Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
June 2013


The devil and the girl next door

Anna Kendrick and Craig Robinson shine, but the comedy gets stretched too thin in 'Rapture-Palooza'

Director: Paul Middleditch
Screenplay: Chris Matheson
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Craig Robinson, John Francis Daley, Rob Corddry, Thomas Lennon, Ana Gasteyer, Rob Huebel and Calum Worthy
Rated R / 1 hour, 25 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)

Rapture-Palooza's problem isn't that it doesn't know how to be funny, but that it doesn't entirely know how to be a movie. It's vaguely shaped like one, it's narrated like one, and it has a beginning, a middle and an end like one, but it never gets beyond feeling like a series of one-off jokes rather than a unified experience. The tone shifts wildly, from dryly satirical to irritatingly broad. Ideas get bounced around, played with and discarded. A plot emerges, but seemingly against the movie's will.

At times it's actually very funny, not only because of some of the absurdist details in Chris Matheson's script, but because the cast is made up of just about every reliable side performer from every comedy you've seen over the last few years. But while the film pulses with comedic life in fits and starts - a particularly inspired sight gag here, a great one-liner there - director Paul Middleditch can't quite sustain the energy of the film's best moments.

There's an apathy to the overall effect of Rapture-Palooza that doesn't necessarily do it any favors. Its brand of apathy - as opposed to the deeply committed approach found in, say, Rick Alverson's The Comedy or Bob Byington's Somebody Up There Likes Me - seems like a hedge. It's comparable in tone to the first half-hour of last year's Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, which took a similarly casual, matter-of-fact approach to the apocalypse. In that case, though, the comedy was more subversively absurdist, and its storytelling beyond the humor was more thoughtful.

Rapture-Palooza makes no bones about its intentions - it's not trying to be a heartwarming character piece - but it also isn't overly concerned with anything else, either. It has a litany of amusing ideas, but doesn't seem to care enough about its postapocalyptic milieu to really milk it. You get the feeling this should have been an extended sketch-comedy bit, with all the best ideas consolidated and everything else tossed away. Instead, it tries to stretch it out to a 90-minute runtime - actually, not even 90 minutes - and winds up feeling like a barely missed opportunity.

The bland expository narration informs us what has been happening - that one day, the Rapture came, with all the faithful getting sucked up into heaven, leaving everyone else to toil away back on Earth, a world now besieged by pothead wraiths, blood rain, foul-mouthed crows, flaming rocks falling from the sky, the Antichrist, and the occasional annoying locust or two.

Among the remaining inhabitants left un-Raptured are teenage couple Lindsey (Anna Kendrick) and Ben (John Francis Daley), who seem like one of those cute, virtuous high-school couples who really like each other for about three weeks and then just remain friends. But in a postapocalyptic world, they're all they've got. They also seem to be among the last vestiges of morality out there; while the rest of the world seems content to resort to petty thievery and opportunism, Lindsey and Ben try to live their lives in as ethically sound a fashion as possible. More than anything, they seem confused as to why they, with all the purity of their souls, were left on this Earthly wasteland while billions of others got to be angels.

One such angel is - or was - Lindsey's mom, Mrs. Lewis (Ana Gasteyer), who was promptly cast out of heaven and has returned as a shrill, hysterical lunatic who gets way more screen time than is necessary. (No offense to Gasteyer, who's usually much better.) Ben's dad (Rob Corddry), meanwhile, has essentially sold his soul, having taken a job as one of the Antichrist's many personal assistants, a career path he enthusiastically encourages Ben and Lindsey to follow.

As played by Craig Robinson, the Antichrist - better known as The Beast (and under no circumstances should you refer to him by his birth name, Earl) - is a cheerfully evil, obliviously stupid goof with a robust physical masculinity and a juvenile approach to humor, women, and even his own evil deeds. He bombs cities with his giant laser gun the way a small child might, rather than out of any morally self-aware sense of malice. Still, childlike or not, he's evil and must be stopped. Which is where Lindsey and Ben come in . . .

But of course, the plotting doesn't matter so much as the individual jokes and parodies that Middleditch, Matheson and the actors find along the way. And in many cases, those pieces are very, very funny. The rest of the film, however, feels like killing time from one bit to the next. The discipline and commitment of recent similarly themed comedies like This is the End and It's a Disaster is largely missing from Rapture-Palooza. To an extent it feels like the filmmakers never got beyond the planning stages. Like, "Wouldn't it be funny if Craig Robinson played a vulgarian simpleton Antichrist?" It's funny, alright - but not consistently enough to justify an entire movie being built around it.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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