Vacation (John Francis Daley and Jonathan M. Goldstein, 2015). Like any Freaks and Geeks devotee, I’m rooting for Sam Weir as he transitions from actor to one half of a comedy filmmaking team, but this thing is hideous. A supposed continuation of the Vacation franchise, it’s more of a lazy remake of the 1983 Harold Ramis film, replacing what minor vestiges of wit it carried with hollow raunch. There’s nothing inherently wrong with raw, audacious comedy, but there’s still an obligation to actually structure humor. Instead, Daley and Goldstein have a kid hurl blue insults at his older brother and the mere fact that he’s cursing like Redd Foxx on a bender is meant to be enough to send the audience into gales of laughter. It’s so bad that it plays like accidental anti-humor.
The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (Guy Ritchie, 2015). This attempt at turning the nineteen-sixties spy-craft television series into a modern franchise is an incredible bore, no matter how much Ritchie tries to goose it to life with his trademark flittering-attention-span editing techniques. As co-screenwriter, he also owns the convolutions of the plot, which keeps doubling back to explain things that weren’t all that mysterious or interesting to begin with. The film is structured as a period piece, allowing for the easy preservation of the the original show’s Cold War angle of an unlikely partnership of a U.S. agent and Russian agent working together. That doesn’t instill the hoped for added tension, though it does open up Armie Hammer to employ a full-on moose-und-sqvirrel accent, which would easily be the most annoying part of his performance if not for the character being hampered with the most ludicrous anger management issues since Marty McFly flew off the handle whenever anyone called him “chicken.” Putting Alicia Vikander into a series of smashing mod frocks is about the only thing the movie gets right.
Krampus (Michael Dougherty, 2015). Drawing from the famed German folklore baddie, the filmmakers behind this effort were clearly trying to hit the elusive sweet spot Joe Dante’s Gremlins hit thirty years ago: sorta scary, sorta frenetic, sorta satirical, sorta Christmasy, sorta funny. Instead, it’s a plain mess. The best that can be said for the talented performers stuck in this, such as Adam Scott and Toni Collette, is that a realization of the production’s woeful quality seems to be slowly but clearly dawning on them in certain scenes.
The Car (Elliot Silverstein, 1977). Six years before Stephen King published Christine, there was The Car. This nineteen-seventies horror flick rarely progresses beyond its basic concept of a haunted car terrorizing a small community, but it does hold all of the cheeseball pleasures of the era, led by a overtly macho lead performance by James Brolin. Presumably meant to add to the film’s mystique, Church of Satan founder Anton LaVey was cited as a creative consultant, a surprisingly prevalent little side business for him at around this time.
Goosebumps (Rob Letterman, 2015). The famed series of young adult horror novels by R.L. Stine have sold well over a quarter of a billion book worldwide, but finding a way to properly being them to the multiplex has proven tricky for Hollywood executives. Their unique solution involves making Stine himself a character in the movie, with his imaginative creations running amok in a humble Delaware town. Jack Black plays the author with the expected comic brio and the movie is full to bursting with vivid yet appropriately tamed down gruesomeness. It never becomes more than a modestly enjoyable diversion. For this kind of film, though, that’s not bad.