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Dating Secrets 

Mike and Dave bring the laughs, Pets falls flat

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Reviews

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. As I've said time and time again, R-rated comedy is a risky genre. Banking on the strength or audacity of the material, it forsakes all the families and summer-break teenagers who seem to be the primary drivers of the movie industry. And because awards shows are myopic and awfully stuffy, comedies aren't likely to fare well in any of them. So, in order to succeed, these movies have to strike a balance of new, surprising jokes — and, more often than not, new ways to challenge the censors — a likable cast and a plot that doesn't show through too much at the seams. They rely on an intentional audience, ticket-buyers with at least some idea of what they're getting into, more than on the bored or those in need of child-care.

From the perspective of a Hollywood bean-counter, or maybe even more so from that of an executive with eyes on a billion-dollar box office and a nine-figure bonus package, that could be too unlikely an investment to risk. That such movies exist at all is enough to give some minor twinge of hope that creativity and humor have not yet been ground up by the great money excavator. More to the point, the genuinely funny ones are a source of hope. A little unexpectedly, Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates is a very funny one indeed (despite the clunky title).

Mike (Adam Devine) and Dave (Zac Efron) Stangle are fun-loving, if reckless, brothers of semi-indeterminate age. Because even comedy protagonists need a visible means of financial support and because it sets up a cute opening scene, they also make their living selling liquor to saloons. More to the point, they have a tendency to turn festive occasions and family gatherings into crisis situations. So when baby sis Jeanie (Sugar Lyn Beard) starts planning her Hawaiian destination wedding, she and the parents stage an intervention. Hoping to curb her brothers' exuberance, the family insists they both bring suitable dates to the wedding. The boys have no idea how to meet nice women, though, so they start with a Craigslist ad offering an all-expenses paid vacation for the right candidates.

This garners them some minor local fame, including a guest spot on a TV talk show, the opportunity for an awkward first-dates montage, and the attention of Tatiana (Aubrey Plaza) and Alice (Anna Kendrick). Alice is recovering from being left at the altar by drinking, smoking weed, gobbling pills and, generally, not attempting to recover at all. Tatiana is more than happy to go along for the ride and, in the wake of their both getting fired, sees Mike and Dave as marks for a relatively harmless grift. She and Alice sober up, cut their hair, change out of their filthy sweat-pants and con the brothers into believing they are nice girls. It works, of course, and the foursome soon sets off to Hawaii to hopefully not destroy Jeanie's special day.

First time feature director Jake Szymanski, a Funny or Die and SNL veteran who helmed the hilarious HBO movie 7 Days in Hell (2015), finds the funny in what could easily become a too-familiar scenario. His sense of timing is impeccable, so even jokes that appear to telegraph their punchlines are able to land big. Credit is due, obviously, to his cast, all of which shows admirable commitment to character and a vital, unique sense of comedy. Their chemistry allows the movie to breathe a little between the frequent laugh-out-loud moments, and the cast members invest their characters with authentic flaws and baggage. As much as the movie revels in watching these characters go down in flames, it also makes it clear that they are all self-aware and insecure, that they take no joy in constantly screwing up. But don't worry, Mike and Dave focuses pretty squarely on delivering laughs. The contemplative emotional stuff just provides a nice sense of balance. And it all coheres to make this, undoubtedly, the funniest movie I've seen this year. R. 138M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, Mill Creek.

The Secret Life of Pets. A few paragraphs ago, I was bitching about uninspired "family-friendly" movies that exist only to make money and give parents and their children a brief reprieve from one another. This feels an awful lot like one of those. In my defense, I was more than willing to enjoy it, particularly considering the cast: Louis C.K, Jenny Slate, Kevin Hart, Albert Brooks, Bobby Moynihan, Hannibal Buress, Steve Coogan, Ellie Kemper, Eric Stonestreet and Dana Carvey. It's like a contemporary comedy All-Star team. But due to a lack of risk and imagination, it amounts to significantly less than the sum of its parts.

Max (C.K.), our protagonist, is a tiny dog who lives in an apartment in New York City and is showered with affection by his owner. But then one day she brings home a big, oafish rescue dog named Duke (Stonestreet). The two dogs don't exactly hit it off, and their conflict soon takes them far afield in the city. Set upon by street cats, pursued by animal control and, eventually, at odds with an army of vengeful vigilante animals led by a rabbit named Snowball (Hart), Max and Duke are forced to reconcile their differences and try to get home, together.

There are some cute, heartfelt moments within The Secret Life of Pets, also very little in the way of secrets or surprises or laughs. It's an animated movie about dogs with, sadly, little more than that to offer. It grossed more than $100 million in its opening weekend. PG. 98M. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, Mill Creek.

— John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

Ghostbusters. Swap in four funny women — Kate McKinnon, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wig and Melissa McCarthy — for the old gang, and a slick CGI Slimer for that loveable if antiquated ball of Ectoplasm, and you pretty much know the drill. Just make sure not to cross the streams. PG13. 117M. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

The Infiltrator. A U.S. customs official (Bryan Cranston) goes undercover to investigate Columbian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. Spoiler: Walter White's kind of a narc. R. 127M. BROADWAY.

Continuing

THE BFG. Steven Spielberg's animated adaptation of the Roald Dahl children's story brims with wonder and possibility. While it droops toward the end, the magical premise and escapist joy of the first act endures. PG. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

CENTRAL INTELLIGENCE. This buddy/spy comedy has a serviceable story about a former dweeb who becomes a ripped CIA operative (Duane Johnson) and a popular guy disappointed with his adult life (Kevin Hart). But the leads' chemistry and charm makes going to the reunion worth it. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

FINDING DORY. Ellen DeGeneres voices the friendly fish with the fried short-term memory (anybody relate?) who's searching for the rest of her long lost blue tang clan. With Albert Brooks and Ed O'Neill. PG. 97m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

FREE STATE OF JONES. Matthew McConaughey, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mahershala Ali star in a Civil War action drama about white farmers and slaves forming an armed rebellion against the Rebels. Don't wear your Skynyrd T-shirt with the Confederate flag. R. 139m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

INDEPENDENCE DAY: RESURGENCE. Another alien invasion brings back most of the old crew (Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, and hey, Vivica Fox) and some young'uns (Liam Hemsworth, Jessie T. Usher) to defend the earth, if not its architecture. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

LEGEND OF TARZAN. After his Victorian makeover, Tarzan (Alexander Skarsgård) reverts to his chest-pounding ways to rescue his bride from a Belgian baddie. PG13. 87m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

THE NEON DEMON. Director Nicholas Winding Refn's film about an ingénue (Elle Fanning) modeling in Los Angeles is a vicious fever dream about beauty, hate and envy with a signature graphic climax. R. 117m. BROADWAY.

NOW YOU SEE ME 2. But maybe you don't have to. This sequel about do-gooder magicians can't pull the same rabbit out of its hat as the original, despite a charming ensemble cast and fancy illusions. Starring Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman and Daniel Radcliffe. PG13. 115m. BROADWAY.

THE PURGE: ELECTION YEAR. So they're still making these. This one has Leo (Frank Grillo) running the gauntlet with an anti-annual-murderous-free-for-all politician (Elizabeth Mitchell). R. 139m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

THE SHALLOWS. Blake Lively plays a surfer trapped by a shark close to shore. It's entertaining and Lively is up to the challenge, but the story could use more bite. PG13. 87m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

SWISS ARMY MAN. Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe give humane, hilarious performances in this weird yet painfully relatable buddy movie (filmed in Humboldt, no less) about a stranded man and a corpse. R. 117m. BROADWAY.

Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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John J. Bennett

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