IoS film review 2: Celeste and Jesse Forever
The Man with the Iron Fists
What do you get when you mix hip hop and kung-fu? A Wu-Tang clanger
Sunday 09 December 2012
On paper, the characters in Celeste and Jesse Forever are romantic-comedy staples. Rashida Jones is an uptight career-woman with a gay confidant (Elijah Wood), while Andy Samberg is an unemployed man-child who's addicted to marijuana and surfing. But here's the thing. As run-of-the-mill as such characters may be, Jones and Samberg nonetheless seem to belong to the same species as the rest of us. Celeste and Jesse Forever is the third romcom this year, after The Five-Year Engagement and Your Sister's Sister, in which we have the satisfaction of watching fundamentally decent people behaving in a fundamentally reasonable manner. Unsurprisingly, none of these films star either Gerard Butler or Katherine Heigl.
Celeste and Jesse Forever has the advantage of a cracking premise, too. When the film starts, Jones and Samberg are separated, soon to be divorced, but they still spend all their free time together, sharing private jokes, and saying "I love you" before retiring to their adjacent houses each night. They've realised that while they didn't click as a couple, they're perfect as best friends. Or have they? Secretly, Samberg hopes that they might get back together, but Jones isn't interested ... at least, not until another woman threatens to take her place.
It's at this juncture that Samberg all but disappears from the film, taking most of the laughs with him. Jones goes into a tailspin of bitterness and belligerence, and a good-natured, laid-back indie comedy turns into a dark-ish drama, just as it was starting to look like a 21st-century answer to When Harry Met Sally. Unfortunately, it's not much fun watching someone sulking for half a film. Jones's long, downward spiral squanders the piquant question of whether it's possible to stay friends with an ex, and also the zingy chemistry that bubbles between her and Samberg. Jones – who co-wrote the screenplay – is still eminently watchable on her own. But she's far better when she's bantering with her co-star.
One for the "Don't Give Up the Day Job" file, The Man with the Iron Fists is a splashy kung-fu movie directed and co-written by its star, RZA, the mastermind of the revered rap collective, the Wu-Tang Clan. There's a plot of sorts about rival gangs tussling over a shipment of gold in a 19th-century Chinese village, but the whole enterprise is really just an excuse for lots of acrobatic, blood-spurting fisticuffs, so it should be nice and simple – or nasty and simple, anyway. But RZA fills the gaps between the outrageous fight scenes with incomprehensible verbiage, and crowds them with too many characters we have no reason to care about. Jostling for space between a portly Russell Crowe, who swaggers around doing an Oliver Reed impression, and Lucy Liu, who's in much the same costume and setting as she was in Kill Bill, RZA's eponymous hero gets no more screen time than anyone else. And he doesn't even get his metal hands until the film is almost over.
To be fair, some of the shoddiness is no doubt deliberate. With its wobbly, scratchy opening titles, and its "Quentin Tarantino Presents" tag, The Man with the Iron Fists is a winking homage to RZA's favourite 1960s Shaw Brothers films, so maybe we can write off the silly wigs and mahogany performances as an inside joke. But, faced with both intentional badness and unintentional badness, the viewer has to be the man or woman with the iron constitution.
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