What do Bernie Sanders, bobbleheads and Crocodile Dundee have in common? They’re all the targets of attempted comedy in this week’s lineup of low-profile VOD releases.
Free Lunch Express (VOD December 4): Proving that conservative “comedy” can be just as lazy and unfunny as all the terrible Donald Trump impersonations that have cluttered the internet over the past four years, this alleged satire about the life of Bernie Sanders throws together right-wing talking points and conspiracy theories within the vague framework of a parody. Writer-director Lenny Britton’s version of Bernie commits a blood oath to Joseph Stalin as a child, moves to Vermont to take advantage of its lenient welfare policies, and gets into politics so that he can siphon off campaign contributions. Star Sam Brittan, who gets the most screen time as the middle-aged Bernie, does a halfway decent impression, but the film is smug, poorly paced and inconsistent in its half-hearted political points. Casting conservative superstar Kevin Sorbo as George Washington does not count as effective humor. Grade: D
Bobbleheads: The Movie (VOD, DVD and Netflix December 8): Attempting to cash in on the popularity of two hit animated franchises (The Lego Movie and Toy Story), this toy-based feature can’t even reach the artistic heights of Playmobil: The Movie. A group of bobblehead toys come to life when their owners are away on vacation, banding together to thwart a pair of intruders who have a sinister plan to … fraudulently exploit the collectability of bobbleheads. Onetime Disney animation titan Kirk Wise (Beauty and the Beast, The Hunchback of Notre Dame) has fallen quite far to end up directing this bargain-basement combination of ugly, rudimentary animation, bored celebrity voice performances (including a brief appearance from Cher as a Cher bobblehead) and bizarre world-building (of course there’s a Bobblehead High Council). The stock characters exhibit no personality, and the movie’s most memorable element is the unsettling “bobble” sound that the characters’ heads make whenever they move even the slightest bit. Grade: D
The Devil’s Heist (VOD December 8): Does Satan need a bank account? According to this ultra-cheap supernatural thriller, the answer is yes, and of course Lucifer (Mike Ferguson) keeps his funds at Coven National Bank. Why exactly the Prince of Darkness requires financial services (or uses money at all) is never clear, but he sure is pissed when a trio of squabbling, inept bank robbers rip off Coven National and abscond with a bag of what looks like several hundred dollars. The threadbare production can’t convincingly recreate a bank, let alone a barren hell dimension where the moronic, irritating robbers get transported by the witches who run Coven National. The dialogue is repetitive, the acting is clumsy, the effects look like Halloween costumes, and the plot makes no sense, but there’s plenty of awkward, gratuitous toplessness from the Devil’s female minions, just as Satan would have wanted. Grade: D
The Very Excellent Mr. Dundee (VOD and DVD December 11): Australian national treasure and onetime Crocodile Dundee Paul Hogan plays himself in this glorified comedy sketch, which follows Hogan’s mild misadventures in Hollywood as he reluctantly attempts to stage a comeback. (Cue the many “that’s not a knife” references.) The 81-year-old actor seems about as eager to be playing his first feature-film role in a decade as his fictional counterpart is to participate in potential Crocodile Dundee reboots, and director/co-writer/Hogan pal Dean Murphy has nothing worthwhile to say about show business. Fellow Aussies including Olivia Newton-John, Jim Jefferies and Luke Hemsworth (but not his brothers) dutifully put in appearances, alongside the likes of Chevy Chase, Wayne Knight and John Cleese, engaging in feeble self-mockery without any actual risk to their images. The jokes about cancel culture and celebrity gossip are weak, and the Hollywood scenery is cobbled together with the production values of a midrange YouTube video. Grade: C-
The Stand In (VOD and select theaters December 11): Drew Barrymore gives two mediocre performances as washed-up Hollywood actress Candy Black and her stand-in Paula, who gradually takes over Candy’s life when the reclusive star hires Paula to stand in for her public appearances. Paula serves Candy’s time in rehab and then goes on an apology tour of talk shows (featuring a parade of obviously Barrymore-arranged celebrity cameos), while Candy hides out in her giant mansion and pursues her real dream of becoming a furniture-maker. Paula also steals Candy’s sensitive furniture-making paramour (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Michael Zegen), via a series of interlocking mistaken identities that are more exhausting than clever. Director Jamie Babbit (But I’m a Cheerleader) and screenwriter Sam Bain (Peep Show, Four Lions) should both be better than this strained, sitcom-level material, which hints at some dark turns before ending with little more than a shrug and a signature Barrymore half-smile. Grade: C