Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar

Barb and Star order cocktails in the pool

Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar is not funny. It’s lots of other things – warm and friendly, accessible and energetic, but funny it ain’t. It’s billed as a comedy. And it’s written by Kristen Wiig and Annie Mumolo, who wrote Bridesmaids. But it’s still not funny. Strange.

It gets off to a strong and funny start – an American Korean kid (Reyn Doi) cycling down a suburban street lip-syncing to Barbra Streisand’s Guilty while delivering papers. And stays funny when the film swerves into different territory as Yoyo (Doi) is granted admittance to the underground lair of an evil mastermind, Dr Evil in most respects, except that Kristen Wiig (unrecognisable) is playing the megalomaniac Dr Lady and Jamie Dornan is in the Robert Wagner henchman role. Dr Lady has a plan to unleash a million very poisonous mosquitoes on the Florida beach resort of Vista Del Mar as payback for some ancient grudge.

And then we meet Barb (Mumolo) and Star (Wiig), dim-witted midwestern BFFs who loooove to chat, and the film falls to the ground with a splat and, struggle as it might, that’s where it stays. It plugs on gamely though, well there’s money at stake, like a morning-show radio DJ who thinks that using a “comedy voice” makes things automatically funny.

Jamie Dornan in shades
Edgar incognito


The plot shoos Barb and Star away from a gaggle of friends who have the potential to make the film Bridesmaids 2 and off to Vista Del Mar on vacation, just as it’s sending Dornan’s Edgar there to supervise the unleashing of the deadly insects. And there Barb, Star and Edgar run into each other. Barb and Star being middle aged ladies while Edgar being Jamie Dornan, they instantly have the hots for him, though the lovelorn Edgar’s heart belongs to Dr Lady, who is cool on him to the point of murder because she’s a twisted self-absorbed egomaniac. 50 Shades payback.

There are bright spots. To Mumolo and Wiig’s credit the observational gags keep coming at an almost Airplane speed at times, though many… drum roll… fail to land. The humour is off to the side, in the background, under the breath – perhaps the film would be funnier second time round – though Jamie Dornan shows a gift for comedy and a willingness to take his shirt off and play against his Christian Grey persona of the domineering sexy bastard.

Andy Garcia turns up, for a bewildering cameo, as does Reba McEntire, lending the whole thing a frantic “throw enough mud” air.

All this goofing about, plus the bright sun and the talented support players means at times it’s almost like watching Pink Panther outtakes. Good natured. Everyone’s having fun. Really funny if you’re there and involved somehow. Otherwise…

Wiig and Mumolo are a good double act but vamping cannot hide the the fact that they have chosen the wrong comedy targets. Two middle aged women from the midwest whose fashion sense goes about as far as culottes – this is hardly punching up.

Bridesmaids was funny because it had fun with the institution of marriage, with a day full of potential disaster, and with people who’ve gone a bit nuts with the whole wedding thing. It also benefited from Melissa McCarthy’s comedy genius, not to mention the light touch of director Paul Feig and producer Judd Apatow. Who knows what scattershot scenes in this film McCarthy might have rescued or ideas Feig, a writing/producing/directing triple threat, might have improved if he’d been in charge here too.

He’d probably also have had an early word about the concept of two metropolitan comedy writers – the “elite” if you will – launching into blameless midwesterners whose only real crime appears to be to have been born a bit dim.

Not funny.

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© Steve Morrissey 2021


Wonder Woman 1984

Gal Gadot in Wonder Woman gear

 

And so Wonder Woman 1984. Last time we saw Gal Gadot’s lasso-swinging Amazon she was helping to win the First World War, and now, nearly 70 years on, here she is again in the era of Armani suits and “greed is good” and in a year most closely associated with George Orwell.

This is a big, heavy, beast of a film that’s too long, too slow, too dull, and if that is a political message about democracy that writer/director Patty Jenkins is trying to sneak in there, someone should really have told her not to.

Gal Gadot remains a wondrous Wonder Woman, though, a flawless paragon of superherodom, and the story gets off to a decent start at the Smithsonian Museum where Diana (Wonder Woman isn’t her real name) meets and befriends timid coworker Barbara Minerva (Kristen Wiig), before being introduced to TV’s smarmy “oil guy” Maxwell Lord (Pedro Pascal).

Barbara is a decent human being and so, beneath the showbiz slick, is Maxwell Lord. We know that about him because he’s a single dad who obviously loves his adopted son, though his business commitments have led him to neglect the child. Big aah.

So when both Barbara and Max start going to the dark side after being granted their most fervent wish by something called the Dreamstone – it looks like a Cubist re-imagining of one of those rabbit vibrators – it feels inappropriate to hiss at the bad guys because neither Barbara nor Max is really, deep down, a bad guy.

The Dreamstone also grants Diana’s wish, and suddenly Chris Pine’s Steve Trevor – her love interest from the first film – is back in her life.

Two observations about Pine. First, he’s got the look of a man who’s been sitting in his pants for months hitting the bottle until his agent intervened and got him dried out and slimmed down for the film – perhaps in the Betty Ford Center (how’s that for a nice 1980s reference?). Second, Pine is still stuck in Shatner Delivery Mode, as he was in the first film, which still amuses me (and wouldn’t a horror film about Pine trying to exorcise William Shatner be a great thing?)

 

Steve (Chris Pine) with Wonder Woman
Steve and Diana aka Wonder Woman

 

Back to this movie, the scenes between Pine and Gadot are probably the best bits of the film. First World War Steve being surprised by 1980s USA – breakdancers! escalators! cheese in a can! And then there’s a nice montage sequence in which Steve gets to try on various 1980s fashions. The Miami Vice look. The designer tracksuit. The preppy look. All funny, all fairly unnecessary.

And back to the baddies. Barbara eventually turns into supervillain Cheetah, to the point where she’s wearing a costume of animal hair. Max Lord, meanwhile, seems to be turning into Donald Trump, in what must surely be the film’s most horrible mis-step. By the time this TV huckster with a smoke-and-mirrors business empire is haranguing the nation from a White House lectern, subtlety has long ago left the building.

But never mind the blunderbuss aimed at Trump, what is Jenkins’s actual political message? That decent people (Barbara certainly is, Max is a bit more mixed) should be careful what they wish for? Keep things the way they were? Vote Biden?

Perhaps I’m pulling things out of the air but that’s what tends to start happening when, with an hour to go, your mind is saying “Well, there’s nothing to see here so what else is going on?”

Good fights etc? Decent SFX? Yes, all that, and Jenkins remains a great director of action sequences, of snappy comedy and of nuanced human psychological interaction. Her cast (Gadot, Pine, Wiig, Pascal) are actually all on great form too. It’s the writing in Wonder Woman 1984 that lets it down. Jenkins did that too.

 

 

 

Wonder Woman 1984 – Watch it/buy it on Amazon

 

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© Steve Morrissey 2021