We're in the home stretch as far as summer releases goes, which means that a lot of just-okay movies are upon us. For a Good Time Call…, a raunchy sex comedy, and Lawless, a Prohibition-era gangster flick, are two cases in point. Neither film is particularly original or inventive, but an enthusiastic cast in the comedy and a group of terrific young actors in the second certainly don't hurt.
In the age of online instant gratification, does anyone still call phone-sex lines to get off? According to For a Good Time, Call…, they do and call often. The premise of the movie hangs on two twentysomethings who meet one night at a college frat party and can't stand one another. But the brash, slovenly one (the blonde) needs a roomie to help her pay for the expensive, formerly rent-controlled apartment she lives in while the prim, proper one with the exquisite manners (the brunette) has just been dumped by her cutie-pie boyfriend, has lost her job and immediately needs a place to stay.
Katie (Ari Graynor) is the sluttish loudmouth and Lauren (Lauren Anne Miller) is the Miss Goody Two Shoes. This mix of human oil and water was brought together in a moment of inspiration by their joint ÃĽber-gay friend Jesse (Justin Long). Katie loves to talk and it isn't long before Lauren figures out that Katie's working for a phone-sex line. With her business smarts, she and Katie are soon running their own company, with the money pouring in.
After an undercover born-again Christian tries to sabotage their business, Lauren joins Katie as a second operator and then the two really start raking in the dough. Naturally, Lauren's straight-laced parents have no idea what she's up to and Katie's hiding a few secrets of her own. In between these all-too- familiar hijinks, the ladies chat on the phone with a series of horny guys with a lot of the usual offbeat sexual peccadillos (Seth Rogen cameos as one of them) and fall in like with one another.
Graynorwho is as brash and funny here as she was in Nick & Norah's Infinite Playlist and Miller, and who looks and acts like a young Kate Beckinsale (albeit without the British accent)brings plenty of enthusiasm to the awfully familiar, sitcomish proceedings that seem awfully close to the TV hit Two Broke Girls. Miller wrote the script with Katie Ann Naylon, and openly gay Jamie Travis makes his feature directorial debut.
The movie, with its tired premise, might have been helped and scored some honest laughs (instead of the usual blue jokes and gross out sight gags) had it been set in the early '90s, the era where it belongs. Travis also needs to learn when to reel in his actorsLong's playing of the gay character is so over the top (he plays to the balcony in every one of his scenes) that one can almost hear him lisping as he minces around. Talk about retro.
Short on laughs and high on vulgarity (it's like a modern day, pornographic variation on The Odd Couple), For a Good Time, Call… works in fits and startsusually when it is focusing on the importance of the friendship between the two young women and displaying some genuine emotion.
Of related interest: Nathan Adloff, another queer director, also made his feature debut this year with Nate & Margaret, the offbeat story of a friendship between a 19-year-old college film major and his eccentric 52-year-old neighbor who dreams of becoming a stand-up comic. Adloff's quietly effective movie is a genuine charmer and is just out on DVD from Breaking Glass Entertainment. (See my interview with him in this issue.)
Lawless, the second also-ran to open in theaters this week, is based on a true story set in Franklin, Va., in 1931, when Prohibition and the Great Depression collided and found desperately poor folks resorting to bootlegging to make ends meet.
Three brothersJack (Shia LaBeouf), the baby of the family; Howard (Jason Clarke), the middle one with the violent temper; and Forrest (Tom Hardy), the oldest and the craziest of the lotrun a successful bootlegging business that is portrayed in director John Hillcoat's film as being as exemplary as a manufacturer of Gideon Bibles. The three bros are captains of their local industry, delivering their product on time, looking the other way when little old ladies can't afford to pay for the hooch and making nice nice with the local fuzz.
But into this bucolic scenario comes the nasty dandy Charles Rakes, a special agent with the feds who is charged with enforcing the law. Guy Pearce, who plays this elegant priss, has a whale of a good time (and so do we) as a psychopathic bad guy from hell who is determined to shut down the three brothers and come out smelling as sweet as his heavily pomaded hair. When Pearce is referred to as a "nance" because of his sartorial splendor and heavy use of cologne, he goes ballistic; the idea of even appearing queer is shown to be just cause for murder and unending revenge. The war over the illegitimate booze that ensues is, naturally, filled with plenty of violent set pieces mixed in with a soupcon of romance. (LaBeouf courts a Mennonite gal played by Mia Wasikowska while Hardy hooks up with Jessica Chastain, who's a mystery woman from the big city who shows up looking for refuge.)
The result is old-fashioned and fairly entertainingand a nice way to pass the time until the new season of Boardwalk Empire starts next month on HBO. However, the attempt to show these violent bootleggers as mythic heroes doesn't quite come off and the movie's long, overextended coda that portrays these thugs as peace-loving, upstanding regular Joes certainly isn't sweet-smellingit stinks.
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