Critics, like myself, often suggest that certain movies might be the type to play well on TBS, a channel many of us used to hang out on a Saturday afternoon with a hangover vegging on middling but infinitely watchable fare. There was a time, on TBS, where you couldn’t get away from movies like Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Payback, Air America, You’ve Got Mail or, if you were coming back after bar time, you could usually find Roadhouse on TBS in the middle of the night. There were a lot of movies we watched on multiple occasions thanks to TBS, and the proper time (Sunday noon) and place (the couch) endeared many of those otherwise forgettable movies to us.
I honestly don’t know if that’s the case anymore, whether TBS still manages outstanding ratings on Saturday and Sunday afternoons, particularly on long weekends. It might be that suggesting a movie would do well on TBS is like suggesting a movie has an After-school Special vibe to it, though there hasn’t been an Afterschool special in a couple of decades. Adult responsibility has taken me away from that sacred institution, and I’m not even sure that movies still air in between episodes of “Seinfeld” and “Saved by the Bell” (after all, I also used to watch all the Braves games on TBS. They no longer appear there).
The TBS vibe, however, continues to live on, even if the rotation does not. They are inoffensive movies, easy to watch, rarely genre films, and usually stand up to multiple viewings, at least as well as they did on their original viewing. They’re not all good, but even the bad ones have a intriguing or attractive cast or a compelling high concept that keeps you drawn in through the commercials (or at least, draws you back after channel surfing merits little else). Also: They’re easy to edit for television, derivative, formulaic, and most of all, they’re comfort TV.
Here are the 10 TBSiest Movies of the Last Five Years.
Drag Me to Hell: Drag Me to Hell is as rapid-paced a film as I’ve seen in years. Raimi goes elephantine balls to the wall, completely for broke, attacking the material with a feverish insanity of a pimple-popping teenager fucking his pillow. It’s frantic — gonzo even — but completely controlled. There’s no subtext to the story; Raimi isn’t trying to tell you anything. There’s no big metaphor; there’s no connection to real-world events; and there’s no cultural commentary. It’s just campy, over-the-top, off-the-hook, over-the-backboard, and through the net with a gloriously bloody squish.
Baby Mama: he rest of the film plays out in often regrettably predictable ways, and it’s tough to see such blunt and unpolished material handed to gifted comedians like Fey and Poehler. Granted, the sheer force of their personalities provides the film with a likeability that few other actresses could create, and the best scenes in the film are when Kate and Angie are finally allowed to interact on a genuine level and let the action be guided by natural extensions of their characters and not the story points McCullers feels he needs to hit. That’s the greatest disappointment about Baby Mama. Despite a respectable comedic pedigree among the cast and crew, the finished product doesn’t hold up. Fey’s former “Saturday Night Live” colleagues Fred Armisen and Will Forte breeze through in a couple of easy supporting roles, and Steve Martin gives a subtly absurd performance as Fey’s hippie boss. Kinnear is affable and kind, but he’s more of a placeholder than anything else; it’s revealed later in the game that Rob has a 12-year-old daughter, but she never appears because Kate was never going to meet her boyfriend’s kid. She just needed to deal with the possible complication in the abstract, and once she embraced the idea, the conflict disappeared. McCullers didn’t want Kate to grow, just to think about it.
Definitely Maybe: Ryan Reynolds, naturally, is as charming as ever, but for once, he’s actually given a role he can do something with — he’s not forced to resort to sarcastic wisecracks or camera mugging to make a film tolerable. And the three love interests — Weisz, Banks, and Fisher — are all so goddamn likable that you’d almost be happy to see him end up with any of the three, though it does become apparent that just one is right for him. Ultimately, I fell for Definitely, Maybe because, as best a movie of this ilk can, it dealt fairly with the complexities of relationships and love, and did so without cheap jokes, pratfalls, or a multitude of forced contrivances. It is, in a word, relentlessly sweet. And sure: There are a few mawkishly sentimental lines that may make some of you cringe, but that’s the nature of romance, isn’t it? When you’re in love, somehow it’s the cheesy lines that are always the most heartfelt.
The Bank Job: The phrase “based on a true story” is already a meaningless one, even if you aren’t a post-structuralist, but the “real” story behind the infamous Baker Street bank robbery of 1971 is an imaginist’s wet dream. The crime was never solved, owing partially to a government-imposed gag order, or D-Notice, which forbade press coverage and fueled the fires of speculation. Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, working from real transcript evidence, think they have the juice on what was behind the crime. And lord is it juicy! But whatever the case (and whether or not you care), The Bank Job is a ridiculously entertaining thriller; like a well-thrown stone, it skips pleasantly over the better part of two hours without sinking under the unnecessary weights of character or melodrama.
The Bucket List: Bring on the geezers, motherfuckers. Let’s drop those buckets on their heads and bang them with mallets. Let’s feed their indeterminate types of cancer to Labrador puppies, and let’s give their characters’ lives the proper send off: A swift kick in the bucket’s sweet spot, right where the manipulative, shameless, nausea-inducing treacle resides. And then, let’s light a match and watch these senile old fucks slowly bleed out while we sigh at the audacious sentimentality and rail against the pathetic attempts to pull our fibrous heartstrings clinging like tendon to bone. Oh, and The Bucket List sucks like a skint-knee starletard who’s misplaced her ATM card. I hated it with the force of a lifetime’s worth of Winehouse insufflations.
Disturbia: Disturbia, D.J. Caruso’s overt homage to Hitchcock somehow manages to avoid the initial write-off of being either a tepid remake or terrible rip-off because, like a good episode of “The Simpsons,” it takes an old film archetype and runs with it instead of cooking up some new twist or angle. The plot points and outcome are never in any doubt, but Caruso never pretends that they were, he just has fun playing with someone else’s idea, and the results, though nothing to write home about, end up making a pretty decent thriller.
Coach Carter: Coach Carter is precisely what it appears: One part Lean on Me, one part Hoosiers, a dash of Dead Poets Society, a smidgen of Dangerous Minds, and about a gallon and a half of hokum. The resulting concoction is about as interesting as vanilla cake, but it tastes all right, and it goes down easy enough.
Smokin’ Aces: Like a lot of filmmakers who came of cinematic age in the late 1990s, writer-director Joe Carnahan owes a lot to Quentin Tarantino, at least as far as style and ideas and colors and pretty much anything else. And since Tarantino was nothing more than a mashup of the pop culture that raised him, you can see how it could get existentially messy to try and parse the different meanings and inspirations behind Carnahan’s third and latest feature, Smokin’ Aces. I mean, is it really possible to rip off a genre master who’s nothing but the apotheosis of all ripoff artists? While Smokin’ Aces isn’t as accomplished as Carnahan’s Narc, he’s managed to maintain most of its energy while transitioning from dark cop thriller to a mix of frenetic action, stunning violence, and oddball comedy that succeeds just barely more than it fails. Despite a flimsy plot and a few twists broadcast miles in advance, the film slides by on the strength of Carnahan’s energy. Its highest aim is to be a garish, amped-up thrill-ride, and at that, it shines.
Accepted: Accepted is all predictability, fantasy, and weak characterization that doesn’t quite measure up to even the weaker college junkets like EuroTrip, only boosted by Long and a few manic scenes. Then again, reviews for the movie have ranged from amused to incensed, suggesting that enjoying it may be very context-sensitive. Perhaps if I were in a lighter mood or tripping like hell on ludes (as I suspect many fellow theatergoers were), I may have found myself laughing along. But I wasn’t, and I can’t recommend this middling farce to anyone who might deign to see it.
Sex Drive: If you are that hypothetical 16-year-old curious about the teen comedies that came before you, but short on time (all that band practice and all), there’s really not much need to visit Better off Dead, Fast Times, Weird Science, Road Trip or even American Pie. You can get a pretty good taste for all of them by watching Sean Anders’ Sex Drive. I don’t say that as an insult: If you have to introduce a new generation of teenagers to teen comedies, you may as well borrow/steal/pay homage from/to some of the best. And Sex Drive takes some of the better elements of all of them, mixes them up, throws a decent soundtrack over it, and the result is a pretty fucking fun movie. And, since it’s become clear that Rocket Science isn’t going to break into the thickheaded zeitgeist of the under-20 set (damnit), Sex Drive may just become this generation’s Road Trip to Superbad’s Can’t Hardly Wait. And I’m OK with that.