By BRUCE DENNILL
Nurse / Directed by Doug Aarniokoski / 18LNDSVH 1
Inherent Vice / Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson / 16DLNS 2
Magic Mike XXL / Directed by Gregory Jacobs / 16L 1
Vacation / Directed by Jonathan Goldstein & John Francis Daley / 16LN 2
As might be surmised by the patently ridiculous age restriction (don’t watch this if you’re a kid for ALL THE REASONS YOU CAN THINK OF), Nurse is not a terribly sensible piece of filmmaking. Top billing goes to Paz de la Huerta because nobody even vaguely more well-known would have accepted the role. In its favour, the film makes no effort whatsoever to pretend to be anything other than B-grade schlock. The premise is that the pneumatic Abby (Paz De La Huerta) is a nurse by day and a sort of twisted moral vigilante by night, when she frequents nightclubs, tempting married men into liaisons and then doing messily away with them as a type of instant judgement. She then connects with a new colleague and there’s a hint of a future in which relative normalcy is a possibility. Even though you expect it from the off the poor quality of the writing and acting is astonishing, so much so that it wears you down – this is not the sort of bad film that is so inferior that is develops its own sort of charm. If you make it to the end, having worked your way through all the factors the censors warned you against and been stimulated by none, you need to look at your life. Go read a book, for crying out loud. Borrow one if you have to.
That Inherent Vice is based on a Thomas Pynchon novel – the author’s work is incredibly convoluted – is only one excuse for the tortuous long-windedness and utter lack of focus in this hippy-go-lucky detective noir that is neither much of a mystery story nor particularly dark. It features a barely coherent private eye named Doc Sportello (Joaquin Phoenix) who has no obviously marketable skills but absorbs the occasional fact simply by being present in a range of generally dull and sometimes bizarre scenarios. The usually dependable Josh Brolin plays a crooked real estate developer without convincing you to give a toss as a viewer and just about everyone else in the project – and this is a cast that includes Owen Wilson, Reese Witherspoon, Benicio Del Toro and Maya Rudolph – is completely forgettable. As in, an hour after you’ve watched the film, you’ll have no recollection of who they played and how they affected the narrative. Only Martin Short, and he by virtue of being given a role that begins at “over the top” and leaps off into insanity, makes any sort of impact. Otherwise, the film is as trippy as its setting – drug-coated Sixties Los Angeles – but no high is ever attained.
The first Magic Mike film didn’t have much to recommend it on an intellectual level, but the subversiveness – such as it was – of having men as strippers rather than women gave it some topical currency and the (if you’ll excuse the turn of phrase) balls-out performance of Matthew McConaughey was undeniably entertaining. Now, McConaughey is gone and the gimmick has aged. Badly. Channing Tatum, decent actor and excellent mover that he is, does not have the skills to carry a script as shallow and flat-out stupid as this one. And he gets absolutely no assistance from anyone else in the Magic Mike XXL cast – the musclebound mugs or the otherwise dependable likes of Andie MacDowell, Elizabeth Banks and Jada Pinkett Smith. The interactions between the protagonists are consistently lame – not charmingly simplistic or understandably one-dimensional given their backgrounds, but simply lazy and poorly written. And the dance sequences are awkward, made too long because there was nothing else to fill the time.
The Griswolds are back in Vacation, though this time Chevy Chase is given only a cameo. Instead, the focus is on his adult son Rusty (Ed Helms), Rusty’s wife (Christina Applegate) and their two boys. The mechanisms are the same – well-meaning dad devises a dream holiday and convinces his unwilling relatives to share his vision. There’s a road trip – always – which allows for things to go wrong in a variety of settings that otherwise would not have been accessible. As a formula, it’s solid, but in the hands of directors Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, it’s a platform for unfunny crassness. Why it is necessary to have two directors to marshall the execution of a string of puerile nonsense involving, predictably, sewage, sex and C-grade innuendo? Helms is immensely likeable and should do better – he’s making a career of bumbling through R-rated shenanigans. Applegate is accessible, talented, and has done better – this is one she should have turned down. Only Chis Hemsworth, playing a hyperbolic extension of the American Dream, emerges with any credibility at all.