Sunday, 27 September 2015

Movie Review: Two By Two (2015)

If I had to sum up 2014 as a cinematic year, other than being overall pretty good, it would be as a more predominantly Christian year than most others. From indie works like Heaven Is For Real, Kirk Cameron’s Saving Christmas and the previously exenterated God’s Not Dead, to the more mainstream like Aronofsky’s Noah and Ridley Scott’s Exodus, I highly doubt we’ll see another year quite like it in that department. It is with this in mind that I look at today’s subject, an animated family film based on the story of Noah’s Ark, and can’t help thinking that this release missed the boat, so to speak. If you audibly groaned at that pun, strap yourselves in ‘cause it’s only going to get worse from here. This is Two By Two.

The plot: The flood to end all floods is coming and the animals are boarding the Ark to survive. Unfortunately for Nestrians Dave (Dermot Magennis) and his Finny (Callum Maloney), they aren’t on the list of animals allowed on board. However, in an attempt to sneak on board as part of a family of Grymps, Finny and the young Grymp Leah (Ava Connolly) are left marooned. Now, it is up to Dave and Leah’s mother Hazel (Tara Flynn) to rescue their children while keeping off of the radar of the Lion (Martin Sheen/Alan Stanford [Both are credited]) in charge of the Ark.

Maybe it’s because I’m still reeling off of how well last year’s Noah did with the source material, but the notion of turning that typically dark story into something kid-friendly feels up there with some of the dumbest ideas of the year. It doesn’t help matters that said idea is done about as competently as a Nativity scene acted out by newborns. Now, admittedly, using the story of Noah as a means to teach younger audiences about tolerance and how important it is to include everyone into a group is a neat idea. What isn’t so neat is how badly it falls on its face for a number of reasons. First off, it’s pretty hypocritical of a film to promote inclusion when it feels okay with casual racism involving two Indian elephants, complete with a red dot joke. Secondly, as I’ve mentioned before, this notion of inclusion has been so thoroughly rammed down our throats by virtually every form of media there is for every variation of person there is, it is reaching Conjoined Twin Myslexia levels of unnecessary pandering. And thirdly, by far the most important thing to remember, the film is so gun-shy of the premise’s undertones that it flat-out refuses to acknowledge little things like why the main characters aren’t allowed on the Ark in the first place. That, along with feeble attempts to defuse the potential violence involving carnivores and herbivores and even undermining the film’s title by not getting close to admitting why there is a need for two of (almost) every animal, right down to them for some reason showing three giraffes getting on the Ark at one point, shows an utter lack of thought put into the translation here.

Let’s talk about the Nestrians themselves for a bit, because they represent the majority of the film’s problems. Something I find kind of funny in an utterly embarrassing way is the attitude that most writers have when it comes to basically inventing new animals. And I don’t mean animals that are meant to populate made-up worlds like the creations of Dr. Seuss; I mean new creations that are meant to co-exist with the real deal. It always comes across more like they were thinking with tie-in merchandise in mind rather than anything that makes sense within the film itself, and the Nestrians are a prime example of this. It’s the ultimate irony that a film based on a Biblical story would contain an animal that is an evolutionary dead-end: Bright pastel colours, fluffy body that makes my nit-picking over Inside Out’s design choices look even more needless, involuntary glowing in the dark, emitting highly-visible blue smoke when they’re scared; it gets so ridiculous that the film itself kind of lampshades it with one of the Grymps wondering how they stay alive for even a day, although in context it’s more down to their collective idiocy rather than their appearance. Speaking of idiocy, the crowning jewel of why these creatures are destined for the genetic recycle bin comes at the end where, in a complete cop-out, we discover that Nestrians are able to breathe underwater. Not only that, we also discover that apparently at least one other animal knew this about them when they themselves didn’t. In short, half of the main characters here are literally too stupid to breathe. I feel dumber for having written that sentence. Their bad design is made worse when put side-by-side with the Grymps which, while suffering from the same kid-friendly nomenclature, have a lupine-esque look that actually makes sense to the point where I’d much rather that they be the focus of the film. Not that these are even the worst of the stupid names in this film, as we later encounter Obesy the whale-who-doesn't-know-he's-a-whale and Stayput the parasite; yet another statement that makes my brain want to leak out of my nose.

Even ignoring the failure at Bible adaptation, this still is pretty horrid as a family film in its own. The majority of the script is comprised of dialogue spoken solely for the sake of creating noise so that kids supposedly won’t lose interest, with needless expositing about what we can clearly see happening on screen; basically, this is the anti-Shaun The Sheep. The humour level is about on par with the weak average of modern kid’s films, in that it mostly revolves around cheap bodily gags. It’s either that or weirdly out-of-place video game jokes, like the depiction of the different plans to escape the brig and the mystifying Tetris gag. The plot, even without considering the makes-it-easy and hair-brained finale, is pretty damn stupid. Between the idiot-plot scheming of the Nestrians to get aboard the ark, the contrivances needed to make the rescue plot run in the first place (why can’t they just turn around; it’s not as if they have anywhere in particular to be other than generally afloat) and the fact that the entire plot exists because of how misinformed the Nestrians are about their own biology, I feel like I’m watching post-lobotomy Akiva Goldsman trying to write a family film.

All in all… okay, I briefly brought this up at the end of my recent podcast appearance on Lesbian Talk, where I described this film as being “just as dumb as it sounds” and I can only hope that now readers will understand my words. There is a possibility for a good family film using the story of Noah’s ark, but it most certainly is not here. It’s too pandering, too meandering and ultimately too stupid to be anything other than bargain bin DVD fodder and the fact that this made it onto the big screen, even in a year that has already produced quite a few needless releases, frankly astounds me. It’s worse than Tinker Bell And The Legend Of The NeverBeast, as this barely has a reason to exist on plastic let alone in a cinema, but even with how incompetent it is, it still didn’t quite reach the same levels of annoying as The Interview. To paraphrase one of my initial critical influences: I watched it so you don’t have to; other than to provide quasi-humourous write-ups such as this, there is no reason to watch this movie for yourself.

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