Hey, did you hear the one about my metastatic tumor? Comedy and cancer may mix about as well as champagne and toilet cleaner, but along comes the film “50/50” to attempt just that.
This may sound like some “South Park”-esque experiment in poor taste and offensiveness, but “50/50” betrays entirely different intentions: Its story derives from the actual experiences of screenwriter Will Reiser, who was diagnosed with a possibly fatal tumor when he was only 25 years old. One of the film’s stars, Seth Rogen, and one of its producers, Evan Goldberg, were friends of Reiser’s from the days they all worked on the U.S. version of “Da Ali G Show”; they encouraged Reiser to turn his experience into a script, and no doubt their clout (after working on “Superbad,” “Pineapple Express” and “The Green Hornet”) got a studio to take a chance on this potential bummer of a topic.
“50/50” stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt as a fictionalized version of Reiser named Adam, a guy who has an artist girlfriend (Bryce Dallas Howard), a satisfying job with public radio and all his life ahead of him. Hell, he even jogs. Then a visit to the doc for recurring back pain winds up with the diagnosis of a spinal tumor, and his life quickly becomes a harsh routine of chemotherapy and night sweats. His girlfriend makes a half-hearted effort to support him, but quickly bails, leaving him mostly supported by his oafish buddy Kyle (Rogen), who’s always getting into Adam’s medical marijuana; his neurotic mother, Diane (Anjelica Huston); and his awkward newbie therapist, Katherine (Anna Kendrick).
Rogen’s usual persona provides most of the film’s funnier bits, but as always he can be a bit overbearing: Not since “Beavis and Butt-Head” has there been a parody so close to becoming what it’s lampooning. For example, his character Kyle hates (or is secretly jealous of) Adam’s girlfriend, and when he catches her cheating on Adam, he triumphantly bellows “Oh, I nailed that f-cking c-nt!” before turning sheepishly to the date he’s with and muttering, “Sorry, I don’t normally say that.” His poorly concealed gloat is played for laughs, but the only-rely-on-men/you-can’t-trust-a-woman theme swings dangerously close to misogyny at times.
Yet however close Rogen brings the film to “Dude, Where’s My Chemo?” territory, Gordon-Levitt nudges it back into the realm of pathos. He plays Adam with a stoic passivity, creating a smallness that’s not just physical but psychic, as though Adam is collapsing in on himself. Adam’s dynamic with Kyle, hanging out smoking dope, scheming to get laid, joking about what they dare not discuss — it’s a strategy of avoidance that many female viewers will recognize as male behavior, but the film also calls it as simply the way guys cope, laughing in the face of the abyss. It sure beats, well, discussing what you really feel, the bogeyman that raises its head in the last reel.
While “50/50” employs the tropes of post-Judd Apatow American “bromantic” comedy for its own purposes, “30 Minutes or Less” sets its controls for the lowest common denominator and burrows at least 50 meters below all previously known depths of “bad.” This is a film that seems to think inserting the “D,” “P” or “B” words into every other line of dialogue is a guaranteed laugh-fest. In other words, this could be the best film you’ve ever seen if you were 12, b-b-buzzing on Rockstar energy drink, wishing you had pubic hair and listening to way too much Insane Clown Posse.
Director Ruben Fleischer and star Jesse Eisenberg are reunited after “Zombieland,” but they seem to be moving from undead comedy to braindead comedy. Stoner pizza-delivery boy Nick (Eisenberg) annoys his more responsible roommate, Chet (Aziz Ansari), by admitting that he’s slept with Chet’s sister, Kate (Dilshad Vadsaria). When two rather dim-witted metalheads (Danny McBride and Nick Swardson) accost Nick, strap an explosive vest onto him and demand that he rob a bank for them or be blown to smithereens, Nick is forced to ask Chet for help. Antics ensue.
The pizza-boy-as-action-star premise — with Nick driving his beatup old car like Jason Statham — is used well for about 10 minutes, and then the film barely returns to it. Fleischer is clearly trying to emulate that other potty-mouthed stoner misadventure, “Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay,” but — and this is a rather mind-boggling “but” — it’s even cruder and stupider.
If you could imagine a ‘roid-raging Seth Rogen playing Butt-Head as the sadistic heavy in a Quentin Tarantino film, that’s about how virulently obnoxious McBride is here. The film gets one star for blowing him up in the last reel before he could utter another blow-job joke. Otherwise, not much to enjoy here.