I’ve lost count of all the video game movies I’ve seen based on games I never played, but I did play a lot of “Sonic the Hedgehog” (2020, Paramount-Sega-Original Film, 100 min.) back in the Hootie and the Blowfish days, and I can tell you: this is an entry-level kid picture with just enough references to the game to remind the parental units of their Sonic-playing days. (It took so long to get this thing done, do any kids still care about the little blue hedgehog?)
The movie yanks the title character (voiced by Ben Schwartz) out of his video-game world and plops him down in the Pacific Northwest with the orders to stay out of sight. He makes pals with a goofy state trooper played by James Marsden, and Jim Carrey shows up as evil Dr. Robotnik to capture Sonic, because he’s evil. The plot won’t surprise anyone over the age of 10, and Carrey’s generic over-the-top performance will seem fresh to them.
It didn’t feel as fresh to me, though I’m not in the targeted demographic. I had time to check all the kid picture boxes: one fart joke, a set-up for “Sonic 2” and two product plugs for The Olive Garden.
“Impractical Jokers: The Movie” (2020, TruTV-Funny or Die, 93 min.) was my introduction to the “Impractical Jokers” crew, and believe me, it barely counts as a “movie.” Four improv “comics”—Joseph Gatto, James Murray, Brian Quinn and Sal Vulcano—punk unsuspecting people with “Candid Camera”-style stunts. The twist is that three of them are watching via monitors and egging the action on with a microphone and earpiece on the guy doing the punking.
Most of the stunts struck me as sloppy, mean spirited and “who cares?” Yeah, I’ll admit that they got me laughing four or five times, particularly a “bad eulogy” gag staged in Washington D.C. But the “story”—a road trip to Florida—the opening “prologue” with the Jokers as younger versions of their obnoxious selves crashing a Paula Abdul concert circa 1990, and all “scripted” scenes with “humorous dialogue” and “plot” is far beyond dire. Someone needs to tell these Jokers how much movie tickets cost these days…
The movie I really want to write about is Joe Begos’ “VFW” (2019, Fangoria, 92 min.). I saw a trailer for it last month when Fantastic Fest was screening “The Color Out of Space” at Cinemapolis, and I knew I’d have to catch it when it showed up at Cinemapolis for three recent screenings. It’s on iTunes now.
What we have here is a classic “Spam in a Can” horror-action-thriller: In a near future, there’s a dangerous and addictive street drug that turns users into manic mutants. The local drug lord causes the death of a drugged-out waif, his sister steals all the dope from his safe and takes shelter in a VFW hall across the street, where a band of beyond-grizzled war vets are getting seriously wasted themselves. In a flash, they’re surrounded by hordes of mutant punks demanding their stash back.
Here is a love letter to George A. Romero zombie flicks, right down to the shots of grasping arms trying to scrape their way through boarded-up doors and windows, and early John Carpenter stuff like “Assault on Precinct 13.” And Begos has cast the drunken vets with a fantastic cast of great action guys and character faces: Stephen Lang (“The Hard Way”), William Sadler (“Tales From The Crypt Presents Demon Knight,” “Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey”), Fred Williamson (“From Dusk Till Dawn”), Martin Kove (“Death Race 2000”, “The Karate Kid”) and the ever-creepy David Patrick Kelly (“The Warriors”, “48 HRS”).
When the punks ran in looking for trouble, I was thinking, “You guys don’t know who you’re messing with.” But they soon find that out anyway. Bloody, over-the-top and disreputable, “VFW” is my kind of movie.
Recommended: “That Little Ol’ Band From Texas” on Netflix.