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The return of Troopers and the trials of Schumer

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John J. Bennett

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SUPER TROOPERS 2. Back when Super Troopers (2001) came out on DVD, I'm sure I walked past the box dozens of times while wandering the aisles of the video store (it's a kind of reliquary for arcane media, where one can borrow said media, for a nominal fee). But I had dismissed it as a bro-centric — we were just learning what that meant, all those years ago — cop comedy with aspirations to exploitation. More on that later.

But when some glimmer of optimism or semi-mystical combination of psychotropic compounds finally made me stop and look, I noticed the tagline — a marvel of rhetorical efficiency. Below an upside-down image of the cast, in costume, mustachioed, it simply read: "Altered State Police." It was a kind of "you had me at hello" moment, except it wasn't maudlin and sucky.

So began a fascination with the work of the Broken Lizard comedy troupe (Jay Chandrasekhar, Kevin Heffernan, Steve Lemme, Paul Soter and Erik Stolhanske) that, after the half-surprising success of Super Troopers 2, I now know I share with a great number of people. The troupe came together at a fraternity at a northeastern university — troubling facts that I choose to ignore. They made their first movie, Puddle Cruiser (1996), shortly thereafter, though it wouldn't see wide release until almost a decade later. They followed the kinda-sorta success of Super Troopers with Club Dread (2004), a tropical slasher comedy I find hilarious, brilliant and even a little scary, but which is widely reviled. Then came Beerfest (2006), a throwback underdog sports story about a secretive international drinking contest. The Slammin' Salmon (2009) sets the action behind the scenes at a fancy restaurant and is the only one in the bunch that doesn't really work for me.

In the intervening years, solo projects, Guild strikes and studio politics slowed Broken Lizard's collective output. Chandrasekhar, the group's primary director (Heffernan stepped in for Salmon), has enjoyed the most continued, high-profile success, directing a great number of TV episodes. Throughout this hiatus, though, they've been developing and crowd-funding Super Troopers 2, for which far more of us have been waiting than I might have imagined. The original movie seems to have taken on a vigorous second life, building a cult of fans even as it seemed to fade quietly into the past.

The sequel finds the formerly disgraced members of the Spurbury station of the Vermont Highway Patrol (and subsequently the Spurbury Police Department) struggling with the drudgery of civilian employment. They sneak off for a fishing weekend with their former captain John O'Hagen (Brian Cox), who informs the boys that they will be re-enlisted as State Troopers, tasked with overseeing the handover of some formerly Canadian border territory. This puts them immediately at odds with the buffoonish dilettantes of the Canadian Mounted Police (whom they will ostensibly be replacing) and the free-wheeling, bordello operating, former semi-professional hockey-playing mayor of the nearest Canadian township, Guy LeFranc (Rob Lowe). The troopers uncover a slightly nebulous contraband operation but the story is primarily a vehicle for Broken Lizard's brand of drinky, druggy, bawdy, prank-based humor. Which, of course, is not for everyone. Born as it was in a fraternity house, it can hew dangerously close to the stupid, the xenophobic, the misogynist. But the thing that has always compelled me about Broken Lizard's work is that it avoids the traps of the comedy of entitled masculinity with an unexpected level of cleverness and sensitivity. It subverts bro culture without indicting it, which may not be transgressive enough for some, but allows for the creation of deeply funny, often very stupid jokes that don't have to take advantage of anyone to work. The movies don't necessarily rise to the level of satire but, at their best, they reach a sort of elevated modern slapstick. As long as one can get with that, there is much to enjoy. R. 100m. BROADWAY, MINOR.

I FEEL PRETTY. Whatever are we to make of the movie stardom of Amy Schumer? After her triumphant debut (Trainwreck, 2015), the ambitious but misguided nostalgia trip of Snatched (2017), now this: another attempt at re-casting a bygone subgenre (in this case, body switch comedy) as a medium for social commentary and progressive thought. It's not a bad idea, attributable in this case to writer/directors Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, but it may merit a more nuanced, further developed treatment than I Feel Pretty.

Renee Bennett (Schumer), toils in the obscurity of a high-end cosmetics company's online division. She is plagued by low self-esteem until blunt force trauma induces a radical shift in her perception, whereby she comes to see herself as undeniably, almost uncomfortably attractive. This boost in confidence leads to new professional, social and romantic opportunities, but eventually turns her into an opportunistic asshole who alienates her oldest friends. This leads to some very important self-reflection but also creates some insurmountable narrative problems. In making Renee's self-worth a product of self-delusion, the movie starts to work against its own ostensible themes. Compound this with the fact that the device doesn't work cinematically (e.g. Renee believes at one point that she has become literally unrecognizable, despite everyone around her immediately identifying her) and we have a muddled, if well-intentioned rom-com that doesn't really accomplish anything (beyond some light laughs) it sets out to do. Rory Scovel and Michelle Williams stand out in supporting roles. PG13. 110m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

—John J. Bennett

For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards› Goat Miniplex 630-5000.

Previews

AVENGERS: INFINITY WARS. Everyone in the Marvel Cinematic Universe vs. the jewelry-obsessed, world-destroying Thanos. PG13. 149m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

THE NOTEBOOK (2004). Hey, girl. Cry over Ryan Gosling if you need to. I'll keep your popcorn dry. PG. 116m. BROADWAY. PG13. 123m.

NOVEMBER. Dark humor, witchcraft, plague and jealousy in a Medieval Estonian village because The Witch wasn't freaky enough. NR. 115m. MINIPLEX.

Continuing

BLOCKERS. John Cena and Leslie Mann play parents struggling with the looming adulthood/sexual activity of their kids in a raunchy slapstick comedy that can't quite pull off the balance. R. 102m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

ISLE OF DOGS. Wes Anderson's stop-motion tale of dogs in dystopian Japan showcases technical and storytelling skills for a very Anderson experience. PG13. 101m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.

LEANING INTO THE WIND: ANDY GOLDSWORTHY. Thomas Riedelsheimer's documentary about the filmmaker and artist. PG. 93m. MINIPLEX.

A QUIET PLACE. This effective horror about a family surviving amid creatures that hunt by sound goes beyond scares for emotional authenticity about trauma and the distance between people. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

RAMPAGE. Dwayne Johnson wasted again among giant animals, a weak story and unspectacular effects that suck the fun from a popcorn action movie. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.

READY PLAYER ONE. Steven Spielberg's immersive, impressive, self-referential adventure about revolution via virtual gaming fries the audience's eyes and patience. PG13. 140m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

TRUTH OR DARE. It's all fun and games until cursed students start hallucinating and dying grisly deaths. Starring Lucy Hale and Tyler Posy. PG13. 100m. BROADWAY.

A WRINKLE IN TIME. Ava DuVernay's adaptation of Madeleine L'Engle's fantasy novel is visually stunning but lacks the narrative coherency needed to appeal to those not already devotees. PG. 92m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.

— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill

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