August 6th, 2014

KILLER NERD (1991) ** ½

A nerdy guy named Harold Kunkle (Toby Radloff) is perpetually picked on by just about everyone he meets. He falls in love with his co-worker and tries to win her over by getting a new wardrobe and haircut. Of course, it doesn’t work and she winds up hopping into bed with one of Harold’s harassing co-workers. This throws Harold into a rage and he sets out to kill the people who made fun of him.

Killer Nerd at first glance looks like any other low budget straight to video horror comedy from the ‘90s. The shot-on-video cinematography is pretty crummy and the acting is amateurish. Unlike countless other similar films, it’s actually pretty funny. One of the funniest scenes comes when Harold buys a mail order cassette tape on how to pick up chicks from a guy named “Slick Dick”. Sure, a lot of the jokes are corny, but they still get laughs from the outrageousness of the actors’ delivery.

In fact, once Harold goes on a killing spree, the film loses a lot of its quirky charm and just becomes a cheesy gore fest. Now, you all know me. I’m all for a cheesy gore fest. However, the third act (where Harold does all of his slashing) feels sort of rushed and the effects are all over the map.

Radloff is also a bit uneven as the titular homicidal geek, but everyone who picks on him is great. The asshole co-worker who bangs his would-be girlfriend gets the most laughs. It’s the metal head drug dealer who gets the best line of the movie though when he tells Harold, “The last time you had trim was when your mom cut your hair!”

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014) *** ½

Guardians of the Galaxy has a slight advantage over many of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies. Unlike The Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, and Captain America, they are a lesser-known commodity. There isn’t an exactly rabid fan base for the comic book like there is with the other big guns of the Marvel Universe. That means a lot of pressure is off director James (Super) Gunn’s shoulders. He doesn’t have to worry about staying beholden to the comic’s origins, nor does he have to worry about fanboys nitpicking every blasted decision he makes. Gunn can just go out and make the best movie possible.

Now, it’s been forever since I’ve actually read a Guardians comic. (I think I read a Rocket Raccoon solo comic in the ‘80s.) I don’t know how true the film is to the origins of the original books. What I do know, is that this is one of the best Marvel flicks ever made.

Like The Avengers, the Guardians are a group of unlikely misfits who form a team to fight off an evil force. Unlike The Avengers, they’re not a bunch of superheroes. They’re a ragtag group of aliens, talking raccoons, and wiseass space captains.

The Guardians are led by Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), a wisecracking thief who goes around the galaxy calling himself “Star-Lord”, but no one takes him seriously. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is a green-skinned alien assassin with mixed loyalties. Drax, the Destroyer (David Bautista) is a single-minded musclebound brute hell bent on revenge. Rounding out the Guardians is Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a talking raccoon with a chip on his shoulder who pals around with his Tree-Man bodyguard Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel). Eventually, they all learn how to work together as a team to stop a power-hungry alien (Lee Pace) from destroying the galaxy.

All of the Guardians are pretty funny characters, but nearly all of them are coming from a place of insurmountable loss. Instead of wallowing in their grief, they choose to quip their way out of danger. The scenes of them slowly becoming a (highly dysfunctional) family unit are among the best in the movie.

Chris Pratt is definitely a movie star. As good as he was in The Lego Movie, he’s even better here. When he practically begs people to call him “Star-Lord”, it’s not just a running joke, but his character’s pathetic plea for acceptance. And when a villain finally calls him by the name, it’s one of the biggest laughs of the summer.

Bautista is equally great as Drax. Not only is he physically imposing, but Bautista also proves himself to be a deft comedian. He also showcases genuine dramatic range during the scenes where he talks about losing his family. I can’t wait to see him again in something real soon.

Diesel has what could’ve been a one-note character. I mean he says one line of dialogue (repeatedly) throughout the film. And yet, he finds ways to embellish that note and make you care about him. I was at first skeptical about the casting of Bradley Cooper as Rocket, but he wins you over almost immediately. He not only makes you laugh; he also works his way into your heart. Pace is also solid as the no-nonsense villain and Josh Brolin is fun in his brief appearance as Thanos.

The overfamiliar plot is another one of those someone-wants-to-get-their-hands-on-a-deadly-orb deals. The flick also suffers from the overstuffed feeling of “MORE is better” a lot of comic book films fall victim to. (There is probably one too many spaceship dogfights for its own good.) Still, there’s enough fun action bits (like the prison escape sequence) to make up for some of the more bloated passages in the film.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy is better than The Avengers, and is the best sci-fi action comedy since Ice Pirates.

Saldana gets the best line of the movie when she says, “I will not fall prey to your pelvic sorcery!”

Marvel Studios Scorecard:

The Incredible Hulk: ****
Iron Man: ****
Iron Man 3: ****
Guardians of the Galaxy: *** ½
The Avengers: ***
Captain America: The First Avenger: ***
Captain America: The Winter Soldier: ***
Thor: ***
Thor: The Dark World: ***
Iron Man 2: ***