Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Cinema File #198: "Rapture-Palooza" Review


Even though I've never been personally religious, there's always been something I've found fascinating about the supernatural elements of Christianity just from the standpoint of (if you'll forgive the sacrilege) science fiction and fantasy. One of my favorite movies is Kevin Smith's biblical fantasy comedy Dogma, which transplants the ancient magic of angels, demons, and Christian mythology into a modern setting. Naturally, when I saw what appeared to be a similar movie coming out this year called Rapture-Palooza, I was intrigued. This is one of two movies due out this year featuring Craig Robinson and the apocalypse, and while it has too many flaws to necessarily be considered a great movie, it was much better than I expected it to be, much better than the ads or a lot of the reviews I read suggested, and much better than I can possibly think This Is The End will be.




As the title suggests, Rapture-Palooza is a darkly comedic take on the premise of the Left Behind series of books and adapted films, focusing on the day to day trials and tribulations of the sinners and non-believers not taken up to heaven before the End of Days. It would be easy to criticize the movie as a one joke exercise, as a good 75% of the humor is derived from the characters' ironically detached reactions to a series of increasingly horrifying situations. Its a completely valid point, and what's more, the low budget makes it impossible to depict the massive scope of what is being referred to as happening in the world, however what's there is still mostly funny, and while some of it doesn't quite work, there's easily more good than bad.


My biggest problem with the movie might seem like a minor thing, except its a massive pet peeve of mine that is used to particularly annoying effect here, and that's the narration. I hate the vast majority of narration in movies, especially in comedies, because its almost never funny and almost always completely useless. Since the narrator isn't omniscient and is already a character in the movie, everything she says could have been said much more organically in actual live dialogue, and worse yet, a lot of it is, which makes the narration of it repetitive and insulting. And just like all bad narration, it disappears half way into the movie and then comes back at the end as if the movie just suddenly remembers that the story is being unnecessarily told in retrospect.


Beyond that, whatever comedic deficiencies this movie has are easily forgiven thanks to the pedigree of the cast. There are so many great comic actors in this movie from top to bottom and they all get their moments to shine. John Francis Daley's impotently angry reactions to the unnecessarily spiteful punishments of the apocalypse are some of the best lines in the movie, and Craig Robinson's Anti-Christ manages to be charming while saying some of the most stupidly foul things he's ever been given a chance to say onscreen. Anna Kendrick is a bit too Diablo Cody-esque with her constantly non-plussed expression, but she's a good enough actress to make it work. And count this as yet another movie proving the comic genius of Rob Cordary, who gets to milk the "amoral asshole" role he loves to play for all its worth as a man who made a deal with the Devil, and must casually defend his worst abuses.


The supporting cast is no less accomplished. We get John Michael Higgins in an all too brief cameo as a beleaguered father and the strangely rarely seen Ana Gasteyer as the only person sent back from Heaven during the Rapture for being too much of a bitch. I didn't notice Aziz Ansari anywhere, but we get at least two thirds of Human Giant as a sycophantic bodyguard and a pot smoking security guard respectively. The movie is so chock full of great cameos that it practically wastes Thomas Lennon, an actor very capable of delivering funny dialogue, in the admittedly still hilarious role of a monosyllabic grunting zombie. Hell, even Ken Jeong is in the movie in a last minute cameo and doesn't ruin anything. He doesn't add anything, but really at this point, not overtly terrible Ken Jeong is the most we can reasonably hope for.


All of this praise being said, it isn't all good. There are more than a few moments where the movie seems to think its a lot funnier than it actually is, and many jokes go just a bit too far past the point where they may have started funny, before they're run into the ground with the speed of a Family Guy episode. Elements like the wraiths, evil undead creatures who initially rampage against humanity before finding themselves unemployed homeless stoners seem like better jokes on paper than in practice, and they are brought back one too many times. Then other jokes are never developed as much as they should be, like a televangelist who accurately predicted the time of the apocalypse, but conspicuously failed to be taken, and continues his broadcasts with a bottle of vodka by his side.


Overall, I'd say that despite what I would guess is likely to be a broad critical consensus against it, Rapture-Palooza is easily worth a watch. If you don't go into it with any exceedingly high expectations, you might just be as surprised as I was by how enjoyable it can be. You might not escape without a few groans and eye rolls, but if you're not laughing more than not, chances are you're not the kind of person who would be interested enough in this movie to want to go see it in the first place. I certainly don't regret the time or money spent on it, which is more than I can say for some other movies I've sat painfully through recently.
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