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Those crazy Brits have got to be doing something right across the pond. After the success of 28 Days Later in their homeland the film stormed American cinemas and made my top 10 list last year, now another zombie film tried to make it big in the US, but can a romantic comedy with zombies really work? You bet your ass it can.

What Shaun of the Dead (taking its title as an homage to George Romero’s perennial Dawn of the Dead) does really well is be an entertaining film that successfully merges many genres of filmmaking into one, creating a hodgepodge of side-bursting comedy and horror and mixes it all together, with a few scoops of brains, and melds one of the best films of the year. Realistically, I haven’t had a better time at the movies in a very long time. Aside from the “groundbreaking” dramas and the “funniest movies of the year” comedies you rarely get to go to a film that is so enjoyable, you actually don’t want it to end, because you know the real world, with its “real” movies will be waiting just around the corner.

Shaun of the Dead centers around the title character, Shaun (Simon Pegg), and his everyday activities, which are leading him down the road of an eternal loser, and how his seemingly normal life is impacted by the zombie threat. One of the most clever portions of the film’s script is we never get a real cause for the arrival of the zombies. While characters are flipping through channels we get bits and pieces of how the virus might have first come in contact with humans, but a solid explanation is never given. Shaun is struggling to keep his girlfriend, Liz (Kate Ashfield), interested, and after he recommends his favorite tavern for a romantic dinner things are through. Just as it seems as though things can’t get any worse it does, and the zombies arrive on the scene (although calling them that is bad luck). Shaun is totally oblivious to this fact until a close encounter puts him in the spotlight to save his friends, and escape the undead.

First and foremost think about what a melding of the comedy and horror genres would be like with a dry British wit and none of the Wayan’s brothers within 5000 miles, and this is what you would expect. The jokes are funny, the visual cues are funnier, and the dialog is the best. Shaun of the Dead has a smart, witty, fast script that doesn’t sit around with one joke too long and has life to make even the undead…well…pretty damn lively. Whereas Dawn of the Dead had the underscore of consumerism in our society, Shaun of the Dead follows the same trend in making the everyday, working man look like a mindless fiend bent on getting through the day alive only to plod through another. This joke is alluded to earlier in the film before it is blatantly summarized in the closing montage.

Towards the climax the comedy routine seems to taper off as the horror aspect clearly makes its mark. For a comedy you may not find a more gruesome 90 minutes as far as dismemberment and bloodshed, and no, sitting through Along Came Polly doesn’t count as gruesome, only retarded. For the squeamish there are a few instances they might want to avoid, including the vivid dismemberment of a human at the hands of a gang of zombies. Unlike the walking undead of 28 Days Later and the Dawn of the Dead remake, these are your standard slow zombies, who are so transfixed on their next helping of brains that they are easy enough to get by in small numbers.

Shaun of the Dead has sleeper hit written all over it, and it would be one if it didn’t shatter the British box office earlier this year. The film is ripe with social commentary, gore, violence, language, and a bit of a relationship troubles for the ladies out there. While the plot itself isn’t anything particularly new, the execution and writing make the film one of the very best of the year and a must see for anyone who has grown tired of traditional cinema and is looking for something that is 99.9% pure entertainment.

Digital animation is the new wave, as if you needed anyone to tell you that. Aside from the classic works by Pixar Animation Studios, DreamWorks PDI has also delivered a film that is sure to trump Disney’s Finding Nemo as the highest grossing animated picture of all time. That film would be the sequel to the surprising grown-up 2001 hit, Shrek. I, honestly, didn’t know what to expect from Shrek when the film was first released in theaters, in fact, I never actually saw the film until it was released on DVD, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistake twice. While there are some who eat, drink, and live by the code of Disney, and want nothing to do with animation that doesn’t come form the Mouse House, those diehards will be missing out on one of the funniest, most appropriately adult and child oriented film to come out since the original Shrek.

Shrek 2 picks up right after the original film and begins with a montage of Shrek (Mike Myers) and Fiona (Cameron Diaz) enjoying their honeymoon. The happy couple return home to the swamp to find to unexpected guests. The first is Donkey (Eddie Murphy), who is having problems with Dragon, and the second is a band of messengers from the King (John Cleese) and Queen (Julie Andrews) of Far Far Away summoning their daughter and her new husband to meet them. Of course, the King doesn’t know that the spell placed upon Fiona reverted her to an Ogre-like state, and the certainly don’t know that she has married Shrek.

As can be expected, the King and Queen are less than thrilled about their daughter’s chosen path, especially when the King has a pact with the Fairy Godmother (Jennifer Saunders) to give Fiona away in marriage to Prince Charming (Rupert Everett). Hilarity ensues as the King tries to do away with Shrek by way of a hired assassin. Puss in Boots (Antonio Banderas) is his name, and being one of the best animated characters of all time is his game. Truth be told, Puss in Boots really makes this movie. Every seen the character is in is truly funny, and every action, from licking himself to swearing in Spanish, really shows that DreamWorks really knows what they are doing.

Shrek 2, itself, is a jab at the over-stylized and over-realized culture that is Hollywood. Upon arriving in Far Far Away our merry band soon discovers that this is a very different place than what they are used to. The city itself resembles Beverly Hills in most aspects including huge mansions for stars, in this case fairy tale stars like Cinderella, and trendy stores all over the place. If you pay attention you will pick up shout-outs to retailers like GAP, Burger King, and a very abusive stab at Starbucks which may be one of the funniest jokes in the entire film.

The Shrek series of films has always been known for its pop-culture references, some blatantly obvious, some not so much. There were times when the entire theater would laugh at a reference, like Fiona kissing Shrek upside-down a la Spider-Man, but there were other times when I felt like I was the only one laughing. In the first five minutes you are treated to a visual onslaught of such references, each one as equally funny as the last. The funniest, bar-none, is a spoof of the popular TV show COPS called KNIGHTS which may require repeat viewings of the film just to get all the jokes.

Like most comedies the film throws tons of stuff your way in the beginning and then tapers off the funny stuff to make way for more dramatic story elements. Still, even with cutting back on the jokes mid-way through, the film is still funnier than most of the schlock released so far this year. As many other critics have stated, this movie will require repeat viewings just to get all of the jokes.

The only unfortunate downside to Shrek 2 is the fact that the movie ends and it will be a good two to three years until we get another dose of the big, green ogre. Hopefully DreamWorks is able to capitalize on the popularity of their 7-77 age comedy and make the upcoming Shark Tale a success. Until then, be sure to check out Shrek 2 (multiple times if needed), because it is sure to be one of the biggest movies of the summer, and very well may be one of the best of the year.

Let it be said that I saw this movie based on the fact that Tina Fey wrote it. There is no other reason, there is no other explanation, I simply saw this movie based on good reviews and the fact that one of the funniest people on TV wrote the film. With that said, let me be the first twenty-one year old straight male to acknowledge that I had a good time watching this chick-flick mainly because, as the Hollywood Summer Season ramps up, there will be less and less movies with anything resembling a plot and more and more mindless action.

Mean Girls focuses on the life of Cady Heron (Lindsay Lohan) who had been home schooled for her entire life when her parents decide to move back to the States, from Africa, and throw her into high school. On her first day she meets up with Janis (Lizzy Caplan), a Goth chick, and Damian (Daniel Franzese), a gay guy, who will become her new friends. Much like most high school movies, Mean Girls focuses on the groups of similar individuals who hang out together, and shun the rest of the world for not being good enough. Cady (pronounced “Katie”) is sent to infiltrate the “Plastics” a group of the meanest and prettiest girls in the entire school. Although, after hanging out with them for such a long time, Cady begins to become one of the plastics and shuns her only friends.

The film is pretty much by the book for the most part in the plot department. The film is essentially a story of finding yourself in the least likely places. If it wasn’t for Tina Fey’s sharp, witty script the film would be nothing more than just another teen movie. When Cady is sent to spy on the plastics we get a short, but funny, fish out of water subplot that puts her into the normal teen girl world after being sub-planted from Africa. Her first seen at school in which she tries to talk to a group of African American students is laugh out loud hilarious, and, fortunately, this isn’t the only time you will be laughing. Fey’s writing, based loosely on the book Queen Bees and Wannabes, is what makes this movie. The film has been compared to Heathers, another dark, popular girl film, without the deaths.

The casting also helps out. Rachel McAdams’ Regina George is the definition of evil in school. Everyone remembers the one pretty girl who had the entire school wrapped around her finger, and while she wasn’t using that finger in provocative ways, it was being used to manipulate whomever she wanted. In this case, the students being manipulated are her two friends, Gretchen (Lacey Chabert) and Karen Smith (Amanda Seyfried). Both Gretchen and Karen accurately portrayed as dumb, pretty girls only thinking about guys, shopping, and fashion. Aside from all of this, let us no forget Lindsay Lohan’s Cady as the troubled high school student trying to fit in and only succeeding when she changes herself. Lohan has certainly grown out of the family friendly, Disney-inspired fare of her younger days and shown that she has the acting chops to be one of Hollywood’s hottest young, leading ladies. Let’s hope she doesn’t subvert to being type cast in every movie she is in.

The film features notable cameos from many of SNL‘s current, and former, stable of comics including Tim Meadows as the dry, hilarious school principle. Amy Poehler is Regina’s trying-to-stay-young mom who’s chest attracts her dog like a chew toy. Ana Gasteyer is Cady’s mom, and Fey, herself, portrays recently divorced Ms. Norbury who has some of the funniest lines in the entire movie. All in all, the film shows that producer Lorne Michaels is capable of putting something funny on the big screen.

The film’s only problem is the expectation that you will see a constant back and forth of gags between Cady and Regina when they are at odds with each other. The trailers seemed to make it feel as though each of the girls would one-up the other trying to get back at them, but, aside from a Final Destination like bus incident, we get nothing of the sort.

While you may have seen enough teen movies in your lifetime to fill a small film collection, but Mean Girls is different because it shows, in the most realistic sense, that high school is a bitch that we must live through. The strong script saves the film from the mediocrity of its by-the-book plot, and equally strong acting makes the film all the more believable.

Eurotrip is the film that cost DreamWorks the talent of director Todd Phillips, who had nothing to do with this film, and DreamWorks’ constant promotion of the film, implying he may have been, has opened up a very visible rift between the two parties, and it seems that Phillips was on the right side of the argument as Eurotrip, even being hyped as being from the producers of Old School and Road Trip, serves no greater purpose than to show just how ignorant American tourists are and show the lax borders on the MPAA’s rating system.

Those looking for the next big thing are going to be looking for a while, as Eurotrip does absolutely nothing new through its 90 minute running time. In fact, the plot is almost directly ripped off of Phillip’s Road Trip. Road Trip consisted of four guys heading to Texas to recover a video tape inadvertently mailed to one of their girlfriends who lived there. Replace “video tape” with “email” and you have the premise of this film.

We pick things up right after high school graduation where Scott (Scott Mechlowicz) is dumped by his cheating girlfriend and left with the companionship of his best friend Cooper (Jacob Pitts) and online, German pen-pal, Mieke (Jessica Böhrs), whom Scott believes is a man. When an email from Mieke asking to come to America and meet Scott is taken the wrong way (after all, Scott still believes her to be a him) he finally figures out the errors of his ways only after sending back a rather terse reply that gets him banned form the ungodly hot German’s inbox. So, in all his wisdom, Scott sets out to Berlin to make a mends with his pen-pal, and along the way gets involved in some wacky adventures.

While in Paris, Scott and Cooper meet up with Jenny (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Jamie (Travis Wester), two twins who are sight seeing. With four teenagers in foreign countries and an, seemingly, unlimited supply of money, what could possibly go wrong?

The film isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t really that good either. One of the most uncomfortable portions of the film is a trip to a nude beach filled with only those possessing the Y chromosome, and director Jeff Schaffer decides that this would be the best time for a long, overdrawn wide angle shot with nearly 50 guys standing, staring precariously into the camera fully nude. To add insult to injury, Schaffer then decides it would be hilarious for these guys to chase after our heroes, still fully nude, and give us a front row seat to the sausage-fest. Adding together all the movies I have ever seen, and combining them all, I never seen so much full frontal nudity and it couldn’t be any more disturbing.

To make up for the situation there is a healthy amount of female nudity, and not bad nudity at that. In fact, I would go so far as to say Eurotrip has the most nudity, ever, in a film released in the United States that I have seen. For the most part, though, this serves no purpose to the plot other than shock value and bringing one man’s dreams to the big screen.

Eurotrip is just a mindless, spring film to hold us over to the big guns start firing this summer, or what we believe to be big guns. The film does have some funny moments, and the song sung in the beginning about Scotty not knowing about his girlfriend’s infidelity is really catchy, but when you walk out of the film, at the end, hopefully, you won’t remember much of what you have just seen. You’re better off popping in the Old School or Road Trip DVDs and seeing some good laughs and leave Eurotrip to the pre-pubescent teens how think a batch of naked guys running on a beach is gut-busting funny.

Director Todd Phillips is really enjoying himself on the director’s A-list, and he has ever right to be there. His three films have grossed hundreds of millions of dollars and become staples of college life. Road Trip introduced to us a break from the standard college teen comedy; Old School put us back into a college setting in our mid-thirties, and now Starsky & Hutch re-envisions the 1970’s television show for a new generation full of campy stunts and great personality.

Starsky & Hutch (TV) ran for 88 episodes in the 1970s in a decade that was known for putting out some zany television shows. The pairing of a by-the-book cop and one who takes things now quite as seriously isn’t a new concept in Hollywood, in fact, you could say the idea has been beaten into the ground more times than you can count, but for Starsky & Hutch the formula is fresh with an excellent screenplay and enough jokes to get you through the films 90 minute running time.

David Starsky (Ben Stiller) is the aforementioned by-the-book kind of guy who is out to catch the bad guys, shows up to work on time, and never does errands while on city time. Ken “Hutch” Hutchinson (Owen Wilson) is the exact polar opposite of Starsky, so it is only natural that they would become partners in this wacky world of fighting crime. Along for the ride is Snoop Dogg’s wondrous portrayal of Huggy Bear, one of Hutch’s most valuable informants. To say that Snoop steals the movie would be an understatement. He steals every scene that he is in, which is refreshing after such disappointments as Bones.

The antagonist this time around is Old School alumni Vince Vaughn playing Reese Feldman and arrogant drug cartel kingpin who has a short temper and a ditsy mistress (Juliette Lewis). Starsky and Hutch soon learn of Feldman’s goal in selling cocaine that cannot be detected by dogs, and tastes strangely like sugar, as one of the film’s funnier moment’s points out. After the disappointment of Club Dread, Starsky & Hutch was a welcomed change.

Phillips doesn’t want this film to be a parody or a spoof of the original series, rather a re-envisioning of the show and that is precisely what it is, but we aren’t to forget the film’s roots. The film is shot in a distinctive 70s style with wide angle shots from across the street that zoom in on a pair having a conversation to the way some of the scenes are cut together. Even the stunts scream 1970s with flying cars and big shoot outs in the streets of Bay City. The retro feel to the film only stimulates the nostalgia felt throughout, even for non-fans of the series. I’m willing to bet an equal number of patrons bought tickets to see this film based on Phillips name attached to it as those that bought tickets based on the franchise name. Also the headlining pair of Stiller and Wilson couldn’t have hurt.

The film is not without some problems. There is a general lack of story throughout, and what is present is laced relatively thin. The screenplay is very strong, and as mentioned before, the direction is top notch by Phillips. The 1970s overacting by Stiller and Wilson is just what you would expect from the duo, which could be a problem in itself. The dynamic pair virtually play the very same characters they play in every film, and now Wilson has been paired up with just about everyone in the industry, there aren’t too many people left besides Chris Tucker who has mysteriously disappeared since Rush Hour 2. Still, even with the basic plot and devices to progress it along, Starsky and Hutch is a fun and enjoyable film that rightfully opens the door for a franchise to bloom.

I had to buy myself a thesaurus for this review to think of as many different ways to say how disappointed I am with this film: let down, dissatisfied, disenchanted, and saddened. Those should get me by for a little while. Broken Lizard’s Super Troopers wasn’t an all out laugh-fest and it didn’t differ too much from the beaten path of past films, but it had funny moments, a testament to the writing ability of the Broken Lizard troupe. Yet, after watching Club Dread I may be ready to take back all the nice things I said about their first film.

I was eagerly awaiting the release of Club Dread mainly because I enjoyed Super Troopers so very much, and while the film makes an honest effort to spoof the horror genre it can’t compare to mastery works like Scary Movie and Scream. For those who can’t believe I called Scary Movie a mastery work, I just did. Club Dread plays with the clichés that we find in all horror movies, but when old-school films such as Freddy vs. Jason begin to make fun of themselves, do we really need poorly conceived spoof films to make fun of work that is already being parodied by its progenitors?

Club Dread takes place on a tropical island where the drinks flow freely and there are not strings attached. Coconut Pete (Bill Paxton) runs this swanky island paradise with the money he earned making hilarious sounding records referring to many things people would do on brain-altering drugs. When someone begins picking off resort workers (no doubt a throwback to the killing of camp counselors in Friday the 13th), our fearless crew must stay alive until a boat comes to retrieve them and return them to safety. This isn’t award winning cinema, but it is still dangerously thin to get by with.

The biggest problem with the film is the general lack of laughs. There are only two times that a real gut-buster of a joke is told and when you don’t see them coming, they just aren’t that funny. Surprisingly the film tries to enter the drama realm, something Broken Lizard managed to do in Super Troopers, but stumbles here even with the added incentive that people may get naked and killed.

Naked and killed you say? For a comedy piece there is a surprising amount of gore and bloodshed with gruesome deaths being suffered by almost every member of the principle cast including stomachs sliced open, decapitations, and machetes impaled through the chest. While not containing the body count or gore of Freddy vs. Jason, it certainly raises the bar a bit for the comedy genre. As for the nudity, the film has an ample amount of both male and female, depending on where your interests lie. Most notable of the birthday-suit baring is that of Cabin Fever‘s Jordan Ladd who shows us here gymnastic abilities in the comfort of a hotel room.

Without any laughs you are forced to look at the drama components of the film, but when the killer is finally revealed, and when the reason for his killing is explained the whole thing is suppose to be funny, yet it isn’t, which can be said for a majority of the film. There just isn’t that much that compels you to keep watching. You aren’t going to laugh, the film offers little to no suspense, and it isn’t the most heartwarming piece of cinema ever, so why keep watching? The only reason I can give you is the funniest moment of the film which lies at the very end. Aside form this parody of returning killers only the outtakes during the ending credits present you with any real laughs.

Unfortunately Club Dread was the first big disappointment of the new year, aside from the lackluster and completely average Along Came Polly. Those expecting the comedic timing and laughs of Super Troopers will be the most disappointed as we are forced to sit through nearly two hours of jokes that miss their mark and gags that don’t quite instill the uproarious laughter we were expecting. Here’s one more for the road: thwarted.

Since the debut of American Pie in 1999 the teenage-sex comedy has made a resounding comeback on movie screens, but the overflow of sequels, copy-cats, and parodies has left the genre in the same stagnate punch it was in at the end of the 1980s when such films were a dime a dozen. Now, 5 years since the original American Pie, and nearly 8 months after its successful, final, chapter FOX launches its latest entry into the crowded market in the form of The Girl Next Door, which may very well be the genre’s second wind.

The film is something different than the standard lose-your-virginity-on-prom-night-caper which has been so prevalent in the industry since we had our first slice of Pie. National Lampoon came back to life and delivered the uproarious Van Wilder, Sony decided to make fun of 20 years of these films with the mildly amusing Not Another Teen Movie, and DreamWorks put thirty-year-olds into the mix with the wholly original and entertaining, Old School.

Matthew (Emile Hursh) is the perfect student in school. He never ditches, he never misses class. While the football team is getting “service” from the cheerleaders he sits in his boring classes thinking about getting into Georgetown and working on the speech that will get him there. Everything is going fine for Matt until Danielle (Elisha Cuthbert) moves in next door, and everything changes. Danielle, you see, is a “retired” porn actress who is trying to escape the life. Before Matt knows about Danielle’s previous life she opens up new doors for him, getting him to take risks, but after he knows about her past their relationships falls apart. When Kelly (Timothy Olyphant), Danielle’s producer returns to take her back to her old ways, she sees no reason to stay in suburbia.

The film does some things amazingly well, and others not so much. There are a few moments during the movie when events happen, but they really don’t. It would seem that Matt has a very overactive imagination and plays out events in his mind, then when the action takes a screwball left turn, everything flashes back to show it was only in his imagination. The old saying, “Fool me once, fool me twice…” comes into play here. The film also suffers from somewhat of an identity crisis throughout. There are times when it is a straight up comedy, others where it blends the line between humor and drama, and still others where the needle is completely on the drama side of the spectrum.

Still, all of those aspects don’t detract from the fact that the parts that are suppose to be funny are, and the parts that are suppose to be heartwarming are as well. Even with a film that feels like it has three different endings, you are still rewarded with an excellent film that, while not radically different from everything else out there, delivers a unique experience that you haven’t seen in a good many years. The originality of portions of the script is keenly evident by the dead-on performances from the cast, including Matt’s two friends Eli (Chris Marquette) and Klitz (Paul Dano) who bring some of the movie’s funniest jokes alive.

The Girl Next Door may be inadvertently shunned because of its cliché-looking storyline and characters, but once you commit to viewing the film you find it to be a dose of originality in a decaying genre (a phrase I’m overusing way too much). Whether your intentions are to see the beautiful Elisha Cuthbert, or to laugh your ass off for two hours you will find that the movie delivers on these promises, and even more. This film is definitely one of the best comedies of the year so far, and I don’t see that changing any time soon, after all, she is a porn star.

From what we have seen of the Farrelly Brothers, they don’t do PG-13 movies very well mainly because of the type of movies they are known for. In fact, after the hilarious There’s Something About Mary they sort of tapered off into the lackluster Jim Carrey vehicle Me, Myself, and Irene, the sometimes funny Shallow Hal, and the sometimes disgusting Say It Isn’t So, as producers. After passing on Dumb and Dumberer they resurface with a new, albeit PG-13, comedy starring two brothers who are inseparable, literally.

Bob (Matt Damon) and Walt (Greg Kinnear) are brothers who have survived through a quarter of their lives attached just above the hip. Through the years they have learned to work with each other and have everything from sleeping, working, and walking down. But when Walt decides that he would like to leave the small town of Martha’s Vineyard to pursue an acting career in Hollywood the brother leave the quaint, quiet mountain town for the busy streets of LA.

Meanwhile Cher is trying to get out of a TV contact by any means necessary. Since Walt and Bob aren’t the token actor that you look for in Hollywood, except in the porn industry which leads to one of the films better jokes, Cher casts Walt as her leading man in the film in an effort to have the network cancel the contract for the show, and freeing her. The network calls her bluff and casts Walt who becomes a big star with the show. Also, Bob finally meets up with an internet friend he has been talking to for three years, but never told he was a conjoined twin. This leads to some very funny jokes with Bob trying to explain his attachment.

Everyone who has seen a Farrelly brother’s movie knows what they are in for. There’s Something About Mary taught us what could be used as a substitute for hair gel in one of the most oft parodies sequences from a movie in the last 10 years. Me, Myself, and Irene showed us that the mentally disturbed could be funny, so what kinds of bodily fluid jokes could they pull off in the PG-13 rated Stuck on You? Apparently they are trying to climb out of the pit they dug for themselves, so not so many.

Stuck on You, when compared to every other movie the brothers have been associated with seems almost tame in comparison. Sure there is your fair share of visual jokes, and you get a few hints of the director’s pedigree comedy, but this movie has some actual emotion and character development, even though you can sort of see it coming a mile away. Where Shallow Hal failed to develop characters we could actually like, wasting a talent like Jack Black, Stuck on You interjects Bob and Walt with actually emotions. When they are finally separated towards the end of the film (that isn’t a spoiler because you see it coming from the very beginning) you actually feel for the characters. Stuck on You is probably the Farrelly brothers best film, rivaling that of the skit like Mary for a film with actual substance.

The film also provides enough cameos and jokes to make it through the daunting 128 minutes. As with most comedies the jokes taper off towards the end when the directors finally decide that it might be good to make a point in this film. Still, even with the cliché, storybook ending and plot points a blind man could see you will enjoy Stuck on You because the movie has something most of the comedies this year have lacked, a heart.

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