Review: ‘The Bob’s Burgers Movie,’ starring the voices of Eugene Mirman, John Roberts, Kristen Schaal, Dan Mintz, H. Jon Benjamin, Kevin Kline and Zach Galifianakis

May 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz) and Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin) in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie”

Directed by Loren Bouchard and Bernard Derriman

Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed beach city in a U.S. state that resembles New Jersey, the animated film “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: The working-class Belcher family, which owns a fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers, becomes involved in a murder mystery in the midst of having financial problems over a bank loan.

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of fans of “The Bob’s Burgers” TV series, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” will appeal primarily to people interested in zany animated films that have comedy, drama and musical numbers that can be enjoyed by people of various generations.

A scene from “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (Image courtesy of 20th Century Studios)

Whenever there’s a movie based on a long-running TV series, one of the biggest mistakes that can happen is when the filmmakers make the movie confusing to viewers who’ve never seen the TV series. Fortunately, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” (which is based on the animated TV series “Bob’s Burgers”) does not fall into that trap. In fact, the movie is a great example of how to please existing fans, as well as how to win over newcomers to a franchise.

“Bob’s Burgers” (which premiered in 2011 and is televised in the U.S. on Fox) tells the ongoing story of the Belcher clan, a family of five whose patriarch owns and operate a small fast-food restaurant called Bob’s Burgers in an unnamed beach city in an unnamed U.S. state. (The show has dropped hints over the years that the state is probably New Jersey.) “Bob’s Burgers” creator showrunner Loren Bouchard wrote the screenplay for “The Bob’s Burgers Movie,” which Bouchard co-directed with Bernard Derriman.

Here are the five people in the Belcher family:

  • Bob Belcher (voiced by H. Jon Benjamin), the pessimistic Bob’s Burgers owner, who’s always worrying that the restaurant is on the brink of failing.
  • Linda Belcher (voiced by John Roberts), Bob’s eternally optimistic wife, helps manage Bob’s Burgers. Linda and Bob are both 44 years old.
  • Tina Belcher (voiced by Dan Mintz), Bob and Linda’s “boy crazy” eldest child, who’s 13 years old. Tina has a crush on a fellow teenager named Jimmy Pesto Jr. (also voiced by Benjamin), who is the son of the man who owns Jimmy Pesto’s Pizza, the biggest competitor to Bob’s Burgers.
  • Gene Belcher (voiced by Eugene Mirman), Bob and Linda’s mild-mannered middle child, who is 11 years old. Gene, who is a keyboardist, is preoccupied with his fledgling pop/rock band The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee.
  • Louise Belcher (voiced by Kristen Schaal), Bob and Linda’s feisty youngest child, who is 9 years old. Louise is fond of wearing a pink rabbit-ears hat, and she dislikes being perceived as a weak and cowardly kid.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” keeps things simple by not having too many of the characters that are in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series take up a lot of screen time. (The character of Jimmy Pesto Sr. is not in the movie, because voice actor Jay Johnston has reportedly been dropped from the “Bob’s Burgers” franchise.) “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” could be a stand-alone story, with people never having to see the TV series to understand the movie. It’s a wise choice in the movie’s narrative, considering that many people seeing the “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” haven’t see any episodes of the TV series.

The essential plot of “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” intertwines two major problems experienced by the Belcher family: a bank loan deadline and a murder mystery. In the beginning of the movie, Bob’s Burgers is struggling to stay in business. Bob and Linda are denied an extension on a bank loan, which needs to be paid back in seven days. The day that Bob and Linda get this bad news, the street where Bob’s Burgers is located has a water main break because of old and leaky pipes underground. The breaking of the water main causes a massive sinkhole, right in front of the Bob’s Burgers entrance.

Bob’s Burgers temporarily uses a side door as its entrance and puts a sign out front saying that the restaurant is still open. But the damage to the business is devastating, since Bob’s Burgers gets no customers the day after the sinkhole has appeared. Bob starts to panic over how he’s going to pay back the loan, while Linda firmly believes that everything will eventually work out for the best. Linda thinks that all they have to do is make enough sales to get the money to pay back the loan.

Meanwhile, Louise (who is a student at Wagstaff School) is being harassed by a student bully named Chloe Barbash (voiced by Stephanie Beatriz), who makes fun of Louise, by calling her a “baby” for wearing a rabbit-ears hat. (The hat’s origin story is revealed in this movie.) This taunting then triggers Louise into attempting to prove to the other Wagstaff School students that Louise is no “baby” and that she’s braver than most children. Louise comes up with the idea to explore the sinkhole, and she enlists her siblings Gene and Tina to videorecord this expedition.

To the Belcher kids’ shock, Louise finds a skeleton of a man in the sinkhole. The police are called, and the sinkhole becomes a crime scene. A medical examination reveals that the man was murdered by being shot. The identity of the murdered man is revealed to be a local carnival worker named Danny D’Angelo, also known as Cotton Candy Dan. It’s also revealed that the murder took place six years ago. (The movie’s opening scene has a big hint that is connected to the murder.)

Calvin Fischoeder (voiced by Kevin Kline), the wealthy and pompous landlord for Bob’s Burgers, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, so he’s arrested. Also affected by this arrest are Calvin’s neurotic younger brother Felix Fischoeder (voiced by Zach Galifianakis) and Calvin’s talkative lawyer cousin Grover Fischoeder (voiced by David Wain), who is Calvin’s defense attorney. Bob fears that if Calvin is sent to prison for murder, Bob’s Burgers will lose its lease.

And so, there’s a “race against time” for the case to be solved, with the Belcher kids doing their own private investigation. A cranky cop named Sergeant Bosco (voiced by Gary Cole), who is a regular on the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series, is leading the police investigation. And, not surprisingly, he’s annoyed by anyone he thinks will be interfering in the case. Just like in the TV series, Sergeant Bosco can be a friend or a foe to the Belcher family in “The Bob’s Burgers Movie.”

Meanwhile, with the bank loan deadline approaching, Bob becoming increasingly desperate. And so, loyal Bob’s Burgers customer Teddy (voiced by Larry Murphy), who works as a contractor handyman and is Bob’s closest friend, comes up with the idea for Bob’s Burgers to set up a temporary food cart on the city’s beach boardwalk—even though Bob doesn’t have a permit to sell food on the boardwalk. Desperate times lead to desperate decisions, so they decide to take a chance and operate the food cart on the boardwalk anyway.

Teddy, who is a lonely and divorced bachelor, volunteers to be help operate the food cart by being the cook. Linda dresses up as a hamburger to entice customers. The movie has some amusing moments where Linda thinks that her selling skills are based on how sexy she thinks she looks in this ridiculous-looking burger costume. Bob predictably gets annoyed by Linda’s antics, and he becomes paranoid about getting busted for operating the food cart without a license.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” also has recurring comedic moments about each of the Belcher kids’ current obsessions. Tina has fantasies about asking Jimmy Jr. to be her boyfriend for the summer, so there are dreamlike romantic scenarios that play out in Tina’s imagination. Gene dreams of becoming a rock star, so there are musical numbers in the movie with The Itty Bitty Ditty Committee performing the music. Louise imagines herself as a popular kid with a “badass” reputation among her schoolmates, so there are scenes of Louise doing whatever she thinks it will take to have this courageous and heroic image.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” isn’t a mindless kiddie film, because it has plenty of jokes that adults will appreciate more than underage children will. These jokes have to do with social class and status issues that are presented in the story. Observant viewers will notice that all the grief that Louise goes through to change her image isn’t much different than all the trouble that adults go through to project a certain image, so that they can be considered “successful” by society.

The musical numbers in “The Bob’s Burger Movie” are very entertaining and amusing, particularly the performances of “Sunny Side Up Summer” and “Not That Evil.” Fortunately, this isn’t a movie where people break out into song every 10 minutes, because it would ruin the flow of the narrative. The mystery-solving part of the story gets a little convoluted and messy, but not too complicated.

“The Bob’s Burger Movie” continues the gender-swapping choices made in the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series casting, with men voicing some of the female characters, and women voicing some of the male characters. Benjamin (the voice of Bob) also voices the character of Ms. LaBonz, one of Louise’s teachers at Wagstaff School, while Roberts (the voice of Linda) is the also the voice of Jocelyn, one of Louise’s Wagstaff School classmates. As previously mentioned, Mintz is the voice of Tina.

There are also some celebrity cameos in gender-swapped roles. Jordan Peele continues as the voice of Fanny, Calvin’s much-younger singer girlfriend, who has a checkered past and a gold-digging agenda. Sarah Silverman and Laura Silverman are, respectively, the voices of Ollie and Andy, who are Jimmy Pesto Sr.’s twin sons.

In response to criticism that the “Bob’s Burgers” TV series cast white actors to voice African American characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has added some racial diversity to the cast. Nicole Byer (host of Netflix’s cooking competition “Nailed It!”) is the voice of Olsen Benner, an African American TV reporter, who has been voiced by Pamela Adlon in the “Bob’s Burger” TV series. Ashley Nicole Black (a writer for “Ted Lasso”) is now the voice of Harley, an African American girl who’s a classmate of Louise’s at Wagstaff School. Katie Crown was previously the voice of Harley.

Even with a lot of side characters, “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” remains focused on the Belcher family. The Belcher kids get a lot of screen time with the murder investigation, which is a more interesting and funnier part of the movie than the part of the movie about Bob, Linda and Teddy selling burgers on the boardwalk. And out of all the Belcher children, Louise is the one with the standout character arc. There’s not a bad actor in this entire cast.

“The Bob’s Burgers Movie” has wide appeal, but it’s not a movie that some people might enjoy if they’re looking for more dazzling visuals in an animated film. However, for viewers who care more about animated movies that have characters with memorable personalities, some snarky jokes, and an engaging story that’s easy to follow, then “The Bob Burgers Movie” delivers this type of entertainment in a lighthearted and playful way.

20th Century Studios will release “The Bob’s Burgers Movie” in U.S. cinemas on May 27, 2022.

Review: ‘Marry Me’ (2022), starring Jennifer Lopez, Owen Wilson and Maluma

February 11, 2022

by Carla Hay

Owen Wilson, Jennifer Lopez and Chloe Coleman in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” (2022)

Directed by Kat Coiro

Some language in Spanish with no subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in New York City and briefly in Peoria, Illinois, the romantic comedy film “Marry Me” features a racially diverse cast of characters (white, Latino, African American and Asian) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Superstar music diva Kat Valdez impulsively marries a mathematics teacher—who is a socially awkward stranger she picked out from her concert audience and wed on the night they met—and they both try to make the marriage work.

Culture Audience: “Marry Me” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of star Jennifer Lopez and anyone who likes formulaic and unimaginative romantic comedies.

Jennifer Lopez. Michelle Buteau, Khalil Middleton (back row, third from left), Maluma, John Bradley and Owen Wilson in “Marry Me” (Photo courtesy of Universal Pictures)

“Marry Me” is just an extended music video for Jennifer Lopez to sing songs that she wants to sell in a hackneyed story with no surprises. She and a bland Owen Wilson have no believable chemistry together, even though they star in the movie as an unlikely couple who are supposed to fall in love with each other. The entire movie looks as fake as the myriad of wigs and hair extensions that a superstar diva would wear.

Directed by Kat Coiro, “Marry Me” starts out with a somewhat intriguing concept that asks these questions: What if two famous singers were supposed to get married on a concert stage with a televised audience of millions, but the bride-to-be-finds out minutes before the wedding that her groom-to-be cheated on her? And what if she impulsively decided to marry a “regular guy” stranger in the audience instead? And what if this diva and this “regular guy” actually tried to make their marriage work?

That’s the entire story in “Marry Me,” but the movie does absolutely nothing original with this idea, which might have worked well with a genuinely hilarious screenplay and the right people cast in the roles. Unfortunately, “Marry Me” (written by Harper Dill, John Rogers and Tami Sagher) takes the lazy and unimaginative route, by cramming in cliché after cliché seen in many other romantic comedies until the movie comes to a very underwhelming and formulaic end. The screenplay is based on author Bobby Crosby’s 2020 graphic novel “Marry Me.” The movie “Marry Me” tries too hard to be sweet and likable, but it all comes across as cloying and pandering, especially when this movie is actually designed to peddle Lopez’s music and anything else that got product-placement deals for this movie.

In “Marry Me,” Kat Valdez (played by Lopez) is the heartbroken diva who rebounds quicker than you can say “rom-com garbage.” On the night of her lavish wedding, which takes place at Hammerstein Ballroom in New York City, she finds out just a few minutes before the ceremony that her heartthrob singer fiancé Bastian (played Maluma) cheated on her with her assistant Tyra (played by Katrina Cunningham). A tabloid website has posted a video of Bastian and Tyra having a sexual tryst, and the video has instantly gone viral. Kat and Bastian have a duet called “Marry Me” that they were going to sing to each other during the wedding, which is expected to have a global audience of about 20 million people. As soon as Kat finds out about Bastian’s infidelity, she breaks up with him backstage.

Instead of canceling the wedding, Kat sees mathematics teacher Charlie Gilbert (played by Wilson) in the audience, while he’s holding a sign that says “Marry Me.” Charlie is a mild-mannered divorcé who’s in the audience with his 12-year-old daughter Lou (played by Chloe Coleman) and Charlie’s school counselor co-worker Parker Debbs (played by Sarah Silverman), who was the one who convinced Charlie to go to this event since she had two extra tickets. Lou and Parker are big fans of Kat’s, but Charlie doesn’t really know who Kat is. He’s only holding the “Marry Me” sign because “Marry Me” is the name of this wedding event, and Parker (who’s a lovelorn lesbian) made the sign.

The next thing you know, Charlie is called up on stage, and he and Kat get “married.” This on-stage wedding isn’t legal, because Charlie never signed any marriage documents before he exchanged vows with Kat. The wedding officiator didn’t even say Charlie’s name during the ceremony. He just said “some guy” instead of Charlie’s name.

However, Kat decides with her annoying manager Colin Calloway (played by John Bradley) that she might as well get some publicity out of this fiasco, so she comes up with the idea to make the marriage legal. And if the marriage doesn’t work out in a few months, so be it. With this cavalier attitude toward marriage, it should come as no surprise that Charlie is Kat’s fourth husband. Her three previous marriages ended in divorce. (It might have been a nod to Lopez’s real-life failed marriages, because when Lopez made this movie, she had already been divorced three times.)

Since Charlie doesn’t know anything about Kat when they first meet, she gives him a brief summary of two of her previous failed marriages. Kat mentions that she was married to her first husband for 48 hours. (Sounds a lot like Britney Spears.) Kat also says that her second husband was a music producer who sold a private sex video they did together. (It’s probably a reference to when Lopez in real life sued her first ex-husband, Ojani Noa, for $10 million in 2009, when he tried to sell private sex videos that they made during their honeymoon.)

Kat then says that she and Bastian were together for about a year-and-a-half, and they got together after the breakup from her second ex-husband. There’s no mention of the third ex-husband and where he fits into the timeline of Kat’s train-wreck love life. Kat self-servingly makes it sound like bad things happen to her in her romantic relationships, yet she takes no responsibility for anything that she might have done wrong too that caused the relationships to fail.

At first, Charlie is reluctant to have his marriage to Kat be legal. “I have a daughter. I don’t want to drag her into a circus,” he tells Colin. This shady manager then blatantly lies and says that Lou won’t be affected by the publicity of Charlie being married to Kat. Colin says that the spin on this hasty marriage is that it’s a “break from tradition.” Charlie’s co-worker Parker then convinces Charlie to make the marriage legal, so that Charlie can get Kat to donate some money to the school where Charlie and Parker work.

It’s all so crass and cringeworthy. And this marriage doesn’t make Charlie look like he’s thinking of what’s best for his daughter Lou, who already has a tense relationship with Charlie because she thinks he’s boring, out-of-touch and a more than a little embarrassing. Charlie and his ex-wife (who has remarried and is never seen in the movie) share custody of Lou, who stays with Charlie three days a week. Lou is also a student at the middle school where Charlie teaches. Charlie is Lou’s math teacher and the leader of the school’s math club, where Lou is a reluctant member.

After this spontaneous wedding, Charlie gets thrust into the public spotlight, as he and Kat try to make their marriage work. Cue the expected scenes of Charlie not fitting in well with Kat’s superstar lifestyle. He is shocked and irritated when he’s hounded by paparazzi. Kat is someone who has 250 million followers on Instagram, but Charlie is someone who hates social media. Charlie doesn’t even have a smartphone. He still uses an outdated flip phone.

Charlie also has problems adjusting to the fact that Kat constantly has a camera operator with her to film her life for her social media channels. His name is Kofi (played by Khalil Middleton), who doesn’t say much, but Charlie thinks it’s intrusive and unnecessary for Kat to document her life in this way. Did Charlie forget that he married a superstar?

And there’s more of Charlie’s ignorance on display: Charlie finds it surprising and distasteful that Kat has signed several endorsement deals. “Her whole life is sponsored,” Charlie gripes. How do you think she makes much of her fortune, Charlie?

It’s not through selling recorded music (in real life, music superstars make most of their money through other means, such as touring and sponsorship deals), although “Marry Me” has blatant shilling of Lopez’s forgettable tunes in scenes that are really music video clips. There’s also some very over-the-top product placement in the movie. These products and song titles won’t be mentioned in this review because “Marry Me” does more than enough over-selling of what it’s trying to sell.

One of the corniest things about “Marry Me” is when Kat spouts some of her platitudes to try to explain why she’s so flaky in love and marriage, even though she has no credibility in giving advice on how to have a healthy and loving marriage that doesn’t end in divorce. In one scene, she tells Charlie: “I believe in marriage. It’s like math. If you get a problem wrong, you keep trying until you get it right.”

And immediately after Kat singles out Charlie in the audience with the intent to get him to marry her, she gives this semi-rambling speech: “If you want something different, you do something different. So this time, for the first time, you make a different choice. You jump off a cliff so high, you don’t even see the fall, and you just say yes.”

Even worse: “Marry Me” has a misguided way of trying to make Kat’s bad romantic judgment look like she’s a modern feminist. In reality, she’s an emotionally immature person who has some very outdated views on being single: She’s so afraid of being without a man, she pressures a total stranger to marry her. Confident and independent women don’t use marriage as a way to prove their self-worth, but as a way to share a committed relationship with another person.

Kat admits in one part of the movie that her impulsive wedding to Charlie was so she could save face after being humiliated by Bastian. In other words, the marriage to Charlie was more of a reaction than an independent-minded action. And you can bet there’s a part of the movie where Kat tries to make Bastian jealous and makes it obvious that she has lingering feelings for him. These mind games make Charlie insecure, of course, and you know where this is going in the “boy loses girl” part of the rom-com formula.

During their first press conference as spouses, Kat uses feminist-speak to try to justify using Charlie to boost her ego: “The rules, as they exist, pretty much suck for women. I mean, why do we have to wait until men propose? Why is everything on his terms? I think it’s time to shake things up!”

Kat continues, “How about this? We pick the guy, we keep our name, and let him earn the right to stay.” It sounds like a rousing feminist speech, except that Kat forgot that when she was on stage and saw Charlie, she actually did things the “old-fashioned” way with the man proposing. She saw Charlie’s “Marry Me” sign, and declared to him in front of the crowd, “Yes, I’ll marry you!” The filmmakers of this mindless movie expect viewers to forget that part too.

At the press conference, Charlie sounds even less convincing than Kat when trying to say that their marriage is a good idea. He awkwardly mentions that marriage has a history of being transactional, because in the old days, women were basically treated as property to be bought and sold into marriage. (He doesn’t mention that arranged marriages are still prevalent in many cultures.)

Charlie reminds the assembled reporters that a woman’s marital worth used to be based on her dowry in the old days, and how it’s so great that women have made progress since then. And yet, Charlie forgets to mention that this progress includes being a wealthy divorcée who can choose to marry a man who wants her money for his own personal agenda, such as making a large donation to his workplace. Hey, Charlie, what did you just say about a dowry being outdated?

And just who did Kat marry as her fourth husband? Charlie is a loner whose closest companion is his bulldog Tank. Not much is said about Charlie’s love life before he met Kat, except that Charlie and his ex-wife split up when Lou was too young to even remember when they were together. Predictably, Lou thinks her stepfather Steve (who is never seen in the movie) is a lot cooler than Charlie is, so Charlie feels inadequate and jealous. Guess who’s going to be the cool stepmother who will bring Charlie and Lou closer together?

You can almost do a countdown to when Kat shows up as a “surprise guest” in Charlie’s classroom, where she teaches the students how to correlate learning how to solve complicated math problems with learning how to dance like Kat Valdez. Later in the movie, Charlie’s math club students go to a big math competition in Peoria, Illinois, so you know exactly what that means in this cornball movie. Kat is completely unbelievable as someone who would be an attentive stepmother to Lou, unless it involves a photo op or self-serving video that Kat can put on her social media.

Lopez, who is one of the producers of “Marry Me,” is basically playing a version of herself as Kat Valdez in “Marry Me,” so the role really isn’t much of an acting stretch for her. Wilson just goes through the motions as dreadfully drab Charlie, who married a superstar, and then spends too much time whining about how famous Kat is. One of the most grating things about Charlie is that he acts personally offended when Kat does things to maintain her fame and fortune and fulfill her celebrity obligations, as if she’s suddenly supposed to change her lifestyle in the way that he sees fit.

Coleman is playing another in her long list of kid characters who are precocious, bratty or both. Silverman does her usual sarcastic schtick with a character who mouths off to people. Maluma doesn’t have much to do in this movie except sing and play a smooth-talking sex symbol. Michelle Buteau has an empty and superficial role as Kat’s image-conscious and sycophantic personal assistant Melissa, who doesn’t think too highly of nerdy Charlie. Utkarsh Ambudkar hams it up in a brief appearance as Coach Manny, the mean-spirited leader of the math competition’s arrogant reigning championship team.

“Marry Me” is a continuous pile-on of silly schmaltz and stereotypes, including the over-used “race to the airport” rom-com scene, because someone has to make a grand gesture that shows a commitment to love “before it’s too late.” And the movie’s 112-minute run time is too long, considering a lot of it is music video filler and rehashing of the same story arcs that have already been in hundreds of other romantic comedies. The movie’s pace drags in too many places, and the last third of “Marry Me” gets more and more ridiculous. “Marry Me” is not only a movie divorced from reality, but it’s also a movie divorced from any real wit and creativity.

Universal Pictures released “Marry Me” in U.S. cinemas and on Peacock on February 11, 2022.

Review: ‘Space Jam: A New Legacy,’ starring LeBron James

August 18, 2021

by Carla Hay

LeBron James and Bugs Bunny in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy”

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee

Culture Representation: Taking place in the Los Angeles area and in an alternate technology universe, the live-action/animated film “Space Jam: A New Legacy” features a predominantly African American cast of characters (with some white people, Latinos and Asians) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: A computer algorithm traps basketball superstar LeBron James in a technology universe, where he joins forces with Warner Bros.-owned Looney Tunes characters for a high-stakes basketball game against computer-generated villains that want to take over the world. 

Culture Audience: Besides appealing to the obvious target audience of LeBron James fans and Looney Tunes fans, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” will appeal primarily to people interested in watching a mindless but harmless family film that overloads on shilling for various Warner Bros. entertainment products and services.

Cedric Joe and Don Cheadle in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” is not meant to be a real movie. It’s just a long and witless commercial for Warner Bros. entertainment entities, with LeBron James as a celebrity spokesperson. Even young children and gullible people will notice the over-the-top, shameless plugging of all things Warner Bros. in “Space Jam: A New Legacy.” It’s hard not to miss this obnoxious promotion, because it’s in every scene.

Directed by Malcolm D. Lee, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is the sequel to 1996’s “Space Jam.” Both are hybrid live-action/animated movies about basketball superstars who team up with Warner Bros.-owned Looney Tunes characters to play against villains in a life-or-death basketball game. Michael Jordan starred in “Space Jam,” which was also a silly movie, but it had a lot more heart and sincerity than “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” which stars LeBron James.

Both “Space Jam” movies have celebrity athletes portraying themselves. All of these athletes have limited acting skills, even if some of these basketball icons have loads of charisma in real life. However, “Space Jam: A New Legacy” is a much more cynically made movie, because its highest priority is selling Warner Bros. characters and products. At least the first “Space Jam” movie made more of an attempt to be humorous and have several significant characters whose purpose was not to be a mascot for Warner Bros.

It’s not a good sign when a movie has more than four credited screenwriters, because it usually means that there were “too many cooks in the kitchen.” “Space Jam: A New Legacy” has six screenwriters: Celeste Ballard, Keenan Coogler, Jesse Gordon, Terence Nance, Tony Rettenmaier and Juel Taylor. And what’s even worse is that all of these “Space Jam: A New Legacy” screenwriters couldn’t come up with a truly original story for this sequel.

“Space Jam: A New Legacy” essentially copies the same template as “Space Jam,” with just a few changes, such as the reason for the big showdown basketball game that happens in the last third of the film. In “Space Jam,” Jordan has to do battle against basketball-playing monsters from outer space that were literally stealing the talent (by suctioning it out in gas form) from NBA stars. In “Space Jam: A New Legacy,” James has to do battle against a computer algorithm (which can take the shape of a man) that has stolen his younger son and created a team of monsters for the basketball showdown.

Each movie opens with a highlight montage of the basketball superstar’s career, up until the movie was made. Each movie has someone saying more than once, “You can’t be great without putting in the work.” Each movie ends exactly how you think it will end.

In “Space Jam: A New Legacy” LeBron’s 12-year-old son Dominic, nicknamed Dom (played by Cedric Joe), is a computer whiz and aspiring video game developer who has been kidnapped by a computer algorithm called Al G. Rhythm (played by Don Cheadle) into the algorithm’s universe called the Warner 3000 server-verse. Inside this server-verse exists everything Warner Bros., including Looney Tunes World.

Dom feels unappreciated and misunderstood by LeBron, who is pushing Dom to become a basketball star. Dom likes playing basketball and is on his school’s basketball team, but he’s an average player, and he doesn’t have the passion for the game like his father does. There’s a predictable scene in the beginning of the film where Dom is playing in a school game, and he misses a shot that causes the team to lose the game.

Dom wants to attend an E3 Game Design camp, but it’s taking place on the same weekend as a basketball camp that LeBron wants Dom to attend. Father and son argue about it. But in the end, LeBron is the adult in charge and tells Dom that he has no choice but to go to the basketball camp. Dom is predictably resentful about this decision and his father’s control over his life.

The rest of LeBron’s family are just filler characters that don’t get much screen time and don’t add much to the story. LeBron’s wife Kamiyah (played by Sonequa Martin-Green) chimes in early in the movie to say to LeBron about his parenting skills for Dom: “I’m worried that you’re pushing him too hard … He doesn’t need a coach. He needs a dad.”

In this movie, LeBron and Kamiyah have two other children: teenager Darius (played by Ceyair J Wright) and kindergarten-age Xosha (played by Harper Leigh Alexander). Darius’ only purpose in the movie is to be a teasing older brother and occasional basketball practice opponent with Dom. Xosha’s only purpose in the movie is to be a cute and charming kid.

Because “Space Jam: Legacy” is a Warner Bros. commercial, LeBron and takes Dom with him to a business meeting at Warner Bros. Studios headquarters in Burbank, California. Also in this meeting is LeBron’s childhood friend Malik (played by Khris Davis), who is now LeBron’s manager. It’s at Warner Bros. headquarters that viewers first see Al G. Rhythm giving a monologue, as he lurks in the recesses of some giant computer mainframe somewhere in a back room.

Al G. Rhythm can take many different shapes and forms, but he comes out looking like Cheadle when he wants to look like a human. Al G. Rhythm has concocted an idea to use Warner 3000 technology to scan LeBron into Warner Bros. movies so that LeBron’s image can replace major characters in these movies. Warner Bros. executives will present this idea to LeBron in this meeting. The unnamed executives are portrayed in cameo roles by Sarah Silverman and Steven Yeun, who look like they know they’re in a dumb movie and just want a quick and easy paycheck.

Al G. Rhythm has a sidekick named Pete, which is a mute blue blob that doesn’t do much but act as a sounding board for Al G. Rhythm. Before the meeting takes place, Al G. Rhythm gives this monologue: “I’ve searched far and wide for the perfect partner for this launch. And I finally found him, Pete. He’s a family man, an entrepreneur, a social media superstar, with millions of fans worldwide. Algorithmically speaking, he’s more than an athlete. He’s a king!”

Is this an algorithm or a LeBron James fanboy? Al G. Rhythm then continues with his ranting manifesto, “I’m stuck in the server-verse. No one knows who I am or what I do. But all that changes today, because Warner Bros. launches the revolutionary technology that I masterminded. Today, it’s my time to shine! Once I partner with King James and combine his fame with my incredible tech, I will finally get the recognition and respect that I so richly deserve!”

There’s just one big problem. In the business meeting, LeBron says he hates the idea of being scanned and put into Warner Bros. movies as a replacement character. (But in real life, apparently, he had no problem being put into a Warner Bros. commercial posing as a movie.) The sycophantic executives agree, and the idea is scrapped.

Al G. Rhythm is angry and insulted that his idea was rejected, so he kidnaps Dom, who becomes trapped in the server-verse. And the only way that Dom can be returned to his family is if LeBron and a basketball team that LeBron has assembled win in a “death match” game against Al G. Rhythm and the villain basketball team that Al G. Rhythm has assembled. All of this requires LeBron to go in the server-verse to find Dom. When LeBron (in animated form) ends up in Looney Tunes World, you know what happens next.

At first, LeBron arrives in Looney Tunes World in simplistic animated form. But then, Al G. Rhythm shows up to “enhance” all the players who will be on Lebron’s basketball team, so they go from looking like hand-drawn 2-D animation to computer-generated 3-D animation. The team is called the Tune Squad. The Looney Tunes characters who are on LeBron’s team act exactly how you would expect them to act.

The “Space Jam: A New Legacy” filmmakers got their money’s worth because a small number of voice actors protray several of the Looney Tunes characters, instead having all of the characters each voiced by a different actor. Jeff Bergman is the voice of Bugs Bunny, Sylvester, Yosemite Sam, Fred Flintstone and Yogi Bear. Eric Bauza is the voice of Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Foghorn Leghorn, Elmer Fudd and Marvin the Martian. Gabriel Iglesias is the voice of Speedy Gonzales. Zendaya is the voice of Lola Bunny. Candi Milo is the voice of Granny. Bob Bergen is the voice of Tweety Bird. Fred Tatasciore is the voice of Taz.

In opposition to the Tune Squard, Al G. Rhythm has created the Good Squad by enhancing real-life NBA and WNBA star players into computerized mutant super-villains. Anthony Davis is The Brow, a giant blue falcon-like creature with a 30-foot wing span. Diana Taurasi is White Mamba, a super-sized mutant snake. Klay Thompson is Wet/Fire, a creature that can create flames and water, as if that wouldn’t be considered a major foul on a basketball court. Nneka Ogwumike is Arachnneka, a large mutant spider. Damien Lillard is Chronos, a time-manipulating creature that can use Dame Time to slow down opponents while he can quickly use fighting techniques.

The big basketball showdown that serves as the movie’s climax is so formulaic that it will be easy to get distracted by trying to spot all the characters from Warner Bros. movies that are in the audience. The audience is supposed to consists of thousands of LeBron’s social media followers who were beamed in from the Internet. But somehow, those who ended up getting the most prominent placement in the front rows were various characters from Warner Bros.-owned entertaint entities, such as Harry Potter, King Kong, Joker, Wonder Woman, Batman, Superman, Scooby-Doo, Neo from “The Matrix,” Austin Powers, plus characters from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Game of Thrones,” “Gremlins,” “The Mask,” and “Mad Max: Fury Road.”

Some of the Warner Bros. promotion overload is ridiculous and embarrassing to those involved. There’s a scene where Bugs Bunny is dressed as Batman and LeBron is dressed as Robin. There’s a scene where Porky Pig starts rapping in a way that’s has as much hip-hop cred as Judy Garland singing in “The Wizard of Oz.” (In other words: none.)

And there’s even a scene where Al G. Rhythm yells, “King Kong’s got nothing on me!” It’s a famous line said by Denzel Washington in his Oscar-winning role as a corrupt cop in 2001’s “Training Day,” which is (you guessed it) a Warner Bros. movie. After Al G. Rhythm shouts, “King Kong’s got nothing on me!,” King Kong is shown in the audience, crossing his arms in a snit, like a kid who’s been insulted on a playground.

The “family-friendly” messages of “Space Jam: Legacy” are secondary to the constant regurgitation of whatever “intellectual property” Warner Bros. is hawking. The word “inellectual” is an oxymoron for this idiotic film. The animation and visual effects aren’t going to be nominated for any major awards. Much of what happens in the movie is duller than it should be. And even the big basketball game toward the end isn’t very exciting. There’s a big “reveal” about someone on the Goon Squad that’s not surprising at all.

Cheadle is the movie’s only live-action cast member who seems to be having some fun because his performance is deliberately campy. His computer algorithm character has more personality than the human characters in this movie. The rest of the cast members in the movie’s live-action roles give mediocre and bland performances.

Ernie Johnson and Lil Rel Howery portray the basketball game’s announcers in what should have been hilarious roles, but everything these characters say is uninteresting. And unlike the original songs in the first “Space Jam” movie (which featured R. Kelly’s “I Believe I Can Fly”), none of the original songs in “Space Jam: A New Legacy” will become a hit anthem. The lines of dialogue given to the animated characters are also forgettable. The jokes fall flatter than Daffy Duck’s beak.

And as for LeBron James (who is one of the producers of “Space Jam: A New Legacy”), even the filmmakers know he wasn’t cast in this movie for his acting, because he says this line in the movie’s scene with the Warner Bros. executives: “I’m a ball player. And athletes acting—that never goes well.” That’s probably one of the most genuine things said in this overly contrived corporate movie that pushes plenty to sell but ultimately has a shortage of good filmmaking.

Warner Bros. Pictures released “Space Jam: A New Legacy” in U.S. cinemas and on HBO Max on July 16, 2021. The movie is set for release on digital and VOD on September 3, 2021, and on Blu-ray and DVD on October 5, 2021.

Review: ‘Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics’ starring Sting, Ben Stiller, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Bourdain, Deepak Chopra, A$AP Rocky and Sarah Silverman

May 18, 2020

by Carla Hay

Rob Corddry in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

“Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics”

Directed by Donick Cary

Culture Representation: This documentary interviews a predominantly white male group of entertainers who talk about their experiences taking psychedelic drugs, and the movie features a diverse group of actors doing comedy skits about psychedelic drug experiences.

Culture Clash: Despite these drugs being illegal, almost all of the people interviewed say that they don’t regret taking psychedelic drugs.

Culture Audience: “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” will appeal to people who just want one-sided comedic stories about taking psychedelic drugs, because the movie’s agenda is to exclude any stories about the drugs’ long-term negative effects on health.

Nick Offerman in “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” (Photo courtesy of Netflix)

In its overexuberance to portray psychedelic drug taking as something that’s harmless or something to laugh about later, the documentary “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” sinks to new lows of exploitation by prominently featuring two celebrities whose tragic, self-destructive deaths are definitely not funny. The documentary’s filmmakers (including director Donick Cary) made the morbid and tacky decision to display the filmmakers’ interviews with Carrie Fisher and Anthony Bourdain in this parade of celebrities who mostly glamorize taking psychedelic drugs.

Fisher died in 2016 of drug-related causes. Bourdain committed suicide in 2018. They both struggled with mental-health issues and drug addiction and admitted to taking a lot of LSD and other psychedelics in their lifetimes. Needless to say, Fisher and Bourdain are definitely not examples of how psychedelic drugs can help people with mental-health problems and drug addictions. And yet, the documentary pushes the scientifically unproven agenda that psychedelic drugs are beneficial to people suffering from drug addiction and mental-health issues.

But hey, why let these tragic deaths get in the way of making a documentary where these now-dead people are shown joking about their acid trips, as if those drug experiences couldn’t possibly be harmful to them? They’re certainly not going to talk about the negative side effects of “bad trips,” such as suicidal thoughts, depression or psychosis. After all, this movie wants people to believe that psychedelics are “shiny, happy drugs,” without giving a thoroughly honest look at the down sides too, because the film is so focused on having people endorse these drugs.

And there’s a reason why the filmmakers only included entertainers in this documentary that glamorizes psychedelic drugs. Imagine a documentary that featured a bunch of health-care workers, emergency responders, schoolteachers or airplane pilots joking about their experiences doing psychedelic drugs, and many of the interviewees giving the impression that they still do psychedelics on a regular basis. It wouldn’t seem so “harmless” then, would it?

Therefore, it’s no surprise that the documentary focuses on people (some more famous than others) who are in showbiz, where illegal drug abuse is flaunted and often celebrated. The average person in a regular job would not be able to get away with bragging in a Netflix documentary about their drug experiences.

Nor does the average person have the kind of money that rock star Sting has, to fly to Mexico whenever he wants, just to take peyote in an elaborate shaman ritual, which he describes in vivid detail in the documentary. Almost all of the people in this film can easily afford to indulge in taking illegal drugs and do not have to worry about how they’re going to pay for any medical treatment or legal issues if things go wrong. It’s one of the reasons why the documentary glamorizes these drug experiences, because there are some negative consequences to illegal drug taking that the “average” person can’t casually dismiss as easily as a well-paid entertainer can.

In addition to Sting, there are several other entertainers in the documentary who talk about their psychedelic drug trips or say that they’ve used psychedelic drugs: Ben Stiller (who’s one of the documentary’s producers), Nick Kroll, Deepak Chopra, Will Forte, A$AP Rocky, Nick Offerman, Shepard Fairey, Lewis Black, Paul Scheer, Rob Corddry, Andy Richter, Judd Nelson, Sarah Silverman, Jim James, Diedrich Bader, Rob Huebel, Reggie Watts, Natasha Lyonne, Adam Horovitz, Mark Maron, Rosie Perez, Donovan, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann, Brett Gelman, Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon and David Cross.

One of the problems of doing a documentary like this is that you never really know how much people could be exaggerating or lying about these drug experiences. Many of the people interviewed are comedians and actors—two professions that are notorious for people fabricating things about their lives in order to get attention. Therefore, this documentary should not be considered very “realistic” by any stretch of the drug-addled imagination.

The psychedelic stories are re-enacted in one of two ways: through animation or by having live actors do a scripted skit. The animated segments (from Sugarshack Animation) are among the best aspects of the documentary. The scripted skits are hit-and-miss.

One of those misfires is miscasting Adam Devine as Bourdain in a re-enactment of Bourdain’s description of a drug-fueled, Hunter S. Thompson-inspired road trip that he took when he was a young man in the 1970s. Devine is known for having a sweet and goofy persona, while Bourdain was the complete opposite, which makes the re-enactment wrong from the get-go.

Even worse, the story that Bourdain tells isn’t even that funny. The road trip included Bourdain and a male friend picking up two women and partying heavily with them in a hotel room, including ingesting several drugs, such as LSD, alcohol, marijuana and cocaine. One of the women overdosed, and the others thought she was dead. So they just left her unconscious on the floor while they tried to figure out what to do, according to Bourdain.

Bourdain, while high on LSD, says that he imagined that there would be police coming to arrest them, with helicopters, searchlights, and a S.W.A.T.-like team surrounding the room. And then the woman suddenly regained consciousness and started to dance as if nothing had happened. Someone could’ve died from ingesting drugs while you were partying with that person, you had a LSD-induced panic attack about being arrested, and that’s supposed to be funny?

A better re-enactment that accomplishes its intended humor is Natasha Leggero dressed in a “Star Wars” Princess Leia outfit, for Fisher’s tale of being high on LSD while in New York City’s Central Park. During that psychedelic experience, Fisher says she spent a great deal of time being upset at seeing an acorn “misbehave” on the grass. During another acid trip on a beach, Fisher vaguely remembers she might have been topless when a bus full of Japanese tourists stopped right in front of her and they recognized her.

And in a somewhat clever casting switcheroo, Corddry plays Scheer in the segment that re-enacts Scheer’s psychedelic story, while Scheer plays Corddy in Corddry’s re-enactment. Meanwhile, Kroll portrays himself in his re-enactment about how he and a group of male friends were high on LSD at a Malibu beach, and the friends covered him in kelp as a prank. He then imagined himself to be a kelp monster and chased them around the beach. (Things weren’t so funny the next morning when he woke up covered in bites from whatever small animals were in the kelp.)

Most of the psychedelic trips described in the documentary are about hallucinations, experiencing colors in a different way, or losing a sense of time or memory. And there are the typical stories of “revelations,” along the lines of “I saw inside my soul,” “I saw how connected the world is” and “I found out the meaning of life is to love everybody.” Some of the people interviewed also give advice by saying it’s better to take psychedelics with trusted friends and to avoid looking in mirrors while under the influence of psychedelics.

A$AP Rocky (one of the few people of color who’s interviewed in the film) tells one of the documentary’s funniest stories, about how he took LSD with a beautiful female companion. During the course of the time they had together, they started having sex. And he swears that he saw a rainbow shoot from his penis during this encounter. “I don’t even like rainbows,” he quips. (Needless to say, the re-enactment for this story is definitely in animation form.)

But for every entertaining story like that one, the documentary has a story that’s basic or boring. The Grateful Dead was considered the ultimate psychedelic rock band, so you’d think one of the Dead’s drummers would have some hilarious stories to tell. Wrong.

Kreutzmann’s anecdotes aren’t that interesting or revealing, unless you consider it’s fascinating that he tells a story of coming home to his parents’ house after staying out all night while he was on LSD, and hallucinating that his breakfast meal of eggs were moving on the plate. He also mentions that he once couldn’t finish performing at a Grateful Dead concert because he was hallucinating that his drums were melting. Yawn.

Being stoned on psychedelics at a Grateful Dead show is also predictably mentioned by some of the interviewees, such as Corddry and Maron. (The late Fred Willard has a cameo as a Deadhead hippie in the re-enactment of Maron’s psychedelic story.) Garant comedically describes how you can tell the difference between someone having a “good trip” and a “bad trip” at a Dead concert, because someone having a “good trip” will lean forward while walking, while someone having a “bad trip” will lean backward while walking, as if they’re afraid of where their head will go.

Sting, who says he’s had good and bad psychedelic trips, mentions that facing his own mortality was one of the most frightening things he ever experienced while under the influence of psychedelics. He also describes the first time he took peyote. It was at a farm in England, where he was unexpectedly asked to help a cow give birth while he was tripping out on the drug. He was told that the cow would die if he didn’t help, and when the calf was born, Sting says he finally understood the miracle of life.

“I think it’s a valuable experience,” says Sting of taking psychedelic drugs. “Whenever I’ve had a bad trip—and I’ve had many—I’ve realized it was what I needed. Sometimes, you need to have your ego taken down a notch or two. On the other hand, you can have immensely rewarding experiences. My feeling is that it balances out.”

Stiller is one of the few celebrities in the documentary who talks about disliking what he says was his one and only experience with LSD (when he was a young man in the ’80s), because it was a bad trip. He says that he was hoping that it would be an enlightening experience, but instead he spent the approximately six-hour acid trip feeling “fear and anxiety.”

“Immediately, I started to freak out and get really scared,” Stiller remembers. “I started staring at my hand, doing the cliché thing of of pondering what my hand was.” His paranoia during the acid trip was made worse, he says, when he and the friend he was with at the time began walking around New York City and saw the parade floats that were going to be in the upcoming Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Stiller says that he hallucinated that the floats were chasing him, like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man in the “Ghostbusters” movie.

Perez and Silverman each say that the first time they took LSD, it was by accident. Silverman said that it happened when she and some comedian friends were hanging out at a diner in New York City, when a hippie stranger walked in and handed her a tab of LSD that she took without even asking what it was. Her story isn’t as coherent as some of the others, since she recalls laughing and crying with a group of people in public and then ending up in someone’s car with the driver (who was also on LSD) forgetting how to drive.

Perez said she got “dosed” when she was out with her sister on New Year’s Eve in their hometown of New York City, sometime in the late ’80s. They went to a nightclub, where she was offered some fruit punch as a drink. Little did she know that the punch was spiked with LSD. Perez says that she  hallucinated that the dance floor had turned into waves, and she ended up rolling around with her breasts exposed.

Her trip intensified when she got home and imagined that her body had merged into her bed. Perez says she didn’t do drugs or drink alcohol at this time in her life, so when she was told that she was having an acid trip, her first thought was that she was going to hell. She says that the experience led her to seek therapy, which helped her get over her “Catholic guilt,” so she thinks getting rid of her religious hang-ups was one good thing that came out of the experience.

Speaking of guilt trips, the movie pokes fun at the ridiculous, over-the-top and usually badly acted public-service announcements (PSAs) aimed at preventing people, especially young people, from taking psychedelics. Offerman pops up occasionally throughout the film in a parody of a science professor who talks about the effects of psychedelics. NBCUniversal’s “The More You Know” PSA campaign is mocked with “The More You Trip,” whenever one of the interviewees gives advice on what to do or what not to do when taking psychedelics. (For example: “Don’t drive while on acid.”)

The “ABC Afterschool Special” is given the satire treatment with the documentary’s “LSD Afterschool Special,” a multi-part segment that has actor/comedian Adam Scott as the host of a 1980s-styled PSA film with a plot of nerdy high schoolers (played by Haley Joel Osment and Maya Erskine) going to a house party and being tempted into the “evils” of taking LSD. It’s a funny idea but it’s executed poorly.

On a more serious note, “Have a Good Trip” also attempts to promote the theory that using psychedelics is the best way to treat depression and other mental-health issues. Dr. Charles Grob, a psychiatry professor at the University of California at Los Angeles, is interviewed about his research in this area. Not surprisingly, he’s a proponent of using psychedelics to treat these issues (how else would he be able to continue to get research money), but the documentary fails to present other scientific points of view.

The only other non-entertainer interviewed in the film is Zach Leary, son of famed LSD guru Timothy Leary. And what he has to say is very predictable and reveals nothing new at all: “DMT is like the express ticket to primordial ooze. If you want to see what it is to be an organic being and absolutely watch your ego dissipate into nothingness, smoke some DMT, and you’ll get there right away.”

Although some people in the documentary, including Dr. Grob, caution that taking psychedelics isn’t for everyone and can have damaging effects for some people, any of those “bad effects” stories are shut out of the film. It’s like doing a documentary about bungee jumping and refusing to talk about the people who got seriously injured or killed from this risky stunt.

Celebrity spiritual guru Chopra, who says he experimented with psychedelics in the past, is one of the few people in the film who admits “you run the risk of psychosis” from doing psychedelics. Of course, the film only presents stories from people who say that they have “happy endings” from taking psychedelics. And two of those people are now dead because of self-destructive reasons, so viewers can judge for themselves how “beneficial” psychedelics really are in helping people with serious health issues such as depression and addiction.

One of the more irresponsible things about the documentary is that it leaves out any talk of acid flashbacks. Naïve people who see this film as a guide to taking psychedelic drugs might think that once an acid trip is “over,” the drug has left the body, the way that alcohol can leave the human body through urine after a 24-to-48-hour period if no more alcohol is consumed. But the scientific reality is that, depending on the dosage, psychedelic drugs can stay in the body for a variable period of time, and that can lead to unpredictable and random “flashback” trips.

How people feel about “Have a Good Trip” will depend largely on how much they worship celebrities and take their words as gospel. The psychedelic anecdotes in the film should be taken for what they are—stories from people who are in the business of creating fake personas and making things look more glamorous than they really are.

The people who were chosen to be interviewed for this documentary also have the privilege of being less likely to be arrested for illegal drugs. (With few exceptions, most of the people in this film have a certain level of fame.) And they are less likely to have their careers ruined by a lot of psychedelic drug use, compared to people who don’t live in such a privileged bubble. It’s something to think about whenever you hear a celebrity in a certain income bracket openly brag about using illegal drugs.

Netflix premiered “Have a Good Trip: Adventures in Psychedelics” on May 11, 2020.

Review: ‘This Is Stand-Up,’ starring Jerry Seinfeld, Jamie Foxx, Kevin Hart, Chris Rock, Sarah Silverman, Sebastian Maniscalco and D.L. Hughley

April 13, 2020

by Carla Hay

D.L. Hughley in “This Is Stand-Up” (Photo courtesy of Comedy Central)

“This Is Stand-Up”

Directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton

Culture Representation: This documentary is a compilation of interviews, performances and off-stage footage of a racially diverse group (white, African American, Latino and Asian) of well-known, mostly American stand-up comedians.

Culture Clash: The general consensus in the documentary is that being a professional stand-up comedian goes against what most people consider as having a “normal life.”

Culture Audience: “This Is Stand-Up” will appeal primarily to people who are stand-up comedy fans, even though the documentary ignores many problems (such as sexism, joke stealing and monetary rip-offs) in the business side of stand-up comedy.

Garry Shandling in “This Is Stand-Up” (Photo courtesy of Comedy Central)

“This Is Stand-Up” is kind of like the documentary equivalent of speed-dating. The movie packs in many famous stand-up comedians, who deliver a lot of personality soundbites, but ultimately there’s not a lot of depth or anything new that’s revealed for people who already know about the stand-up comedy world. Although a few of the comedians talk about their personal struggles, most just share anecdotes and advice, and the documentary doesn’t acknowledge the sexist and cutthroat side of the business.

Filmed over five years, “This Is Stand-Up” (directed by Paul Toogood and Lloyd Stanton) has a “who’s who” of stand-up comedians (almost all American) who are interviewed in the documentary. They include Judd Apatow, David A. Arnold, Dave Attell, Maria Bamford, Bill Bellamy, Gina Brillon, Cocoa Brown, Cedric The Entertainer, Tommy Davidson, Mike Epps, Jamie Foxx, Gilbert Gottfried, Eddie Griffin, Tiffany Haddish, Kevin Hart, D. L. Hughley, Mia Jackson, Jim Jefferies, Jessica Kirson, Bert Kreischer, Bobby Lee, Carol Leifer, George Lopez, Sebastian Maniscalco, Jay Mohr, Jim Norton, Rick Overton, Paul Provenza, Chris Rock, Bob Saget, Amy Schumer, Jerry Seinfeld, Garry Shandling, Sarah Silverman, Owen Smith, Kira Soltanovich, Beth Stelling, Taylor Tomlinson, Theo Von and Keenen Ivory Wayans. (Noticeably missing: Dave Chappelle.)

Toogood and Lloyd are Brits who previously directed the documentary “Dying Laughing,” which had a limited theatrical release in 2017. “Dying Laughing” was an interview-only film about stand-up comedians, and featured many of the same people as in “This Is Stand-Up,” such as Seinfeld, Hart, Silverman, Rock, Shandling, Schumer and Cedric The Entertainer. “Dying Laughing” also had more international representation, since it included comedians from Canada (such as Russell Peters), the United Kingdom (Billy Connolly) and Australia (Jim Jeffries).  In “This Is Stand-Up,” Jeffries is the only non-American comedian interviewed in the movie. British comedian Ricky Gervais is shown as a guest on Norton’s SiriusXM radio show, but he’s not interviewed specifically for this movie.

Although it’s important for the documentary to include on-stage footage of the comedians, the best parts of the movie are when the comedians are shown off-stage. Stand-up comedy routines on stage can easily be accessed on the Internet, so “This Is Stand-Up” shines when it has exclusive footage of what the comedians are like in their homes or backstage. Mohr, Tomlinson and Kresicher are among those interviewed in their homes, while some of the memorable tour footage includes Maniscalco and  the “Kings of Comedy” team of Hughley, Lopez, Cedric The Entertainer and Eddie Griffin.

“This Is Stand-Up” is also a good introduction to hear some origin stories from famous comedians if you’ve never heard before how they got interested in doing stand-up comedy. (Die-hard fans of these comedians probably know these stories already, but the documentary assumes not everyone will know about these comedians’ backgrounds.) Silverman says, “When I was 3 years old, my dad taught me to swear, and he thought that was hilarious. I got crazy with power over that. I got addicted to that feeling.”

Schumer says her first introduction to performing in front of an audience and getting laughs was when she was in school plays—but she was getting laughed at for the wrong reasons. It made her angry until a teacher pointed out to her that people laughing at her performance is a good thing because laughter makes people happy.

Foxx remembers being the type of kid who was always mouthing off in class. Instead of sending him to the principal’s office, one of his teachers set aside time in class for Foxx to tell stories. According to Foxx, it was such a hit that other teachers would visit the classroom to watch him perform.

Maniscalco says that he was the opposite of the class clown. He describes himself as a shy and quiet kid who preferred to observe people. And for Rock, his first inclination to perform on stage was inspired by his grandfather, who was a reverend for their family’s church. Rock says that he saw how his grandfather was the center of attention, and it was the kind of attention that Rock wanted too.

In fact, almost all of the comedians in the documentary say in one way or another that being the center of attention is their main motivation for doing stand-up comedy, despite it being a very emotionally demanding way to make a living. Lopez comments, “What I like about comedy is that it’s given me a great life. And now, I know I’m important.”

However, it’s not a revelation that comedians are very insecure in their real lives. Most have openly admitted to being insecure and/or emotionally damaged. And many have even used their insecurities as the basis of their on-stage personas. It’s also clear from watching this documentary that most of the comedians use comedy as a way to fill a deep emotional void to make themselves feel wanted in this world.

Von (who first came to national prominence in the 2000s as a star of the MTV reality show “Road Rules”) is one of the comedians in the documentary who is followed on tour, instead of just doing an in-studio interview. He talks about his financially deprived background and unhappy childhood, which are the foundation for much of the material in his stand-up act. But he also opens up by saying that part of his motivation for doing stand-up comedy is so his mother will approve, since he says he’s never seen her laugh.

The problem with how the filmmakers deal with these stories and anecdotes is that there’s no outside verification. The documentary does not interview anyone who knew these comedians “way back when” or even people who helped give these comedians their big breaks. Everything in the film exists in the vacuum of what the comedians want to say, without including hardly any other perspectives.

One of the exceptions is when the documentary goes to the home of Kreischer and shows some of his life with his wife and two young daughters, who are all interviewed on camera. He gets visibly uncomfortable when his daughters admit that they don’t like it when he’s away on tour. Family members of the other comedians are not interviewed in this documentary.

The nature of stand-up comedy is for comedians to often exaggerate about their lives in order to be funny. “This Is Stand-Up” takes everything that these comedians say at face value and doesn’t dig much deeper. For example, several of the comedians, such as Hart and Bellamy, talk about the importance for comedians to find their unique voices and identities, but the movie doesn’t give examples of how these comedians have evolved.

Hart says, “It takes a little time to develop who you are or who you want to be. I was definitely guilty of that in the beginning of my career. I didn’t have a voice. I didn’t know I could be myself.” That’s all well and good, but if we’re being honest, that’s pretty generic and vague advice.

The comedians talk a lot about how honing the craft of stand-up comedy involves a lot of practice at open-mic nights for little to no money. And getting to the level of headlining a show can sometimes take years. Comedians such as Seinfeld don’t believe there should be any shortcuts to stand-up comedy fame—people have to pay their dues on stage in front of live audiences, not in front of a mirror or on a YouTube channel.

There’s also an entire segment of the documentary devoted to how to deal with heckling and bombing on stage. Shandling talks about once being so paralyzed with humiliation after bombing from a show that he stayed in a car and couldn’t move for about 15 minutes. Rock’s advice for comedians is to resist the inclination to talk faster when being heckled and instead to slow down and take back control.

However, there’s no mention in the documentary about all the sleazy things that comedians encounter on the way to the top—the rip-offs, the unscrupulous managers/agents, or even the difficulty in getting managers or agents in the first place. And because there’s a limited number of comedy clubs in any given big city, it’s a very insular network where the venue owners and concert promoters have a lot of control.

The documentary includes a diverse mix of comedians, yet doesn’t mention a big problem in stand-up comedy: sexism against women. And the movie has an unrealistic portrayal of stand-up comedians as this “we all support each other” community. (The movie uses “The Kings of Comedy” tour as an example.)

Although there can sometimes be camaraderie among comedians, the reality is that stand-up comedy is and can be very cutthroat. This documentary doesn’t even mention the widespread problem of comedians stealing each other’s jokes. And this documentary completely ignores the bitter rivalries that happen in stand-up comedy.

Seinfeld, one of the highest-paid stand-up comedians of all time, echoes what many of the comedians say in the film: Preparing a stand-up comedy show is a lot harder than people think it is. He says, “I adore the rigorous difficulty of creating and preparing a joke.”

He also says that there are four levels of comedy: (1) Making your friends laugh; (2) Making strangers laugh; (3) Making strangers laugh and getting paid for it; and (4) Making strangers laugh, getting paid for it, and then having them talk like you after seeing your show.

The documentary also covers the issues of social commentary in stand-up comedy and “how far is too far.” When asked if any topic is off-limits in stand-up comedy, there’s a montage of comedians who say “no.” Hughley says, “I’ll never apologize for telling a joke.”

Griffin adds, “It’s always comedy’s job to speak knowledge to power about what people are upset about, because comedy has always been about the people.” He compares stand-up comedians to being the modern equivalents of court jesters.

Silverman (who’s no stranger to controversy) comments on how smartphones and social media have impacted stand-up comedy: “It’s especially daunting now, because people are recording with their stupid phones and posting stuff. There’s more at stake to failing than just in the safe walls of a comedy club. That said, you have to not care.”

Although “This Is Stand-Up” fails to address the predatory side of the business (maybe that’s why managers, agents, promoters and venue owners weren’t interviewed), at least the documentary does include the reality that stand-up comedy takes a toll on comedians’ personal lives. Depression, divorce and substance abuse are common with stand-up comedians, as these problems are in many professions that require frequent traveling. But they’re especially toxic for comedians, who are more inclined to be insecure than most other people.

Brillon comments on what stand-up comedians experience in their personal lives: “Relationships suffer—not just romantic relationships, but family relationships, because stand-up becomes the longest relationship in your life—and the most abusive. And you still love it and go back to it.”

Mohr, who’s been very open about his struggles with mental illness and drug addiction, says that for him, stand-up comedy is his greatest love and biggest addiction. Even if he wanted to stop, he says, he’s compelled to keep going: “To be a stand-up comic, you have to be completely unreasonable, unwell and unhinged.”

Haddish explains why stand-up comedians are driven to do what they do: “When you’re on stage, it’s like being next to God … Comedy is the most fantastic medicine you can imagine, not just for the audience, but for the comedian.”

“This Is Stand-Up” might not be very revealing about a lot of showbiz realities, since documentaries and biographies about several famous comedians have already uncovered the dark sides to stand-up comedy. This documentary is, as Toogood describes it in a Comedy Central press release, “a love letter” to stand-up comedians—at least the ones who are famous enough to be in this film. If you want some in-depth insight into on all the sleaze and heartaches these comedians had to go through to get to where they are now, then you’ll have to look elsewhere for those real stories.

Comedy Central premiered “This Is Stand-Up” on April 12, 2020.

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