Review: The Amateurs
Director: Michael Traeger
Writers: Michael Traeger
Producer: Aaron Ryder
Starring: Jeff Bridges, Tim Blake Nelson, Joe Pantoliano, William Fichtner, Ted Danson, Patrick Fugit
MPAA Rating: R
Running time: 100 min.
This isn’t going to be one of my typical reviews. It will be more of a ranting defensive piece than anything else. The Amateurs (aka The Moguls) was absolutely trounced by the critics. “Not funny,” “embarrassing,” “awkward and excruciating.” These are just some of the many, many comments left by “professional” critics around the country. I couldn’t disagree more and wonder if we watched the same movie. As it turns out, after some studio cuts and a re-release, we actually probably didn’t see the same movie. But for now, that’s neither here nor there.
The Amateurs is about a middle age, semi-loser of a man (Bridges) who’s lost his wife to divorce and slowly losing his son to the very rich step father. He’s constantly coming up with schemes to get himself a name. Living in a small town with lots of friends in the same proverbial boat, they are naturally always behind his schemes hoping to score equally as large, even though he fails at them time and time again. His plot this time is for the town to band together and make an adult film; or porno “to use the parliance of our times.”
Now I’m not going to sit here and blow sunshine up your ass and say this movie is something it’s not. It’s not a masterpiece or even close to Oscar worthy. It’s probably not even charming enough for any independent spirit awards. But it’s good. Not great, but good. Sure it has some weird editing clunkers and yes, this is a perfect example of why Brian Cox tells his screenplay students in Adaptation that voice over should NEVER be used (rhetoric that I normally believe is absolute, cliched crap). Having said that, this is one helluva an ensemble piece put together by first time writer/director Michael Traeger with a neat little idea that could’ve turned into a vulgar piece of trash. Instead, the film decides to take a morally questionable subject and keep it “fairly” clean and fun (think The Full Monty) while simultaneously keeping things original. Though rated “R”, I’d give it a passing PG-13 rating and would have no problem letting my teenage son (if I had one) sit down with this movie.
Admittedly, the main thing the film has going for it is the great cast. Bridges, Fichtner, Nelson, Pantoliano and Danson all seem to have the most excellent chemistry together; which, as pointed out in the commentary by Bridges, is actually why the film even got made in the first place. So yeah, I’m a Bridges fan (as we all are) and I admit that’s a big reason for liking the film. Couple that with the fact that there’s a fair bit of “His Dudeness” in his performance and I admit I probably would’ve enjoyed this picture on that merit alone. So Bridges fans should have no problem here. Several of his reaction shots and lines are laugh-out-loud funny. Again, very reminiscent of “The Dude.” Equally as funny is Fichtner as a slightly deranged custodial worker who wants no part in actually making the porno. He just wants to put in his money so that he can stand around and watch. But as it turns out, he’s an excellent casting director.
It’s probable that you’ll find a lot of predictability here and be troubled by some of the unnecessary scenes and a lot of the stiff work that isn’t terribly funny. Danson as the gay guy who everyone knows is gay, but thinks he’s fooled everyone into thinking he’s straight is slightly amusing but has really been done before and can border on annoying at times. The movie does feel like it was rushed through production and not properly edited, but it’s not that complicated of a story and it’s easy to follow and overlook these points. Especially for a first time director making an independent movie. Not only that, but it exhudes charm (espeically the final ten minutes or so); and sometimes charm is enough to give a film a passing grade.
Granted, I knew all these criticisms before sitting down and watching the movie, so my expectations were incredibly low. I was looking for an inane, completley worthless piece of garbage. Expectations are a funny thing. They can make or break a lot of films. For me, the low expectations for The Amateurs, seem to be enough to have made it for me. I can totally understand why critics panned this movie. From a technical standpoint, it’s nearly unwatchable. However, had general audiences had a chance to see this movie in theaters (I think it played in our smallest theater in Minnepolis for about 6 hours before getting kicked out), I think people would’ve thought it was a fun romp with great characters and an interesting storyline. Not in the top 40 movies of 2007, but why it’s at the bottom of the trash heap as one of the worst of 2007 by pundits is totally beyond me.
I leave you with a quote from Peter Travers [Rolling Stone] which is exactly right:
“It would be easy as hell to tell you what a shambles “The Amateurs” is, but I had too good of a time to let it bother me.”
Click “play” to see the trailer: