable)

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Fun facts:

-Original release date: Jan. 11, 1941.

-Budget: $180,000 (estimated)

-Box office gross: $4 million

-In addition to signing up for an official sequel in 1947, Buck Privates Come Home, Abbott and Costello would go on to star in two other service comedies that highlighted different branches of the military. These includes In the Navy and Keep ‘Em Flying, which were both released later that same year.

-The Andrews Sisters co-stared with Abbott and Costello in a total of three feature films.

-On IMDB, The Andrews Sisters are listed as a trio in addition to having separate acting profiles.

-This film scored two Academy Awards nominations for Best Score and Best Original Song (“Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy”).

-According to film scholars, the Japanese military showed their troops clips from Buck Privates to demonstrate how incompetent the US army was during World War II.

-Musical highlight: “(I’ll Be With You) In Apple Blossom Times” (because “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” has already gotten enough shine).

The President’s Man (2000) review- Everybody gets old, even Chuck Norris

As a pop culture figurehead, Chuck Norris has left behind a very complex legacy.

Despite being lauded as an action movie heavyweight alongside Schwarzenegger and Stallone, the U.S. Air Force veteran turned actor never really got the chance to star in any classic films that have stood the test of time.

Instead, Norris wallowed in B-movie schlock throughout most of the 80s and 90s, riding off his reputation as a real life martial artist and fitness spokesperson to generate box office returns. Even Norris’ lead role in the TV show Walker, Texas Ranger, which ran for nine-ish seasons on CBS, is mostly enjoyed ironically today thanks to comedians like Conan O’Brien and Chris Elliot.

This strain of ironic appreciation was brought to a whole new level in 2005 with the popularization of “Chuck Norris Facts” on the Internet, which cemented the exaggerated power of his roundhouse kicks and facial hair for a whole new generation.

Even though these jokes are old hat in 2018, I think it’s safe to say that Norris was at least vaguely aware of his own vaunted reputation several years before these memes started to spread, since that’s the only way I can explain his ridiculous character in the 2000 TV movie The President’s Man.

In this film, Norris plays Joshua McCord, an American government operative who is such a badass that he’s called in to complete dangerous missions that even the Marines Corps can’t handle. Basically, he’s a combination of James Bond, Batman, and Solid Snake, with a dash of Bushido philosophy thrown in for extra seasoning.

When he’s not busy breaking necks for the good ol’ US of A, McCord also busies himself with playing chess, teaching philosophy at a Dedman College in Dallas, and other scholarly pursuits.

This diverse skill set is put on full display in the first 15 minutes of the film, when McCord is summoned from a Japanese tea ceremony to rescue the First Lady after she is held hostage by terrorists in Rio de Janeiro.

After this latest mission is complete, McCord begins to wonder if he’s getting too old to carry on the mantle of “the President’s Man” and begins to train a younger replacement to maintain his legacy and keep Americans safe from domestic and international threats.

Now, an ambitious director and screenwriter could have taken this premise and elevate the story above what one would expect from the star of Invasion U.S.A and Lone Wolf McQuade.

Similar to what Clint Eastwood tired to accomplish in Unforgiven and Gran Torino, The President’s Man could have easily turned this into a meaningful deconstruction of Norris’ legacy as an 80s and 90s action star and what that means for a whole new generation of film fans.

Unfortunately, since this is a TV movie made by Norris’ production company and co-directed by his youngest son, any promise that this premise might have had is flushed down the toilet in the first 20 minutes, when it becomes painfully obvious that this film was shot for cheap and pumped out as quickly as possible to satiate the Walker, Texas Ranger fanbase watching CBS.

This means that the film is littered with production shortcuts that exposes its status as a TV movie, such as stock sound effects, bad original music, sloppy fight choreography, a generous use of stock footage and sub par acting from a lot of the cast’s major players.

Even someone who is a big fan of Norris won’t really get what they’re looking for here, since he’s not really the main focus of the plot after the first 15 minutes.

By then the movie mostly follows his protégé Deke Slater (played by Dylan Neal), who is doing all the heavy lifting in terms of character development as he trains to become the next “President’s Man.”

As such, Norris is mostly saddled with a mentor role for the next hour, which means all he has to do is give stern looks, dish out fortune cookie wisdom and barely break a sweat during the few action sequences he takes part in.

And despite being in great shape for someone who is over 60, Norris’ age is big detriment to his status as a believable action hero in this movie, since it becomes blatantly obvious whenever a stunt double 20 years his junior takes over on screen.

It also doesn’t help that Neal is much more charismatic and likable that his mentor, who can’t even be bothered to raise his voice a few octave levels above normal once he confronts the man who killed his wife during the film’s climax.

With that being said, I’m still a sucker for these kinds of legacy-hero stories, where a grizzled veteran takes a cocky young upstart under his wing and molds him into a more responsible person who is willing to sacrifice his well-being for the greater good.

Even though this dynamic was done much better in films like The Mask of Zorro and Ant-Man, I still found myself charmed by Neal’s gradual transformation and his good-natured flirting with Norris’ daughter Que (Jennifer Tung), who also serves as his liaison to the President.

However, Norris himself still barely registers as a presence on screen, which is a shame since he is obviously written to serve as the glue that holds this entire film together.

Instead, it’s obvious that he’s only interested in showing up to collect a paycheque and maintain his almost decade long stranglehold on the CBS television landscape.

And while I do think that Norris has earned his place alongside the Schwarzeneggers and the Stallones in the pantheon of American action heroes, The President’s Man is not a good representation of why he earned that reputation in the first place.

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Jack Link’s Original Beef Jerky (because it’s the manliest snack you’re likely to find, despite being bland and largely flavourless).

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Fun facts:

-Original air date: April 2, 2000 (on CBS).

-Budget: $2 million.

-Chuck Norris’ birth name is Carlos Ray Norris.

-Despite his reputation for dishing out white-hot death through the barrel of a gun, Norris only tallies one firearm related kill in this film. The rest of his fatalities are courtesy of neck breaks, throwing knives, and roundhouse kicks.

-Two years later, Norris would star in this film’s direct sequel The President’s Man: A Line in the Sand. While Tung returns as his daughter Que, Neal wouldn’t reprise his role and the character Deke Slater is played by actor Judson Mills, instead. The only other thing worth noting about this sequel is that it’s actually a lot more competently put together than the original, which makes it much less interesting to talk about.

-Between the original airing of The President’s Man in 2000 and today, Norris would only star in four more feature films. The rest of his film and TV credits roles throughout that time consist of the last two seasons of Walker, Texas Ranger and cameo appearances in movies like The Expendables 2 and Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story.

If Lucy Fell (1996) review- The Sex and the City prequel that everyone forgot about (and for good reason)

Sometimes I feel bad for Sarah Jessica Parker, since she still gets a lot of shit for easily her most iconic role.

Ever since Sex and the City went off the air in 2004, she’s been subject to a seemingly endless stream of think pieces and hot takes about how Carrie Bradshaw is such a bad protagonist; someone who is immature, materialistic, and completely self-absorbed.

This wasn’t helped by the series’ subsequent two big screen adaptations, which arguably made every character on that show look bad by taking their most negative qualities and pumping them up to 11.

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However, after sitting through the 1996 romantic comedy If Lucy Fell, I think its safe to say that Parker’s more famous turn as a quirky New York City socialite on HBO could have gone a lot worse.

In this film, Parker plays the titular character of Lucy, who feels unfulfilled in love despite the fact that she has an amazing job (a therapist) that gives her enough disposable income to live comfortably in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Sound familiar yet?

But rather than unloading her anxiety on a trio of girlfriends, in this story Parker vents her frustration to her artist roommate and best friend Joe (played by Eric Schaeffer) who’s suffering from similar bouts of romantic frustration.

As the film starts, the pair come up with a solution that’ll fix both of their current predicaments: if they don’t find true love by the end of the month, they’ll both jump off the Brooklyn Bridge and kill themselves.

No, you read that right. You haven’t experience a stroke. The entire foundation of this alleged “romantic comedy” is built upon a death pact that’s initiated because two well-off, highly educated people are mopey that they haven’t found an intimate life partner by the time they turn 30.

It’s a shame that the phrase “first world problems” wasn’t popularized until much later after the movie’s release, because critics at the time could have easily summarized their reviews of this turkey by using those three simple words.

Now, to be fair, this premise could have been salvaged if the filmmakers were self-aware of their shallow premise and the movie was conceived as some kind of dark satire about how seriously some people take the New York City dating scene.

Unfortunately, these characters are played completely straight, which turns them into complete sociopaths.

For example, for someone who is supposed to be a therapist in a professional setting, Parker’s Lucy is completely inconsiderate of people’s feelings in her dating life, since she callously rejects potential suitors before she gets a chance to know them.

Even her attitude towards seemingly platonic friends is questionable, since I’m pretty sure that a licensed shrink shouldn’t, under any circumstances, joke about wanting to kill themselves.

Meanwhile, Schaeffer’s Joe comes across as being an unhinged, creepy stalker, since he’s constantly peeping on his hot neighbour and paints portraits of her as she walks around in her underwear.

There’s an extra layer of “ick” added to Joe’s storyline when you realize that Schaeffer served as the film’s writer, director and producer, which explains why a statuesque blonde like Elle MacPherson (the neighbour) would fall for a man who isn’t even remotely in her league in terms of charm, poise or physical attractiveness.

That being said, MacPherson should be commended for taking on the near insurmountable task of pretending to be turned on by Schaeffer’s obnoxious brand of 90s stand-up comedy when they start getting intimate.

At least when Woody Allen pulled this shit back in the day he had some good writing to back up his auteur narcissism. Schaeffer’s idea of a meet-cute scene involves inviting his love interest to an art gallery and greeting her with the line “I have herpes.”

Even though Parker’s courtship with a dreadlocked buffoon (Ben Stiller) doesn’t make your skin crawl, it’s still really boring, mostly because you know that it isn’t going anywhere.

Within the first 10-15 minutes of the runtime, anybody with a brain would be able to predict that (SPOILERS) Parker and Schaeffer are going to end up together in the end, since they both eventually realize that the soul mate they’ve been looking for was in front of them all along.

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I could go on and on about the movie’s adherence to other romantic comedy clichés, including half-baked physical comedy, a script full of fortune cookie wisdom that’s passed off a deep psychological insight, and an indie rock soundtrack that immediately dates the movie by two decades.

But I think the main reason why this film doesn’t work can be boiled down to the two mains leads, who are so repulsive and unlikable that you would rather watch them carry out their suicide pact than be a passive observer in their shallow pursuit of true love.

Say what you will about Sex and the City, but at least it used the backdrop of the New York dating scene to (occasionally) push boundaries and explore ideas that had never been discussed on TV before.

With If Lucy Fell, all the director brings to the table is his ego and desire to get laid, which he should have relegated to a personal diary entry or some kind of unpublished fan fiction.

(Speaking of personal logs, I am aware that Sex and the City already has a prequel in the form of The Carrie Diaries, but I haven’t gotten around to watching it … yet).

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Sour Patch Kids (because you’ll be making that same kind of face throughout this entire cringefest anyway).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: March 8, 1996.

-Budget: $5 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $4.5 million (estimated).

-I noticed a weird reoccurring pattern scrolling through Eric Schaeffer’s IMDB page, since he’s attached himself to several projects that include the word “fall” or allude to the act of falling in the title. These include: If Lucy Fell (1996), Fall (1997), Mind the Gap (2004), Gravity (TV series, 2010), and After Fall, Winter (2011). I don’t know if this is indicative of some kind of weird fetish that’s manifesting in his creative pursuits, but I’ll let you make the call.

-Unexpected cameo: A 12-year-old Scarlett Johansson has a small supporting role as one of Schaeffer’s students in his art class.

-The entire soundtrack for If Lucy Fell was provided by the indie rock band Mary Me Jane, whose involvement in the production gave them enough clout and leverage to produce their first studio album with Sony in January 1996.

-Musical highlight: “Twenty-one” by Mary Me Jane.

Commandos Strike at Dawn (1942) review- Uncle Sam gets creative with his recruitment techniques

The 1940s was truly a golden age in terms of Hollywood produced war propaganda.

Not only would these productions play as cartoons or documentary shorts before the beginning of a feature film, but sometimes they would take the form of the main attraction itself.

This can even be seen through a screen classic like Casablanca, which was made entirely to capitalize on America’s decision to enter the Second World War and reassure the US public that their government had made the right decision.

John Farrow’s Commandos Strike at Dawn, released at the very tail end of 1942, operates on that very same logic, since its plot and characters are meant to serve as an stand-in for America’s transition from neutrality to outright involvement in the Allied war effort.

In this film, the role of audience surrogate doesn’t go to Humphrey Bogart but Paul Muni, who plays a mild-mannered Norwegian fisherman whose sleepy village is taken over by the Third Reich in 1939.

While Muni’s character originally believes that the best course of action is to simply cooperate until the war blows over, he’s gradually pushed to violence after witnessing the atrocities committed by the Nazis and recruits a squad of British commandos to help liberate his home.

Now, when I use the term “propaganda” to describe this film, I don’t use it in an entirely negative sense. After all, I’m perfectly willing to stomach some ham-fisted messaging in my entertainment as long as the end product is well-made.

For example, even though Casablanca is a pretty transparent World War II allegory, it’s done with a certain level of sophistication and the film contains a pretty timeless love story that still strikes a cord with audiences to this day.

Unfortunately, the same really can’t be said for Commandos Strike at Dawn, since the filmmakers settle for cheap gimmicks that relegate the production to being simply a product of its time.

This kind of tone is established in the first couple seconds of the film, when the opening credits prominently display all the flags of the Allied powers, including the Soviet Union’s hammer and sickle. This kind of intro immediately dates the film, especially with the Cold War being right around the corner.

Even though there are times where the movie’s attempts to be timely do work out in its favour (like how the characters mention the persecution of Jews at a time when they were being slaughtered in concentration camps in real life) this kind of tacky filmmaking has way more misses than hits.

Although Muni is a compelling lead, he’s saddled with a lot of corny lines about how “nobody’s going to win the war for anybody else,” which sound like they are meant to lecture the 1942 audience rather than inform the movie’s characters.

The rest of the film’s cast is even more disposable.

Despite the fact that all the major players are given a long introduction through a fairly impressive tracking shot, most of them disappear halfway through the movie as the narrative focuses exclusively on Muni and his mission to coordinate a rescue operation.

The worst example of this is probably Muni’s love interest, who doesn’t affect the plot in any way and only seems to exist to reassure the audience that their protagonist has (if I may borrow a term from Red Letter Media) a “case of the not gays.”

The writers don’t even have the decency to provide us with a main antagonist, and settle for flooding the screen with a bunch of nameless German foot soldiers instead.

With that being said, the one segment of the cast who do manage to make an impression are the “British” commandos themselves.

The climactic clash between them and the Nazis feature some really impressive stunt work, which probably has something to do with the fact that they were played by real-life members of the Canadian Armed Forces.

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What’s even better is that director John Farrow compliments their military acumen with some good production decisions, since a lot of explosions are done in-camera and aren’t watered down by post-production trickery.

With that being said, basically none of these commandos are given personalities or even a single line of dialogue, which means it’s hard to get emotionally invested in this climax beyond admiring the pure spectacle of it.

And that’s probably the biggest problem with Commandos Strike at Dawn: it doesn’t know what it wants to be.

Sure, the filmmakers make a big show at the beginning about how they want to present an intimate character piece, but it’s clear by the final frame of the film that that’s all window dressing.

Instead, they’d much rather settle for showcasing flashy pyrotechnics and real-life military hardware, something that would have worked as long as they fully committed to this idea.

As a result, Farrow and his team fall victim to the classic filmmaking mistake of trying to make a movie for everyone, which inevitably means that they made a movie for no-one (especially by 2018 standards).

(Side note: it’s clear that the final climactic battle wasn’t shot in the early in the morning, but I guess “Commandos Strike at Mid-Day” wouldn’t have looked great on a movie poster.)

Verdict:

4/10

Corner store companion:

Bits & Bites Original (because it should have stuck to doing one thing, instead of mixing a bunch of stuff that doesn’t belong together).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Dec. 30, 1942.

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated).

-This film was nominated for an Oscar in the category of Best Scoring of a Dramatic or Comedy Picture at the 1944 Academy Awards (the same year Casablanca won Best Picture).

-Paul Muni is probably best know for starring in the original Scarface from 1932, when the title character was an Italian gangster named Tony Camonte.

-Even though he’s kind of slumming it in this movie, Muni has five Oscar nominations for Best Actor under his belt, with an eventual win in 1937 for starring in The Story of Louis Pasteur.

-Unexpected cameo: Lillian Gish (a silent movie star best known for playing the pivotal role of Elsie Stoneman in the Birth of a Nation) makes her first screen appearance in almost a decade by portraying one the Norwegian villagers under Nazi siege.

-According to IMDB, the entirety of this film was shot on Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

One False Move (1992) review- It sounded better on paper

After suffering through trash like You Got Served, I was pretty excited to pop in Carl Franklin’s One False Move.

Not only is this gritty crime drama a radical departure from anything I’ve looked at so far, but the behind-the-scenes details relating to its production and release is a real heartwarming underdog story that will reaffirm your faith in the power of independent filmmaking.

Shot on a shoe-string budget of $2.3 million and helmed by a then amateur director, One False Move was originally set to go straight-to-video. However, strong word of mouth from critics helped it get a limited theatrical release and strong circulation on that year’s awards circuit.

Legendary film critics Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert were some of the film’s biggest cheerleaders throughout this whole process, with the latter praising Franklin’s “powerful” directing and the “extraordinary” screenplay from star Billy Bob Thornton and his writing partner Tom Epperson.

Siskel and Ebert would even go on to name One False Move their first and second favourite movie of 1992, respectively. To put that in perspective, next year both critics would give their number one spot to Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

I mention all of this inside baseball malarkey up front because, unfortunately, it’s a lot more compelling than the actual film itself.

Now don’t get me wrong, One False Move isn’t a bad movie. In fact, there are quite a few things to like about it (especially given its humble roots). But nothing about this film really grabbed me on a visceral level.

And I hate to sound like a smug contrarian, but I couldn’t help but feel that I was watching a standard episode of a 90s cop show stretched out to two hours (albeit with a little more hardcore violence and profanity).

Part of my problem has to do with how the film is structured, since the runtime is divvied up into two parallel plotlines.

One story features a trio of criminals (Billy Bob Thornton, Cynda Williams and Michael Beach) who are on the run from the law after committing a horrific drug robbery in Los Angeles that resulted in multiple homicides.

The second story follows the two detectives (Jim Metzler, Earl Billings) tasked with tracking down these outlaws, who are eventually drawn to one of the suspect’s old stomping grounds in Star City, Arkansas. There, they team up with a local police chief (Bill Paxton), whose boy-scout attitude clashes with big city cops’ approach to law enforcement.

Now, taken as two separate stories, both plots feature plenty of tension, snappy dialog and nuanced performances from the entire cast.

Special mention goes out to Michael Beach, who plays the quiet psychopath “Pluto” with a complex level of menace that really got under my skin.

However, much of the film’s dramatic impact is supposed to come from the interaction between the cops and the criminals and the two groups barely spend any screen time together.

This is especially true for Bill Paxton’s police chief, whose shared history with one of the criminals is a key part of the movie, since it gradually peels away his benevolent façade and reveals a more sinister side of his personality.

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Sounds interesting, right? Well, to bad, because this element is only squeezed into the last 20 minutes, which doesn’t give it any room to breathe.

These shortcoming aren’t helped by flat direction, poor editing in spots and a dated score which relies heavily on harmonicas and what I like to call “90s sax.”

Some might view this criticism as a little harsh, especially considering that One False Move marks Carl Franklin’s first big film project after spending most of his career acting on TV and directing low budget schlock for producer Roger Corman.

But now that we live in film industry that’s filled with dazzling first-time directors like Jordan Peele (Get Out) and Greta Gerwig (Lady Bird), it’s really hard to go back and pass off a simply “passable” job as something that is “brilliant.”

Again, I don’t get any joy in dumping on a small production like this, especially since, from what I could gather, every member of the cast and crew had their hearts in the right place while making it.

Sadly, good intentions alone aren’t enough to convince me that this movie is some kind of hidden gem. The various moving parts on display just don’t end up coalescing as a whole, which left me feeling like the movie ended 10−15 minutes before its story was complete.

But be sure to take my criticism with a golf ball sized grain of salt, since pretty much every professional movie critic under the sun disagrees with me.

Besides, who am I to second-guess the benevolent wisdom of the great Siskel and Ebert?

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Verdict:

5/10

Corner store companion:

Lay’s Ketchup Chips (because it’s not for me, but I can understand why other people like it).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: May 8, 1992

-Budget: $2.3 million

-Box office gross: $1.5 million (estimated)

-Despite my reservations about his early work, director Carl Franklin took home a number of accolades from his peers during the 1992−93 film awards circuit, including “Best Director” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards and the “New Generation Award” at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards.

-Two decades later, Franklin managed to carve out an impressive directing career for himself after his initial success in the 1990s. Today, he’s managed to generate steady work for himself on a lot of hit TV shows, sporting directing credits for: Homeland, Bloodline, 13 Reasons Why, and, most recently, Mindhunter. He was even nominated for a Primetime Emmy after helming “Chapter 14” from House of Cards (you know, the episode with the subway).

-This film marks Billy Bod Thornton’s first film writing credit, which would earn him a nomination for “Best Screenplay” at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards. Thornton would eventually walk way with that prize in 1997 thanks to his screenplay for Sling Blade.

-Co-stars Cynda Williams and Billy Bob Thornton got married shortly after filming on One False Move wrapped. They were divorced before the film was released two years later.

You Got Served (2004) review-“How do you do, fellow kids?” the movie

Honestly, I feel like I’m cheating with this one.

Unlike the two previous films that I’ve covered for this blog, Chris Stokes’ You Got Served is pretty well known among millennials my age, which is evident from the massive box office returns that it raked in during its opening weekend back in January 2004.

It’s also well remembered as being a single piece of a larger movement, since Hollywood was completely obsessed with spitting out these “urban” dance movies throughout the 2000s, which were cheap to produce and (usually) guaranteed a tidy profit.

However, unlike a lot of its contemporaries, You Got Served really hasn’t left a lasting legacy in pop-culture outside of its title, which became somewhat of a meme before most people even knew that memes were a thing.

But outside of that, there’s nothing about this film that sets it apart from the rest.

It doesn’t boast the novelty of starring then up-and-coming actors who would go on to find great success in the industry, like the original Step Up (Channing Tatum) or Bring It On (Kirsten Dunst).

Instead, we are saddled with two dull leads (Omari Grandberry and Marques Houston) who aren’t very charismatic or believable, even with the limited character work that they are given.

The film also doesn’t benefit from the impressive production values that characterized some of the later entries in the Step Up franchise, since You Got Served is noticeably cheap looking, especially whenever the characters venture away from the dance floor.

And, probably the biggest sin of all, the dancing on display isn’t even that distinctive. At least a film like Stomp the Yard had the foresight to anchor its premise around something unique and interesting like competitive stepping.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m sure you’re all dying me to talk about the plot to this magnum opus.

Well, surprisingly, there’s a lot going on plot wise in You Got Served outside of the dancing, which is one of its biggest problems.

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on this specific genre of film, but from the few 2000s dance movies that I’ve seen I can pinpoint a recognizable formula that works. Most of the time, the plot is just background noise or an excuse to stich together impressively choreographed dance sequences.

But in You Got Served it seems like the dancing takes a back seat to the story, which is horribly clichéd, uninteresting, and full of cringy melodrama.

The main thrust of the plot follows David and Elgin (Grandberry and Houston, respectively) who live out their young lives battling dance crews for cash in a surprisingly sanitized Los Angeles.

The pair have their sights set on greater things, which are never clearly defined, but a number of obstacles stand in their way, including a rival dance crew from Orange Country and the city’s violent criminal underbelly.

Now, this sounds like a simple enough premise, but it gets bogged down in a bunch of extraneous details that detract from the main reason people came to see the film: the dancing.

Here are just some of those dazzling plot points that:

  • David starts falling for Elgin’s sister, which drives wedge between the two of them.

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  • David and Elgin work for a drug kingpin on the side, which inevitably encroaches on their lives in the world of dance.

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  • A precocious child called “Lil Saint” hangs around with David and Elgin’s dance crew for the sole purpose of getting himself caught up in some life-threatening situations later on.

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  • Steve Harvey plays the movie’s mentor character called “Mr. Rad”, who organizes all the local dance battles and spews out fortune cookie wisdom while also serving as an unexpected deus ex machina.

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And even though this film is awash with this extraneous bullshit, they still managed to leave out some really important details.

We never find out how David and Elgin originally met, formed a dance crew, or why they are so passionate about what seems like their full time gig (since we never see them in school or holding down fulltime jobs).

Even when the film gets around to the dancing, it’s nothing to write home about.

Director Chris Stokes doesn’t really take advantage of the medium of film, since the camera remains largely slow moving and doesn’t emphasize the impressive athleticism of that its cast clearly possesses.

As a result, the big climatic dance battle at the end of the film comes across as some lifeless b-roll that would play at the beginning of any MTV program from the early to mid 2000s.

Speaking of MTV, one of the most redeeming things about You Got Served is how desperately it’s trying to appeal to the youth of that era.

The script is stuffed to brim with so much dated hip-hop vernacular and celebrity cameos (anybody else remember Wade Robson???) that it’s actually kind of adorable. I can just imagine a boardroom full of old, out-touch-executives trying to cram in as much trendy fashion and pop-culture artifacts in order to reach that lucrative teen demographic.

Basically, this film is the cinematic equivalent of that clip of Steve Buscemi from 30 Rock. You know the one.

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In the end, even though You Got Served is a hilarious viewing experience in spots, it doesn’t make up for the long stretches of film that are a chore to get through.

And since this movie is supposed to be all about high-energy dance moves, being boring is probably its biggest failing.

Verdict:

2/10

Corner store companion:

Listerine cool mint antiseptic mouthwash (to rinse that bad taste out of your mouth).

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Fun facts:

-Release date: Jan. 30, 2004.

-Budget: $8 million (estimated)

-Box office gross: $40,066,497 (US)

-Became number one at the box office in its opening weekend, which also coincided with Super Bowl 38 (aka, the one where Janet Jackson’s nipple closed out the halftime show).

-Musical highlight: “The One” by ATL.

-Unexpected cameo: Kevin Federline (yes, that Kevin Federline) made his cinematic debut as one of the film’s many backup dancers.

-Both of the film’s leads were members of American R&B boy bands from the mid-2000s, with Grandberry being a member of B2K and Houston belonging to IMx. Several of their tacks are featured on the movie’s soundtrack.

-Personal confession: The copy of the DVD I bought consisted of two discs, You Got Served and You Got Served: Take it to the Streets. I stupidly thought that that second title was a straight-to-DVD sequel, which would have made for a more appropriate to review, since I’ve never heard of it. Surprise!!! It turns out You Got Served: Take it to the Streets is an instructional video, where the cast of the original film walk you through how to pull off those slick dance moves. I haven’t drummed up the courage to watch it yet.

-A straight-to-DVD sequel in name only was finally released in 2011 called You Got Served: Beat the World, which doesn’t star anybody from the 2004 film or have anything to do with the original plot.