(Published in The Sunday Guardian, on 30 September 2012, retrieved from http://www.sunday-guardian.com/masala-art/slapstick-meets-spoof)
Cast: Dax Shepard, Kristen Bell, Tom Arnold, Bradley Cooper and others
Directors: Dax Shepard, David Palmer
Rating: 4 stars
When Dax Shepard makes a movie starring himself, his girlfriend and two of his close friends, you can be relatively sure that it will involve low brow in-jokes, and some statement on homosexuality, or racism, or both. And that when Shepard, who’s also in charge of the script and screenplay, runs out of ways to make us laugh, he will punctuate his syllables with swearwords.
Here, he plays Charles Bronson a.k.a. Yul Perrkins – with the extra ‘R’ – whose love for a girl and a car could lead him to lose everything, including the said girl and car. The film opens to Bronson and Annie (Kristen Bell) having something between a lover’s argument and borderline-masochistic sex. They appear to be trailer trash, but then it turns out she’s a professor.
What begins as a happy road trip turns into a bizarre chase and counter-chase, driven by the same back-story that made Perrkins change his name. Throw in a gay Marshal, a gay Sheriff, a matchmaker, a criminal with dreadlocks and a Russian name, a jealous ex-boyfriend, a vengeful ex-fiancée, a car with a mind of its own, a woman with a doctorate in ‘non-violent conflict resolution’, a nymphomaniac with Sanex-dependence, and a gay professor with marginalisation issues, and it seems only natural that the action should culminate in the yard of a former racer who isn’t on talking terms with his son.
Naturally, the film runs mostly on gags. However, there are sparks of intelligence in the dialogue. My favourite part is Bronson’s theory that couples don’t tease. There are times when the film genuinely takes us by surprise – for instance, when we’re introduced to Alex (Bradley Cooper). There are times when it tries too hard to be funny, but we’re in an indulgent mood, because it parodies everything, including itself. That’s best illustrated in a conversation centred on the ethnic identity of the man who violated one of the protagonists in prison. And there are times when it trips on political correctness.
But the film consistently makes us laugh, by pushing us into the sort of zone when we find lines like, “Do you need to borrow a condom, or can we go?” funny. To its detriment, it occasionally tries to infuse real emotion and sentiment into the scenes, and then valiantly tries to rescue their incongruousness with the film by layering them with cloying music. But the actors’ timing within a goofy-but-plausible plot make it somehow reminiscent of a rather average episode of Seinfeld.
The Verdict: If you’ve wondered what a semi-intelligent, satirical take on the Fast and Furious franchise would be like, this film’s your answer.