30 April 2016

Who Is Jason Sudeikis?

This is a question that's been bothering me for a long time. I suppose that I'm actually a Jason Sudeikis fan, although I truly cannot figure out why. I've seen far more Sudeikis movies that any human being should have a right to, and I've been dishing on a lot of The Last Man on Earth recently, where his suave astronaut character has become a big player recently. Even with repeated viewing of what he's capable of, I still have a really hard time determining his comic persona.
This is probably his best work ever.

An actor's persona is essentially their range or public perception. This is The End (2013) did an excellent job of riffing on this concept to the extreme. James Franco is a sexually ambiguous erudite, Jonah Hill is a pretentious narcissist, Danny McBride is a psychopath, and so on. Bringing it closer to Sudeikis' other recent SNL alumni, Andy Samberg is the goofy slacker, Will Forte is the extreme desperate delusional jackass, Fred Armisen is hipster incarnate, and Kristen Wiig is full-blown mania hidden beneath a thin layer of forced social courtesy.

Does Sudeikis have any similar tagline? It's really hard to say. I watch him and am absolutely perplexed trying to understand what makes him funny. Recent movies where he's been a lead include Hall Pass (2011), A Good Old Fashioned Orgy (2011), Horrible Bosses (2011), We're the Millers (2013), Horrible Bosses 2 (2014), and Sleeping With Other People (2015) in addition to bit roles in The Campaign (2012), Drinking Buddies (2013), and Race (2016). Why the hell was Sudeikis in Race? When you think of him do you think socially conscious period sports film? He was also in Tumbledown (2015), which I'm admittedly unfamiliar with.

What is his common schtick or persona? What makes him funny or worthy of following in the footsteps of past SNL legends? I have no idea. But he's addictive and I guess I'm a fan. To some extent I might call him Chevy Chase-lite, because he generally exhibits a suave sarcasm mixed with being a confident know-it-all. He's never as dangerous or as scathing as Chase, though. He doesn't really come close to the edge of darkness, even when he's pushing good taste.

Sudeikis doesn't necessarily display any skills, either. Whether it's the fast-talking of Dan Aykroyd, the pratfalls of Chase, or the endless charming wit of Bill Murray. Naturally it might be unfair to compare him to comic legends, but as the SNL generational heir apparent it's not totally unjustified. He's just kind of there, doing things. While flirting with it, he doesn't exactly commit to depravity in the Horrible Bosses films, nor is he really a memorable stand-out in other flicks. He almost serves better as the straight man in A Good Old Fashioned Orgy and The Campaign amidst the Tyler Labines, Lake Bells, Will Ferrells, and Zach Galifianakises that are more expressive and interesting.

The question comes around again - why, then, do I keep coming back to him? Sudeikis is never exactly funny, even if the properties he leads tend to have interesting premises and funny elements to them. When he's doing his thing it always seems like he'd rather be the one laughing with us on the outside rather than the sly or subtle driving element. He generally knows that he's in comedies rather than existing as a figure to laugh at. There's a distance there that's almost like late-Adam Sandler, who feels more comfortable letting everyone else work around him rather than be the center of goofiness like he was at the start of his career.

At the same time, though, he's filling a gap in headlined comedies right now, and because of that his films have been generally successful. We're the Millers should have been a pretty good showcase vehicle for him, even if it's now mostly remembered for Jennifer Aniston's striptease. It's not like it's a bad comedy, but it's just so damn meh. In what might be the funniest scene, Sudeikis literally stands there, watching. It seems to be what he does best - this smug commentator on the wacky events going on around him. In the Horrible Bosses dynamic, Charlie Day is wound-up and moronic, but relatively adjusted, Jason Bateman is the put-upon straight man he usually plays, and Sudeikis is again, mostly just there to sleep with Kevin Spacey's wife and make jokes about everyone else. It's like he's this floating comic doing nothing in any of these stories.

Maybe that's why I still watch his projects - because in all honesty, even though there's not much narrative or comic substance to whatever Sudeikis does, he is pretty good at it. There's some fulfillment to be had from his commentary talent. It's not exactly as if you're going to get a lot out of his stuff, but he can at least deliver it.

What do you think? Are you on Team Sudeikis or consider him as meh as I do?

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