Friday, July 28, 2023

Comedy hit 'n 2 misses: 'Theater Camp,' 'Mansion,' & busted 'Bubble'

Three alleged movie comedies debut at least somewhere today, and it says here that the often rib-tickling "Theater Camp" comes closest to matching the description.

The collaboration of friends and stage enthusiasts unmistakably shows off a wild, "let's put on a show" mentality that comes with the territory. After all, as helmed by first-time feature directors Molly Gordon and Nick Lieberman, and based on a short film they made with co-writers Ben Platt and Noah Galvin during the early days of the Covid pandemic, only "Camp" nerds may need apply.

In fact, Lieberman is the lone member of the creative quartet missing from a large and likable ensemble, with Gordon (this year's darling on Hulu/FX's terrific "The Bear") and Platt (a Tony winner and movie star as the lead in "Dear Evan Hansen") carrying much of it as best friends and popular returning counselors.

Meanwhile, stage regular Galvin (from TV's "The Good Doctor") personifies the camp's do-everything technical director with a definitive accent on "versatile."

Also contributing mightily: Ohio's Patti Harrison, as a rival official trying to pull the rug out from under leaky old Camp AdironACTS; comic Jimmy Tatro, not so handily attempting to hold summer programs and expectations together as the son of his ailing director/mom (Amy Sedaris); "The Bear" Emmy-nominee Ayo Edibiri, as a new teacher specializing in combative acting; and a host of eager and talented campers/staffers.

"People here are weird but really wonderful," one character admits during a moment of profound observation that says it all. 

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some strong language and suggestive/drug references; 1:34; $ $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

An equally sizable cast, filled with even more recognizable celebs, tries to pump comparable life into the so-so "Haunted Mansion," a remake of the dreadful 2003 film that didn't scare or humor anyone.

At the very least, the latest attempt to cash in on one of the most popular rides in a few Disney theme parks does impress with special effects that actually resemble the ones playing smartly on the same-named attractions in Anaheim, Orlando, Paris, and Tokyo. 

Otherwise, director and former Disney employee Justin Simien ("Dear White People") utilizes all-star names such as Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Tiffany Haddish, Owen Wilson, and the now you see him, maybe you really do not Jared Leto, to bring or look for life in all the proper paranormal places.

Of course, leading players LaKeith Stansfield, Rosario Dawson and child actor Chase W. Dillon have their own hands filled with absorbing their film's remarkably clunky beginning and somehow making it a moving, meaningful exploration of grief. Unlike the fun-filled ride, a load of laughs it is not.

Rated "PG-13" by MPAA: some thematic elements and scary action; 2:02; $ $ and 1/2 out of $5.

Finally this weekend, "The Beanie Bubble" bounces back and forth between fiction and reality, with the former likely winning in a landslide as a book-based look at making and selling stuffed toys by the planet full in the 1990s.

Right away, first-time directors Damian Kulash and (former "SNL" writer) Kristin Gore let us know: "There are parts of the truth we can't make up. The rest of it we did."

Then they proceed to turn toy manufacturer Ty Warner, owner of "Ty Inc." and creator behind the lunacy associated with the tiny stuffed animals that became the Beanie Baby collecting craze for a couple of years, into a complete and total buffoon.

Not so surprisingly, usually reliable Zach Galifianakis portrays the apparently self-possessed Warner in the same creepy way that scored in two legitimate career high points: his famously immature Alan from "The Hangover" trilogy, and infamously despicable twin brother Dale on the cable comedy, "Baskets."

Through no fault of their own, Elizabeth Banks and HBO's "Succession" star Sarah Snook -- as a pair of love interests evidently based on an assortment of composite characters from Warner's life -- get mostly lost during a constant barrage of story shifts between the toy titan's successes in the '80s and '90s.

Thus, Geraldine Viswanathan becomes a distaff best as the brainy and cute employee given short shrift by the conniving Warner, at least in how it is all told here. By the way, real details about the craze that made some collectors rich may be easier to discover in the 2021 documentary, "Beanie Mania."

Rated "R" by MPAA: for language; 1:50; $ $ and out of $5.

"Theater Camp" and "Haunted Mansion" are now in theaters everywhere. "The Beanie Bubble," playing exclusively in northeast Ohio at the Cedar Lee Theater, is also streaming on Apple TV+.

Other films new in theaters today: "The Baker" and "Talk to Me." Streaming only: "Paradise" (Netflix).

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