The weekend warriors of February 20, 2015 includes Hot Tub Time Machine 2, The DUFF, and McFarland, USA. Every week, movie studios select candidates to enter the glorious battlefield for your hard-earned dollars, Box Office Battlefield is here to help you decide which movie(s) will take priority over the others and determine who will be victorious.
Last weekend, Fifty Shades of Grey obliterated Valentine’s Day box office records. As three new contenders step up to the plate to see if they can cut down the Valentine’s Day cash to size. Can a comedy sequel heat up the box office? Or perhaps an original teen rom com? But don’t count out the always accessible sports drama. This is the Box Office Battlefield:
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Steve Pink) Rated R [93 min] – When Lou finds himself in trouble, Nick and Jacob fire up the hot tub time machine in an attempt to get back to the past. But they inadvertently land in the future with Adam Jr. Now they have to alter the future in order to save the past – which is really the present. Starring Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, and Adam Scott
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 15% • Audience – 55%
What I’m saying:
I’m so glad that the first Hot Tub Time Machine exists because it’s the perfect example of how sequels can completely ruin the goodwill of a solid comedy. The original is focused and the jokes all organically fit to the simple narrative. Importantly, it had a heart. Logically, nothing really makes sense in Hot Tub Time Machine 2, it’s a complete mess. There are gags that feel utterly forced, which can all be summed up in a scene that depicts virtual rape. The plot becomes overly convoluted despite riffs on other time travel movies that are meant to jokingly help you understand what’s going on. The characters have all been stripped down to hollow shells of themselves, repeating their mistakes and moronic behaviors they were privy to in the first film. There is not growth, but devolution. SKIP IT!
The DUFF (Ari Sandel) Rated PG-13 [101 min] – A high school senior instigates a social pecking order revolution after finding out that she has been labeled the DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend) to her prettier more popular friends. Starring Mae Whitman, Bella Thorne, Robbie Amell, Bianca Santos, Skyler Samuels, Ken Jeong, Nick Eversman, Allison Janney, and Romany Malco
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 61% • Audience – 70%
What I’m saying:
Oscar Winner for Best Live Action Short Film, director Ari Sandel has been fairly absent from the scene since his big win back in 2005. And now swooping in out of nowhere, his feature-length directorial debut, The DUFF, is a refreshing take on the “She’s All That” plot. Although it hits all the conventional tropes of teen comedies of yesteryear, it does so in a way that is wildly entertaining and almost feels unpredictable at times because of how differently it approaches the subject matter. Most of all, the relationships in this story feel organic and the characters well-fleshed out and developed.
This is true teen comedy that takes stereotypical high school characters and modernizes them for the tumblr-generation. Mae Whitman is charmingly sweet and witty, while the rest of the cast click very well with each other. Definitely a fun comedy for a younger audience, but a good conversational piece for adults to get a better understanding of youths too. And from both a male screenwriter and director, based on the fictional work of a female author, The DUFF captures its main female character’s perspective well.
But what I enjoyed about The DUFF the most is the fact that it is able to create such a vibrant, entertaining world while coming across as the kind of comedy that doesn’t need a sequel. It’s a standalone comedy that fits perfectly into a singular story. There just aren’t enough great standalone comedies these days and I appreciated this. MATINEE IT!
McFarland, USA (Niki Caro) Rated PG [128 min] – A cross country coach in a small California town transforms a team of athletes into championship contenders. Starring Kevin Costner, Maria Bello, Ramiro Rodriguez, and Carlos Pratts
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 77% • Audience – 77%
What they’re saying:
“Caro keeps the material picturesque, respectful, and respectable-without crossing the line into real inspiration.” – Jesse Hassenger (AV Club)
“A less talented and more shameless director might’ve turned it into cornmeal mush, but Niki Caro (“Whale Rider”) has delivered unto the Disney corporation a Kevin Costner sports movie that works.” – Michael Phillips (Chicago Tribune)
What I’m saying:
McFarland, USA looks well-done, I’ll give it that. The kind of uplifting, based on a true story film that is lifted straight from a motivational poster. It looks totally adequate, but I don’t think I could differentiate the message it’s trying to tell from any other inspirational movie of its kind. Look back at Cool Runnings and think about how the team triumphs over diversity and their shortcomings. There is personality to Cool Runnings that makes it stand out. Now 22 years old, people still talk about it. I don’t think anyone will be talking about McFarland, USA three months from now. RENT IT!
Wild Tales (Damián Szifrón) Rated R [122 min] – A story about love deception, the return of the past, a tragedy, or even the violence contained in an everyday detail, appear themselves to push them towards the abyss, into the undeniable pleasure of losing control. Starring Liliana Ackerman, Luis Manuel Altamirano García, Alejandro Angelini, and Damián Benítez
Rotten Tomatoes Score: Critics – 92% • Audience – 95%
What they’re saying:
“A wickedly delightful compendium of six standalone shorts united by a theme of vengeance — the kind that explodes in spectacular bursts after a put-upon soul is screwed over too many times.” – Jay Weissberg (Variety)
“You never lose interest for a moment, and the images are often striking: Javier Julia did the stylish cinematography. Yet there’s little lift from the carryings-on, not much buoyancy in the misanthropy.” – Joe Morgenstern (Wall Street Journal)
What I’m saying:
I have not seen this Oscar nominated film yet, due to the region I live in, but it looks pretty intense. What catches my fancy is the unique stories within this film and how they will correlate with the themes mentioned in the plot synopsis. From what I’ve read from other critics, it’s a movie I definitely want to check out. SEE IT!
Hot Tub Time Machine 2 is so terrible that word of mouth will spread and dissuade audiences from going. Although entertaining and smart, The DUFF is very niche to a specific age group and won’t gain the older audiences money. McFarland, USA just seems like your a-typical, feel good movie, that will be uninteresting to sports fans outside the world of cross country. Fifty Shades of Grey made so much dinero last weekend that the buzz will continue to drive audiences despite its ridiculousness. Intrigue and FOMO will win over young and funny. So as it stands, I believe the victor for this weekend will be:
Winner: Fifty Shades of Grey
You can follow me on the Twitters @TyRawrrnosaurus
Movie synopses courtesy of IMDb.com and Tomatometer Scores from Rotten Tomatoe