Summer 2011 Comedy Preview: Movies

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The sound of Vin Diesel and his crew vroom-vrooming into theaters this past weekend means it’s that time of year again. This summer’s movie season will be longer and louder than ever before, with big-budget movies full of fast cars, hot tits, and big explosions booking up every weekend for the next four months. Director Jon Favreau has called this summer “a bloodbath” for those in the movie industry, meaning that there’s never before been a summer so overstuffed with sequels, reboots and highly-anticipated original fare all competing for the top slot. Although superhero, sci-fi, and fantasy movies like Green Lantern, Super 8, and the final Harry Potter will be making the most noise and the most money, the season is also chock-full of comedies that are looking to compete with the big boys. Movies like The Hangover Part II, the Judd Apatow-produced Bridesmaids, and the Kevin James vehicle The Zookeeper are likely to be amongst this summer’s biggest box office comedy draws.

Something Borrowed (watch trailer) and Jumping the Broom (watch trailer)

This weekend sees the release of two wedding comedies, but neither seems destined for instant classic status. Something Borrowed is a Kate Hudson vehicle based on the bestselling Emily Griffin book of the same name. Luke Greenfield, the man behind Rob Schneider’s The Animal and the underrated The Girl Next Door, is helming this one, his first feature since David Wain took over for him as director of Role Models. But hey, at least John Krasinski is in it!

Jumping the Broom is a comedy about two African-American families from opposite sides of the social spectrum who can’t get along during a weekend wedding at Martha’s Vineyard. SPOILER ALERT: The families clash at first, but by the film’s end, they learn that their petty squabbling is getting them nowhere and that they should really be supporting the bride and groom, forming a mutual respect between the two families and a bond that seems like it will last far beyond the moment when the central couple is wed and the closing credits roll. At least that’s what I’m presuming. These plot details have not been confirmed.

Also in theaters this weekend: The Mel Gibson comedy-drama The Beaver is set for a limited release, but will expand on May 20th. The film’s debut has been delayed twice in the wake of Gibson’s personal troubles last year and it’ll be interesting to see how audiences react to his first big screen outing since those phone recordings leaked. Despite the turn Gibson’s public image has taken, The Beaver, about a depressed man who transforms his life with the help of a beaver hand puppet, has been receiving great reviews since its film festival debut earlier this year. This weekend also sees Passion Play in limited release. Although it isn’t a comedy, Passion Play stars beloved comedy icon Bill Murray, but Murray’s co-star Mickey Rourke has publicly called it a “terrible movie.”

Bridesmaids (watch trailer #1, trailer #2, and red band trailer)

Not just one of the most anticipated comedies of the summer, but one of the season’s most anticipated movies in general, Bridesmaids has been drawing rave reviews since it debuted at South by Southwest in March. The film is the latest from comedy juggernaut Judd Apatow, whose production company has scored several big summer hits in recent years; and with Bridesmaids, Apatow looks poised for another.

Bridesmaids was scripted by Kristen Wiig and writing partner Annie Mumolo and directed by Freaks and Geeks creator Paul Feig, in his first collaboration with Judd Apatow since their work on that amazing cult classic series. Featuring the ace supporting cast you’ve come to expect from an Apatow comedy, Bridesmaids also stars Maya Rudolph, Jon Hamm, Rose Byrne, The Office’s Ellie Kemper, Reno 911!’s Wendi McLendon-Covey, and the late Jill Clayburgh in her final performance. If Bridesmaids is anywhere near as good as the strong early reviews and the caliber of the cast and crew suggest, then it should be a major hit this summer, showing that female-driven comedies can be just as enjoyable as the male-centric ones that dominate the box office.

Everything Must Go (watch trailer)

Will Ferrell goes dramatic again in this comedy-drama based on a Raymond Carver story. Ferrell plays a relapsed alcoholic who loses his wife and job, only to be stranded on his front lawn with all of his belongings. He starts a garage sale, so that he can legally remain on his lawn for four days while he sorts his life out. I enjoyed Ferrell’s last dramatic performance in Stranger than Fiction, and it seems like he has the chops to pull off this low budget indie. Everything Must Go’s positive early reviews are an encouraging sign that this is one to look forward to.

Midnight in Paris (watch trailer)

Woody Allen’s latest continues his string of European films, bringing him to France this time around. Midnight in Paris stars Owen Wilson, with Rachel McAdams, Kathy Bates, and Adrien Brody rounding out the supporting cast. This whole Europe kick Woody Allen’s been on has reinvigorated his career, and the fresh settings have brought out the best in his work, for the most part. Hopefully, Allen will prove as adept at filming in France as he was with England in Match Point and Spain in Vicky Christina Barcelona.

The Hangover Part II (watch teaser trailer and regular trailer)

After The Hangover became summer of 2009’s highest grossing comedy and the highest-grossing R-rated comedy of all time, it’s no surprise the studio rushed a sequel into theaters. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms, and the original’s breakout star, Zach Galifianakis, are all back, along with director Todd Phillips and several key members of the supporting cast, including Ken Jeong and Mike Tyson. The action’s transplanted to Thailand, as the gang is there celebrating Ed Helms’s character’s wedding this time, only to have a wild but mostly-forgotten night all over again. The hoopla over Mel Gibson’s cancelled cameo in the movie should be overshadowed by another staggering box office return for the now-franchise, as The Hangover Part II is this summer’s most-hyped comedy and one that’s pretty much a guaranteed hit already.

Also in theaters this weekend: The sequel to the smash-hit 2008 animated family comedy Kung Fu Panda, the aptly titled Kung Fu Panda 2, is set to burst onto the screen. Most of the voice cast will be returning, including Jack Black, Dustin Hoffman, Seth Rogen, and David Cross. Listen for Danny McBride voice in a small part as the voice of a wolf.

Submarine (watch trailer)

Richard Ayoade, best known as Maurice on the British sitcom The IT Crowd, is also an accomplished television writer-director, and he’ll be making his feature debut with Submarine, a coming-of-age comedy-drama from Ben Stiller’s production company. Ayoade cut his teeth on British comedy series Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and its spin-off Man to Man with DeanLearner, and he most recently directed one of my favorite Community episodes this season, the My Dinner With Andre homage “Critical Film Studies.” Richard Ayoade has continued his hot streak with Submarine, which drew overwhelmingly positive reviews since its film festival debut and UK release, even evoking Wes Anderson comparisons. While Submarine won’t be competing for box office domination with high-profile broad-appeal releases like The Hangover II, it has the makings of a beloved cult film and critic’s favorite.

Also in theaters this weekend: The Mandy Moore rom-com Love, Wedding, Marriage promises to be the last wedding-themed comedy of a summer saturated with them.

The Trip (watch a preview clip)

The Trip, starring British comedians Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, debuted as a six-part BBC series last year, but these six episodes have been put together to be released as a film in the States. Coogan and Brydon play fictionalized versions of themselves, touring from restaurant to restaurant together in northern England. While it’s an odd choice to edit this series into a feature film, the original episodes received positive reviews, multiple awards nominations, and a Twitter endorsement from Judd Apatow.

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (watch trailer)

Jim Carrey stars in this adaptation of the popular 1938 children’s book of the same name. He’ll be playing a businessman who inherits six unruly penguins who proceed to muck up his apartment and make his life hell. Carrey’s shown he can draw a big audience to his family films with The Grinch, Horton Hears a Who!, and most recently, A Christmas Carol, and this could be another box office victory for the actor in the all-ages realm.

Bad Teacher (watch trailer and red band trailer)

The script to Bad Teacher made 2008’s Black List, an annual ranking of the best-liked unproduced screenplays in Hollywood, so that’s an good early indication. Bad Teacher stars Cameron Diaz as a foul-mouthed, shallow high school teacher and features an impressive supporting cast that includes Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel, Lucy Punch, Molly Shannon, Eric Stonestreet, and Thomas Lennon. This is director Jake Kasdan’s first movie since Walk Hard in 2007, a favorite of mine. That’s just one of several exceptional but criminally-underappreciated comedies Kasdan has made, and I’m hoping Bad Teacher gets the respect it deserves.

Conan O’Brien Can’t Stop (watch preview clip)

We reviewed the Conan O’Brien concert film after it premiered at South by Southwest earlier this year, and it’ll be receiving a limited theatrical release this summer. Director Rodman Flender’s documentary has been met with critical acclaim and it should be fascinating to get a backstage look at Conan’s transition to his live road act immediately after his emotional departure from NBC.

Also in theaters: Pixar sequel Cars 2 is set for release, along with A Little Help, an indie comedy-drama that stars Jenna Fischer as a dental hygienist dealing with the aftermath of her cheating husband’s death.

Larry Crowne (watch trailer)

Tom Hanks writes, stars, produces, and directs this comedy-drama about a man who is fired from his long-held job for not having a college degree. He decides to enroll in college and stars up a romance with his professor, played by Julia Roberts. This’ll be Hanks’s first feature gig as a writer or director since 1998’s That Thing You Do! With a supporting cast that includes Bryan Cranston, Cedric the Entertainer, Hanks’s co-writer on the project Nia Vardalos, Wilmer Valderrama, Rob Riggle, George Takei, and Pam Grier, Hanks has surrounded himself with a unusual mix of personalities. Hanks is always likeable and has broad appeal, and this project has the makings of a feel-good, Fourth of July weekend hit.

Also in theaters: Terri is a comedy about an unlikely bond that a troubled, overweight 15-year-old student strikes up with the vice principal of his high school (played by John C. Reilly). Early reviews so far have been mixed, but Reilly’s always reliable for a solid performance and The Office’s Creed Bratton has a supporting role, so this should be worth checking out.

Horrible Bosses

Jason Bateman, Jason Sudeikis, and Charlie Day star as three friends who make an agreement to kill each others’ mean bosses. Kevin Spacey, Colin Farrell, and Jennifer Aniston are playing the bosses, with Jamie Foxx, Donald Sutherland, and Julie Bowen in supporting roles. The cast is filled to the brim with talented actors, and it’ll be nice to see Charlie Day get his much-deserved first starring role, even if it’s as part of an ensemble. He’s been knocking it out of the park for years on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and it’s about time Hollywood took notice. Seth Gordon (The King of Kong, Four Christmases) is directing from a screenplay by writing duo Jonathan Goldstein and John Francis Daley, who played Sam Weir on Freaks and Geeks. Goldstein and Daley have projects set up all over town, including the National Lampoon’s Vacation reboot/sequel and Steve Carell magician comedy Burt Wonderstone, but this will be the first screenplay they’ve had produced.

The Zookeeper (watch teaser trailer)

Kevin James plays the title character in this Adam Sandler-produced family comedy about a zookeeper who is having trouble with the ladies and receives romantic advice from the talking animals in his zoo. So, it’s basically Hitch if you just replace Will Smith with Dr. Dolittle. Who’s onboard?

The filmmakers have recruited an impressive cast to lend their voices to the various zoo animals, including Nick Nolte, Adam Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph, and Don Rickles. Save for recent underperformer The Dilemma, Kevin James’s projects tend to be big money-makers. The Zookeeper was originally set to be released last October, but the studio pushed it back to the summer season in anticipation that it would be a huge hit - perhaps this year’s Paul Blart.

This particular weekend sees the release of two low-key indie comedies. Buzzkill is about a struggling writer who leaves the only copy of his screenplay in his car, which is stolen by a serial killer. Salvation Boulevard, based on the Larry Beinhart novel of the same name, is a comedy-thriller about the fundamentalist members of a mega-church and stars Pierce Brosnan, Greg Kinnear, Marisa Tomei, Jennifer Connelly, and Jim Gaffigan.

Friends with Benefits (watch regular trailer and red band trailer)

Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake are the leads in this film about two friends who enjoy having commitment-free sex with each other. Hollywood’s been on a bit of a casual sex kick lately with an NBC sitcom also called Friends with Benefits currently in limbo and the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman starrer No Strings Attached having debuted earlier this year. Weird that Justin Timberlake would end up in the one that doesn’t share a name with an N*Sync album. Friends with Benefits has an advantage over that other picture in writer/director Will Gluck, who scored a critical and commercial hit this past year with the Emma Stone comedy Easy A. With any luck, Friends with Benefits will see Gluck continuing to emerge as a major force in comedy.

Crazy, Stupid, Love (watch trailer)

Those of us already missing Steve Carell after his recent Office exit won’t have to wait long to see him again, as he’ll be starring in this comedy-drama about a man dealing with a marital crisis. Ryan Gosling, Julianne Moore, and Emma Stone will be joining him, under the direction of Glenn Ficarra and John Requa, who scripted Bad Santa and wrote/ directed this past year’s I Love You Phillip Morris. Crazy, Stupid, Love is the first film from Steve Carell’s company Carousel Productions, and its success would mean he’d have more chances to build his own projects, as well as putting together for his friends and peers.

Also in theaters: In limited release this weekend, The Guard is a comedy-thriller starring Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle as a difficult policeman and an uptight FBI agent, respectively, who join forces to take down a drug-smuggling operation. This dark comedy’s been receiving universally-positive reviews, and it could end up being this year’s In Bruges.

The Change-Up (watch red band trailer)

Jason Bateman and Ryan Reynolds keep Hollywood’s decades-long obsession with body-switching going, as Bateman’s uptight family man switches places with Reynolds’s swinging bachelor. David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus) directs from a script by Jon Lucas and Scott Moore, who wrote the original draft of The Hangover.

30 Minutes or Less (watch trailer and red band trailer)

Recent Oscar nominee Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari star in this bawdy Ben Stiller-produced comedy, based on another Black List script. The plot involves Eisenberg’s pizza delivery man-child character being kidnapped by amateur criminals who strap a bomb to his chest and force him to rob a bank. 30 Minutes or Less is directed by Ruben Fleischer, who teamed up with Jesse Eisenberg recently for Zombieland. With Danny McBride and Nick Swardson joining Eisenberg and Ansari in the cast, this feels like a meeting of the comedic minds, with these four Young Hollywood funnymen coming together for a late summer hit.

Fright Night

A remake of the 1985 cult favorite horror-comedy, this is exactly the kind of movie studios should be redoing, as the original had several intriguing and memorable elements but was far from perfect.  Anton Yelchin (Star Trek, Charlie Bartlett) stars as a teenager who’s convinced his creepy neighbor (Colin Farrell) is a vampire. Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Dave Franco, David Tennant, and Toni Collette also star, in what seems like a more promising remake than Arthur.

My Idiot Brother (watch trailer)

Paul Rudd plays the titular well-intentioned hippie plagued by bad luck in a role that necessitated he grow a giant beard. The film follows Rudd’s character Ned who, after getting out of jail for selling pot to a cop, causes trouble in the lives of his three sisters. Rudd’s supported by an immensely-likeable group of actors and actresses that includes Elizabeth Banks, Zooey Deschanel, Emily Mortimer, Steve Coogan, Kathryn Hahn, Rashida Jones, T.J. Miller, and Adam Scott. Reviews have been good so far, so hopes are high for this one.

Also in theaters: Jason Sudeikis stars in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy, an R-rated sex-com that’s been sitting on the shelf for a couple years. Also featuring Lake Bell, Martin Starr, Tyler Labine, Will Forte, and Don Johnson, Orgy revolves around a group of high school friends who decide to throw a big end-of-summer group sex party.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.