Tuesday 30 May 2017

Snatched (2017) - Movie Review

In lieu of trying to make a useful prologue to all this, which would probably just result in a thousand-character sigh on the page, let’s just get into this trash already.

The plot: After being fired from her and dumped from her boyfriend, Emily (Amy Schumer) drags her mother Linda (Goldie Hawn) along for a relaxing vacation in Ecuador. However, after being led along by a local, they find themselves the victims of a kidnapping, complete with ransom demands sent back home. Needing to come to terms with their situation, Emily and Linda will have to work together to make it out of this situation.

The cast here is… okay, I guess. Schumer is decent, if not anything all that special in terms of pure comedy, and Hawn unfortunately falls into the ‘stripped of dignity’ writing mode for older actors, although credit to her for providing some pretty funny reactions to everything going on around her. Ike Barinholtz as Emily’s brother Jeffrey is a basic nerd mockery coupled with Manchild Ex Machina in terms of his relevancy to everything else, but despite how annoying the rest of the characters paint him as, he at least isn’t annoying for the audience. Hell, he might actually be one of the more sympathetic characters in the entire film.
Wanda Sykes as an ally that Emily and Linda meet in Ecuador brings along her tried-and-true delivery of lines, which has never really worked well with me and this is no exception, and does little more than add emphatic annoyance to the mix. Christopher Meloni as a “local” guide, while slightly depressing to see attached to this cold fish of a story, is still one of the more consistently funny characters in the film due to his sheer and up-front ineptitude. Bashir Salahuddin’s government officer is written as a caricature of U.S. bureaucracy and he hits that one note perfectly fine, and ├ôscar Jaenada as the main antagonist is plenty intimidating… when we actually get to see him on-screen.

Rather than try and detail this film’s approach to comedy, I think I’ll let the film speak for itself for once. The story itself opens on a scene of Emily shopping for clothes which, as you would expect, goes awry. I bring this up for two reasons: For one, it’s easily the funniest scene in the film; and for another, it features an exchange where Emily berates someone for “not doing shit”. Said someone is played by Katie Dippold, who not only wrote the script for this but also co-wrote last year’s Ghostbusters reboot. That statement about her not doing shit is as accurate as this film gets because, good God, the jokes here really suck. Credit where it’s due in that they are at least written in punchline format with cause and effect and an actual through-line; basically, how you’re supposed to write comedy if you’re not lazy enough to rely solely on LOL randumb for your humour.
However, barely any of it works because it’s just full of bickering between characters that does all of nothing to continue the plot and largely exists just to waste time while making the audience think that something is actually going on. The chemistry between Schumer and Hawn is decent and their banter at least feels like legitimate mother-daughter communication (if rather exaggerated due to Hawn being written as a literal crazy cat lady), but it’s nowhere near enough to rescue the clunky timing in these jokes and the ultimately pointlessness of the jokes themselves.

Let’s get the obvious comparison out the way: Oh boy, this sure looks a lot like Taken. Between the actual namedrop in the trailers (which is conspicuously absent from the film proper) and the fucking identical holding basement Emily and Linda end up in (seriously, I’ll wager anything on hand and say that it is literally the same set from Taken 2), you’d think that this is going to be a riff on Taken. I have no problem with that idea; hell, I liked American Ultra when that came out and that was essentially a comedic riff on another popular action movie formula.
However, beyond those two instances, this really doesn’t have a lot to do with anything. The plot seems to be trying to push the whole “sisters are doing it for themselves” notion, something that Schumer has shown some deftness with in the past with Trainwreck, but that doesn’t work when all it leads to is conveniently shutting out anyone who could even remotely help Emily and Linda out of their situation. Literally every character who either offers to help or who could otherwise be helpful, from the government official to Ruth and Barb and their special ops training that Sykes never once shuts the hell up about to the “guide” who offers to help them through the Amazon, ends up being taken out of the main events through any contrivance Dippold felt willing to use. With how much nothing ends up happening here and the near-constant aimless wandering and blindly searching for a reason to exist on-screen, it ends up feeling a hell of a lot longer than its under-100-minute runtime would suggest.

This isn’t helped by how this is yet another film in the Ugly American Travelogue tradition. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: American main character(s) go abroad for a vacation or some other form of recreation, they meet the initially-charming locals who end up double-crossing them and they have to escape the evil locals through whatever means they have, including violence, murder and even torture. More so than any of the Taken films, this feels more in line with something like Hostel in its depiction of a society that isn’t American. Also like Hostel, this really comes across like it was written with a rather xenophobic mindset in place, just to provide tension surrounding the all-American protagonists. Add to that how pretty much every male character on-screen either has ulterior motives for their actions like the majority of people we see in Ecuador, completely unwilling to even assist the main characters like the government agent or are inept solely for the sake of comedy like Meloni’s guide and even Jeffrey, and you have something rather unsettling.
Since I’ve already invoked Ghostbusters 2016, pretty much ensuring that I’ll be labelled a sexist pig for daring to even discuss this, I might as well come right out with it: This film’s idea of female empowerment is really fucking misguided. I say that because, for the entirety of the film, our lead characters are basically only shown as strong and independent because every other character is written to be the enemy or otherwise just a roadblock that they must overcome. I’ve mentioned it before in other reviews, but since it’s still here, I guess it begs repeating: Knocking other people down to build yourself up isn’t exactly the best way to endear an audience to your message.

All in all, it’s an Ugly American road trip film that is as unfunny and prejudiced as it sounds. I really have no kneejerk issue with stories showing feminine strength like I’m sure a lot of other online critics are; hell, I’ve highlighted more than enough movies that I like because of how well they portrayed female empowerment. Here, though, it’s a lot of pseudo-grandstanding coupled with weak jokes and a plot that isn’t exactly in a hurry to actually make things happen. Considering this is from the co-writer of Ghostbusters, I can’t say I’m too surprised at all this. Coming from the director of The Night Before, however, this is incredibly disappointing on top of everything else.

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