Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Slacker Works Extra Hard To Remain Out Of School In Expelled!

The Good: Performances are fine
The Bad: Ridiculous premise, Inconsistent characters, Dull plot, Unimaginative direction/acting
The Basics: One of the worst films of the year, Expelled is a laughless comedy not worth one’s time and attention.

Counterprogramming is a sweet science, just ask the makers of The Love Letter (reviewed here!). The Love Letter has the distinction of being the major studio release that went up against The Phantom Menace (reviewed here!) when it was theatrically released. Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema forced a number of studios to release big projects opposite The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies by pushing to a mid-December release. The Hobbit sequel was always going to win its weekend (and probably a few after) because the prevailing wisdom is “I’ve sat through sixteen hours of Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga already . . . yeah, I’m going to wait to see the last one!” Fans have invested years in anticipation for Peter Jackson’s Middle Earth Saga and the final chapter is this weekend’s big release. Fox seems to be bucking the trend of some of the other major studios (Sony is actually releasing one of its most-anticipated bits of Oscarbait to go head-to-head with The Hobbit) and opting for utter non-competition. Fox’s big release this weekend is Expelled. Instead of a big, theatrically impressive film, Fox went with small, unknowns and comedic in a way that is utterly remarkable.

Expelled is, supposedly, a comedy, but it draws no laughs from the audience. The film centers on high school students where the young people are all so much smarter than the film’s adults and the jokes fail to land. Expelled is a study of inconsistencies: a protagonist who is a slacker who works ridiculously hard to scheme to have time to not do anything specific (though he calls it “not missing opportunities” that surround him), young people who universally have skewed moral compasses (by which I am focused more on the poor characterization; all of the goodie two-shoes in the film are just as corrupt as the protagonist) and adults who have only the flimsiest of pretense surrounding how much attention they pay to the young people in the movie.

Hitting the ground running, Felix gets his third strike at Eastwood High School by reprogramming the school’s vending machines to give out free gum. Principal Gary Truman expels Felix. Concurrently, his ex-girlfriend, Vanessa, turns to Felix to help her win the race for student body president. She is running against Stacy, whose campaign is built entirely upon an anti-bullying campaign. But when Felix and his best friend discover that the school’s big cyberbully is actually Stacy and he exposes her, Vanessa double-crosses Felix (in exchange for him helping her, she was to provide him with a fake report card to keep his parents happy). Facing the threat of being shipped to a boarding school in Montana (a punishment his older brother has already received), Felix uses Stacy to help him get access to the school to make a new fake report card.

When Truman is at the school the night Felix breaks in, the principal has him arrested. But Felix is rescued by an unlikely ally; his brother, who escaped from Montana by shipping himself out of the boarding school. With the help of his pizza-delivering friend Katie (whose attraction to Felix is never honestly justified in the film), his brother, and best friend, Felix works to keep his parents from finding out he was expelled while extorting Mr. Truman to get re-enrolled in Eastwood.

Expelled is one of those ridiculous films that absolutely buggers common sense. The viewer is to believe that Felix’s mother, who claims to not have a “real job,” is utterly neglectful of Felix, while still caring about the results of her neglect. In other words, she only cares about how Felix is doing in life when report cards come out and when she gets summoned to parent-teacher conferences. The reason this conceit utterly fails to work in Expelled is that it is based on the premise that Felix’s mother has a life outside the home that keeps her occupied throughout her days (Felix’s few days of vacation after being expelled are devoid of parental incursions), but puts her in contact with absolutely no one from her son’s life. In other words, the pizza delivery chick knows Felix has been expelled, but Felix’s own mother has no contact with other parents or friends of friends who might know that Felix has been expelled.

The premise is off to an initially shaky start when Felix is introduced as a character who both has friends who have all the skills and access he needs and ambition and talent. People who are engaged enough to reprogram things and want to influence their environment often have some sense of ambition and goals. In other words, if one wants to believe that Felix is smart enough to hack systems (not demonstrated in the film, as he entirely relies upon his best friend for the actual tech work) and reprogram things, when he gets the time off away from school . . . it seems like he would have things he actually wanted to do. Expelled’s writer-director plays lip service to this idea by having Felix explicitly claim that everyone is surrounded by missed opportunities that cannot be exploited if one is stuck in History class, but then he limits his “missed opportunities” to things like lounging around shooting aerosol cans with flaming marshmallows launched from crossbows. The slackers I know who were just in the wrong environment and were understimulated used their time suspended from school to write computer viruses, hack networks, go to the movies, go on trips, shoplift, read books, etc. etc. etc. In other words, the smart people who want a vacation from establishment bullshit usually have things they want to do other than sitting on their asses doing nothing. So, Felix doesn’t jive with a realistic character.

But the real death knell for Expelled is how it fails completely to be funny. The comedy does not come from any particularly witty lines or zany situations or interesting characters with fast minds and diction to match. There are a few moments of physical comedy, but they do not even illicit smiles. The film isn’t even smart enough to be a farce.

The result is a non-compete for the box office that doesn’t try to be a draw to anyone. Expelled is a waste of 85 minutes and money for people who . . . actually, I have no idea who the target demographic for this movie is even. Expelled is just an all-around waste.

For other films currently in theaters, please check out my reviews of:
To Write Love On Her Arms
The Seventh Son
Song One
American Sniper
Inherent Vice
Still Alice
The Interview
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
Horrible Bosses 2
The Imitation Game


For other movie reviews, please check out my Film Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2014 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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