Reno 911: Miami
Reno 911: Miami opened last night...and it broke at least two barriers the characters have been facing since their television debut: their isolation in Reno, and their confinement to the small screen. Which means that on at least a few levels, this film should seem like a breath of fresh air. Should being the operative word here...
Reno 911!, for those unfamiliar, is a Comedy Central original program which both parodies the idea of COPS-like programming and emulates it (a large portion of the script is improvised which means, like COPS, the cameras catch the events "as they happen").
As a television show, it had its strengths, but it also had its weaknesses. The loose improvisation is a tremendous boon to the show when it works, but is almost painful when it doesn't. At its best you, as a viewer, are watching a room full of gifted comedians riffing off of each other for the better part of a half hour. At its worst you really can't help but wish they'd scripted it out if only to give the show some direction.
That said, it's easy to see why the show was successful: the acting was very good, the performers gifted, and the material--when it worked--was insightful and witty.
So what of the leap to the big screen?
Reno 911: Miami finds our band of misfit officers heading to sunny Florida to attend a law-enforcement convention, only their reservations are misplaced and they are not allowed in. Which ends up being a very good thing, because an act of chemical terrorism occurs within the convention center, leaving every police officer in the state in quarantine. It's up to the Reno crew to stand as the barricade between chaos and order.
Which is pretty much the plot...the entire plot of the film is cycled through within the first ten minutes or so, which is fine, because the film is obviously just an excuse to see our officers in "action" for an extended period of time. This is all fine; I say it not as a criticism. Reno 911! knows its formula, and the film is not interested in subverting it.
But something feels...well...missing. As much as I'm sure the improvised antics of the Reno Police Force should make a funny enough film on its own, they somehow don't. And it's very, very difficult to say why.
The success rate of the gags is pretty high. In fact, I'd have trouble recounting many times that the film tried in vain to make me laugh. More or less every joke they reached for, they grasped. It's just that there doesn't seem to be many jokes there in the first place. They may all be funny, but there seems, in retrospect, to be so few of them. Couple this with the fact that there is practically no time at all devoted to plot and one really has to wonder where the movie went.
It's a serious question I'm posing here. I sat through an hour and a half of film that had no plot and very few jokes...so what, exactly, made it last for an hour and a half? I have, genuinely, no idea.
That said, the laughs, when they come, are big. There are several big set-pieces within the film, and they're all successful. The early scene with the Reno force being called out to handle a chicken in the road was very funny, and wonderfully extended. A lesser film would have done a few gags and called it a wrap...but the length of the scene served to heighten the humor rather than spread it thin, and it was a good decision to stick with it as long as they did.
Later Florida-based scenes are also very well-handled. A whale, a crocodile and an impromptu strip-tease all lead to some genuine belly-laughs...but then we're left in silence for so long that by the time the next big set-piece comes around we may well forget that the last one was even part of the same movie.
But let's not get into the negatives just yet, because even though I would not consider this film a success by any means, there's still a lot of good. Lt. Jim Dangle (Thomas Lennon) really shines as a strong character, stronger than any of the other characters, anyway, and his attempted "pity fuck" with Officer Weigel was just brilliant. Everything from the bottle that didn't break to the wristwatch snagged in her pubic hair came together to form a perfectly crafted comedy moment.
Patton Oswalt did a fantastic (and I mean fantastic) job as Miami's interim mayor, and though I didn't quite buy the twist they forced his character into toward the end, I did buy the character, and that's a great compliment to Oswalt. Likewise The Rock handled his brief appearance brilliantly, and I might even say that he got the biggest laugh out of me throughout the entire film.
But there's no use applying perfume to the pig: the movie doesn't work. Why? It's very difficult to say. The laugh-rate is high. The performances are tight. The writing is by no means poor. But things just don't...come together. I made a comment in my review of Thomas Pynchon's V. that I think applies here as well: it's as though somebody put all of the ingredients in a pot, but forgot to turn the burner on.
One scene in particular highlights the film's failings better than any other. During their first night in Miami, the camera pans around the outside of their motel rooms, catching each of the officers coming in, going out, bumping into each other, avoiding each other, interacting. It's a very long scene...the camera mooves smoothly and the cuts are graceful. The music is absolutely lovely. And every performer is working hard to bring the obviously significant scene together...and yet...nothing happens. Everything is there. Everything I would have thought a scene like that required was present and accounted for. Why then did it not work?
There's something unspoken that makes a film successful. Something you can't simulate. No matter how good your actors are, how strong your writing is, how tight your direction...if the film isn't going to work, it isn't going to work. And--for whatever reason--Reno 911: Miami doesn't work.
That said, I'm glad I saw it. I'm a fan of The State (a comedy troupe whose eleven members all feature in some way in this film) and anything that keeps them in the public eye is alright by me. Also, it was funny enough to warrant a night out. Also, I wouldn't turn anyone away who might express interest in seeing it. There's every reason to believe they'll laugh when they're supposed to laugh, and go home and never think about it again.
There's a scene in the Tristram Shandy movie (approximate quoting ahead) in which the question of why they want to make their film is answered with, "Because it's funny." This raises the further question: is that enough? Steve Coogan replies, "If it's truly funny, that is enough."
I'll leave it to you to decide for yourself whether you think it was enough for Reno 911: Miami. I've already made my decision.