Monday, 18 January 2021

'Knocked Up' a laugh riot; creepy 'Mr. Brooks' a thriller

KNOCKED UP (Rated R)


The good news, finally, is a week without sequels. But some may argue that writer/director Judd Apatow has delivered in the raunchy romantic comedy “Knocked Up” what is essentially, at a minimum, a thematic follow-up to his brilliantly funny “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.”


The familiar terrain of ribald humor and oddly endearing crassness, tempered by an underlying sweetness, is Apatow’s winning formula for a comedy that works because of the right mix of sharp dialogue and pratfalls. Even though there is a frequent assault on good taste, the jokes, gags and smart banter reach high enough on the scale of inspired comedy so as to not insult the audience’s intelligence.


Smart as this comedy may be, it does ask of us somewhat incredibly to believe that a lovable slacker like Seth Rogen’s Ben Stone can rise far enough above his station to connect romantically with Katherine Heigl’s pretty and sophisticated Alison Scott. This mixed union is what makes for a lot of fun.


Ben lives in a state of arrested development with four other slacker buddies who spend most of the time hanging out and getting high, while occasionally thinking about launching a Web site that serves the prurient interest of locating the nude scenes of famous celebrities.


Meanwhile, Alison is a smart, ambitious professional being promoted to an on-camera interviewer for the E! Entertainment Channel. Celebrating her promotion at a nightclub, Alison has too many drinks and ends up in a one-night stand with Ben.


Befitting the film’s title, Alison discovers two months later that she is pregnant with none other than Ben’s child. Getting past the awkward stage of informing family and friends, Alison decides to keep the baby and Ben agrees to lend his full support, even though he has only a few dollars to his name.


What follows is an awkward romance that requires the stoner Ben to mature to a heretofore unimaginable level, while poised Alison has to find the redeeming qualities in a less-than-stellar candidate for matrimony and fatherhood.


Helping to move along or even at times to hinder the path to true romance is the involvement of Alison’s older sister Debbie (Leslie Mann), a tart-tongued housewife with two young kids who suspects her ambitious husband Pete (Paul Rudd) is unfaithful.


It turns out that Pete may have more in common with Ben than initially suspected, which proves to be the case in a clandestine fantasy baseball meeting and a raucous road trip to Vegas that includes hallucinogenic drugs. Debbie is in a class by herself, and she has a terrifically funny scene in a showdown with a nightclub doorman who won’t let her in because she’s too old and her sister is too visibly pregnant.


Profane and crass, “Knocked Up” has so many comic gems that uncontrolled bouts of laughter are unavoidable. To be sure, there’s a matter of taste to this film’s humor that may not be to everyone’s liking, but I suspect it will nonetheless prove as popular as its thematic progenitor.


MR. BROOKS (Rated R)


Serial killers are inevitably creepy, despicable and demonic creatures. A murderer is made more fascinating and compelling if that person is conflicted, tortured and has a split personality.


That’s the reasoning behind the gripping suspense thriller “Mr. Brooks,” where the pillar of the community, a successful businessman and generous philanthropist, hides a shocking private life that involves a pathological compulsion to kill. Even more shocking is that Kevin Costner plays the titular role of a notorious serial killer who has baffled the police for years.


As the film opens, Costner’s Earl Brooks is being honored as Portland’s Man of the Year. Upon returning home with his loving, devoted wife Emma (Marg Helgenberger), he turns into Mr. Hyde and slips out for an evening of mayhem.


Though repressed for two years while attending AA meetings, his murderous impulse is inflamed by the omnipresence of his diabolical alter-ego Marshall (William Hurt), the inner voice of malevolence who urges the brutal slaying of a dancing couple.


The reason why these two people are chosen as victims is never revealed or explored, other than the fact that Mr. Brooks, abetted by the entreaties of the evil Marshall, has an insatiable blood lust.


For someone meticulous in the manner in which he kills, Mr. Brooks commits his first mistake. By not closing the curtains, he’s observed by the Peeping Tom photographer Mr. Smith (Dane Cook), who chooses to blackmail him with a bizarre demand.


Realizing that he’s found the notorious Thumbprint Killer, the curious Mr. Smith wants to tag along for the next kill, insisting that it happen real soon. Now Mr. Brooks must contend with a demanding alter ego and an impatient bystander. But his problems start to mount when tenacious Detective Tracy Atwood (Demi Moore) gets back on the case.


A few subplots are introduced into the mix, all of which have some bearing upon the actions of the killer or the attempts to apprehend him. Detective Atwood contends with her own personal crisis of a pending divorce from a cheating, gold-digging husband. And her personal safety is at serious risk from an escaped convict she put behind bars.


Then, Earl’s daughter Jane (Danielle Panabaker) suddenly drops out of college and returns home under very mysterious and troubling circumstances. Meanwhile, Mr. Smith’s reckless eagerness to participate in the next murder has put Earl and Marshall in a tough bind.


Though often preposterous, “Mr. Brooks” is as close to serious adult drama as one is likely to find in the vast landscape of banal and silly summer movies. Watching the interplay between Kevin Costner and William Hurt as they deal with the tortured soul of Mr. Brooks is best reason to enjoy this creepy, suspenseful thriller.


Tim Riley reviews films for Lake County News.


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