I would like to take a moment to apologize to Sarah Palin and her family for my use of the word ‘retarded’ as an adjective in Part 1. Sure it was written long before all this awareness, but it was still totally retarded of me. And now, on with the review…
At the end of the credits sequence, the badly rendered CG triplane morphs into an even worsely rendered CG jet which sputters along the screen until… well, the movie just cuts to a shot of a videogame involving jets. File that under “clever transition concepts gone wrong”. We zoom out from a TV screen and pan around the room of Tobey Maguire, rebellious teen. We know he’s a rebellious teen because the director felt the need to squeeze a computer, a drum kit, a surfboard, two skateboards and walls covered with graffiti and a firing range target into the shot. This is a fine example of how “show, don’t tell” can be horribly misunderstood as a cinematic maxim, not to mention I can’t think of many kids who felt a compulsive need to gang tag their rooms.
Regardless, I’m more mesmerized by what I just noticed through the Power of Pause. There’s a Nintendo controller in Tobey’s hands, and he’s holding it in a very odd way. Combined with the vacant expression on his face it brings to mind Michael Madsen’s clueless sword antics in Bloodrayne.
I guess there’s a few people that might have played Nintendo like this, but they’re wrong. Anyhow, he’s shortly ditching his wayward videogamey ways to grab a study book for the benefit of his invading mother (at least he doesn’t hold it upside down). There’s Laraine Newman. She is not from France. We actually were informed a couple seconds ago we are now in “California, Present Day.”
We get some expository dialog further establishing Tobey as a rebellious teen, because the movie doesn’t believe the overdone room was enough of a hint. Apparently mom was called into school because of an incident between Tobey and… okay, his character’s name is Jimmy. I will call him Jimmy now. Well, Jimmy got in an incident with his English teacher. What kind of incident? One that ended with his teacher IN TRACTION.
“He pushed me first,” claims Jimmy. And then what, Jimmy pushed him down a flight of stairs? Apparently Jimmy was cheating, or maybe not, or… fuck, who cares?! Traction? Wouldn’t that merit a little more than just a suspension?
Bah, I’m letting a little detail like broken bones and potential lawsuits / criminal charges stand in the way of getting on with this stunning narrative. Yes, it seems Jimmy is suspended for a week, and for some reason mom has decided he’ll spend this time up in “the country” with Jimmy’s dad and grandpa. Fresh air and discipline, you see. Or maybe she’s just regretting winning custody. I don’t remember if they actually use the word divorce at any time but it doesn’t matter, the movie drills this point into you sideways.
We now cut to mom and Jimmy’s arrival at the “country home”, which could pretty much be part of any random development project on a Southern California hillside. Mickey Rooney is in a wheelchair, and looking justifiably terrified of finding himself in this film as he begins shouting for “Richard”. I guess that’d be the dad? Rooney is mumbling and twitching so much I’m not sure if he’s going for “senile” or “stroke victim”. Maybe both. Either way, it’s wacky FAMILY ADVENTURE. He tells Richard that he can’t remember his grandson’s name.
“It’s the same as yours.”
“Well, what’s my name? Oh yeah, James… *mumbletwitchmumble*”
Oh God, help me, I’m not even eight minutes in and I’m starting to crack. We went through that excruciating exchange to establish the names of dad and grandpa, but I note we still don’t know the name of the mom, even though she was introduced a whole scene ago.
What follows is even more painful, movie of the week dialog. Blah blah… divorced people snarking… awkward father son reunion… oh and let’s not forget more senile grandpa blather. Seriously, I’m not even sure Rooney had a script for this part. Are his random lines about funerals and death meant to serve as comic relief or just make Jimmy (and the audience) uncomfortable? Put me solidly in the latter camp.
Ah! Finally, we have a name for mom: Carol. Richard utters this in the midst of hammering home that he will purge Jimmy of his evil ways through instilling the discipline the weak-minded female has failed to impart. Or something like that.
Meanwhile Grandpa James has throttled up from mere awkwardness in his exchange with Jimmy, and instead is now on the level of one of those over-hyper circus clowns that give kids nightmares. You could use the term “mugging” to describe his facial expressions here, as long as you understand it in the sense of “take whatever you want, just don’t hurt me”.
Carol says goodbye to Jimmy, and then to Grandpa.
“It was… smashing seeing you again, Karen,” Grandpa declares.
“Carol,” Carol corrects.
“Uh… Connie.” *insert wacky face here*
I’m wishing fervently for Grandpa’s bloody demise at this point. But this movie is FAMILY ADVENTURE, so I doubt I’ll be seeing much of that. Nossir, nothing like that at all.
Later that evening, Jimmy helps Grandpa James up to what I presume is Grandpa’s room, or at least his hobby room… which is at the top of a long flight of stairs. Remembering that Grandpa is wheelchair bound, I don’t know if I should be appalled at this arrangement or considering it just punishment. Grandpa builds model World War I planes and off-handedly asks Jimmy if he’s mentioned before how he shot down the Red Baron. Actually he refers to him as “von Richthofen”, which is the first mention of that name in the movie. I know I personally am a nerd for this stuff, but I wonder how many people would actually recognize that name without it being connected to Richthofen’s flashier title? He’s looking and gesturing at the Red Baron Fokker triplane he built, but it’s offscreen for the shot, and the director didn’t even feel a need to make a cut to actually connect the dialog to the object. Then again this is probably one of the more realistic exchanges in the movie as Jimmy’s reaction is nodding, smiling and excusing himself from the room, especially as Grandpa James moves on to talking about a how he once had a bullet in his ass.
What’s sad is that on this viewing I’ve realized Rooney’s whacked-out homeless person mumbling contains some important exposition, like that the model he’s made of that triplane contains actual pieces of Richthofen’s plane that he collected as trophies. It’s very easy to miss this in the midst of the ranting about the ass bullet, which by the by James claims he melted down and also used in the plane. No, I’m not making these lines up. Although maybe Rooney was.
Oh poor Jimmy… Grandpa grabs him before he can get away and makes him cut the model planes down from the ceiling, mewling that they’re “like birds in a cage.” What? Oh, now Grandpa picks up a controller and shows us they’re radio control planes, and still work perfectly. Man, I wish the batteries in my Xbox controller lasted that long. The Sopwith Camel cockpit is empty, but the Baron’s plane has a little Richthofen figure that we focus on briefly. Ha, stupid figure is totally inaccurate, it’s all clean shaven.
Right about now, Richard arrives to ask what they’re doing. Jimmy says that Grandpa James asked him to cut the planes down, and Grandpa James… denies it. Holy shit. I’m not sure if we’re supposed to think James forgot what he said ten seconds ago in a haze of senility or is just being a total dick. I’m leaning towards total dick since apparently Richard spent a lot of effort at some point in the past hanging the planes up for display. And I am really, really having trouble feeling sympathy for any character in this movie.
Next, Richard confiscates the pocketknife that Jimmy used to cut down the planes. I don’t remember if it’s a plot point (EDIT: now that I’ve finished the movie again: it’s not). What’s important is the ol’ “my house, my rules” speech and how there will be discipline and chores. I suppose there’s actually a clever transition at the end here as Jimmy asks for his knife back, and dad refuses because “people cut their fingers off with these things”; then the next day we see Jimmy engaged in his first chore: using a pair of hedge clippers on the poolside bushes. On the other hand, given the blunderings so far it may also have been a complete accident.
Anyhow, back at poolside, Grandpa’s flying one of his model planes around, nearly braining Jimmy with it (and laughing) as a radio talks of thundershowers forecast.
“Did I scare you?” asks lovable ol’ Grandpa.
“Yeah you did. You scared the shit out of me.”
“Oh, well… you wanna try one of my diapers?”
Yes, this exchange drops an S-bomb from out of nowhere just to set up that punchline. FAMILY ADVENTURE. Jimmy confronts Grandpa about the previous night’s lying and gets a grudging apology, confirming James is just a dick. Apparently (as he explains) he’s allowed to be a dick because he’s 93 years old and Jimmy’s dad isn’t the most patient man. Oh I don’t know—I want to drown Grandpa in the pool after only a handful of minutes with him, so I’d say Richard’s pretty saintly by comparison. Jimmy asks exactly how crazy his grandpa is and James quite literally replies with “Crazy… like a fox!”
Let’s move on. Now they both have radio controls and James wants to “dogfight” with the model planes, despite an impending thunderstorm. We have to go back through the story that James shot down Richthofen in weather like this. Jimmy humors him (again). So anyhow, they’re going to dogfight … how does this work, exactly? I mean, it’s not like these model planes have bullets.
Excuse me, I have to shove the irony monster back in its basement. It’s looming too much. Be right back.
There. Let’s continue. We are treated to lots and lots of footage of the planes flying around, which gets boring just as quick as you might figure it does. The funniest shot here (and I use the phrase very loosely) is a sleeping Richard on his deck chair waving away imaginary mosquitoes, since that’s what the planes sound like. Now we know why the plane in the opening credits sounded the way it did. Woo. Except Richard has a portable music player headset on, so he probably shouldn’t be hearing the planes anyhow.
“Baron, you’re through!” slurs Grandpa.
You can almost feel the pause as someone shouts at him he blew the line. Let’s try again.
“Baron, it’s over!” Well. Okay, close enough. As is Jimmy laughingly replying: “Oh no, it’s never over.” The look Rooney gives him at this moment is as close to subtle acting—or acting, period—that he gets in this movie. I actually kind of dig it. Look, dammit, I gotta find something.
Hey, right on cue there’s that bizarrely blue lightning that struck the Red Baron’s plane. For some reason it strikes the house first, then pauses and strikes the model Fokker. I guess the lightning has as much trouble remembering the script as Rooney does.
The model plane vanishes entirely, leaving Jimmy wondering what the shit just happened. Grandpa just laughs and whoops it up… mind you, over a plane that obviously cost him a lot of time and effort over the years being “blown to smithereens”. He’s defeated the most notorious aviator of all time, just like before, and shouts his hubris to the heavens. This of course cues the plane’s reappearance in another crack of thunder.
But see, the film doesn’t think we get it yet. So Maguire has to adopt a bad German accent and say “It’s never over, Herr Spencer!” and Rooney has to completely and utterly abolish any previous subtlety by comically sputtering “What did you say?” with wide, horrified eyes.
WHY, movie?! WHY WHY WHY? You already did this fucking exchange and it worked the first time! Did we really need a do-over?
I hate you, movie. I hate you even more that this is where you’ve finally decided to confirm that the family name is Spencer. Yes, it was obvious, but… ugh. I feel that headache starting again. Should I bother to mention that the plane is now flying against a cloudless blue sky? Oh here’s clouds again. And now no clouds. Fantastic attention to detail. And Jimmy’s controller “isn’t working” but the plane is still maneuvering and almost hits them, causing Grandpa to start having a heart attack or something (I’m really not sure because Grandpa has epileptic fits just attempting normal conversation). Jimmy gets Grandpa’s pills for him as the Sopwith crashes into the pool, waking up Richard. This, by the way, is the sunniest thunderstorm ever. Meanwhile that nasty little Fokker makes a perfect landing at poolside and…
Look, let me try to hearken back to the internal monologue that occurred when I first viewed this film.
No no no.
This is so not happening. Please God no. This movie was shitty enough already.
I may have actually said it out loud. I may even have looked over at Erik as the horror of what was going to transpire came crashing down on me, seeking reassurance that it wasn’t true, that the film wasn’t going to go there. He’d already seen the movie, surely he wouldn’t inflict such a thing on his friends. Right?
But I found no reassurance, only one of those patented evil Amaya grins. The kind that brings a soul-searing, schadenfreude sparkle to his eye. The kind that says “Oh yes, my friend. You thought you were merely trapped on a slow elevator that stinks of urine mixed with afterschool special, plays musak ragtime and has a twitching, shouting bum in the corner that looks like Mickey Rooney… but now the bottom just dropped out and it’s a straight shot down to Hell. You’re welcome.”
For the Baron figure in the cockpit is alive, you see. It looks nothing like it did before, but I guess that’s mystical possession for ya, because it now looks like something that Full Moon Video would have rejected from their Puppet Master pictures as “too fake”. And it blinks serenely at us.
In hindsight, I guess this development was blatantly obvious from the moment we focused in on the figure earlier on. But man… there are some telegraphs you just really don’t want to read.
Next week: The Baron speaks! Lou! Plus, the filmmakers show their seething animosity towards the entire medical profession.
Actually, Queta plays Nintendo like that.
Though to be fair, I don’t know there’s any real good way to hold those original controllers.
The funniest part of that picture is the look on Tobey’s face. It’s like Sarah Palin trying to do long division.