A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES REVIEW

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Or Taken To The Grave? Liam Neeson uses his particular set of skills. No, wait! His acting skills (Remember them?) and his gravelly gravitas for the hardened private eye thrown into the seedy underworld of a 90s New York City.

A return to form for the reformed action hero in a suspenseful, if drawn out, gritty neo-noir. If you’re expecting another Taken, then you may be left disappointed.

Now I loved Taken (the first one) and it was great to see Neeson back in the limelight. But I was afraid that he was going to be typecast in the action role indefinitely. Non-Stop (Taken on a Plane) proves my point. BUT I’ll always commend Neeson for Schindler’s List and Rob Roy.

However, Neeson plays the part to perfection. A grisly Philip Marlowe. To be honest, the 90s setting didn’t really provide anything additional to the film. Other than the fact he uses old computers in libraries and payphones. I don’t really believe in the whole “Based on True Events” spiel. Not since Fargo and every horror film for the last decade.

So what’s it about? Private investigator Matthew Scudder (Neeson) is hired by a drug kingpin (Dan Stevens) to find out who kidnapped and murdered his wife.

Dan Stevens (Downton Abbey) is really starting to make a name for himself and plays the part well. But to be honest, his character was a little weak and didn’t really do much until the closing moments.

Astro (Earth to Echo) played Neeson’s homeless sidekick well and the pair worked well together. Some will find his character incredibly irritating and their “bonding” conversations completely unnecessary and unsuited to Scudder’s loner.

At least we won’t be as annoyed as Ruth Wilson (Luther) whose part was completely removed from the film to make Scudder more of a loner. All she has attached to her name is a credit. And yet Astro made the cut? Strange.

However, the real scene stealer and adversary to Neeson’s Marlowe was David Harbour (End of Watch) as the maniacal killer. He was brilliant and sinister as hell. His creepy voice delivery was memorable enough. Olafur Darri Olafsson (The Secret Life of Walter Mitty) also made a memorable role as the strange but morally torn middle man.

My main quip with A Walk Among The Tombstones was the length. A zippy opening with Neeson doing what he does best was soon put on a slow boil. The story tries its best to keep you hooked but there isn’t enough to justify the running time.

The story barely scrapes the surface of the sordid underbelly that these dark antagonists lurk from. There are creepy and suspenseful moments and Neeson certainly carries the film but despite all its promise; Mihai Malaimare Jr’s grainy noir-esque cinematography, Neeson’s snappy one liners and Harbour’s menace, it falls short of your expectations.

The story line meanders along with the surprise abduction and punch-em-up from Neeson but it’s all a little by the book. Endless red herrings with leads that go nowhere slowing down and killing what mystery and suspense was brewing.

The finale was certainly tense and made up for the meandering middle act but it was all so predictable. I was little disappointed that it had to go for a big fist fight and shoot em up to keep in and bank on Neeson’s resurged action hero fame.

The first hour was engaging, tense and slow burning but we got to see Neeson do what he does best . . . Act. Don’t get me wrong, there were some decent punch em up moments that Sam Spade would be proud of but it seemed to run out of ideas, go on a bit too long and then end with a big action number to stop bums fidgeting in seats.

If you want Taken, watch . . . Taken. But if you want to see a return (of sorts) for a talented actor and have a taste for noir, then it’s worth a gander.

3/5

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THE RIOT CLUB REVIEW

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Such a riot! Tragically not. Two first-year students at Oxford University join the infamous Riot Club, where reputations can be made or destroyed over the course of a single evening, leading to . . .

A mediocre class satire that had so much potential to be so much more.

To be honest, the concept should have stayed as a play. The adaptation fails to carry itself on the big screen. If not for the prolific British cast attached to this, I don’t think it would have been done at all.

The only actor that will survive this poor affair will be Sam Claflin (Love, Rosie) who was deliciously revolting. His character Alistair Ryle was a perfect panto villain. Camp and vile. It is a shame however that he was very much a stereotype. A snobby toff that “hates poor people”. As if we needed to cement the stereotype further with that. I can’t believe that was actually written in the script.

Max Irons (The Host) played the lead as well as he could but he was terribly bland up until the final 20 minutes in which he finally had a little bit of meat from the script to chew on and do a bit of acting. He was able to share some chemistry with Holliday Grainger (The Borgias) but it’s all so predictable.

BUT Irons was always going to finish second to the rest of the cast comprising of young future British prospects; Douglas Booth (Romeo and Juliet), Ben Schnetzer (Pride) and Sam Reid (Belle).

It does not help that the tone is all over the place. Riding off the Made in Chelsea vibe, the opening act was farcical and terribly OTT as we are given a brief history about the founder of the infamous club, Lord Riot. A genius and a . . . TOTAL LEGEND.

I could feel my hopes for this film fading in an instant. However, the club members did provide enough tomfoolery for a silly but watchable half hour. The initiation sequence had a demented Dead Poets Society feel and I really hoped it was going to keep heading in that direction dealing with the class and society issues within the confines of the school.

The club’s initial introduction and candidate hunt was quite funny. Sam Reid’s overtly flamboyant Hugo chasing after Irons’ Miles for his own intentions. The boozing and sleeping around felt like a mash of Skins meets Made in Chelsea.

However, the tone gets a little bit serious when the club unite to dine. The dinner sequence was a perfect platform to stage a cross-examination of the upper class but it took so long to get going. As tempers rise and more booze and drugs are ingested at the dinner table, things finally begin to bubble up.

There are some tense moments but it’s tough to do a commentary when all the characters are merely stereotypes. It made a change that it wasn’t a piece on hoodies peddling drugs and committing crimes on a council estate but rich spoilt brats poking fun at the working class is just fuel for fire.

I can respect what the writer was trying to say but the characters and the aftermath are exaggerated so theatrically that I can’t take them seriously. I mean at one point the lads are picking at the 10 fowl main course because one bird is missing. Terrible.

They were nothing more than the seven posh dwarves; Dopey, Sleazy, Shouty and Crackhead. The tension soon subsides and leads to complete and utter chaos with relentless destruction (an elongated five minute Extreme Makeover sequence that was beyond overkill) and a predictable twist.

Jessica Brown-Findlay (Downton Abbey) played the waitress as well as she could but it was a wasted role. Anyone could have played her. She merely scowled and had the odd jibe back at the posh plebs.

The alluring Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones) had the easiest cameo going. Her character was nothing more than a catalyst to fuel the tempers of horny, drug induced toffs in the form of a misled escort.

My quip besides playing on the mainstream red band papers and hyping up stereotypes was that there wasn’t enough story for me. The idea of them discussing their views during a dinner had potential. BUT it’s goes from nothing to everything.

It was too slow, the characters were un-relatable and it ended oh so predictably and lazily with the usual commentary that the rich get away with anything, apparently. Hardly a spoiler. After the dinner incident, I thought there was potential for a suspenseful stand off as the gang begin to give each other up. BUT it’s wrapped up within minutes so flatly and easily. Disappointing.

I predict a riot for people heading towards the door.

2/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* PLANES 2: FIRE AND RESCUE

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I was surprised and anxious to hear that Planes had earned a sequel. To be honest Cars was a bit of a misfire. Watchable but hardly memorable. I didn’t even get round to watching the sequel. It reeked of desperation when they tried to merge the Cars and Planes universe together.

The problems was that Planes felt old fashioned before it even got to start. There was enough silly punnery and charm but it felt oh so flat. Proof that even Pixar can make mistakes. But yet enough money was made to make another and this time . . .

Despite being a visual sight to look at (which was to be expected), it pretty much delivers the same old silly wordplay and punnery, cheesy one liners and bland characters but without the charm and gusto that managed to make it scrape by last time. This really is one for the little ‘uns who are interested in planes and cars.

Dusty (Dane Cook) is now a renowned racer. However he is hit with the bad news that he can no longer race after his out of production gearbox starts failing. But Prop Wash Junction is in need of a new firefighter cue another re-tread (I mean journey) as Dusty must overcome the odds and prove everyone wrong again.

It’s a shame that Cook is having to voice such a dull and unmemorable lead character. You can’t help but feel that they have to keep bringing in crazier and funnier supporting characters to compensate for it. The 3D. What 3D? I could have taken my glasses off and not noticed a difference.

Terrible considering the price of a cinema ticket these days, let alone extras for 3D. 2D if you are still intrigued.

The new range of characters do their utmost to make this flailing film soar but to no avail. Hal Halbrook delivered an endearing turn to the ageing fire truck May Day. While Julie Bowen (Modern Family) was on voice stealing form as the neurotic Ms. Dipper who is infatuated with our hero.

The fact she watches him while he sleeps brought a little chuckle, if a little creepy. Wes Studi (The Last of the Mohicans) pretty much plays a parody of Magua in the form of a helicopter titled Windlifter. The legend that is Ed Harris played a straight faced, stern and predictably bland authority figure. A shame.

To be honest, it made me miss the incredibly OTT El Chubacabra. His presence was sorely missed. There was one good skit that parodied the old 70s cop show Chips. However, this time it was Chops. Tut all you like. There was a guilty chuckle. The fact a familiar voice made a cameo return made it all the better but unfortunately it was always going to go over the little ‘uns heads. The fire sequences were interesting and watchable enough but it all seemed by the numbers and a little stale.

The odd gag and punnery will get a chuckle from the kids and adults but it all feels like it should have been a straight to DVD film. If not for the Pixar label, I’m sure it would have been. A real shame despite the best efforts of a talented voice cast (that consisted of the likes of Cedric the Entertainer, Teri Hatcher, Patrick Warburton, Brad Garrett) to make their flat characters stand out but one for the scrap heap.

Sorry, Pixar. It didn’t work the first time, the second hasn’t improved. I don’t think third time’s the charm this time around.

2/5 for me

WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY REVIEW

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From the makers that brought you Outnumbered. Now if you’re wincing at that title, then this may not be for you.

Doug (David Tennant), Abi (Rosamund Pike) and their three children travel to the Scottish Highlands for Doug’s father Gordie’s (Billy Connolly) birthday party. It’s soon clear that when it comes to keeping a secret under wraps from the rest of the family, their children are their biggest liability . . .

What We Did On Our Holiday very much follows that style and structure. Well, it is Outnumbered just with a completely different family. The children inevitably allowed the freedom to share their incredibly random but hilarious outlook on life.

A nicey-nicey dramedy that leaves you smiling. All in all, not bad. Not without its imperfections but a stellar British cast, along with some little newbies, help smooth out the creases.

David Tennant and Rosamund Pike (she’s been popping up everywhere at the moment and deservedly so) work well together as the sparring couple who must pretend to be happily married for the sake of keeping up appearances.

However, the kids have other plans. Mainly because they are kids and have no idea why they have to lie when Mum and Dad are always fighting and live in separate houses.

Harriett Turnbull and Bobby Smalldridge are fantastic as the curious little tykes. They come out with some belters that were most definitely not scripted. A highlight for me was when the little ‘uns met Annette Crosbie’s (One Foot in the Grave) lesbian ostrich farmer (You read that right).

She attempts to explain her sexuality, leading to the kids believing she is from a place called Lesbia. Smalldridge completely catches Crosbie off guard with a question about putting an ostrich’s egg back up her bottom. Even the comedy veteran cracked a grin.

Billy Connolly was, to be expected, brilliant. His story line with his ailing health hits a little more close to home. Especially with what the comedian is going through.

The discussions of death with the children are done very well and his character is instantly loveable as the giggling granddad. The family arguments are dealt with brilliantly and tackle the issues of divorce and spite, with the children inevitably suffering.

Ben Miller (Death in Paradise) doesn’t do a bad Scottish accent and plays the pompous uptight brother very well. Amelia Bullmore (Scott and Bailey) played quite a subdued role. That was until we dig into the reason (Luckily there was one) behind her silence. The answer lying in a YouTube video viewed by millions. Brilliant.

However, these stellar comedy actors were always going to play second fiddle to the kids. Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin have introduced another set of future prospects. Turnbull was definitely the adorable scene stealer. Her gruelling interrogative manner with Ben Miller was worth the ticket price alone.

Halfway through this easy going fam-dram, there is an unexpected twist. Well the outcome of the twist was predictable but how the characters deal with it surprised me. It certainly played with the macabre. I won’t say much more because this a film I want people to see.

It’s not all perfect. I wish more was made with the family drama. It all gets heated, brilliantly acted but then evaporates into a corny finale with cheesy grandiose speeches and everybody singing and dancing.

Bullmore’s character was clearly going through some sort of breakdown and how Gavin (Ben Miller) treats her and their son Gordy (Ryan Hunter) was quite poor. To be honest, Gordy was a bit of a drip. It could have been down to Gavin’s treatment but nothing was made of it. A wasted opportunity.

Celia Imrie (The Love Punch) played such a small limited role. A shame for a talented actress. She did well but anyone could have played her.

Another minor quibble was the relevance of the escaped ostrich? It kept popping up and running across the screen. By the end of the film, apparently none and it wasn’t even funny.

Despite a darker twist, the film was always going to be a fluffy family drama and it all ends a little too cheesy and happily for my liking (Maybe it’s the cynic in me) but certainly one of the better ones. Worth an investment.

3.5/5 for me

*THROWBACK REVIEW* TAMMY

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Oh my . . . what went wrong? Now I’m a big fan of Melissa McCarthy. She has proven time and time again to deliver the funny. Breaking through with the mega-hit Bridesmaids; McCarthy has excelled. Her projects may lack in story and plot but always deliver in laughs. The Heat was exceptionally good. Mike and Molly on the other hand, is another story.

Now along comes Tammy. I watched the heavily plugged restaurant robbery trailer scene and had my doubts. However, that scene still got a guilty giggle. McCarthy poking fun at her figure while pulling funny faces seemed a little lazy. If I had known, that would be the best bit in the film, I would have skipped this altogether.

What it’s all about? After losing her job and learning that her husband has been unfaithful, Tammy hits the road with her profane, hard-drinking grandmother.

It doesn’t last long at the box office and unfortunately (this time) I can see why. BUT it’s not all bad. McCarthy carries the film as best she can. Her crazy dance moves, her snappy one liners are all there. However, her character is at times, very irritating. I actually found her voice grating on me. Shame.

Also I couldn’t help but feel that Tammy’s character was a rip off of Diana in The Identity Thief. Come to think of it, the entire film felt like a slight rip off of Identity Thief but a whole lot weaker and a lot less funny. And let’s be honest, The Identity Thief wasn’t perfect.

Susan Sarandon was fantastic and proved to be game for a laugh. Her alcoholic grandmother proved to be a great supporting character that worked really well with McCarthy. A perfect pairing.

If not for Sarandon, the little laughs that there were, would have been a whole lot less. However, their dream partnership didn’t really shine as much as you would hope. Their insults and banter drew the odd titter and at times, there were some genuine moments but you couldn’t help but want more.

Another problem for me was the pace and the change in tone. Tammy chugged along, at some points at a snail’s pace. Then out of nowhere after the film takes a more serious route, as if realising there isn’t enough gags to keep the questionable length going.

Understandably, McCarthy’s monstrous character must inevitably confront her inner demons and deal with her fractious relationship with her grandmother but it lacked the laughs and the drama to pull off the serious angle. It goes for sheer crazy with our dysfunctional Thelma and Louise performing ridiculous (but funny) robberies to mowing down deers and then deadpan serious and it just doesn’t work or gel properly.

The finale was surprisingly sobering and very unfunny which left me feeling . . . meh, really. All too corny and abrupt. It’s a shame especially with the cast that McCarthy had at her fingertips. They were left playing really flat and uninteresting supporting roles. Dan Ackroyd, Toni Collette and Sandra Oh played characters that any Tom, Dick or . . . Harriett could have played.

Alison Janney and Kathy Bates were the more memorable roles that managed to make an impression. It was great to see Gary “Office Space” Cole playing a sleazeball yet again but even he wasn’t that memorable or interesting. And that is the main problem with all the potential, bar a couple of funny moments, it’s all uninteresting, flat and unmemorable. I will take this as a blip but expecting better things to come from Miss McCarthy.

2 (just) out of 5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BELLE

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Pride and Racial Prejudice or Frownton Abbey. A stellar British cast uplifts a syrupy biopic that you’d expect to see on ITV. 12 Years A Slave, this ain’t. It’s certainly watchable and zips along but it doesn’t really make full use of the cast or the subject matter and inevitably leads to the same old predictable schmaltzy finale.

So what’s it all about? Inspired by the true story of Dido Elizabeth Belle (Gugu Mbatha-Raw). The illegitimate mixed race daughter of a Royal Navy captain is raised by her aristocratic great-uncle Lord Mansfield (Tom Wilkinson) and wife (Emily Watson).

Belle’s lineage affords her certain privileges, yet the colour of her skin prevents her from fully participating in the traditions of her social standing. However, she soon falls for an idealistic young vicar’s son (Sam Reid – The Riot Club) bent on change who, with her help, shapes Lord Mansfield’s role as Lord Chief Justice to end slavery in England.

Well, at least gets the ball rolling . . . sort of, kinda.

The beautiful Gugu Mbatha-Raw (Touch) takes the fold and delivers a strong performance. One to watch for the future. Matthew Goode (Stoker/The Good Wife) applies enough charisma to make a memorable impression as Captain Sir John Lindsay, who plucks an orphaned Belle from poverty and much worse. A shame that he is only in the film for five minutes before departing on a long voyage.

To be honest, anyone could have played him. Penelope Wilton (Downton Abbey) seems to be typecast of late as the uptight old prune of an aunt but if she delivers the goods, does it matter? To me, just a bit.

Even Tom Felton is playing a Victorian Draco Malfoy, complete with “mudblood” attitude in tow. Don’t get me wrong, he plays the slick toothed snob to perfection. As does James Norton (or Tommy from the highly acclaimed BBC TV series Happy Valley) as Felton’s smug brother and partner in crime.

They are both the weasel-y twins (What?) as they try and weave their way into Belle’s fortune. Miranda Richardson (Blackadder) is also brilliant as their conniving matriarch. Emily Watson plays her part well, even if her character is completely unnecessary.

Merely, a commentator sitting on the side lines. Commentary that is self-explanatory as, to be honest, there is not a lot going on. The beautiful Sarah Gadon (Dracula Untold) is making an impression. She plays the dibby cousin Elizabeth well. You do feel for her character as she appears to be used as pawn in a game of rich chess or left lingering in the shadow of the “exotic beauty”.

I appreciate the concept and direction the film took. This is a completely different story to 12 Years A Slave that deals with the issue of race within the aristocracy. The fact that Belle was awarded the stature and position of any rich member of power and is unable to use it, says it all.

However, it all feels a little petty in comparison to the visceral gritty torture that Solomon endured. He was beaten, whipped and hung. Belle was made to eat in a separate room to the rest of the family and was perceived merely as an exhibition piece, an exotic jewel, nothing more.

Tom Wilkinson is fantastic as Lord Mansfield whose position is compromised in between fulfilling the law. The law that does not treat any person of colour with respect or even see them as people.

He works well with Mbatha-Raw which allows for some heartfelt moments. After the initial introduction and set up in an easy going half hour, the film seems to be happy to tend with the mundane gossip of petty rich Victorian folk while the inevitable romance blossoms between Belle and John Davinier (Reid). The awkward exchanges, the subtle glances and turning aways. Check, check. All there.

It all feels like by the end it is merely ticking the boxes for all the clichés of a period drama. Any chance of making statements are crushed by an inevitable corny love story. The finale is merely a revelatory court case with the verdict relying on Mansfield’s overriding decision.

A decision that is so obvious and unbelievably predictable that all the grandiose speeches mean nothing. I expected so much more.

It’s well-acted, easy going but doesn’t seem to be sure on whether to be a hard-hitting drama or a slow burning love story.

If you’re a period drama fan, then you’ll love this but it brings nothing new to the genre. Weaker episodes of Downton Abbey have done a better job (There’s never been a weak episode of Downton? That’s scandalous!)

If you’re already going in making comparisons and expecting 12 Years A Slave, then . . . watch 12 Years A Slave. Such a shame. Not bad but not great.

2.5/5

*THROWBACK REVIEW* BLENDED REVIEW

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If you still like or even love Adam Sandler movies, then this one is for you. For everybody else, move on. There has been a lot of cynicism and “hate-watching” surrounding his last entries. A good portion not completely unjustified. (That’s My Boy, Jack and Jill and Grown Ups 2, I’m looking at you!)

Let’s be honest, they are guilty pleasures. (Apart from Sandler’s more serious acting ventures; Reign Over Me and Punch Drunk Love). The story lines were always predictable, corny and OTT but as long as they were funny, I was happy to let that slide. I know, me letting a film slide?

So what did I make of Sandler’s latest offering? One that seemed to take a huge hit at the box office? Well, I can’t believe I’m saying this but it’s actually not that bad. A vast improvement from the Grown Ups movies (I did enjoy the first one. What?). I went in, anticipating the worst and came out surprised.

So what’s it about? After a bad blind date, a man (Sandler) and woman (Drew Barrymore) find themselves stuck together at a family resort in Africa, where their attraction grows as their respective kids benefit from the burgeoning relationship. Awww . . . yuck.

Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler reunite for their third outing (The Wedding Singer/50 First Dates). The chemistry is still there and they work well together yet again. You can see at certain points that they are improvising by the cheeky grins and little jibes.

The plot set up is incredibly lazy in how the families end up in Africa. Even when I heard it, I thought why they don’t just meet up by accident? Still corny but a lot less ridiculous than Barrymore’s mate (Wendi McLendon-Covey – Rules of Engagement) giving up her vacation with Sandler’s boss and kids (the number of kids that make up the two families – yeah that’s right). Long winded and stupid.

Anyhoo, we get the set up and see both families all with their neuroses and issues; Bella Thorne battling with her sporty persona crushing her femininity as she keeps being mistaken for a boy, Barrymore’s dicey divorce and Sandler coping with loss and grief. Inevitably, both sets of kids are in need of a mother/father figure.

The divorce arguments contribute nothing to the movie as they are so predictable and you know the inevitable will happen. What was well done was how both families dealt with the issue of death and loss. A scene in which Emma Fuhrmann’s character Espn (named after Sandler’s favourite sports channel – Tut, tut, tut) saves a seat and plate for her mum is touching. Corny but touching. A well-acted scene between her and Sandler was unexpected but endearing. For the cynics, a big no, no but for everyone else, very good.

It’s not perfect. Certain jokes fall flat as a dead zebra carcass. A joke in which Barrymore struggles to carry her son and keeps bumping his head against the wall, while funny the first time, soon dies a death when she keeps doing it. If not for a punchline from Sandler, it would have been a complete write off. The inevitable ‘getting together’ of Barrymore and Sandler will always be hanging over moments where they walk away or hurt each other’s feelings.

However, there are some cracking moments and to be honest, it was the one liners that got me. Terry Crews (The Expendables/Brooklyn Nine Nine) pops up, Michael Jackson thrusting and bursting out into song with his African choir in tow every time the movie looks like its slackening. Hilarious. Some might find them irritating, I thought it was brilliant.

Along with Crews, there are a few Sandler stalwarts that pop up and provide a good old chuckle. Shaquille O’Neal as his crazy work colleague, Kevin Nealon (Weeds) as the horny vacationer and a cameo from Allen Covert (Mr Deeds/Wedding Singer/Anger Management). Shame the Schneider/Sandler cameos stopped. Was there a fall out or something? Or did they both hate each other’s movies?

Joel McHale’s (Community) character was very stocky and generic as Barrymore’s ex. The kids were irritating to begin with, but I think that was the point. They soon grow on you, eventually. Well they have to, I guess. Alyvia Alyn Lind was adorable and came out with some of the more surprising quips that got everybody chuckling.

It was great to see a Sandler film actually use some people from the community and actual country they are filming in, who get to deliver some cheeky punts at the tourists. A joke involving Brad Beckham’s resemblance to a hobbit had me in stitches.

It’s corny, cheesy, ridiculously OTT and predictable but it’s funny, at times endearing and better than you think. If you’re a cynic who likes their comedies subtle and clever, then firstly why are you reading this? Secondly, if you’re a struggling Sandler film aficionado, you might be surprised. I was.

3/5