29 July 2016

Bourne's Mom!

I would totally watch a movie about Jason Bourne's mom...behaving badly with Mila Kunis. Anyway, there's two polar opposite flicks dropping this week, and like just about every week this summer I can't stay I'm awfully excited about either one. But we here at Norwegian Morning Wood have a solemn, thankless duty to prognosticate the commercial, critical, and cultural potential of every major new summer release. Why? Because we're always chasing that next great property to inspire the populace and create relevancy in our lives. Or whichever has the best sex and explosions. Hopefully we'll get doses of both this weekend.

Let's start with Bad Moms (2016), which continues the line of "Bad" films like Bad Santa (2003), Bad Teacher (2011), and Bad Grandpa (2013). Jeez there was even more "Bad" titles than I thought. I would definitely watch Bad Fish (1975). So that's not a great start. Even the cast, which includes Mila Kunis, Kristen Bell, Kathryn Hahn, and Christina Applegate, looks spectacular, I'm a little more cautious when it comes to the team behind the camera.
Alright, I can get behind this.

Directors Jon Lucas and Scott Moore have written and directed such gems as...21 & Over (2013). They also cut their teeth writing Four Christmases (2008) and Ghosts of Girlfriends Past (2009) before getting into the Hangover Trilogy. They wrote all three with time for The Change-Up (2011) in there. While I have a lot of respect for the writing of The Hangover (2009), that's clearly a film bolstered more from its cast and direction than anything else. And even though I'm actually a fan of how The Hangover: Part II (2011) changes the setting and not much else, it was derided (not unfairly) for being the exact same movie. Even odder is how much The Hangover: Part III (2013) failed for being a completely new movie.

Now, it's a little harsh to deride these two dudes for extending a property that probably should have never gotten one sequel, let alone two. It is totally alright, though to condemn them for their otherwise unceasing array of terrible films. The trailer for bad moms actually feels a whole lot like soemthing resembling The Change-Up. Not so much the plot or style, or anything, but a tone that seems to miss the mark. It doesn't really present any compelling reason at all to see the flick, and flaunts an obnoxious array of clichĂ©s that seem to fuddle a genuinely notable thesis about moms actually being human beings. Shades of Mom's Night Out (2014), which is really the completely toothless version of the same premise, doesn't really help, either.

But let's get back to the cast, which is the reason to see this. I don't want to shit all over every reason this film exists and ignore a group of women who are pretty excellent in everything they do. Except Jupiter Ascending (2015). It's up to them to elevate this material. Still, I can't imagine this being that culturally significant. Back in May I predicted that this could be one of the greatest summers for comedies ever. That really hasn't come true at all. Then again, just about every film that's not Animated or Civil War (2016) has bombed worse than Fallujah. I almost feel like we ought to change our standards. Suddenly Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates (2016) sitting at $40 million feels like a win. If Bad Moms can tap into Bridesmaids (2011) or Trainwreck (2015)-level pent up need for outrageous female comedy, it ought to do well. Frankly, with a lot of other comedies with higher pedigrees already trying that this summer, I don't see it happening.

For one, how many commercials have you seen for Bad Moms? Right. It's rough. Critically it's also almost been a dead silence. There just isn't really a buzz of any kind around this at all. It's the kind of film that seems to be dropping with a collective sigh of "meh." I'm not totally sure it has much merit at all. Hopefully it's got a few good jokes, which is about all you can expect.
Rockin' shit in this one!

On the other side of the aisle we have the return of Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in Jason Bourne (2016), which feels exactly as unnecessary as any of the dozens of other sequels we've seen (or to be more accurate, not seen) this year. Somehow the Bourne films turned into a major franchise, with this being the improbable fifth installment. If you're counting on your fingers and forgetting one, that would be the pretty rough Jeremy Renner Bourne Legacy (2012) which I actually tried to catch on television and lost interest in. Seriously, me. The guy who once wrote this, lost interest in The Bourne Legacy on TV.

I watched The Bourne Identity (2002) alone in theaters because I thought it looked cool and no one wanted to see it with me. I maybe scrapped together like one other person to watch The Bourne Supremacy (2004) with me, but I remember being pretty surprised that it got a sequel, because in 2002, no one really cared about The Bourne Identity, despite Paul Rudd's comments. I always felt like I was loving the really well-crafted action slow burn in a vacuum. By the time The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) came out, it became the highest-grossing August release until Guardians of the Galaxy (2014).

It also had a tremendous effect on how Action Films are shot, particularly bleeding into Bond's style, adding more shaky cam and quick editing. The issue of course, is that this worked really well in the hands of Paul Greengrass, but not so well when it's distracting and nauseating in the hands of many other directors. It's also provided a firm template for spy thrillers. It feels more appropriate in the modern age of uncertainty, mistrust of authority, and conspiracy that the CIA would be Bourne's major adversary rather than his employer, although even that distinction is cloudy, which again reflects an age where we don't exactly know who our enemies are.

What's surprising in all this is just how little money all of these films have made. The biggest grosser, Ultimatum topped off at $440 million worldwide, and it's the only one to crack the $200 million mark domestically. The rest don't really come close. It's kind of bizarre that this is considered a franchise and most people really respect it. I mean, it closes with a damn Moby song each time, what the hell is that. I can't even hate, that song rules and is so damn Bourne.

Even though Ultimatum is generally considered the pinnacle, I'd contend that nothing really surpassed Identity. The third one in particular added to much shit, like making Julia Stiles' character really important for some reason really late in the game (she's returning for Jason Bourne, apparently), adding a ton of convoluted backstory and retcons, and never reaching anything as interesting or tension filled as the Clive Owen goose hunt cattail field thing scene. It was good.

So where are we from a critical, commercial, or cultural standpoint? Critically it's somewhat of a mystery. There's not a lot of early word about the film besides the fact that Matt Damon apparently only has 25 lines of dialogue. That's not a bad thing at all, and not wholly unusual for the character. I do generally think that Jason Bourne (wasn't his real name David Webb? I guess David Webb as a movie title wasn't that sexy)'s character's journey is pretty much complete. Then again, it felt really complete after Identity.

Commercially there's certainly a ceiling. The Bourne films largely get by on having pretty minuscule budgets, which is definitely a part of their charm. Jason Bourne is actually, unbelievably, cheaper than The Bourne Legacy, which gives it a legit shot at making its bank back, but I struggle to think that it'll really light up the box office. With the way this summer is going, if it hits what Legacy made ($113 mill) or hell, even what Identity made fourteen years ago (a similar $121 million), you've got to consider it a success. With Star Trek Beyond (2016) doing a bit better than I'd anticipate, that's going to be a tough sell, and this doesn't feel like an event at all.

And that's just it. Why should any of us watch Jason Bourne? Sure Matt Damon is riding high off of The Martian (2015), but that success was as much off its attitude, marketing, and premise than anything else. What the hell is even the premise of Jason Bourne? Bourne is...back and kicking ass...again? I feel like all I've seen is that shirtless scene where he lays those mofos out, but that feels really Jack Reacher (2012). I'd be curious to see if there's anything really cool that comes out of this. Paul Greengrass really hasn't directed a ton of films since Ultimatum, but Captain Phillips (2013) at least gave us "I'm the captain, now." That's worth something.

So what do you think? Is this another Summer Friday where you'll be content to sit around and get drunk alone or get drunk and watch Bad Moms? Leave it below, friend!

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