MCN Columnists
Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilmington on DVDs: That’s My Boy; Chernobyl Diaries


THAT’S MY BOY (One and a Half Stars)

U.S.: Sean Anders, 2012 (Sony Pictures Home Entertainment)

Say one thing for Adam Sandler: He isn’t afraid of looking like an idiot on screen. Or a boor. Or one horny dude. Or a comedian who doesn’t give aadamn what the some critics think of him. More power to him.

In Sandler’s outrageously uninhibited, defiantly obnoxious, but likably good-natured new movie, That’s My Boy, he plays, to the hilt, Donny Berger, an outrageously uninhibited, defiantly obnoxious, likably good-natured guy who became famous in the ’80s when, as a lippy 13-year-old eighth-grader, he had an affair with his sexy middle school teacher, Mary McGarricle (Eva Amurri Martino), got her pregnant, and became a tabloid sensation.

A folk hero, almost. (This movie would have pronounced that differently.) The teacher went to jail, but Donny was able to go on to a solid, sordid career in moron TV,  junk journalism and sleazy public appearances, as a role model for nincompoops. He also raised his son, whom he proudly named Han Solo Berger, and did such a terrible job  — putting Han on a do-what-you-want-kid diet that made him obese and diabetic, and getting him a full-back tattoo of The New Kids on the Block that made him look like a fool — that the kid fled home and vanished at the age of 18. Years later, he resurfaced (played by Andy Samberg) under a new name, Todd Peterson, with a new skinny bod, and a new respectable career as a hedge fund manager. (Respectable?)

And also a new bride-to-be: nasty, pretty, elfish Jamie (Leighton Meester) the local spoiled rich princess. On the sked: an expensive lawn party wedding staged at the posh estate of Todd’s boss moneyman Steve Spirou (Tony Orlando, minus Dawn). And Donny is facing jail unless he can come up with 43 thousand dollars in back taxes for the I.R.S.

One would think Donny could get quick cash by selling his life story to Adam Sandler’s production company, Happy Madison, but somebody else comes to the rescue: an old TV producer/cohort of Donny’s.  If Donny will exploit his old teacher-lover, Tabloid Mary, and his son (who hasn’t talked to him since he skedaddled at 18), and get them both to appear with him on reality TV, the station will cough up the dough. One little catch: the Todd of today has become a (skinny) little snob, who thinks his pops is a colossal embarrassment (which if course, he is), and probably intends to vote for Mitt Romney, and maybe even contribute to his campaign.Big hurdle. But hey. Adam Sandler isn’t afraid of looking like an idiot, and neither is Donny. So he shows up at the Spirou estate, dressed in his best  jeans, jean jacket and shag haircut, and triggering an avalanche of ‘80s hits on the soundtrack. Amiably, he goes along when the humiliated Todd introduces Donny not as his pops, but as his best friend. Todd though, needn’t have worried — at least at first. His wife-to-be may be an absolute little snake (and other things) and her brother Chad (Milo Ventimiglia) may be a macho-man military type, but the rest of the family succumbs to Donny’s fatal tabloid charm — including good-time Grandma Delores (Peggy Stewart, in a role I hope was never offered to Betty White).

What does Donny do, in the face of all this love and and the new craze for ‘80s gags and allusions? (Wazzup? Wazzup!) He goes to the Culture Wars, waging a campaign to convert Todd from a tight-ass hedge fund manager financial exploiter jerk into somebody that might be proud to be pledged by Delta House and set up weekly Hangover sessions in the rec room. Lesson One: Donny pulls the entire bachelor party, over to the local strip joint and introduces them to Champale, played by the outrageously well-upholstered  Luenell. The movie goes downhill from there – not that it was ever particularly uphill.

      We’re a long way from the more ambitious (and better) Sandler movies like Punch Drunk Love and Funny People, closer to Little Nicky territory, or to slap-happy vehicles like Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison. Sandler plays Donny with impressive shamelessness and with an annoying squeaky, gravelly Boston accent that suggests “Cheers” with a head cold. And he and his fellow filmmakers, director Sean Anders (of Sex Drive) and writer David Caspe (of TV’s “Happy Endings”) have contrived plenty of silly, obnoxious ory gags for the show — including a punch-out with two-fisted Father McNally (played stoically by James Caan), the drunken deflowering of Jamie‘s wedding dress (probably a movie first), some hot grandma encounters, and lots of opportunities for ’80s rapper Vanilla Ice, who pops up as Donny’s best friend (or maybe his father).

Anyway, That’s My Boy (this version, not the ’51 movie with Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) can be recommended without hesitation to anyone looking for something inappropriate to do on Father’s Day, or anyone who liked Jack and Jill, or who likes everything Adam Sandler does, including Mixed Nuts, or who once bought a Vanilla Ice album and played it at least three times, or who bought an album by Tony Orlando and Dawn, or by Tony Orlando without Dawn (or by Dawn without Tony Orlando), or who wants to see a wedding dress get deflowered (and barfed on). I’m not certain how big an audience that embraces but I‘m sure it’s sizable. And enthusiastic. And loyal. Or something.

CHERNOBYL DIARIES One and a Half Stars

U. S.: Brad Parker, 2012 (Warner Home Video)

Chernobyl Diaries is an awful picture, with a promising, botched setting and premise. It takes place in the abandoned city of Pripyat: grey, desolate, strange, the site of the Chernobyl Nuclear Reactor Plant disaster — a meltdown that sent the populace fleeing from the immediate area, and closed down the plant for good. Part of this movie was reportedly even shot in the real place.

But that’s not enough.The premise is courtesy of director-producer-writer Oren Peli, begetter of the Paranormal Activity series, who has imagined what might happen if the doomed city Pripyat (which in real life is now an actual tourist destination) had been left there to fester and rot and to sink deeper into radiation poisoning — if peculiar, frightening things grew there, and strange beings lurked around the empty buildings, and six young Americans and Australians (three couples), decided to join a local tour guide, Uri (Dimitri Diatchenko), for an “extreme tour” of the off-limits grounds and abandoned buildings, by-passing two surly checkpoint guards and driving into the center of God knows what.

That’s not enough, either.

The movie, produced and written by Peli and directed (in his debut feature) by visual guy Brad Parker, has this one great central idea, and one or two more good ones, and many, many bad ones. Like a lot of the new horror movies, the whole movie depends for most of its plot on the bizarre lack of foresight, or outright idiocy, of the main  couples — who never should have gone on this extreme tour in the first place, but once there, should have (for the good of the story), behaved with a little higher I. Q. more smarts than they do. They should have done something halfway smart to try to stay alive, or hide, or hang onto their occasional weapons, instead of bickering pointlessly with each other, abandoning all attempts to communicate with the outside world, exposing themselves to every possible danger visible or invisible, and continually running into every dark, confined, unprotected place they see.

The movie‘s set-up is its best part. Peli holds off the big scares (or scare attempts) until later, and concentrates on introducing us to the four young Americans on their vacation in Russia: two brothers Chris (Jesse McCartney) and his older brother Paul (Jonathan Sadowski), Chris’s girlfriend Natalie (Olivia Dudley) and Natalie’s best friend Amanda (Devin Kelley), who pairs off with Paul.

Sibling tension may contribute to Paul‘s insistence on the extreme tour of the Chernobyl sight, peddled by ex-Russian military guy Uri. In opposition to  Chris, Paul gets the votes of the two girls to go, and, after being joined by strangers Zoe (Ingrid Borse Bodel) and Michael (Nathan Phillips), they all take a spin in Uri‘s van, slipping unauthorized onto the grounds, going on a quick tour of the buildings — they can only stay a few hours because of radiation — and then discovering the first of many bad things that will happen to them. Night is falling, strange wild dogs are howling, the van’s engine has been ruined, and they may have to stay there, locked in the van, the entire night. What? You’ve gotta be kidding me. Give me a Texas Chain Saw Massacre break. Then Uri decides to take a look outside…

Up to this point, Chernobyl Diaries has been a pretty good movie, an absorbing one and even a scary one. Nothing really awful has happened. But our interest is held by the fact that we know this is a horror movie and that these kids are going to up against it eventually, and even that some of them may die — but that writer Peli and director Parker has at least given them some personality. He’s let things simmer and develop, and we keep following the six (seven, if you count Uri) as we see all the dumb rationalizations and smart-aleck banter they use as a defense, while they keep getting deeper and deeper into trouble, while pretending that they’re having fun.


But after Uri goes out to meet what’s out there, Chernobyl Diaries quickly turns into a bad movie, full of radical implausibilities and jittery handheld camera images. Also: Strange little girls out of The Shining. Packs of wild dogs. Bloody corpses. Fish you don’t want to eat, or even see. It’s not just that the movie loses (or maybe loses) its best actor: Diatchenko. It seems to have lost all sanity. Things get nuttier and nuttier. Then, night falls again… Yecccch.


I don’t want to describe any more. It was bad enough sitting through it all. But I will say this: Any movie that has a bunch of people seemingly trapped inside a forbidden, guarded area — a group that includes not one but two cell phones (at least I think they were cell phones), and several people who speak Russian, ought to at least try to explain why these kids don’t try to use the phones to communicate with the outside world.

Does all of Russia have bad mobile reception?  Does the Russian Mafia have a monopoly on the phone system? Or were they walkie-talkies? I‘m not saying these people should have been busy making successful phone calls to helpful police and expert doctors who immediately hop into ambulances and squad cars to speed off to rescue them, instead of the six kids, as they do here, just calling each other up and saying that they’ve found some jumper cables and they‘re on the way. But we should know why our alleged identification figures aren’t trying to make those calls to civilization, dammit. The possibilities are endless — and at least one of them could have made a good suspense scene. Somebody could drop a cell phone into the pond with the weird fish. A dog could eat one. Or fetch one. Or bury one. Or Paul could drop his while running from dogs. Or fish. Or the batteries could run out just when they finally get through to somebody.

Was there something I missed? But at least Chernobyl Diaries has a good set-up, even if they wasted it. As for the rest, you might want to write it all off as the world‘s longest, most obnoxious public service announcement on using cell phones. Or Number One of the 1001 tours you don’t want to go on before you die. Or just another bad movie, one of many.

Extras: Additional scene; Featurettes. 

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon