HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE
**/**** Image B- Sound A Extras B+
starring Simon Pegg, Kirsten Dunst, Danny Huston, Jeff Bridges
screenplay by Peter Straughan, based on the book by Toby Young
directed by Robert Weide
BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA
½*/**** Image B Sound B+ Extras B-
starring Piper Perabo, Manolo Cardona, Jamie Lee Curtis, José María Yazpik
screenplay by Analisa LaBianco and Jeffrey Bushell
directed by Raja Gosnell
by Ian Pugh Tipping its hat to Godard through a poster on the wall of disillusioned magazine editor Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges), How to Lose Friends & Alienate People (hereafter How to Lose Friends) owes an enormous debt to the success of The Devil Wears Prada, but it may be more accurate to describe it as Contempt as told by Elizabethtown-era Cameron Crowe. Which is to say, it argues that the only way to beat the entertainment industry at its game of media-manipulation is to play by the rules. The idealistic writer has to sell out, temporarily at least; and when he loses the girl to some asshole "in the know," the audience can rest assured that they'll be reunited soon enough. Simon Pegg ostensibly plays boorish journo Sidney Young, a British transplant in New York City come to shake the foundations of a thinly-veiled VANITY FAIR clone only to endure several rude awakenings. Pegg really plays the part of the wacky Kirsten Dunst pixie from Elizabethtown, though, come from merry old England with a fistful of snark to teach strait-laced Kirsten Dunst (here essaying the Orlando Bloom role) about the fruitlessness of obsessing over ridiculous establishments beyond your control. Well, that and the joys of Con Air.
While there's something begging to be said about the difference in relationships between celebrities and journalists across the pond (the apparent mutual loathing in Britain giving way to incestuous, business-like formality in the States), How to Lose Friends isn't, alas, going to be the one to say it. That's partly because the movie itself feels like an incestuous, business-like formality: As soon as Sidney kicks things off with how much he wanted to become a member of the Hollywood Elite, there is little doubt that he'll eventually realize his distaste for boot-licking puff-pieces and inevitably choose the acerbic yet vulnerable Alison Olsen (Dunst) over rising star/sex object Sophie Maes (Megan Fox). For as often as How to Lose Friends mocks the undue worship and self-importance so common in Tinseltown (Maes's claim to fame is a hip, Oscar-bait biopic of Mother Teresa), it still engages in a halcyon storybook formula that, I think, does a better job of furthering the gap between "them" and "us."
Thank goodness, then, for Pegg, who elevates the material with his inherent blue-collar charm in the same way he elevated David Schwimmer's feature-length Nike ad Run Fatboy Run: not by acting as though he's above the material, but by twisting it around to conform to his needs. (If anyone ever deserved irony-free stardom in the movies, it's this guy.) The Con Air defense is easily the film's best moment, mainly because it feels like the kind of thing Pegg would have written with frequent collaborator Edgar Wright--something immediately apparent in his excited delivery. Yet by invoking that creative partnership, this same scene makes you realize that everything How to Lose Friends has to offer could've been done better and, now that you mention it, probably already was.
But do give How to Lose Friends some credit for attempting to comment on the cultural divide without resorting to dogs granted the CGI gift of gab--y'know, unlike Beverly Hills Chihuahua. Chloe (voiced by Drew Barrymore), the snooty, spoiled rat-dog of the title, is stolen on an impromptu day trip to Mexico, where the locals impart harsh lessons in poverty, hardship, and what it means, exactly, to be a Chihuahua...before she's inevitably returned to a life of luxury and leisure. Forget everything that's appalling about this scenario for the moment--even the fact that, for all its harping on the message that dogs are not playthings or fashion accessories, the film glosses over dog-fighting exhibitions by turning them into a veritable vaudeville act. What you need to realize is that, right from its very first print ad ("The Greatest Chihuahua Movie of All Time!"), Beverly Hills Chihuahua was intentionally positioned to be hated by cynical moviegoers and message-board trolls, because that naturally results in a hypersensitive defense from the dim bulbs who insist that it's just a kids' movie.
Maybe it is and maybe it isn't--maybe it's not worth the bile, but that's only because the effort put forth by the filmmakers isn't worth the attention such bile attracts. The premise itself is so smugly critic-proof that the rest of the picture coasts on its dramatic clichés with sarcastic self-satisfaction. No other way to explain Chloe's protector Delgado (Andy Garcia), a brave ex-police dog who lost his sense of smell after a run-in with villainous Doberman El Diablo (Edward James Olmos) and has waited for the right circumstances to lift him out of his psychosomatic slump. Lump Beverly Hills Chihuahua in with Race to Witch Mountain as the two most recent abortions from the House of Mouse that see children's cinema as pacifier, babysitter, and something completely inconsequential--basically anything except the influential medium it is and the encouragement to the imagination it should be.
THE DVD - HOW TO LOSE FRIENDS & ALIENATE PEOPLE
Fox/MGM brings How to Lose Friends & Alienate People to DVD only in a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that suggests British television--it seems a touch too grey and washed-out to have had a theatrical run (not that it did have much of one). The DD 5.1 audio is similarly small-time but sounds crisp and full just the same. Director Robert Weide, late of "Curb Your Enthusiasm", joins Simon Pegg for a jovial yak-track that seizes every opportunity to draw the conversation away from the task at hand. Jokes at the expense of continuity errors and ad-libs make it feel like a waste of time every now and then--but, frankly, the hit-to-miss ratio is high enough that I'm forced to conclude I'd listen to Pegg reading from a phonebook.
Without Pegg's accompaniment, Weide occasionally resorts to trainspotting/name-dropping in a separate solo session, but since he recorded this before double-teaming with Pegg, one gets the impression that he's pulling his punches for fear of too much overlap. Don't misunderstand: there is overlap, but Weide remains incredibly personable sans Pegg, and his relatively straightforward anecdotes still contain a touch of irreverence. Reneging on the deleted scenes promised in that yakker, the platter closes out with "Sharp Interviews" (18 mins.), a thorough if somewhat dryly-informative piece that confirms each of the cast members put plenty of thought and personal experience into their characters. An explanation of how digital copies work (primarily showcasing Live Free or Die Hard) launches on startup along with DVD trailers for Quantum of Solace, The Rocker, S. Darko, and Bride Wars; additional previews for Choke and Slumdog Millionaire are tucked away under the Special Features menu.
THE BLU-RAY DISC - BEVERLY HILLS CHIHUAHUA
Beverly Hills Chihuahua arrives on Blu-ray from Disney in a 2.40:1, 1080p transfer that's moderately impressive despite exhibiting a certain flatness typical of Super35-lensed productions. Attributable to a general lack of ambition in the mix, the accompanying 5.1 PCM audio is no revelation, either, with the LFE channel delivering when called upon but largely reserved for punctuation (like the odd menacing bark). A feature-length commentary from director Raja Gosnell alternates stupid observations with condescension--but then, what could you say about this movie except that everyone did what they were supposed to do? After his fifth round of CGI/not-CGI, Gosnell begins to sound like Ben Stein at his driest and most oblivious. (At least Stein's act is intentional.) I lost interest around the time he unnecessarily mentioned that a member of the Humane Society was on hand to ensure the crew didn't murder any of the pooches. My eyes truly rolled, however, when he delivered this gem: "Yes, there are Rolls-Royces in Mexico City. Actually a very affluent town, in some ways." Christ, man, how often do you actually get out of Los Angeles? Fuck it--I'll defend How to Lose Friends' right to exist, if only because it tries so hard to deflate guys like this.
Reaching back to the canine's Aztec roots and boasting a cheeky sense of humour that therefore appropriately reminds of The Emperor's New Groove, "Legend of the Chihuahua" (3 mins.) is a sufficiently cute animated short charting the history of the breed. Next, Drew Barrymore sets the tone for "Pet Pals: The Voices Behind the Dogs" (9 mins.): "If I were a dog, what kind of dog would I be? That's a great question!" Really? A very basic explanation of the voice-recording process isn't too surprising, but it's a reasonably informative rundown for the neophyte. (The second half of the featurette is mostly occupied by Drew's work with humane dog shelters.) "Hitting Their Bark: On Set with the Dogs of Beverly Hills Chihuahua" (12 mins.) details the arduous task of locating and training the right dogs for the job--a fascinating procedure explored without, for the most part, compulsive cutaways to adorable-pup reaction shots.
"Blooper Scooper" (3 mins.), on the other hand, primarily showcases how dogs don't always do what they're told--but on the bright side, the title contributes an apt new synonym to the lexicon for gag reels in general. Gosnell introduces 25 minutes' worth of "Deleted Scenes," making superfluous remarks about their deletion (usually it's human stuff that obviously distracted from the talking mutts) and pointing out which shots betray the CGI at various stages of development. A link to BD Live finishes off the disc proper, upon insertion of which a Disney Blu-ray reel cues up automatically, followed by trailers for Pinocchio, Up, Bedtime Stories, and Disney Movie Rewards. Originally published: March 23, 2009.
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