3/5 Dir David Wain US (PG15) How much are you willing to suffer for a Paul Rudd fix? Blessed with a sense of comic timing that would impress Jack Benny, Rudd can turn the most innocuous line into a straight-faced zinger. The fact that the actor flits among a number of comedy posses – he’s a card-carrying member of Will Ferrell’s Frat Pack, Judd Apatow’s manchild stable and director David Wain’s The State/Stella gang – means you get ample opportunities to see him perfecting the art of second-banana wisecracking. Whether all of these yukfests are worth sitting through simply for Rudd’s jabs, however, is a different story, and Wain’s movie about two immature knuckleheads (Paul Rudd, Sean William Scott) forced to mentor troubled youth is a serious tolerance test.
Remove the joy of hearing the actor goof about coffee-cup sizes and Kiss songs (‘I like to rock and roll part of every day; I usually have errands’) with Zen smarminess, and what do you have? The equally talented Elizabeth Banks wasted in a stock girlfriend role, Scott doing his usual clueless idiot bit (someone needs to tell him that the alpha-jerk shtick is wearing thin), a heavy reliance on kids saying the darndest vulgarities, and the mocking of LARP (live-action role-playing) fanatics – the cinematic equivalent of shooting a hatchery in a barrel. David Fear Dhs85 from Virgin Megastore
4/5 Dir Ron Howard US, UK (PG13) Teens have Twilight, but it looks like the real vampires have just arrived. In their famous 1977 interview, David Frost and Richard Nixon both had bloodsucking in mind – a thirst for media vitality that’s the theme of Peter Morgan’s play and, now, a terrific, wonky film version that actually improves upon it. The background: Frost (Michael Sheen, the delicate Tony Blair from The Queen) is a haircut riding on easy charm and chatting with key world figures like the Bee Gees. Still, he sees the astronomical numbers for Nixon’s televised resignation and wants in.
Meanwhile, Nixon (Frank Langella), ‘retired’ in California, seizes on the interview as a way back into the political arena. They meet, and the ex-President calls it a duel, with the confidence of a lion licking its chops. Who the ultimate victor was says more about our modern appetites than anyone knew at the time.
Ron Howard, never an intellectual director, understands this material completely. He’s a bit of a Frost himself – that’s not a slam – and as he opens the play up cinematically, re-creating Nixon on the steps of his helicopter peering directly into the lens to meet Frost’s gaze on the other side of the world, you see that Howard is actually shooting a love story. Passions for justice and dignity linger on the periphery in expanded roles for enraged researcher James Reston Jr. (Sam Rockwell) and Nixon aide Jack Brennan (Kevin Bacon, superb), but centrally this is a tale of sympathy, a gift that perhaps only a TV host would think to extend.
Frost/Nixon is about the belated awakening of a guilty conscience; as such, it feels a touch too late to today’s hopeful moment. (It’s the best film of 2006.) But to luxuriate in Langella’s magnificent performance – as a man unable to small-talk, unable to pet a dachshund convincingly, who can feel only privately – is to appreciate how movies can ennoble even the worst of us. Joshua Rothkopf Dhs85 from Virgin Megastore