Culture Representation: Taking place in an unnamed U.S. city, the comedy film “Strays” features a cast of dogs and a predominantly white group of people (with some African Americans and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.
Culture Clash: Four stray dogs band together to get revenge on the sleazy and abusive man who abandoned one of the stray dogs.
Culture Audience: “Strays” will appeal mainly to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and anyone who doesn’t mind watching intentionally vulgar comedies about adorable animals that have some sweetness with the raunchiness.
The purpose of “Strays” is to disrupt the image that people have of movies where cute animals talk. It’s the “Jackass” of talking animal movies: crude, comedic camaraderie. If you can’t tolerate a lot of jokes about bodily functions, then avoid this film.
Directed by Josh Greenbaum and written by Dan Perrault, “Strays” has been very clear in its marketing that this movie is not a “family-friendly film” that’s appropriate for people of all ages. This is most definitely a very adult-oriented film for adults who aren’t easily offended when watching movies filled with cursing, gross-out scenes involving body waste, and explicit talk about sex. The fact that domesticated dogs who talk like humans are supposed to be the source of all this raunch is the whole point of the movie.
In “Strays” (which takes place in an unnamed U.S. city but was filmed in and around Stone Mountain, Georgia), viewers are first introduced to the movie’s narrator. He’s an optimistic and eager-to-please Border Terrier (voiced by Will Ferrell), who has lived his entire life with a loser named Doug (played by Will Forte), who never gave this dog an official name. Instead, Doug calls the dog horrible names that usually have the word “shit” in the name. (In real life, this Border Terrier is a female named Sophie.)
In the beginning of the movie, bachelor Doug is unemployed and living in a messy house. Doug spends his days and nights getting stoned and masturbating. A phone conversation between Doug and his mother reveals that Doug can’t live near a school that has children, which is the movie’s way of saying that Doug is a registered sex offender. Because the Border Terrier doesn’t know any better, he thinks Doug is a great person.
Doug likes to do something that the Border Terrier thinks is a game called “Fetch and Fuck.” Doug throws a tennis ball far away, so the Border Terrier can run off and fetch the ball. Doug only does this because he hopes the dog will get lost and never find his way back home. When the dog inevitably does find his way back home, Doug says out loud in anger: “Fuck!”
One day, Doug drives the Border Terrier several miles away, into the inner part of a big city where the dog has never been to before. Doug throws the tennis ball, knowing that this dog will be too far away to walk back to the house. Doug then drives away. Doug’s heinous plan works, and the Border Terrier gets lost.
While out on the street at night, the Border Terrier meets a rebellious and tough-talking Boston Terrier named Bug (voiced by Jamie Foxx), who sees how naïve this Border Terrier is and offers to teach him how to survive on the streets as a stray dog. (This Boston Terrier’s name is real life is Benny.) Bug calls this Border Terrier the name Reggie, since that’s the name that one of Doug’s girlfriends used to call this Border Terrier.
Bug tells Reggie that humans can’t be trusted and a dog’s life is better without having an owner because the dog has the freedom to do whatever the dog wants. Bug believes that humans “brainwash” dogs into thinking that dogs need humans. Bug also tells Reggie that stray dogs shouldn’t get too close to other dogs either, because all stray dogs should eventually learn to fend for themselves. Bug’s past is eventually revealed to explain why he detests humans. One of Bug’s quirks is that he is fixated on humping inanimate objects, including furniture (Sofia Vergara voices a character called Dolores the Coach) and lawn decorations.
Soon, Reggie is introduced to two of Bug’s closest dog acquaintances: Maggie (voiced by Isla Fisher) is an Australian Shepherd who is intelligent and has a super-keen sense of smell. She is a stray because her previous owners preferred to have a puppy. (In real life, this Australian Shepherd’s name is Elsa.) Hunter (voiced by Randall Park) is a Great Dane who is insecure and often fearful. Hunter trained to be a police dog, but instead he was placed in a retirement home to be a therapy dog for the elderly residents, and he ran away. (In real life, this Great Dane’s name is Dalin.)
This motley canine quartet then goes on a series of misadventures. All other animals in the movie do not talk. The only living beings that talk in the movie are dogs and humans. An English bulldog named Chester (voiced by Jamie Demetriou) makes a brief but memorable appearance as a neurotic dog who imagines that there is an invisible, electrical fence surrounding his front yard. The four strays also encounter a German Shepherd named Rolf (voiced by Rob Riggle), a K-9 police dog who trained with Hunter at the same K-9 academy.
Two other noteworthy dog characters in the movie are a philosophical Labrador Retriever named Gus (voiced by Josh Gad) and a feisty Chihuahua named Shitstain (voiced by Harvey Guillén), who is almost as combative as Bug. And when there’s a movie about stray dogs roaming around a city, there are inevitable scenes of the dogs trying to evade capture from the animal control officers. “Strays” also has some scenes that take place in an animal shelter, where an animal control officer named Willy (played by Brett Gelman) has a job that’s similar to a jail guard/janitor.
Dennis Quaid makes a cameo portraying himself as a bird watcher. Why is Quaid in this movie? Quaid is the star of 2017’s “A Dog’s Purpose” and 2019’s “A Dog’s Journey,” two sentimental dramas about a “talking” dog (voiced by Gad) who gets reincarnated and whose thoughts are heard in voiceover narration. Quaid and Gad being cast in “Strays” is obviously the “Strays” filmmakers’ way of poking fun at family-oriented talking dog movies.
For a great deal of the story, Reggie is denial that Doug abandoned him and that Doug is not a good person. When the truth finally sinks in with Reggie, he decides that he’s going to get revenge on Doug, with the help of his new stray dog friends. If anyone watching “Strays” complains about how unrealistic this movie is, the question must be asked: “What part of ‘talking dog movie’ do you not understand?”
The comedy in “Strays” is far from award-worthy, but it does bring some laughs, and it doesn’t try to pretend to be lofty art. The biggest flaw in “Strays” is an over-reliance on jokes and gags about defecation. However, the best parts of the movie have to do with the friendship that develops between these four dogs. Hunter has a crush on Maggie, so there’s potential for more than a friendship between them.
The expressions on these dogs’ faces are enough to charm viewers who like dogs, although obviously much of what is in the movie involves visual effects using computer-generated imagery. The voice actors also play their roles capably, with Foxx and Ferrell being the obvious standouts. As long as viewers don’t have skewed or misunderstood expectations for “Strays,” it can be amusing entertainment with some genuine, laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not the type of comedy for everyone, but neither is “Jackass.”
Universal Pictures will release “Strays” in U.S. cinemas on August 18, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place in the U.S. city of Oceanside, the animated film “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” features a cast of characters depicting humans, krakens and mermaids.
Culture Clash: A female teenage Kraken, whose family has been hiding its kraken identity from humans, uncovers an ancient legacy when a rival new student enrolls in her school.
Culture Audience: “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” will appeal primarily to people who want to see reliably entertaining animated films with simple messages about self-confidence and being yourself.
“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” does what it’s supposed to do as a family-oriented animated film. The story and visuals are appealing, but improvement was needed in world building and explaining various characters’ backstories much earlier in the movie. If you don’t know what a kraken is and have no interest in finding out, then skip this movie. Everyone else will at least be mildly entertained by this animated movie that is adequate but not a classic.
Directed by Kirk DeMicco, “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” has an over-used story of a teenage girl trying to fit in at her school while having a crush on a boy whom she wants to date. However, the movie should be commended for at least taking a unique and darking approach of making a kraken family at the center of the story. It’s something that no animated film from a major Hollywood studio has ever done before. Pam Brady, Brian C. Brown and Elliott DiGuiseppi wrote the screenplay for “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” with additional screenplay material written by DeMicco, Meghan Malloy and Michael McCullers.
A kraken is a giant mythical sea monster whose origins are off of the coast of Norway. In “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken,” 16-year-old Ruby Gillman (voiced by Lana Condor) and her family are living “under the radar” in the U.S. city of Oceanside, by having the appearance of humans and trying fit in as human beings. What’s kind of silly about the movie is that the members of this kraken family all have blue skin, which makes it obvious that they’re not human. It would look worse in a live-action film, but in an animated film, there’s more room for suspension of disbelief.
Ruby is intelligent and compassionate, but she insecure about her physical appearance, and she has a slightly goofy personality. Her overprotective mother Agatha Gillman (voiced by Toni Collette) is a successful real-estate agent who dominates the household and is the main parental disciplinarian. Ruby’s laid-back father Arthur Gillman (voiced by Colman Domingo) is much more lenient and understanding of Ruby’s curiosity. Also in the household is Ruby’s 7-year-old brother Sam Gillman (voiced by Blue Chapman), who has the “cute kid” role in the movie.
Agatha and Arthur know that their family is “different,” but they have instilled the attitude in their children that they must blend in with humans as much as possible. Agatha’s number-one rule for her children (especially Ruby) s that they must never go inside or near a large body of water. Needless to say, Agatha is horrified and disapproving when Ruby says she’s interested in studying marine biology for a possible career.
Ruby attends Oceanside High School, where she has a small circle of three friends who are all considered “misfits,” just like Ruby. Margot (voiced by Liza Koshy), who is queer or a lesbian, loves musical theater and is the most talkative and outspoken of the friends. Trevin (voiced by Eduardo Franco), the quietest of the group, is addicted to playing hand-held video games. Bliss (voiced by Ramona Young) is moody, sarcastic, and dresses like a nerdy Goth.
Ruby prides herself on being a “mathlete”—someone who excels at math and at being an athlete. She has a big crush on a fellow student whom she’s tutoring in math. His name is Connor (voiced by Jaboukie Young-White), who is a free-spirited skateboarder. The school’s prom is coming up. Ruby, Connor, and Ruby’s friends all think the concept of a prom is a “post-colonial patriarchal construct” that they think is very uncool.
However, Margot ends up changing her mind about boycotting the school’s prom when her girl crush asks Margo to be her prom date. Trevin and Bliss then want to go to the school’s prom too. Feeling left out, Ruby decides she wants to also attend the prom, with Connor as her date. Ruby tries to work up the courage to ask Connor, who’s attracted to her, but Ruby isn’t seeing the obvious signs of this attraction.
The added allure for Ruby to go to the prom is that it will be an act of rebellion against her mother. As soon as Agatha found out that the prom will take place in a building that’s near the ocean, she forbade Ruby from going. Margot, Trevin and Bliss convince Ruby that she shouldn’t be so afraid of getting her mother’s disapproval for something that should be a fun and positive experience for Ruby. These three pals tells Ruby that she should lie to Agatha about where she is going on the prom night and go to the prom instead.
Shortly before Ruby decides she’s going to ask Connor to be her prom date, he accidentally falls into the ocean and almost drowns. Ruby dives in to rescues him. And that’s when Ruby finds out that she can turn into a giant kraken. She’s horrified and now knows why her mother Agatha forbade her to go into any large body of water. Connor is unconscious and doesn’t see who rescued him. After a short stay in a hospital, he is released.
Meanwhile, there’s a new student at Oceanside High School: a confident, physically attractive redhead named Chelsea Van Der Zee (played by Annie Murphy), who witnessed this rescue and knows that Ruby wants to keep Ruby’s kraken identity a secret. And so, Chelsea takes credit for rescuing Connor. People believe Chelsea’s fabricated “hero” story, and she immediately becomes popular. As already shown in the “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” trailers, Chelsea has a secret identity too: She’s really a mermaid.
There are more Gillman family secrets that are revealed to Ruby, including a longtime feud between mermaids and krakens. Agatha’s bold and confident mother, whose only name in the movie is Grandmamah (voiced by Jane Fonda), comes from a long line of kraken warrior queens. Grandmamah is estranged from Agatha, who refused to follow in her mother’s footsteps.
Ruby also finds out that 15 years earlier, there was a Battle of the Tridents, where mermaids were defeated and went into hiding. There’s an all-powerful trident that mermaids and krakens have been battling over for several generations. When Ruby decides she’s going to embrace her kraken heritage and asks Grandmamah to mentor her, you can easily guess what the movie’s big showdown will be.
Other featured characters in this movie includes a local tour guide Gordon Lighthouse (voiced by Will Forte), who has a boat and who believes that krakens are very dangerous for people. Brill voiced by Sam Richardson) is Agatha’s younger brother, who is earnest and dorky. He’s the type who wears Hawaiian shirts, shorts and sandals with socks. Brill ends up getting involved in some of Ruby’s adventures.
“Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” has some explanations about kraken and mermaid lore in the middle of the movie, when those explanations should have been earlier in the film. The characters of Ruby, Agatha and Grandmamah have well-defined personalities, but some other characters (such as Sam and Bliss) don’t do much except take up space. Other characters (such as “cool love interest” Connor, “mean girl” Chelsea and “meddling neighbor” Gordon) are the types of characters that have been in many other types of scripted entertainment.
Some viewers might compare “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” to the 2022 Oscar-nominated Pixar movie “Turning Red” because there are some striking similarities. “Turning Red” is a much better movie overall, but “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” isn’t an intentional ripoff. “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” was in development for years prior to it getting made, so any similarities to “Turning Red” are coincidental.
Everything in “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” is just fine or average, but not so terrible that it feels like a complete waste of time to watch it. There’s a jumbled explanation of the Battle of the Tridents, but it’s not so confusing that viewers will feel lost. At the very least, anyone who watches “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” will see a teenage heroine who is very different from the usual teenage heroines in other animated films.
Universal Pictures will release “Ruby Gillman, Teenage Kraken” in U.S. cinemas on June 30, 2023.
Culture Representation: Taking place from the late 1960s to 1985, mostly in California, the comedy film “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with some African Americans, Latinos and Asians) representing the working-class, middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: Nerdy misfit Al Yankovic becomes world-famous for his parodies of pop music hits, but his fame, an inflated ego and an ill-fated romance with Madonna cause problems in his life.
Culture Audience: “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” will appeal primarily to fans of “Weird Al” Yankovic, star Daniel Radcliffe and movies that spoof celebrity biopics.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” isn’t a straightforward biopic but it’s more like a biopic parody, which is fitting, considering the movie is about music parody king “Weird Al” Yankovic. Daniel Radcliffe fully commits to an off-the-wall performance as Yankovic. Some parts of the movie get distracted by trying to be too bizarre, but this well-cast movie overall can bring plenty of laughs. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” had its world premiere at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival.
Directed by Eric Appel (who co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Yankovic), “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” even has a parody biopic voiceover, with Diedrich Bader as an unseen and unidentified narrator saying things in a deep voice and overly serious tone. The movie has the expected childhood flashbacks, which are moderately amusing. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” doesn’t really pick up steam until it gets to depicting the adult Yankovic. (For the purposes of this review, the real Yankovic will be referred to by his last name, while the Al Yankovic character in the movie will be referred to as Al.)
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” begins in the mid-1980s, by showing the adult Al in his 20s (played by Radcliffe) being rushed into a hospital emergency room, where he is attended to by a doctor (played by Lin-Manuel Miranda). The voiceover narrator says solemnly: “Life is like a parody of your favorite song. Just when you think you know all the words … surprise! You don’t know anything.” Why is Al in a hospital emergency room? The movie circles back to this scene later, to explain why.
After this scene in the hospital emergency room, the movie flashes back to Al’s childhood with Al (played by Richard Aaron Anderson), at about 9 or 10 years old, who considered himself to be a misfit in his own household. Born in 1959, Al grew up as an only child in the Los Angeles suburb of Lynwood, California. Al’s cranky father Nick (played by Toby Huss) works in a factory, and he expects Al to also become a factory worker when Al is an adult. Al’s loving mother Mary (played by Julianne Nicholson) is somewhat supportive of Al’s artistic interests, but she lives in fear of Nick, who has a nasty temper.
Nick openly mocks Al’s dreams to be a songwriter. One day during a meal at the family’s dining room table, Al’s parents listen to Al change the words of the gospel hymn “Amazing Grace” to “Amazing Grapes.” Nick is infuriated and says that this song parody is “blasphemy.” Mary tells Al that he should stop being himself. Feeling misunderstood, Al takes comfort in listening to his favorite radio shows, including those by his idol Dr. Demento.
Something happens that changes the course of Al’s life: An accordion salesman (played by Thomas Lennon) comes knocking on the Yankovic family’s door. Nick isn’t home at the time, but Al and Mary are there. Al is immediately dazzled by the accordion for sale, which is actually not shiny and new, but rather previously owned and worn-out. Al feels an instant connection to the music that comes out of this unusual instrument.
Al begs his mother to buy the accordion for him. Mary usually goes along with whatever Nick wants. (Nick wants Al to give up any dreams of being a musician.) But this time, Mary goes against what her husband wishes, and she secretly buys the accordion for Al. However, Mary has a condition for buying this accordion: Al must hide the accordion and only play the accordion when Nick isn’t there. Al agrees to this rule and becomes a skilled accordion player.
As a teenager, Al (played by David Bloom) is considered nerdy but likeable. His outlook on life begins to change when he plays the accordion at a house party full of kids from his high school. The response he gets is enthusiastic and full of praise. It’s the first time that Al feels outside validation for his accordion playing, and it gives him the confidence to decide that he will definitely be a musician and songwriter. Things turn sour at home though, when Nick finds out about the accordion and destroys it in a fit of anger.
After graduating from high school, Al moves to Los Angeles, where he lives with three guys who are close to his age: Jim (played by Jack Lancaster), Steve (played by Spencer Treat Clark) and Bermuda (played by Tommy O’Brien), whose interests are mainly dating women and partying. Al’s roommates encourage him to pursue his dreams, even though Al is constantly being rejected when he auditions for rock bands that have no interest in having an accordion player. (The movie has some comedic montages of these rejections.)
Al’s roommates aren’t fully aware of his talent for parodies until Al does an impromptu parody of The Knack’s 1979 hit “My Sharona” and turns it into his parody song “My Balogna” when he looks at some bologna in the kitchen. The roommates are so impressed that they volunteer to be his band members and encourage Al to make a recording demo that he can send to record companies, with the hope that he can get a record deal.
Al’s demo tape finds its way to brothers Tony Scotti (played by the real Yankovic) and Ben Scotti (played by Will Forte), who own Scotti Bros. Records. Tony and younger brother Ben (who are portrayed as shallow and mean-spirited music executives) are very dismissive of Al at first and don’t think a song like “My Balogna” could be a hit. Even though “My Balogna” has been getting some local radio airplay (including be a big hit on Southern California radio’s “The Captain Buffoon Show”), Tony and his “yes man” brother Ben don’t think there’s demand on a national level for albums from an accordion-playing, parody singer/songwriter.
But then, Al meets his idol Doctor Demento (played by Rainn Wilson, in perfect casting), who thinks Al is very talented and offers to become Al’s mentor. Dr. Demento suggests that Al change his stage name to “Weird Al” Yankovic. Al gets live performance gigs, sometimes as the opening act for Dr. Demento in the early 1980s.
Al also does a recording called “I Love Rocky Road” (referring to Rocky Road ice cream), a parody of “I Love Rock’n’Roll,” a song originally recorded by The Arrows in 1976, and was made into a chart-topping hit by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts in 1981. “I Love Rocky Road” gets some airplay on local radio (including Dr. Demento’s show), and it becomes a popular song requested by audiences. Suddenly, the Scotti Brothers are interested in signing Al to their record label.
One of the best scenes in the movie is early in Al’s career, before he was famous, when he’s invited to a house party at Dr. Demento’s place. The party guests are a “who’s who” of eccentric celebrities, including Andy Warhol (played by Conan O’Brien), Alice Cooper (played by Akiva Schaffer), Salvador Dalí (played by Emo Phillips), Divine (played by Nina West), Tiny Tim (played by Demetri Martin), Gallagher (played by Paul F. Tompkins) and Pee Wee Herman (played by Jorma Taccone). Observant viewers will also notice uncredited actors portraying Elvira, Frank Zappa and Grace Jones at the party.
At this party, radio/TV personality Wolfman Jack (played by Jack Black, in a hilarious cameo) is skeptical of Al’s talent, and he tries to humiliate Al, by challenging Al to do an impromptu parody of Queen’s 1980 hit “Another One Bites the Dust.” Queen bassist John Deacon (played by David Dastmalchian), who wrote “Another One Bites the Dust,” is also at the party and wants to see how this aspiring artist will rework one of Queen’s biggest hits. Al rises to the challenge and comes up with the parody “Another One Rides the Bus,” which tells comedic tale about the frustrations of riding a bus. Al the earns the respect of Wolfman Jack, Deacon and other skeptics at the party. Other well-known comedians who make cameos in the movie include Quinta Brunson as Oprah Winfrey, Patton Oswalt as an unnamed heckler, Michael McKean as a nightclub emcee, Arturo Castro as Pablo Escobar and Seth Green as a radio DJ.
The rest of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” is a wild and wacky ride that shows Al’s ascent in the music business, but he succumbs to some of the pitfalls of fame. “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” adds a lot of fiction about Yankovic’s life when the movie starts going into its more unusual tangents. For example, in real life, Yankovic had one of his biggest hits in 1984 with “Eat It,” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It.” But the movie puts a cheeky and offbeat twist on this part of Yankovic’s personal history, by making Al as the one to write the song first, and Michael Jackson “copied” the song by recording “Beat It,” without giving Al any songwriting credit.
Al’s dysfunctional romance with Madonna (played by Evan Rachel Wood) is also fabricated for the movie. (In real life, Yankovic says that he and Madonna never knew each other at all.) In the movie, Madonna and Al first meet sometime in 1983, when he’s a bigger star than she is, because she recently signed a deal to release her first album. Madonna is portrayed as an ambitious manipulator who had her sights set on Al after she found out that sales increase significantly for artists whose songs are parodied by Al.
Madonna and Al immediately begin a hot-and-heavy affair based mostly on lust. Madonna encourages Al to start abusing alcohol and acting like a difficult rock star. Al starts to alienate his bandmates/friends when he does things like show up late for rehearsals and act like an insufferable egomaniac. Madonna knows it’s easier to manipulate Al when he’s drunk, so she keeps him supplied with enough alcoholic drinks to keep him intoxicated.
It’s all part of Madonna’s plan to get Al to do a parody of one of her songs, so that her music sales can increase. (ln real life, Yankovic’s 1986 song “Like a Surgeon” was a parody of Madonna’s 1984 hit “Like a Virgin.”) But what Madonna, the Scotti Brothers and many other people didn’t expect was Al deciding that he was going to stop doing parodies and release an album of his own original songs. Al makes this decision after he accidentally takes LSD given to him by Dr. Demento, and Al has an epiphany that he has more to say to the world as a writer of his own original songs.
The movie has several moments that parody how superficial the entertainment industry can be, with the Madonna character being an obvious example of a showbiz leech. The Scotti Brothers characters are the epitome of greedy and fickle music executives who think they always know more than the artists signed to their record label. Al is portrayed as someone who enjoys his fame but also feels overwhelmed by it.
Even when with his fame and fortune, Al still craves the approval of his parents, who don’t really express that they are proud of him. At the height of Al’s success, he remained somewhat estranged from his parents. It’s a bittersweet part of the story that gives some emotional gravitas to this otherwise intentionally zany movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. There’s a scene in the movie where Al, who has won Grammys and is a headliner of sold-out arena shows, calls his mother Mary to tell her about some of his accomplishments, but her response is the equivalent of someone saying, “That’s nice, dear,” and not being very interested.
Radcliffe (who is much shorter in height than the real Yankovic) makes up for not having a physical resemblance to Yankovic by bringing his own character interpretation of the real person. It’s not an impersonation but more like a re-imagining of what Yankovic is in this often-fabricated cinematic version of his life. Wood also turns in a memorable performance as Madonna, which might remind people more of Madonna’s chewing-gum-smacking movie character Susan from 1985’s “Desperately Seeking Susan” than the real Madonna.
“Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” doesn’t disappoint when it comes to the music. The movie has some entertaining concert scenes and gives some insight into Yankovic’s songwriting and recording experiences. If the movie has any flaws, it’s the Madonna storyline, which becomes a one-note joke and drags on for a little too long. And because the movie ends in 1985, it doesn’t include Yankovic’s post-1985 forays into starring in movies and TV shows, directing music videos for other artists, and becoming a children’s book author. However, the movie cheats a little in the timeline, because it includes Yankovic’s 1996 song “Amish Paradise,” which is a parody of Coolio’s 1995 hit “Gangsta’s Paradise.”
The last scene of “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” might be a little too abrupt or off-putting for some viewers. But it’s an example of how this movie doesn’t want to be a conventional biopic. Yankovic’s original song “Now You Know,” which was recorded for the movie and plays during the end credits, makes a lot of meta references to the movie that are an example of this comedy film’s quirky tone. Even with all the oddball antics in the movie, “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” succeeds in its message that good things can happen to people who aren’t afraid to be themselves.
The Roku Channel will premiere “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” on November 4, 2022.
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.
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.
Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in California’s Venice Beach and other parts of the universe, the animated film “Scoob!” has a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A villain is out to kidnap Scooby-Doo, the lovable, talking Great Dane that’s the best friend of one of the four young people who’ve started a detective agency called Mystery Inc.
Culture Audience: “Scoob!” will appeal primarily to fans of the original “Scooby Doo” TV cartoon series and to people who are looking for lightweight animation for entertainment.
People who loved the original “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” TV series should brace themselves if they see the animated film “Scoob!,” because the uncomplicated charm of the TV show has been turned into a overly busy, often-mediocre film that has a serious identity crisis. The “Scooby-Doo, Where Are You!” TV series was essentially a detective show, with each mystery solved at the end of each episode. The “Scoob!” movie tries to be too many things at once—a comedy, a mystery, a superhero story, a supernatural horror movie and a sci-fi adventure. But the worst change in the “Scoob!” movie is that Scooby-Doo and the four young detectives at the heart of the “Scooby-Doo” series are split up for most of the “Scoob!” movie.
“Scoob!” begins with showing how the talking Great Dane known as Scooby-Doo ended up with his best friend Shaggy. In the bohemian beach city of Venice, California, a homeless Great Dane puppy is being chased by a bicycle cop and hides out in a mound of sand on the beach. It just so happens that a lonely boy named Norville “Shaggy” Rogers (who’s about 9 or 10 years old) is nearby on the same beach and discovers the dog.
Shaggy names the dog Scooby Dooby Doo. And when the bicycle cop catches up to the dog, Shaggy convinces the cop that he’s the dog’s rightful owner. Shaggy takes Scooby home with him, and they become fast friends. As a token of their friendship, Shaggy gives Scooby a dog collar with a tag engraved with the initials “SD” on it.
Shaggy’s favorite superhero is Blue Falcon, who has a canine sidekick named Dynomutt. Shaggy keeps action figures and pictures of them in his room. Shaggy is such a fan that, for Halloween, he dresses up as Blue Falcon and Scooby as Dynomutt. While they’re out trick-or-treating, some kid bullies steal Shaggy’s candy and knock him and Scooby down on the sidewalk as they run away.
It’s here that Shaggy and Scooby first meet the three young people who will become their close friends: brawny Fred, compassionate Daphne and brainy Velma. For their Halloween costumes, Fred is dressed as a knight in armor, Daphne is dressed as Wonder Woman and Daphne is dressed as Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Shaggy mistakes Daphne for trying to be someone in a “Harry Potter” movie.
Fred, Daphne and Velma offer to help Shaggy after seeing him get knocked down, but he says the only things that are bruised are his “ego and tailfeathers.” (This line is one of the many signs that this movie was written by adults who can’t write realistic kids’ dialogue.) As soon as Scooby and this quartet of new friends start to bond, they encounter their first big mystery together, as they enter what’s rumored to be a haunted house.
They’re immediately terrorized by a menacing ghost in the house. Instead of running away (which is always Shaggy’s inclination), they band together to fight the ghost, which turns out not to be ghost, but a thief who has kept a houseful of stolen electronics and appliances stashed there. And, of course, when he’s arrested, he snarls that he would’ve gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids. It’s the first real mystery solved by the four friends and Scooby.
Fast forward about 10 years later, and the four friends are now in their late teens/early 20s. They’ve started a detective agency named Mystery Inc., and are trying to figure out how to raise money to keep the business going. While they have a meeting at a diner, Velma (voiced by Gina Rodriguez) thinks that they should find investors.
And lo and behold, Simon Cowell (voiced by the real Cowell) randomly shows up unannounced at the diner, sits down at the table, and says that he’s willing to invest in the detective agency—but only if they get rid of Shaggy and Scooby, since Cowell thinks they’re useless. Cowell cynically adds, “When you get in trouble, friendship won’t save the day.”
Shaggy and Scooby are so insulted, that they don’t wait around to hear how Fred (voiced by Zac Efron), Daphne (voiced Amanda Seyfried) and Velma react to Cowell’s ultimatum to get rid of Shaggy and Scooby. Leaving in a huff, Shaggy and Scooby end up at a bowling alley, where they encounter bowling balls and bowling pins that turn into minion-like robots with chainsaws for hands.
The robots chase Shaggy and Scooby around a bowling alley. Just then, a blue light beams down. It’s the Falcon Fury spaceship owned by Blue Falcon (voiced by Mark Wahlberg) and navigated by pilot Dee Dee Skyes (voiced by Kiersey Clemons), who rescue Shaggy and Scooby from the robots. Dee Dee tells Shaggy and Scooby that the robots are from a villain called Dick Dastardly (voiced by Jason Isaacs).
While on the ship, Shaggy meets his hero Blue Falcon. The superhero is really a guy named Brian who’s taken over the Blue Falcon superhero persona from his retired father, and he hides his insecurity by putting up a blustery brave front. Dynomutt (voiced by Ken Jeong) has the power to extend his neck to great lengths and he’s a loyal and enthusiastic sidekick to Blue Falcon.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, Velma has found out through research that Dick Dastardly is wanted by authorities for stealing archeological artifacts from Peru (including a giant skull of a dog) and for taking genealogical records of dogs from the Global Kennel Club. It’s pretty easy to figure out at this point that Scooby is the target of Dick Dastardly’s evil plans. But why? The movie answers that question, but there’s a lot of filler action, as the movie zigzags from genre to genre the way that the characters zig zig from Earth to outer space.
“Scoob!” has four screenwriters—Adam Sztykiel, Jack C. Donaldson, Derek Elliott and Matt Lieberman—and the whole movie gives the impression that the screenplay had “too many cooks in the kitchen.” It tries to be a comedy, but the jokes aren’t very good. When one of the characters calls athletic Fred “a poor man’s Hemsworth,” Fred asks, “Chris or Liam?” And the “mystery” in the movie is very easy to solve, even for young children who might be watching.
As for the animation, when there are Pixar movies in the world, many other animated films look inferior in comparison. The best action sequences in “Scoob!” are with the fearsome Cerberus (the three-headed hound of Hades), which has to do with the supernatural horror aspect of this messy film. There’s a chase scene through an abandoned amusement park that ramps up the action, but nothing in this movie is awards-worthy.
Although the actors do a good job with the screenplay that they’ve been given, it seems as if the Blue Falcon character was added to the world of Scooby-Doo just to jump on the bandwagon of superhero movies and to create a possible cinematic universe with various Hanna-Barbera characters. And the celebrity cameo from Cowell just seems weird and out of place. Cowell’s son Eric even has a voice role in the movie. (Did someone on the “Scoob!” filmmaking team owe Simon Cowell a favor?) Tracy Morgan has a cameo as Captain Caveman on Mystery Island, but his wacky character is very under-used in a script that needed more originality instead of a derivative superhero subplot.
And since Shaggy and Scooby are separated from Fred, Daphne and Velma during most of the movie, this estrangement ruins the original appeal of the “Scooby-Doo” series, which is all about the teamwork and camaraderie between this lovable dog and his four human friends. Another travesty: Mystery Inc.’s 1970s-style van the Mystery Machine is literally destroyed in the movie, which is an apt metaphor for how this movie wrecks the spirit of the original “Scooby-Doo” series. If “Scoob!” had stuck to a well-crafted story about a good mystery that needed solving—instead of trying to be too many things to too many people—then it would have turned out to be a much better movie.
Warner Bros. Pictures released “Scoob!” on digital and VOD on May 15, 2020.
Culture Representation: Taking place in California and Mexico, the satirical comedy “Flipped” has a racially diverse cast (white, Latino and a few African Americans) portraying the middle-class and wealthy.
Culture Clash: A husband and wife who aspire to host their own home-renovation show end up being forced to work for members of a Mexican drug cartel.
Culture Audience: “Flipped” will appeal primarily to fans of stars Will Forte and Kaitlin Olson, but the premise of the comedy wears thin about halfway through the story.
The streaming service Quibi (which launched on April 6, 2020) has set itself apart from its competitors by offering only original content, and each piece of content is 10 minutes or less. Therefore, content that Quibi has labeled a “movie” actually seems more like a limited series, since Quibi will only make the “movie” available in “chapters” that look like episodes. The satirical comedy “Flipped” is one of Quibi’s flagship movies that began streaming on the service on Quibi’s launch date.
“Flipped” takes a concept that’s ripe for parody and wastes it with a dumbed-down crime caper that becomes repetitive and runs out of creative steam long before the story ends. Funny Or Die is one of the production companies for “Flipped,” which was directed by Ryan Case and written by Damon Jones and Steve Mallory. Despite some occasional laugh-out-loud comedic scenes and good efforts from the “Flipped” actors, they’re not enough to make up for the overall mediocrity of the screenwriting.
The married couple at the center of “Flipped” are Cricket Melfi (played by Kaitlin Olson) and Jann Melfi (played by Will Forte), two frequently unemployed, bitter and delusional people who consider themselves to be smarter and better than the “common people” they have to interact with in the real world. Cricket and Jann (who live somewhere in the Los Angeles area) also have a lot of resentment toward people who are more financially successful than they are. Cricket and Jann think that most rich people get financial success through luck or dishonesty, not intelligence or talent.
The irony is that Cricket and Jann have none of the intelligence or talent that they think they have. In the beginning of the story, Cricket has been fired from her job as a sales clerk at a Home Depot-style retail store called Fair & Square. Her supervisor tells Cricket that too many customers have complained about Cricket for being abrasive and rude. Cricket responds to being fired by smashing several store mirrors on the ground.
Around the same time, Jann also gets axed from his job as a theater director of a middle school. Jann wants to stage a school musical called “Children of the Fire,” which is based on a true story of 12-and-13-year-old children who died in a fire in the local area. The musical is obviously a terrible idea, but Jann can’t understand why school officials and parents want him fired over it.
While simmering with anger and self-pity at home, Cricket and Jann (who are having problems paying their bills) commiserate with each other on their living room couch about how they think they’re underappreciated in the world. Cricket says, “Is this our life now? Are we destined to be two people with vision living amongst the blind?” Jann adds, “I think people are intimidated by us because we’re ahead of our time.”
As they’re watching TV together, Jann and Cricket jeer at a home-improvement show called “Pros & Connellys,” starring a cheerful married couple Chazz and Tiffany Connelly (played by real-life married couple Jerry O’Connell and Rebecca Romijn), who do tasteful but bland renovations of middle-class houses. “Pros & Connellys,” which is on a network called HRTV (Home Renovation TV), is “Flipped’s” obvious spoof of the real-life Chip and Joanna Gaines’ “Fixer Upper” show on HGTV.
While watching “Pros & Connellys” with contempt, Jann and Cricket tell themselves that Chazz and Tiffany are mediocre hacks. And lo and behold, there’s an announcement on the show that HRTV is looking to cast a new home-renovation show starring a married couple who could be the next Chazz and Tiffany Connelly. The auditions are open to the public and the winners will get to star in the new show. Jann and Cricket immediately decide that they’re the ones who deserve to win the contest.
With nothing to lose, Jann and Cricket buy a “fixer-upper” desert property for a very low price: $3,400. But there was a catch in the deal: Jann and Cricket bought the property sight unseen. And when they drive out to see the property for the first time, of course it’s a dirty and broken-down dump.
But the delusional Jann and Cricket think the house has a lot of potential for their tacky tastes. As they break down some walls, they come across a shocking discovery hidden in one of the walls: a large pile of cash totaling $500,000. Cricket and Jann can’t believe their luck. Or is it luck if they make the wrong decision on what to do with the money?
Instead of turning the money over to authorities, Jann and Cricket keep the cash and spend it all on redoing the house with trashy and gaudy decorations (including plastic pink flamingoes on the front lawn) and hiring a TV crew to film their HRTV audition video. But, of course, stealing that amount of hidden cash means that whoever owns the cash will eventually come looking for it. And, of course, chances are that whoever hid that cash is probably involved with something illegal.
Sure enough, three members of a Mexican drug cartel show up to retrieve the money, and they menace Jann and Cricket when they find out that the dimwitted couple spent it all. The leader of this trio of enforcers is named Diego (played by Arturo Castro), who reluctantly lets Jann and Cricket talk him into watching their HRTV audition video to get his feedback.
He actually likes what he sees, but Diego and his henchmen still kidnap Jann and Cricket to take them to Mexico and murder them. Just as Jann and Cricket are about to be killed and buried in their already-dug graves, Diego announces that he’s changed his mind. He tells Cricket and Jann that he’ll let them live if they “pay back” the amount of the stolen cash by doing free renovations for his home.
Diego is so pleased with the renovations that he recommends Jann and Cricket for home renovations to other members of the drug cartel. Among these “clients” are Diego’s boss Rumualdo (played by Andy Garcia) and Rumualdo’s wife Fidelia (played by Eva Longoria), who live in a lavish mansion. And that’s what happens during the most of the story.
How long will Cricket and Jann be stuck in Mexico paying off their debt? And will they be able to submit their HRTV audition video in time? Those questions are answered in “Flipped,” which goes downhill about halfway through the story when the “fish out of water” concept starts to wear very thin. There’s a cringeworthy scene of Rumualdo and Jann singing a cover version of Sonny Curtis’ “Love Is All Around” (also known as the theme to “The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) at the quinceañera of Rumualdo and Fidelia’s daughter.
Castro’s comedic performance as Diego is actually one of the best things about “Flipped,” but he doesn’t get nearly as much screen time as he deserves. Diego comes across as a tough guy, but then he’ll make off-the-cuff remarks that reveal another side to him, such as when he laments that people don’t show enough respect to Pottery Barn.
Forte has made a career out of playing tone-deaf dolts, so there’s nothing really new that he does here as Jann. Olson’s Cricket character (who’s the more dominant and aggressive partner in the marriage) has some standout comedic moments, but she becomes more of a shrieking shrew as the story keeps going.
Garcia and Longoria have characters that are written in a very hollow and generic way, so ultimately their talents are underused in “Flipped.” And some people might be offended that “Flipped” panders to negative stereotypes of Mexicans as drug dealers. (Almost all of the Latino people cast in “Flipped” are criminals or connected in some way to the illegal drug trade.) But regardless of the race or ethnicity of the criminals in the story, “Flipped” comes across as an idea that should have been a 15-minute skit instead stretched into an 80-minute comedy that wears out its welcome.
Quibi premiered the first three chapters of the 11-chapter “Flipped” on April 6, 2020.