Tag Archives: Ken Jeong

Movie Review: The Duff (2015)


Say hello to the surprise comedy hit of the year. At first glance of the title, everything about The Duff— which stands for, classily enough, Designated Ugly Fat Friend — suggested lame, unfunny and even disastrous. I certainly didn’t expect very much at all.

The only thing I was banking on was its lead actress, Mae Whitman, best known to me as “Her?” (Ann Veal, aka Egg) from Arrested Development. Whitman showed real comedic chops from that performance and shined in supporting roles in Scott Pilgrim vs The World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower (her first cinematic role was actually as Bill Pullman’s daughter in Independence Day).

In The Duff, Whitman established herself as a bona fide star capable of carrying a film from start to finish. She plays Bianca, a smart but frumpy high schooler with two attractive best friends, “hot” blonde bombshell Jess (Skyler Samuels) and “spicy” Latino Casey (Bianca Santos). Her next-door neighbour, the spunky jock Wesley (Robbie Amell, cousin of Arrow‘s Stephen) tells Bianca that she’s a Duff, a term she had never heard of before but suddenly makes a whole lot of sense and turns her life upside down.

The plot takes a turn when Bianca and Wes make a deal — she would help him pass chemistry, while he would help her win the affections of her crush, the hair-swinging school musician Toby Tucker (Nick Eversman). The amount of time Bianca and Wes spend together, however, does not go down well with his on-off girlfriend, mean queen Madison (Bella Thorne).

I know what you’re thinking: it doesn’t sound that great. And yet, The Duff somehow turns out to be a fantastic teen comedy with some real laughs and a valuable message or two for its target audience. Most of the credit goes to Whitman’s energetic performance, which makes her believable regardless of whether she’s being silly or sad.

Whitman completely elevates this film above that of an ordinary teen flick. She’s not a classic beauty by any stretch but she’s got a magnetic charm and a fearless confidence about her that makes Bianca easy to like and root for. She is at her absolute hilarious best when she just goes for it in a scene without the slightest evidence of self-consciousness.

While the sassy Whitman carries the film, she is supported by a very strong cast. Amell has a goofy charm even when he’s being a douche, and while Thorne’s mean girls impersonation is spot there is still humour to be found in her nastiness. Even Eversman delivers as the man of Bianca’s affections with a nice-guy routine that works perfectly with her overt insecurities.

Also fantastic are the “adults” of the film, led by the legendary Ken Jeong (you know, from The Hangover) as a teacher. I also really liked the performances of Romany Malco (from TV’s Weeds) as the principal and the brilliant Allison Janney as Bianca’s single mother. None of them have big roles, but each are given the freedom to wield the personality quirks that make them so funny.

It’s unfortunate that The Duff likely won’t be remembered in the same breath as revered generational classics of the genre like Clueless, Mean Girls and Easy A, because it totally deserves to be in their company. Sadly, it probably even won’t be remembered alongside the second-tier films like Never Been Kissed. Sure, the film is far from perfect and falls prey to typically cringeworthy moments, teen flick tropes and rom-com cliches, but at the end of the day I hope it will go down as a cult classic. It’s genuinely funny, it’s timely (given that its plot is intertwined with the social media age), it has a positive message for teens (about self image and cyberbullying), and it’s driven by a star-making performance. I think it’s a film that will age really well.

4 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hangover Part III (2013)


The Hangover Part III is a misleading title because, unlike the first two films in the series, there is no hangover involved. Everyone is, for the most part, sober, meaning the film is not (thankfully) rehashing the old formula where a bunch of guys wake up from being so drunk that they have to retrace their steps to figure out what on earth happened the night before. What Part III is, in effect, is a heist film, and I’m not quite sure if that is a good thing.

In the “epic finale” to the Hangover trilogy, the Wolfpack’s past catches up with them and they must help a gangster (played by John Goodman) track down insane escaped prisoner Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong). The Wolfpack spends the majority of the film running around trying to break into places and doing stupid stuff. Instead of trying to figure out what happened the night before, they are trying to figure out how to stay alive. It’s different to the formula that made the original such a huge hit, but after the vitriol that followed the second film, it was indeed time to make a change.

For me, the problem with Part III is that it’s still just not that funny. Most of the laughs, which are extremely hit-and-miss, still come from two sources — Zach Galifianakis’s mentally disturbed Alan, and the crazy and over-the-top antics of Ken Jeong as Chow. Both of these characters are essentially one-trick ponies. Alan does and says stupid, infantile and random things, and Chow is just nuts. You may get a couple of giggles here and there if that’s your thing, but the act gets old in a hurry. And if you already had enough of both of these guys after the two previous films, then chances are you’ll hate this one.

On the positive side, at least the plot is different to its two predecessors, and because of that there is an element of freshness. But even as a heist film, it’s still not very good. The ideas and the action are all rather stale and offer no genuine excitement. I guess it’s hard to get excited when you never really cared about any of the characters.

Now keep in mind, I wasn’t one of those people who fell madly in love with the original Hangover, which was an instant hit lauded for its outrageousness and comedic sting, and more or less made the careers of Bradley Cooper and Zach Galifianakis (and to a lesser extent Ed Helms and Ken Jeong). I didn’t find it particularly funny apart from some unexpected Ken Jeong moments, and he got on my nerves after a little while. The second film was a disaster and one of the worst films of 2011. It was offensive and painfully unfunny.

So in comparison, I suppose Part III isn’t too bad. It’s better than the second film by default but lacks the explosiveness of the original, which I didn’t find that great either. It’s just a barely passable comedy, and only if you really like the stars.

2 stars out of 5

Movie Review: The Hangover Part II (2011)

I’m probably one of the rare few that didn’t think The Hangover was an awesome film.  A clever premise, interesting characters, and some wild, outrageous and completely insane situations — yes — but personally I didn’t find it all that funny.

A couple of my friends told me that the sequel, The Hangover Part II, was very very funny, so despite my wariness, I went and checked it out.

Mmm…like the characters in the film, I honestly couldn’t remember a whole lot about the original, but even so, this sequel felt eerily similar, almost recycled.  The same bunch of guys have a wild night out before a wedding, get plastered, can’t remember anything the next morning, and have to retrace their steps in limited time to find a missing person.  Like the predecessor, it’s crazy, crude, often disgusting and utterly improbable — meaning if you enjoyed the original you’ll probably like this one too.

Unfortunately for me, it meant another pretty average experience.

Moving the ‘Wolfpack’ to Bangkok was a step up from Vegas, and they sure did exploit the beautiful scenery, the vastly different culture, the squalid parts of the city and the language barrier.  I also thought the three main characters — Phil (Bradley Cooper), Stu (Ed Helms) and Alan (Zach Galifianakis) — provided a formidable trio with distinct personalities that meshed well together.

But ultimately, The Hangover Part II just wasn’t very funny.  Well, perhaps I should clarify by saying that it’s not my kind of humour.  Like the first film, it relied on outrageous situations, gross out scenarios and random/awkard/uncomfortable moments provided by Galifianakis (who shot to stardom after the original).  It’s a formula that obviously worked for audiences the first time, but I could count the number of genuine laughs I had from this film on one hand.  A big reason for that was because a lot of the gags, especially the sexual ones, were telegraphed and you could see them coming a mile away.

The biggest disappointment for me was the Asian gangster Leslie Chow (Ken Jeong), who for me was absolutely the bright spark of the original.  In the sequel, however, I felt his jokes were more scripted rather than ad libbed, and as a result he wasn’t nearly as funny as he was or should have been.  I still love Ken but he couldn’t lift the film this time.

Having said all that, I still maintained interest in the story most of way through because of the curiosity factor — after all, I did want to find out what happened to them that night.  But as was the case with the original, that knowledge didn’t mean much by the end.

2 stars out of 5