Reeling It In: Seeking the thrill of the double-feature

Posted: Thursday, November 11, 2010

"Due Date"

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Ap Photo/Dreamworks Animation, Paramount Pictures
Ap Photo/Dreamworks Animation, Paramount Pictures
In this film publicity image released by Paramount and DreamWorks Animation, Roxanne Ritchi, voiced by Tina Fey, right, and Megamind, voiced by Will Ferrell, are shown in a scene from the animated feature "Megamind."

Warner Bors. Pictures

1 hour, 40 minutes


DreamWorks Animation

1 hour, 36 minutes

For a huge movie-fan like me, the chance to get to go to a double-feature is the ultimate in cinematic bliss. It does, however, require quite a bit of planning. The stars all have to align just right.

First, both movies you want to see have to be playing at the same theater. Additionally, the two movies have to offset each other right. You couldn't go see a double-feature of, say, "Avatar" followed by "Saw 3D" if the first showing was at 7 p.m. and the second at 9 p.m., because the 7 o'clock "Avatar" won't be over 'til after midnight.

There's also a little bit of art involved in a double-feature. The movies should complement each other in some way. It's the same concept involved in the construction of a good mix tape. Just as you wouldn't follow Carly Simon with Nine-Inch Nails, you would never follow "Avatar" with "Saw 3D," even if you could get the times to match. Then again, I'm biased -- I can't think of a combination of movies I would see that include "Saw 3D."

And, on top of everything else, now that I'm a parent, there's another factor to throw in the mix. Can you get a babysitter for two movies? Can you afford it? If yours is like mine, she'll never let you get away with the old "I can't seem to find my checkbook" gambit. It's a complicated problem, no doubt, but when my wife off-handedly suggested that maybe it would be fun to go see both "Due Date" and "Megamind" this weekend, I jumped on it with a fervor.

After sorting out all details, including lunch, we made our way to the theater with a plan in place -- first "Megamind" then "Due Date," the reasoning being that if for some reason we ended up having to skip the second feature, we were more excited about the former than the latter. I should say "I" was more excited to see "Megamind," because, as we were taking our seats, my wife abruptly changed her mind and decided that she'd rather spend a couple of hours with Robert Downey Jr. than an animated Will Ferrell. Already we were tempting fate. The double-feature gods are a strict lot, and don't appreciate last minute adjustments.

"Due Date," from Todd Phillips, director of "The Hangover," was kind of funny, but pretty mediocre -- almost my exact reaction to the director's previous film, to be honest. Downey plays Peter Highman, a high-strung father-to-be who gets stuck out of town just a few days before the birth of his first child. Through a series of mishaps, he ends up with no money or identification, and is forced to accept a ride across country with bizarre wannabe actor Ethan Tremblay, played by the incredibly over-exposed Zach Galifianakis. In the best tradition of "Planes, Trains, and Automobiles," wackiness ensues.

Though there are certainly funny scenes in the film, much of it falls flat and some scenes are almost unwatchable. There is at least one disgusting scene that very nearly drove my wife from the theater, Robert Downey Jr. or no. You can't deny that Galifianakis is humorous, but I get the idea that Todd Phillips thinks that everything the comedian does is drop-dead hilarious, and that's just not the case. Downey's comic timing is right on, and he's certainly the best part of the movie. But neither his, nor his co-star's characters are particularly well developed, and many scenes leave you with the feeling of "well, that was amusing, but made absolutely no sense."

The writing in "Due Date" is purely mediocre, with a flash of wit here and there, but the plot requires such massive suspension of disbelief that I was constantly being jolted out of the story. Do they really expect me to believe that you could drive a stolen Mexican police car across the state of Arizona and never be stopped? Really? In the end, "Due Date" was a minimally amusing appetizer to what I hoped to be the main comedic course -- "Megamind."

Flipping the order in which we saw the films left us with an odd hour to fill in-between showings. All that careful planning down the drain. My wife and I decided to get our errands done during this time, secure in the knowledge that we would make it back in time for our next feature. Upon returning to the theater, however, we noticed a worrying sight. Several sets of parents were leading teary-eyed 8-year-olds back to the parking lot. We caught snippets of conversation that all followed the vein of "I know you're disappointed. I'm disappointed, too. These things just happen." Uh oh.

We should have guessed that the No. 1 movie in the country, a kid's flick, no less, would sell-out on a Saturday afternoon, but who knew that many people would want to venture out into the ice and slush watch an alien with a giant blue head and Will Ferrell's voice? I told you those double-feature gods were a cranky bunch.

In the end, it all worked out for the best. My wife got to go home and read her book, and my 3-year-old son and I went to see "Megamind" the next day. Not exactly a double-feature, but two movies in one weekend is kind of red-letter in and of itself. I'm pleased to say that "Megamind," though not brilliant, is clever and very funny. The story revolves around the life-long struggle between arch-villain Megamind and the super-heroic Metro-Man, patron saint of Metro City. The two having arrived as infants on the same day from neighboring planets on the verge of going up in smoke, Metro and Mega were always on opposing ends of the spectrum. It's not that Megamind was evil, he just never could get doing good right. Finally he just accepted his lot in life, and a villainous uber-criminal was born.

Everything goes awry, however, when, during one of their seemingly endless battles, Megamind accidentally kills Metro-Man. Winning was never part of the plan, and now that he has ultimate power, Megamind has no idea what to do with it. Naturally, he decides to make a new hero to fight, and the story is off and running.

Though the "fresh look at the nature of super-heroes" theme isn't really that fresh anymore, "Megamind" manages to stay creative and fun and benefits from a wealth of well-drawn (pardon the pun) characters. Ferrell is joined by Brad Pitt, Tina Fey, David Cross, and Jonah Hill, and all do fine jobs in their roles. Ferrell is, of course, the stand-out, though he could, and probably does, this character in his sleep.

Above all, "Megamind" is entertaining. It's not going to give you a lot to think about, and won't be tugging your heartstrings along with your funny-bone, but at the very least, my son sat still for the entire thing, which is really saying something.

"Due Date": C+.

"Megamind": B+.

"Due Date" is rated R for language, some violence, and crude and sexual situations. "Megamind" is rated PG for some mildly scary sequences

Chris Jenness is a freelance graphic designer, artist and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.

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