Stranded at the Drive-in

There is no movie-going experience quite like that vanishing icon of Americana, the drive-in theater. Yeah, the picture quality isn't as good as it can be in a proper theater. These days, drive-ins all have a low-power FM transmitter and as long as you have a relatively good sound system in your car, the sound is fine. You never have to dig a sweater out of the back of your closet in the middle of summer because the air-conditioning will be too powerful. And though they make most of their dough from the snack bar, they don't really care if you bring in your own food. You can smoke, if you like, and no one can hassle you - in fact, the smell of weed is as much a fixture of the drive-in as a rock concert. And it's almost always a double feature.

Last night, we went to the Cinderella Twin Drive-in to see Knocked Up and Ocean's 13. We stopped at the grocery store on our way there and brought in hot rotisserie chicken, baby carrots, watermelon, potato chips and cookies. Beats nasty snack bar hot dogs and cold, greasy popcorn all to hell. We also brought a bottle of wine, which we split during the course of the first movie, passing the one glass we brought with us back and forth. We had to roll up the windows during five minutes of drizzly rain at one point, but other than that, the weather was lovely. And two movies for the price of one - how can you beat that?

Knocked Up is every bit as hilarious as I was hoping it would be. Seth Rogen makes a very appealing lead after being a sidekick for years and the chemistry between him and Katherine Heigl is great.

This movie is a nice illustration of the all-important "bigger is not always better" principle. It's funny mostly because Judd Apatow created a low-key script, filled it with talented actors and turned them loose. It never veers into over-wrought slapstick territory. Nobody fucks a pie, or obliviously eats something disgusting while others look on. There's not a scene where Seth Rogen humiliates himself enormously and publicly through sheer stupidity - which is generally considered obligatory in Hollywood comedies. None of the humor is based on urine, feces or intestinal gas. Instead, Knocked Up mines enormous humor from basic and simple observation of human traits. It's raunchy but it's humor based on recognition, not humiliation. To borrow a cliché, we're laughing with the characters, not at them. It's funny without being mean. It's Judd Apatow's love letter to his wife and kids specifically and to the joys of home and family in general - and it's sweet and heartfelt without being preachy or "uplifting."

As if to establish this contrast, before the movie, they played a trailer for Evan Almighty, which looks just awful. It looks like everything Knocked Up isn't - artificially heart-warming, swimming in cutesy moppets, and guaranteed to have a platitudinous Important Lesson or Aesop-style Moral at film's end.

And of course, it features recognizable faces from the usual Apatow troupe. There's no Lindsay Weir or Kim Kelly, but Nick Andopolous is there, and Bill Haverchuck, and we even get a funny cameo appearance from Daniel DeSario.


Ocean's 13 was surprising. Much better than the thoroughly lackluster 12. It's not an all-time classic or anything, or even as deliriously fun as Ocean's 11. But it was much better than I expected. One of the joys of the original (well, the original remake, anyway) was that it followed the necessary conventions of the Heist Picture and we were able to make pretty good sense of what every member of the team's role was and how the heist actually worked. The second was all over the map - I left the theater saying, "That didn't make a lick of sense." This movie makes at least one lick of sense, if not much more.

It's kind of hard to critique a movie like this, because the real point of these movies seems to be that this group of actors and director Stephen Soderberg all really like each other and have a ton of fun working together. It really shines through just how much Clooney, Pitt and Damon, especially are just having a blast goofing around with one another. The rest of the cast is having fun, too, and as usual, the scenes with Virgil and Turk (Casey Affleck and Scott Caan) are probably the funniest parts. Virgil's been sent to a factory in Juarez to provide rigged dice for the crap tables and...well, hilarity ensues.

Julia Roberts is missing, which is okay, as her entire role the second movie was basically just to be there and to look pretty (at which, in my opinion, she's only just adequate). However, everyone else is back - even Eddie Izzard and Vincent Cassel. Shaobo Qin, better known as "the little Chinese acrobat dude," gets one of the movie's best running gags, as everyone else in the gang just understands everything he says, even though all but three words of his dialogue is in Mandarin Chinese. Once again, everyone gets their particular moment to shine and do something cool - though I'm still not entirely clear on what Bernie Mac's part of the scheme accomplishes. Best addition to the cast? Well, Al Pacino and Ellen Barkin are both entertaining, but I was delighted to see that Bob Einstein - better known as Super Dave Osborne - has a small but crucial role.

Of course, maybe it helped that I'd had a couple of glasses of wine before watching this one...