© 2004 Ray Wong

The CAT IN THE HAT team is at play again, this time with better results. Writers Alec Berg, David Mandel and director Jeff Shaffer concocted a mixed bag of a teen sex comedy with EUROTRIP, a story about four high school graduates romping about Europe in search for adventure and, yes, sex and romance.

Scotty (Mechlowicz, NEVERLAND) is a predictable, responsible type of guy. But his cheating girlfriend dumps him in a public, humiliating way at his high school graduation party. Drunk and distraught, he mistakes a consoling email from his German pen pal Mieke (Jessica Boehrs) as a guy’s attempt to hook up. Scotty promptly insults her, then finds out she is actually a hot, blonde girl from Berlin. Accompanied by his sex-obsessed friend Cooper (Pitts, K-19), boyish gal pal Jenny (Trachtenberg, INSPECTOR GADGET) and her bookish twin brother Jamie (Wester, SIX FEET UNDER), Scotty embarks on a journey to find Mieke. Raunchy adventures and mayhem ensure, including a night in London with soccer hooligans, a duel with a gilded mime in Paris, absinth-laced adventures in Bratislava, sex and drugs in Amsterdam, and mistaken identities at the Vatican.

Like its predecessors ROAD TRIP and AMERICAN PIE (among others), we get plenty of dirty jokes, potty humor and naked bodies (in one scene, lots of naked, middle-aged, out of shape men). And like AMERICAN PIE, the big bag of sleaze is mixed with a healthy dose of sweetness about friendship and love. As one character says: America was founded by prudes (just look at the hoopla about the Super Bowl halftime show – I digress). Once we let go of our prudishness, we can actually enjoy the harmless fun this film tries to offer. Granted, some jokes are simply too silly or mundane to warrant a chuckle. However, some of the scenarios are genuinely original, politically incorrect, and funny. I particularly enjoy the bits with the Nazi boy (yes, it is wrong. But it is funny). The Vatican scenes also generate some authentic laughs.

Yes, stereotypes abound – we get the idea about stupid Europeans and ugly Americans alike. If you are looking for political correctness and character complexity, look elsewhere. But take it for what it is, the film offers some genuine laughs and amiable performances. The largely unknown cast is charming – you cannot help but root for them. Matt Damon, Lucy Lawless, Vinnie Jones, Diedrich Bader, Jeffrey Tambor and Joanna Lumley (whose scenes appear only in the end credits) make some outrageous cameos. The soundtrack is “kewl” in an MTV kind of way: one on-going joke involves a catchy, Smashing Pumpkin-style tune, “Scotty Doesn’t Know.” Filmed mostly in Prague, the film misses the mark in showing us the true diversity and beauty of Europe; then again, this is not Frommer’s “Let’s Go Europe.” This is a feel-good comedy celebrating youth, love and friendship, with some sex, drugs and alcohol thrown in. Not entirely a bad way to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon, especially after church.

Stars: Scott Mechlowicz, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jacob Pitts, Travis Wester
Director: Jeff Shaffer
Writers: Alec Berg, David Mandel, Jeff Shaffer
Distributor: DreamWorks
MPAA Rating: R for sexuality, nudity, language, drugs and alcohol


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 6
Cinematography – 6
Music/Sound– 7
Editing – 6
Production – 6

Total – 6.3 out of 10

50 First Dates

© 2004 Ray Wong

An Adam Sandler movie always feels like a big reunion show. Here, you have his ANGER MANAGEMENT director (Segal), his WEDDING SINGER co-star (Barrymore), his friends and frequent collaborators (Schneider, Aykroyd, et el). And a script with crude humor. It is difficult not to wonder: Have I seen this show before?

Sandler plays Henry Roth, a marine park veterinarian in Hawaii who has a problem with commitment. That is, until he meets Lucy (Barrymore), a local Art teacher, at a diner. It is love and first sight. Soon Henry discovers that Lucy suffers short-term memory loss due to an auto accident – she remembers everything before the accident, but forgets everything else just after one day. For over a year, with the help of her loved ones, she has been reliving the same day over and over again without knowing what actually happened to her. Every morning she would wake up thinking it is her father’s birthday, have breakfast at the diner, read the day’s newspaper (her father had printed hundreds of copies), paint the wall, and watch the same football game and video. And every day, she meets Henry for the very first time.

Henry is determined to make Lucy fall in love with him again (and again), every day, knowing that she would forget about him the next morning. In fact, he is the one falling deeper and deeper in love with Lucy. Soon he convinces her family to let her know of her condition, so that she can start living her new life one day at a time (through journals, paintings and video diaries). Eventually, Lucy realizes that she is holding back Henry just as she is her family, and she decides to end the relationship so that Henry can get on with his life. Of course, we know there is going to be a happy ending – but the twists that get us there are rather sweet and unexpected.

Mercifully, 50 FIRST DATES is a better film than ANGER MANAGERMENT (a sadistic, unfunny mess). All things considered, it is a sweet and delightful romantic comedy with a heart-felt core about unconditional love and sacrifice. However, it is also seriously flawed. Beside the implausible premise, it is a stretch for us to believe that Henry could so effortlessly turn from a commitment-phobic manipulator to an unconditional lover. The writing (by first time screenwriter, Wing) and direction are inconsistent. There are some genuine moments and dialogues. And then there are those crude jokes and gross humor (one involves a walrus and an aid) that are typical of an Adam Sandler movie. I suppose he has to somehow cater to his fan base – mostly adolescent boys who would not be caught dead at a romantic comedy. The result is oftentimes schizophrenic.

Sandler is serviceable as Henry; however, you cannot help but wonder why so many gorgeous women would fall for this guy. Barrymore has a great presence, exuding incredible cuteness and sincerity – even so, we have seen that before. Sandler and Barrymore do succeed in re-creating the chemistry they had in THE WEDDING SINGER. The assortment of quirky characters, however, adds unnecessary comic relief. Schneider, as Ula, once again plays a variation of his gross, dimwitted self. Watching him and Sandler together is like watching two teenage boys giggling about their fart jokes. Lusia Strus’s androgynous Alexa serves no purpose except to be ridiculed and tormented. Aston turns into one of the worst, one-note characterizations as Lucy’s lisping, flexing, bed-wetting moron of a brother Doug. The rest of the cast fare somewhat better, including Amy Hill as a family friend, and Blake Clark as Lucy’s loving father. Animal lovers would get a kick out of the penguin (except one borderline cruel scene), walruses, sea lions and dolphins.

While the film is enjoyable, it is a shame that the writers and cast cannot rise above the sophomoric material to make this a true classic romantic comedy, which it could have been. There is so much potential, yet somehow wasted and lost in the crudeness. So, I am afraid, we will soon forget about this as quickly as we forget what we ate for breakfast.

Stars: Adam Sandler, Drew Barrymore, Rob Schneider, Sean Aston, Dan Aykroyd, Amy Hill
Director: Peter SegalWriter: George Wing
Distributor: Columbia Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, crude sexual humor, violence, drug use


Script – 6
Performance – 7
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7

Total – 6.5 out of 10


© 2004 Ray Wong

“If you believe in yourself, anything can happen.” That’s the tagline to Miracle, a true “Rocky-esque” story of Herb Brooks who led the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team, against all odds, to gold.

Let me first come out and say it: I am not a sports fan and I know almost nothing about ice hockey except that it involves a puck, skates and crooked sticks. Nonetheless, in the capable hands of the filmmakers and a brilliant cast, the film held my interest through and through. The message – that an underdog can come out on top – is nothing new here, especially in the context of sports (Rocky, Hoosiers, to name a few). Yet the impact of this message is remarkably potent as we are observing (and for some, reliving) one of the greatest moments in history: A bunch of U.S. college students did the impossible by triumphing over the invincible U.S.S.R. all-star squad. One man’s vision, understanding of the game and determination helped inspire a whole new generation and a country in crisis.

The plot is simple enough. Herb Brooks (Russell), an ex-hockey player who was part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team, has an obsessive dream for an Olympic gold. But as his wife Patty (Clarkson) puts it, it is a thing he never had and never will. So Herb’s only chance is to coach the Olympic team. The problem is that the U.S.S.R. has dominated the Olympics for 16 years. It is simply impossible. But Herb knows his rivals and believes that he has found a way to beat them. He knows that talent alone is not going to make it. He needs a team, one that will work together like clockwork despite individual abilities and personalities. But as we find out, the road to glory is not a smooth one – our hearts break as the likeable Ralph Cox (Kenneth Mitchell, The Recruit) gets cut from the team. Herb’s hardheaded methods drive the players to realize in their heart and soul that they are indeed one family, one team. With hard work, dedication and faith, the team overcomes personal conflicts, injuries, self-doubts to fully realize the power of ONE.

Director O’Connor (Tumbleweeds) tells a tremendous story with tremendous heart, weaving exciting on-the-ice action with tender personal reflections, and historical events that framed the time period. The tone is nostalgic, and the details put us right back in the late 70s. Completely emerged in the role, Russell is brilliant as Herb Brooks, giving a soul-cleansing performance. Clarkson is, as usual, flawless as Herb’s wise and supportive wife – his guiding light, even if he might not have realized it. The rest of the cast including Emmerich (The Truman Show) and Cahill (Friends) are impressive as well. In particular, Patrick O’Brien Demsey plays captain Mike Erucione with such heart that he reminds us exactly why Erucione was so popular in the first place. O’Connor has the vision to cast real hockey players (including Russell) – some of them have never acted before – and the effort pays off. The well-choreographed action scenes are exciting and authentic – full of intense close-ups and editing – and intimate, sometimes even nauseating (but in a good way). Tremendous research has been done and the sequences are breathtaking. The greatest achievement of the film, however, is that it makes ice hockey exhilarating and understandable even to the non-fans. It is patriotic yet not melodramatic, emotional yet not sappy, inspiring yet not preachy. We all know how this story is going to end. But we are so there when it happens.

Stars: Kurt Russell, Patricia Clarkson, Noah Emmerich, Sean McCann, Kenneth Welsh, Eddie Cahill
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Writers: Eric Guggenheim
Distributor: Walt Disney Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures
MPAA Rating: PG for sport action, language and alcohol


Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 8
Cinematography – 7
Music/Sound– 8
Editing – 8
Production – 8

Total – 8 out of 10

The Perfect Score

(c) 2004 Ray Wong

A cross between The Breakfast Club and Ocean 11, The Perfect Score is a film about group of eclectic high school seniors taking on a heist. Instead of money or gold, the prize here is the coveted answers to the upcoming SATs.

Although the movie blatantly compares itself to The Breakfast Club (in dialogue and characterization), its premise actually resembles that of Better Luck Tomorrow (2002) in which a group of Asian-American students dabbled in crime to escape their presumed perfection. By George, even the movie posters look almost identical. However, The Perfect Score strives to be sweet and uplifting in ways that the other film did not. It could be a good or bad thing, depending on your perception of what a good movie should be.

Kyle (Evans, Not Another Teen Movie) is an all-American “okay” student (with a GPA of 3.7) from Princeton, NJ, who has a big problem: he plans to go to Cornell but his SAT score is short of the 1340 required. As the re-test approaches and he finds himself running out of time to prepare, he concocts a plan to steal the answers from ETS, the company responsible for creating and safe-keeping the test.

Eventually he enlists a team of five very different (of course!) seniors: Matty (Greenberg, A Civil Action), his underachieving friend; Anna (Christensen, Traffic), the straight-A student who doesn’t seem to get it right; Francesca (Johansson, Lost in Translation), the rich but rebellious girl whose father happens to own the building where EST is located; Desmond (Miles, Van Wilder), the basketball star who is at risk of losing his scholarship; and Roy (Nam, Hacks), a last-in-the-class doofus who hides his genius behind a bong. Together, this sextet devise an almost-perfect plan to steal the answer to the SATs. Of course, along the way, things go wrong and they learn valuable lessons and form everlasting friendships and, perhaps, even find love.

In many ways, the film is very predictable and we know, from the beginning, how it is going to end. What save it are the six very likeable actors (think Friends). Johansson, red-hot from Lost in Translation and Girl with a Pearl Earring, is consistently good. Christensen loses her edginess in Traffic but retains the “perfect girl-next-door” charm. The rest of the cast delivers believable and sweet performances.

The standout belongs to the comic-relief of Nam, whose pot-smoking horn-dog of a computer whiz is hilarious, breaking away from the Asian stereotypes (on the other hand, his math and computer skills put him right back into those stereotypes). The characters seem to have a lot of heart, and more dimensions than those in a typical teen movie, making it enjoyable for all ages. The actors also have tremendous chemistry together. You really believe that they care about each other.

While the plot and characters may lack certain edginess and complexity, the direction (by Robbins, Varsity Blue) is brisk. There are nice moments, between the action, when we find out more about the characters and how they bond with each other. We get a glimpse, however brief, of whom these people are, and what is important to them. Through this experience, they all find their ways – they are all individuals, no matter how these standardized tests would reduce them to mere numbers. It is also about team-work – the sum is always bigger and better than the parts.

These are nice lessons, and the predictable yet sweet ending reminds us that good things can happen to good people, as long as you know who you are and what you want. In a world full of cynicism and despair, this film offers some hope about our youth. Even if it is far from being perfect.

Stars: Scarlett Johansson, Erika Christensen, Chris Evans, Darius Miles, Leonardo Nam, Bryan Greenberg
Director: Brian Robbins
Writers: Marc Hyman, Jon Zack
Distributor: Paramount
MPAA Rating: PG13 for violence, sexual content, language and drug use


Script – 6
Performance – 8
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 7
Production – 7
Music/Sound– 7
Total – 6.8 out of 10