Review: ‘Palm Springs,’ starring Andy Samberg, Cristin Milioti and J.K. Simmons

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Cristin Milioti and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

“Palm Springs”

Directed by Max Barbakow

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in Palm Springs, California, and briefly in other parts of the U.S., the comedy film “Palm Springs” has a predominantly white cast (with a few black people, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.

Culture Clash: A single man and a single woman find themselves in a repetitive time loop where they keep waking up to the wedding day of the woman’s younger sister in Palm Springs, California.

Culture Audience: “Palm Springs” will appeal to primarily people who like offbeat “time warp” comedies, but much of the vulgar humor lacks wit or originality.

Meredith Hagner and Andy Samberg in “Palm Springs” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

A blatant and vastly inferior ripoff of the 1993 Bill Murray classic comedy “Groundhog Day,” the time-loop comedy film “Palm Springs” might be interesting to fans of star Andy Samberg, but everyone else will feel like they’re stuck watching a repetitive time-loop skit get less funny as time goes on. A sardonic supporting performance by the always-great J.K. Simmons isn’t enough to save this smug film, which isn’t as clever as the filmmakers like to think it is.

People who follow news in the entertainment industry might be aware that the Hulu comedy film “Palm Springs” broke a Sundance Film Festival record for the highest amount paid ($17.5 million and 69 cents) to acquire a film that premiered at Sundance. The previous record holder was Fox Searchlight’s $17.5 million purchase of the 2016 drama “Birth of a Nation,” actor Nate Parker’s feature-film directorial debut.

The record-breaking sum that Hulu paid for “Palm Springs” would lead people to believe that this movie, which clearly won’t be an Oscar contender, is at least on par with a crowd-pleasing classic, such as director Harold Ramis’ “Groundhog Day,” a movie about a weatherman who’s stuck in a Groundhog Day time loop. Unfortunately, “Palm Springs” (directed by Max Barbakow and written by Andy Siara) doesn’t come close to the charm and memorable humor of “Groundhog Day.”

It’s pretty obvious that the overrated “Palm Springs” was sold for an overpriced amount because movie executives got caught up in a bidding war for a mediocre film. When has Samberg ever starred in a quality movie that was a big hit with audiences? Never. “Palm Springs” certainly won’t be his first “blockbuster” hit.

In “Palm Springs,” Sandberg plays an obnoxious ne’er do well named Nyles, who is stuck in a time loop where he keeps waking up to November 9, the day of a wedding that he is supposed to attend with his girlfriend Misty (played by Meredith Hagner), a stereotypical ditsy blonde who is one of the bridesmaids. Viewers won’t find out about this time loop until after the first time that the movie shows Nyles at the wedding.

The wedding is taking place in the upscale desert vacation city of Palm Springs, California. The bride is Tala (played by Camila Mendes), the groom is Abe (played by Tyler Hoechlin) and the maid of honor is Tala’s divorced older sister Sarah (played by Cristin Milioti), who looks and acts like she’d rather be anywhere else but the wedding. The proud parents of the bride are Howard (played by Peter Gallagher) and Pia (played by Jacqueline Obradors), who don’t do much except look horrified at some of the silly antics that later ensue in the story. And then there’s Nana Schlieffen (played by June Squibb), the token matronly grandmother at the wedding.

Nyles, Misty and Sarah are all staying at the same hotel. When Nyles wakes up in the hotel on the day of the wedding, Misty has just come out of the shower and is putting lotion on her legs. Nyles wants to have sex, and Misty agrees, but only if they make it quick because she says she doesn’t want to get too sweaty. A predictable erection joke is part of this scene, which sets the tone for the rest of this movie. “Palm Springs” makes a lot of crude jokes about sex, but most of the jokes aren’t very funny.

At the wedding, Nyles stands out (and not in a good way) because he’s wearing clothes that are too casual: a Hawaiian shirt and shorts. At the reception, Misty makes an awkward wedding speech, and then it’s Sarah turn to give her speech. Even though she’s the maid of honor, a miserable-looking Sarah seems shocked that she’s expected to make a toast to the bride and groom.

But before she gets a chance to make the speech, Nyles butts in and makes a speech that’s even more cringeworthy than Misty’s speech. What Nyles has to say is both overly sappy and nonsensical. He ends it by stating to the newly married couple: “We may be born lost, but now you are found.”

After that, Nyles (who is constantly chugging beer from beer cans) and Sarah strike up a conversation. Nyles flirts heavily with Sarah and asks her if she wants to go somewhere private with him for a quickie tryst. Sarah tells him that he’s being very forward, but she’s intrigued by his boldness.

While Nyles and Sarah are outside, they pass by a bathroom where the reception is being held. The bathroom is on the ground level, and they can clearly see into the bathroom’s window (this place clearly doesn’t care about guests’ privacy), where they witness Misty cheating with a wedding guest named Trevor (played by Chris Pang). Trevor, who’s dressed in a glittery cowboy suit at the wedding, is one of those quirky characters that was written in this movie in its failed attempt to be like a Wes Anderson comedy.

Now that Sarah knows that Nyles’ girlfriend/wedding date doesn’t really care about him, Sarah takes Nyles up on his offer to hook up with him out in the desert. Before that happens, Sarah tells Nyles that she’s the “black sheep” of her family, because her family thinks she’s a “liability” who thinks “I fuck around and drink too much.”

While Sarah and Nyles are having a steamy makeout session, Nyles suddenly gets wounded on his shoulder by an arrow. Out of the shadows, a man wearing dark camouflage paint on his face starts to chase Nyles with a bow and arrow, while Sarah freaks out and is confused at what’s going on. It turns out that the angry bow-and-arrow hunter is named Roy (played by J.K. Simmons), and Roy wants revenge on Nyles for a reason that’s revealed later in the story.

Meanwhile, during this chase scene, Nyles runs into a cave where there’s a strange glowing red light. Sarah follows Nyles into the cave. And it turns out this mysterious cave is the portal that causes a time-loop that keeps going back to November 9. Now that Sarah has gone into the cave, she’s stuck in the time loop with Nyles too. Just like Nyles, every time Sarah now wakes up, it’s in the Palm Springs hotel on the November 9 wedding day.

“Palm Springs” has a lot of slapstick humor to distract from the uninspired dialogue in the movie. After Sarah finds out that she’s stuck in the same time loop as Nyles, much of the film is about Sarah being angry with Nyles because she feels that she didn’t deserve to be unknowingly trapped in the loop.

Nyles has been in the loop long enough to warn Sarah that attempts to get out of the loop have failed. Committing suicide doesn’t work. (Although an idea presented later in the story contradicts that theory.) It also doesn’t work to take stimulant drugs that keep people up for days. Traveling to another city (which Sarah does when she drives all the way back to her messy house in Austin, Texas) also doesn’t get them out of loop either.

The movie never explains what Nyles did for a living before he got caught in the time loop, but he’s reached a point of feeling resigned about his fate in the loop. Therefore, he acts as recklessly and obnoxiously as possible (including breaking several laws), because he knows that when he wakes up, he’ll be back in that Palm Springs hotel room on the November 9 wedding day.

Nyles also tells Sarah that being stuck in the time loop has caused him to feel free to have sexual hookups with as many people as possible, including three people who keep showing up in this story: a bartender named Daisy (played by Jena Friedman), who works at the wedding reception; Darla (played by Dale Dickey) a crusty regular at a local bar; and fashionable Jerry (played by Tongayi Chirisa), one of the wedding guests.

At first, Sarah gets caught up in being as “bad” as possible, so a great deal of the movie shows Sarah and Nyles acting like drunken, irresponsible teenagers. But Sarah soon grows tired of these shenanigans and wants to get out of the loop and back to her normal life. It goes without saying that Sarah and Nyles start to have romantic feelings for each other, so Nyles is conflicted about Sarah wanting to leave the loop while he might remain stuck there.

Unfortunately for “Palm Springs,” the chemistry between Samberg and Milioti isn’t very believable when Nyles and Sarah start to become a romantic couple. Milioti seems to be doing her best to bring some laughs to the story, but Sarah is such a deeply unhappy, self-loathing person that it’s hard to believe that Sarah can fall in love when she doesn’t even love herself.

Parts of “Palm Springs” seem like a more adult-language version of a “Saturday Night Live” sketch that’s worn out its welcome. Samberg, who’s a “Saturday Night Live” alum, has the same type of one-note “man child” persona that he had on the show. It’s the same persona that Pete Davidson has also taken as part of his comedic image.

A comedy with this “time loop” concept should be fun to watch, but “Palm Springs” is a chore to watch because the two main characters don’t have charismatic personalities. Huge stretches of “Palm Springs” drag on for too long. And even the movie’s visual effects look cheap and clunky.

The best thing about “Palm Springs” is how the “travelogue” type of cinematography (from Quyen Tran) makes a vacation in Palm Springs look very enticing. But people can watch attractive travel videos for free on the Internet, and this movie isn’t supposed to be a travel video.

People aren’t going to sign up for Hulu en masse to watch this movie, so “Palm Springs” certainly wasn’t worth the $17.5 million price tag. “Palm Springs” is not only a waste of Hulu’s money but it’s also a waste of viewers’ time, unless people have a high tolerance for Samberg’s recycled “man child” persona.

Hulu premiered “Palm Springs” on July 10, 2020

 

 

 

 

Review: ‘Dangerous Lies,’ starring Camila Mendes, Jessie T. Usher, Jamie Chung, Cam Gigandet, Sasha Alexander and Elliott Gould

April 30, 2020

by Carla Hay

Jessie T. Usher and Camila Mendes in “Dangerous Lies” (Photo by Eric Milner/Netflix)

“Dangerous Lies”

Directed by Michael M. Scott

Culture Representation: Taking place in Chicago, the crime thriller “Dangerous Lies” has a racially diverse cast (white, African American, Latino and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A young, financially struggling married couple find themselves in the middle of ethical dilemmas and a crime mystery when they get a windfall of inherited wealth.

Culture Audience: “Dangerous Lies” will appeal primarily to people who are looking for a slightly higher-budget version of a Lifetime movie.

Elliott Gould and Camila Mendes in “Dangerous Lies” (Photo by Eric Milner/Netflix)

What would you do if you found a hidden pile of $100,000 in cash in the house of a dead man whom you know doesn’t have any heirs or a will? The young husband and wife at the center of the thriller “Dangerous Lies” experience this dilemma, as their bills are mounting and they don’t have any viable job prospects to get them out of their financial hole. But whether or not to keep the money turns out to be the least of their problems, since ” Dangerous Lies” is the kind of very self-aware B-movie where the number of people who die can be considered directly proportional to the increasingly melodramatic plot twists.

In the beginning of “Dangerous Lies” (directed by Michael M. Scott), married couple Katie Franklin (played by Camila Medes) and Adam Ketner (played by Jessie T. Usher), who are in their 20s, are living in Chicago in a small apartment that they can barely afford. Their relationship will become increasingly strained over their financial issues. Katie and Adam are struggling to make ends meet, since he’s a full-time student, and she’s a waitress at a diner.

One night, when Adam is at the diner to give Katie a ride home after her shift, they both have a passionate makeout tryst in the back of their car while Katie is on a break. When they both go back into the diner, they witness an armed robbery taking place. Adam makes the bold decision to tackle the armed gunman, who has already shot and killed a bus boy at the diner. Adam is able to fight the gunman, whose name is Ray Gaskin (played by Sean Owen Roberts) and tackle him to the ground. Adam briefly becomes a local hero when the criminal is arrested but severely wounded from the fight.

Four months later, Katie and Adam are in even more financial dire straits, as they’re drowning in debt. Adam has dropped out of college, but he still has to pay back his student loan. Katie and Adam are also very close to being evicted from their apartment. The financial pressure has taken a toll on their marriage. Katie and Adam argue because she thinks he isn’t trying very hard to find a job after he dropped out of school. Adam thinks Katie is being too much of a demanding nag who doesn’t understand how hard the job market can be.

In the meantime, Katie has been the earning the money in their household by being a caretaker for wealthy, 88-year-old Leonard Wellsley (played by Elliott Gould), who lives by himself in a mansion on a quiet, tree-lined street. Leonard has never been married, has no kids, and has no living relatives. Katie got the job through an employment agency, which is run by George Calvern (played by Michael B. Northey), who thinks Katie is trustworthy until some occurrences make him wonder if she has a devious side to her. George has a habit of showing up at Leonard’s house unannounced, which understandably annoys Leonard.

On another occasion, Katie encounters another unannounced visitor: a smarmy-looking Mickey Hayden (played by Cam Gigandet), who introduces himself as a real-estate agent. Mickey says that he has a client with a big family who wants to buy Leonard’s house and is willing to pay whatever the asking price will be. Katie firmly tells Mickey that the house isn’t for sale because Leonard the owner has told her that. Mickey walks away, but will this be the last we see of him? Of course not.

One day, Katie blurts out to Leonard that she and Adam are financially broke. Leonard offers to give money to Katie to ease her financial woes, but she politely declines. Instead, she asks Leonard if Adam can work there as a part-time gardener. Leonard immediately agrees.

Adam begins working for Leonard, and things seem to be going very smoothly. Katie and Adam are arguing less and it seems that they are slowly getting back on on track to improving their finances. Leonard has surprised Katie with a check for $7,000 as a gift. At first, Katie wants to refuse the gift and return the check to Leonard. But Adam changes her mind because he convinces her that the money will be more than enough to solve the couple’s immediate financial problems. Therefore, they both go to a bank to deposit the check.

But then, something unexpected happens the next day: Katie goes to work and finds Leonard dead in the attic. In this “finding the body” scene, Mendes shows limited acting range, since she doesn’t appear to be very startled or shocked at finding her boss dead while he’s sitting in a chair. Later, she sheds some tears while she’s calling 911, but the way that Mendes plays Katie’s initial reaction is just a little too wooden for this type of scene.

Before calling 911 about finding the body, Katie tells Adam, who’s nearby, and he rushes over to comfort Katie. While they’re waiting for an ambulance and police arrive, Adam discovers a key on the floor next to Leonard’s body. He finds out that the key opens a trunk in the attic. Although Katie doesn’t think it’s a good idea to open the trunk, Adam does it anyway. He finds old photos and newspaper clippings. But the trunk has a removable shelf inside, and underneath the shelf is a pile of cash that was clearly meant to be hidden.

Adam knows that Leonard has no living heirs, so his first thought is to take the cash, because he knows it will be more than enough to solve the couple’s financial problems. The death of Leonard has left Katie and Adam without jobs, so Adam reasons it’s the only way they can pay their bills. Katie is much more reluctant at first to take the money.

The main investigator to arrive on the scene is Detective Chesler (played by Sasha Alexander), who has the kind of tough-and-slightly tender cop demeanor that would make her right at home in a “Law & Order” series. When Detective Chesler finds out that Leonard has no living heirs, she gets slightly suspicious of Katie when she discovers that Katie has only been working for Leonard for a little more than four months. And the suspicions grow even more when Detective Chesler finds out that Katie had deposited a $7,000 check from Leonard the day before he died.

However, Leonard was 88 years old and on medication for health problems. Did he die of natural causes or something else? Pending an autopsy from the medical examiner, George tells Katie that his agency can’t place her in any more jobs until the investigation is closed and it’s ruled that no foul play was involved in Leonard’s death. Suddenly, that pile of hidden cash has become much more tempting, since Leonard had no known will.

The next day, when Katie isn’t home, Adam sees that she has left the keys to Leonard’s house on a table. He takes the keys to go back to Leonard’s house to count the cash, which totals almost $100,000. But while he’s counting the money, he hears someone break into the house, and then someone comes up behind him and knocks him unconscious.

When Katie finds out that happened, she’s furious at Adam, but she also knows that they’re desperate for money. She agrees to keep the cash, on this condition for how they would spend the money: “We would have to be very careful,” she tells Adam. Katie and Adam decide to take the money before it’s found, and they put it in a safe deposit box in a bank.

And then another unexpected thing happens: Katie is asked to meet with Julia Byron-Kim (played by Jamie Chung), who says she was hired by Leonard to be his attorney a few months before he died. Julia tells Katie that Leonard actually did have a will, and he made Katie his sole beneficiary. Katie can expect to get the inheritance money after the few months that the will goes through probate proceedings and pending the outcome of the medical examination.

Katie and Adam can’t believe their luck. They immediately move into Leonard’s mansion and start making plans for their future. Adam is very eager to spend the secret pile of cash they have. He’s so caught-up in his new-found wealth that he drops his plans to keep looking for a job, and he splurges on a luxury watch. Katie is more practical and cautious about spending the money, and she grows increasingly uncomfortable with what looks like greed taking over Adam’s mindset.

But, of course, in a story like this one, this luck comes at a huge cost. A series of events puts more suspicion on Katie and Adam for being possibly responsible for Leonard’s death. And that secret pile of cash is starting to make Katie have a very guilty conscience, which puts her at odds with Adam, who has no qualms about how they got the money.

Meanwhile, something strange happens that makes Adam and Katie wonder if someone is trying to set them up. Adam gets a call to go to the police station to do a follow-up statement on the armed robbery that he had foiled months before. But when he gets to the police station, Detective Chesler tells him that no one from the police department made the call. Adam doesn’t bother to tell Katie about this strange phone call, so when she finds out about it from Detective Chesler, she starts to mistrust Adam.

And as for the plot twists that are crammed in toward the end of the film, some of these “surprises” are more believable than others. “Dangerous Lies” (which was written by David Golden) follows a lot of familiar tropes of a Lifetime movie (where the female protagonist usually has to decide if her romantic partner is trustworthy or not), while adding in a very good level of suspense. The actors in “Dangerous Lies” don’t do a particularly outstanding job in their roles, but no one is outright horrible either. It’s the kind of made-for-TV movie that someone can watch to pass the time, but it won’t leave much of a lasting impression.

Netflix premiered “Dangerous Lies” on April 30, 2020.