Arthur: Anatomy of a Joke

Arthur_Onesheet

Humor is hard work. Witness the generally unfunny remake of Arthur. starring the gangly British comedian Russell Brand. I liked him well enough in Get him to the Greek, but something misfires here. It doesn’t help that he’s reviving a character indelibly portrayed by the late Dudley Moore, who was somehow able to walk the line between the ridiculous and the endearing. Brand, on the other hand, looks like (to steal one of his lines) “a scarecrow that’s robbed a tailor’s.” He’s all gummy, over-bleached smile. He doesn’t act so much as deliver a ninety-minute tirade that’s held in place with a few miscast secondary characters and tied up in a thin plot. A package, you see.

You could argue that his character is indifferent to other people, that the arc of his story is in coming to realize the value and importance of others. While that’s true, you can’t deny that Brand’s rapid-fire effort is to squeeze as many anarchic one-liners into the script as possible.

Maybe if the secondary characters had been given more to do and better lines, but like so many Hollywood products, every element in Arthur is there to pay homage to the star, who’s in nearly every scene. Helen Mirren holds her own, as does Jennifer Garner, to a degree. Mumblecore queen Greta Gerwig, with her flat affect, seems a strange choice for such a broad comedy. I don’t mean this as a slam. A.O. Scott of the New York Times once described her acting style as “opposed to the very idea of style,” an approach that works much better in real films as opposed to Hollywood comedies, which are nothing but style.

And what about poor Nick Nolte, who plays the steel-reinforced father of the devious bride but without even the semblance of a funny line? He’s all vast forehead and stony visage. A scene early on with a table saw is so disturbing that you can’t look at him for the rest of the movie without crying. But again, it’s not his fault. He’s been given next to nothing to work with. Arthur isn’t a filmed story so much as it is a string of skits that never made it to The Russell Brand Show. Again, not a slam. The Russell Brand Show was a funny, edgy BBC talk show that seemed always about to jump the rails until, in fact, it did.

But I digress from the task at hand, which is to anatomize a joke. At one point later in the movie, Arthur visits his sick nanny with a Darth Vader mask, instructing her to put it on and say, “Wash your winkie.” She eventually agrees, the words coming out in the voice of Darth Vader. Arthur laughs. Then his servant, Bitterman, makes a request:

      “Could you do Sammy Davis, Jr.?”

 

      Arthur’s petulant reply: “Sammy Davis, Jr. is not to do with that costume.”

 

     “I like Sammy,” Bitterman says, disconsolate.

By the way, you can see a slightly truncated version of the scene in the trailer at http://arthur.the-movie-trailer.com/.

But where, I ask you, is the funny?

A sick woman is asked to wear a silly mask. He asks her to say words she’s been saying to him since he was a small boy. I guess the first joke is meant to be the sight of the imperious nanny wearing a silly mask. And then the silly words coming out in Darth Vader’s voice. And then . . . what? What’s funny about Bitterman thinking the mask will change her voice to any he asks for? And about Arthur’s put-down? And then there’s the sadness of Bitterman’s last line. All he wanted was to hear the voice of his favorite celebrity. Could eighty-five members of cast and crew barely contain their laughter when that scene was shot? The filmmakers are very proud of it. They must be, or why did they put it in the trailer?

Of course, that depends on which trailer. Watch it on IMDB (http://www.imdb.com/video/imdb/vi2575079961/) and you’ll hear Bitterman ask instead, “Could you do, Chewie?” Is it funnier this way, with Bitterman thinking the mask can make someone sound like any voice from Star Wars instead of any voice at all? I don’t think so. I think it’s just a desperately unfunny scene. Again, not a criticism of the actor. Luis Guzmán is a versatile actor who’s great in dramas and comedies and in a variety of roles. There just isn’t enough meat on this turkey‘s bones for these fine actors to sink their teeth into.

Sidenote: when the nanny chastises Arthur for probably spending a fortune on the mask, he points out that the price was surprisingly reasonable. Is that the scent of product placement wafting on the breeze?

Well, I lied. I promised I’d anatomize a joke, but there is no joke. There are chuckles here and there, but you’ll need a Geiger counter to find them. The original Arthur wasn’t exactly a comedy classic, but the new one has nothing as funny as the least throwaway line from the original. When Dudley Moore’s Arthur announces that he’s going to take a bath, his droll servant, played by Sir John Gielgud, says, “I shall alert the media.” After thirty years, that’s a joke that still makes me laugh.

P.S.: And by the way, it’s April 23rd, so happy birthday to Mr. Bill Shakespeare, the hardest working man in show business!

Conspiracy Theorists

The Conspirator OnesheetNext, Redford, reverend sire, came footing slow, his mantle hoary and his bonnet sedge. Why must movies based on history be so reverent? They pace along in the footsteps of history so carefully it’s as if the actors are balancing books on their heads. And they are—the historical accounts of the events depicted. The first victim in such films is pacing. The story moves solemnly from point to point until the inevitable conclusion.

The first offering from Joe Ricketts’ American Film Company, The Conspirator is the story of Mary Surratt, convicted as a co-conspirator in the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Apparently, the authorities couldn’t find the son, the true conspirator, so they settled for his mother. Was she an actual co-conspirator or only the owner of the boarding house where John Wilkes Booth and his cohorts (including Surratt’s son) met? The filmmakers clearly want to leave her guilt as an open question, but Robin Wright’s performance is at once so restrained and so heartfelt that it’s hard to think of her as guilty. She accepts her fate because she doesn’t want her son to die, and so she became the first woman executed in the United States.

The company’s noble aim is interesting and laudable: make movies about historical people and events that are ruthlessly accurate, accurate to the point of hiring historians to vet the scripts, to the point of having historians serve as on-set advisors. It’s refreshing after the hash Hollywood usually makes of history. For instance, you may not realize that during the revolution in Argentina, there was a lot less singing than in Evita.

The creative team has the right pedigree. Robert Redford is an able director who knows how to get out of the story’s and the actors’ way. And the cast is excellent: Robin Wright, James McAvoy, Kevin Kline, Tom Wilkinson, Evan Rachel Wood, Colm Meaney, Danny Huston. The only soft spot in this apple is Justin Long, who’s great when he plays Justin Long, but who looks here as though he’s not capable of growing as much facial hair as the makeup department has given him and who delivers his lines with all the verve of the most talented student in the high school drama club.

But I don’t blame him. The script doesn’t give the actors enough to work with. The issue isn’t accuracy, it’s the quality of the writing. Some of the dialogue—especially in the extended courtroom scenes—is based on historical record, and it’s compelling to hear the voices of the past brought to life. But much of the rest was invented based on reasonable guesses about the characters’ experiences, motives, and feelings. It’s here where the script goes wrong. The characters make speeches instead of speaking. They don’t talk, they intone. At times, every line sounds like part of a closing argument. Stephen Root, who seems to be everywhere these days, brings the only real energy to the film. He plays John Lloyd, a witness who may or may not have been paid to give false testimony, careening from lie to lie and, when he’s called on it, reacting like a cornered dog.

The true star of this movie is the setting. Filmed in Savannah for Washington City, the movie has a look so authentic that you’d swear it was shot during the events it depicts. Gaslight flickers. Dusty sunlight pours through windows. The costumes are meticulous recreations not only of clothing from the period, but of the actual clothing worn by the principals. Mary Surratt’s dress, for instance, is modeled on the actual dress Surratt wore. Though the buildings may not be the originals (Surratt’s boarding house survives, but as a Chinese restaurant), they’re from the period and they lend more authenticity to the production than any backlot re-creation. I just wish they’d spent as much money on writers as they did on locations.

The advertising slogan for the movie is “One bullet killed the president. But not one man,” pointing to the larger conspiracy behind the assassination. For my money, it’s too tame and a bit confusing (did the bullet kill more than one man?). And it seems to indicate that Surratt was guilty. Here’s my suggestion, taken from a refrigerator magnet, which points more to the Surratt-as-scapegoat theme: “I didn’t say it was your fault. I said I was going to blame you.”
Dann

Not a Review of Sucker Punch

Sucker Punch OnesheetOne summer when I was about ten, I was called to the stage by a small-time magician known as Uncle Ted. He hosted a weekly horror movie on TV called “Uncle Ted’s Ghoul School.” Between scenes and commercials he’d do tricks, tell jokes, and invite the kids watching to come down to his magic store. The infamous Bill O’Reilly was the local news anchor back then, and he’d write jokes for Ted’s show. How the mighty have fallen.

Uncle Ted was a tall man with a big handlebar mustache who always wore a fez. He was my idol. And here he was, calling me up to the stage to help him with a trick. I was to hold a cloth bag with a handle (a little like a small butterfly net). He tucked a red scarf into the bag, helped me hold the handle tighter, and then pulled the scarf out again, only now it was bright blue. (By the way, you can see Ted do a variation on this trick in this video on Youtube.)

At the end of the trick, he turned to me. “You didn’t see any funny business. Right, kid?”

“Well, I—“

“Right? Of course not!” And all the kids in the audience broke into wild applause.

The thing is, I had seen some funny business. When he grabbed my hands to make sure I was holding the handle tightly, he twisted the handle. And I’m sure my eyes went wide when I saw a hidden cloth compartment inside the bag flip to the other side, revealing the hidden blue scarf.

Yes, I knew magic was trickery, but I thought it would be a little slicker that that.

Which brings me to the movies.

Don’t make me. Please. I’m begging you. Don’t. make. me. see. Sucker Punch. When I started this blog, I thought I’d have fun skewering bad movies and celebrating the few good ones. What better revenge on Hollywood’s theft of my ticket money than to eviscerate the offending movie? But even I have limits.

A bad movie is an act of misdirection, the kind of thing a magician does. With the right hand, he points at the left, where he’s apparently just place a quarter. In fact, the quarter is hidden in the right. But the pointing finger draws the attention away from the right. Misdirection. In movie terms, you distract the audience from the nonexistent plot by cranking up the volume of the soundtrack. Hide the low talent of the actors by never letting them speak more than a sentence or two at most. And throw in as many CGI effects as possible—a few explosions, a couple of cars flipping through the air, a robot killing machine here and there. And in the end, the hapless audience member doesn’t know where to look, eyes jittering from one corner of the screen to another. As the credits roll, he staggers out of the auditorium convinced he’s been entertained when really he’s been bamboozled. You didn’t see any funny business. Right, kid?

Sucker Punch is about a young woman who loses her mother and suffers terribly at the hands of a wicked father/stepfather/guardian. When she exacts her revenge, she’s thrown into an asylum, where more bad things happen. A woman with a fake Russian accent tells her that reality can be whatever she wills it to be. And with the help of a wise man, she sets off on a quest to free herself from the prison of reality. At least that’s the story as laid out by the trailer. Which world is real, which unreal? And who really cares?

Is it unfair to review a movie based on its trailer alone? Not when the trailer gives away the whole story, even alluding to the “surprise” ending. And besides, check the title of this piece again.

At one point in the movie—or at least in the trailer—our hero, Baby Doll, drops from a great height, only to land kneeling on one knee, on pavement . . . that cracks from the force of her landing. She looks up calmly, ready to do battle. What are this woman’s knees made of—Titanium? I’m so tired of this cliché. The first time I saw it, Wesley Snipes was doing the one-knee landing, in Blade. I was impressed. Since then, it’s been done to death. I’m putting Hollywood on notice now: find a new way for the hero to make an entrance. OK? Don’t make me come out there.

What else does Sucker Punch give you? Vast animated cityscapes of destruction, monsters, robots, a mish-mash of historical periods, winged creatures . . . in other words, the usual nonsense, though more of it. The real stars of such movies aren’t the actors or the story; they’re the animators. At this point in movie history, they must be recycling the same code. What else would explain the number of times we’re made to watch the one-knee landing in movies like this?

Shouldn’t movies tell you something about the world? About the challenges of living? And since when do those challenges include a seventy-foot-tall samurai warrior? Maybe I just don’t live in a tough enough neighborhood.

Years after I shared the stage for that one brief moment with Uncle Ted, I was in a play with him. He was cast as my father. We had a long rehearsal period. Whenever Ted wasn’t on stage, he was up the street at the bar. It became my job to run up and drag him back in time for his next entrance. After weeks of this, one night when I was about to vault up the street to the bar, the director held up her hand and said, “Don’t bother.” From then on, another actor played my father. He was great. The play went off without a hitch. But from time to time, I can’t help thinking of Uncle Ted hunched over his beer in the dark of the North End Tavern, wondering where the magic went.

When I consider the endless reel of crap that comes out of Hollywood, I wonder, too.

P.S. Hats off for the late, lamented Sidney Lumet.

La Femme Hanna

Hanna OnesheetI once had coffee in the home of a former Israeli soldier, watching as he held his infant son against the drapes, near the top. When the baby reached out and gripped the curtains, his father let go. The baby clung there, his eyes wide with panic. When I asked the man what he thought he was doing, he said, “He needs to learn to be tough.” He left the baby clinging to the curtains for another few seconds that felt more like an hour.

That’s the kind of parenting I can imagine Eric Bana’s character giving his daughter in Hanna, a smart action-thriller from Joe Wright, the director of—wait, there must be some mistake!–Pride and Prejudice and Atonement. Maybe this is what you get when you have a director of complex, richly-layered films address a genre like this, a film where even the most minor characters seem real.

Hanna is home-schooled with a vengeance, literally. She’s raised by a former spy to be a warrior with a very specific purpose. When the time is right, she proves that she’s ready, and each departs separately from their ice-bound cabin in the North, only to meet up when the mission is complete. Cate Blanchett is the mission, a woman who may or may not be Hanna’s mother and who has a relentless desire to see both the former spy and Hanna killed.

The plot uncoils with the requisite revelation of secrets and surprises and plenty of chase scenes, killings, and hand-to-hand combat. Saoirse Ronan, who plays Hanna, fights well-muscled thugs who are two feet taller. But somehow she makes the fights seem real, a testament to her acting chops and Joe Wright’s solid directing.

But Hanna is about more than its well-choreographed action scenes. It calls to mind La Femme Nikita, another story of a young woman kept in isolation, where she’s trained to be a killer. Visually, it’s a highly stylized updating of the kinds of tales you read in The Brothers Grimm, to which the film often alludes. In the mother-daughter clash that is the film’s essence, it’s a retelling of Electra.

Cate Blanchett plays the villain so coldly that you expect to see ice crystals in her eyebrows. The role’s a type. There isn’t much for her to sink her teeth into, but she has plenty of fun with it. Eric Bana brings his patented brand of intensity to bear on the role of the former spy who’s driven by a father’s love and a healthy appetite for vengeance. Among the other stand-out performances is Tom Hollander’s. He plays Isaacs, Blanchett’s cats-paw, who never met a person he didn’t want to kill. In what must be a deliberate homage to Fritz Lang’s M, he whistles when he’s at his most dangerous.

Even the minor characters have a richness you almost never see in action-thrillers. In a desert interlude, Hanna joins a British family on holiday. And though the audience is given little or no exposition about them, each member of the family—husband, wife, and two children—feels as if he or she has walked straight out of life and into the movie. Olivia Williams is especially good as an aging hippie who is all for independence, not realizing how independent their temporary travel companion really is. Jessica Barden has a nice turn as the precocious daughter who befriends Hanna. Later, when the travelers think Hanna has moved on, she’s actually hiding in a storage compartment in their van, watching them through a hand-hold. The scene makes you think of Frankenstein’s monster hiding in the woodcutter’s cottage, watching through a chink in the wall in order to learn how real human beings behave.

At one point, her new friend says, “I don’t really know who you are.”

“That’s just it,” Hanna replies. “Neither do I.”

With pale blond pre-Raphaelite curls, Hanna has the soft blank face of someone who’s been kept away from the world, a hothouse flower. Despite all her training, Hanna is still a child, still human. As soon as she’s away from her father, she begins to experience, not feelings themselves, but the tremor of feelings, like half-heard music from another room—love, affection, friendship, and the desire for something more than vengeance. She invites a boy to kiss her, only to throw him to the ground when he tries. When she leaves him lying there stunned, she says, “It was fun.” Music undoes her, especially the vacationing family laughing and singing together. But true to the genre, neither she nor the filmmaker will allow those feelings to get in the way of some good old-fashioned punching, kicking, flipping, shooting, and strangling.

Brief aside. Speaking of music, the score, by The Chemical Brothers, hits just the right blend of hard-driving, drum-driven techno for the action scenes, alternating with a warped music-box tinkle to underscore the twisted fairy-tale quality of the story.

Most movies of this kind are filled with meaningless action (think Sucker Punch). This one is filled with meaningful action—action that’s a direct outgrowth of character, plot, and theme. A good action-thriller should be about something outside itself, not just the central action but the world outside that action. It’s one reason Hitchcock was so good. The Birds is not only about the attack of the birds but about the community that’s under attack. Hanna is about family ties—the ties that bind and the ties that cut off the circulation.

What’s next for Hanna? I have a feeling her long-lost sister, Lisbeth Salander, may be looking for a roommate.

Jake Gyllenhaal — Time’s Yo-Yo

Source Code OnesheetHave you noticed that Jake Gyllenhaal always has the tiniest of smirks in the corner of his mouth, no matter how serious, tragic, or life-threatening the scene he’s playing? It’s as if he can’t forget that the camera’s on him, as if he’s saying to himself, “I’m in a movie! This is so cool!” If you’re not convinced, see Source Code, a capable thriller where the only time he loses that tiny smirk is when they use an animatronic version of his head and body. At least I think it’s animatronic. If it’s not, I have a message for you, Jake: “Stop dieting! You’re thinning out way too much!” Watch the movie—you’ll see what I mean.

One of the great problems with many science fiction movies is the amount of time and attention given to explanations about how the future—or the alternate reality—works. I’m a big fan of the first Matrix, but remember that drawing room scene early on, in which Laurence Fishburne’s character explains the nature of the Matrix to Keanu Reeves? It’s endless and terrifically boring. The only active thing in that scene is the camera, as the Wachowskis sail it around the room Fincher-style in order to give the impression that more is going on than actually is. And in the sequels, that tendency to explain, to pontificate—that effort at what Anton Chekhov called “philo-wisdomizing”—just grew and grew, which is why the sequels never did as well as the original.

But one of the things that makes Source Code a better-than-average sci-fi thriller is the absence of all that explanation. The movie starts in the middle of things. (Didn’t some ancient smarty-pants once recommend that?) Our man Jake is sucked out of a terrible train crash only to appear in a dingy capsule that looks like the inside of a giant’s crumpled-up TV dinner tray. From a monitor, Vera Farmiga takes the dazed Jake through a sequence of mental tests meant to bring him back to full (but not too full) awareness.

It turns out that scientists have found a way to send a person back in time, but for just eight minutes a pop. A terrorist has bombed a Chicago commuter train, just the first of many planned bombings. The scientists hope that injecting Jake into the past just before the bombing, will allow him to discover the bomber’s identity, making it easier to catch him. And by the time we join the story, they’ve been sending poor Jake to the past for two long, unsuccessful months already. It’s Groundhog Day with terrorists.

Yes, it’s a time-travel movie, the most shop-worn tool in the sci-fi writer’s toolkit. But with a difference. This time out, the plan is not to alter the past, only to get information in order to avoid the future (the planned bombings).

On second thought, maybe that Jake-smirk is important to the plot, which depends on our hero learning a devastating truth about his condition and doing the right thing anyway. That little fishhook smile is a good indicator of a character who hears the worst news, adjusts, and carries on. There are secrets within secrets in this movie, and the success of the high-tech project at its center depends on Jake not-knowing how things work. That’s an original touch. Yes, secrets slip out in well-timed moments of revelation, but even then, the point is not the revelation itself but how the character responds to it. Even so, scary-good actors of his generation like Ryan Gosling and Ben Foster have nothing to fear from our man Jake in the talent department.

Another nice turn in the genre is the casting of the mad scientist behind it all: Jeffrey Wright is more natty than nutty, spending more time on his hair than on threatening our hero. And Michael Arden plays the terrorist as a smug, self-satisfied nerd, not the wild-eyed fanatic we expect. The effect is chilling. And the talented Vera Farmiga turns a role that could have been nothing but a face on a monitor into something much more. With little more than her eyes and facial muscles, she conveys the changing awareness and sympathy of her character. Michelle Monaghan plays the love-interest whose eager for Jake’s character to ask her out. She’s never too bothered that he’s constantly distracted as he tries to find the bomber and his bomb in eight-minute snatches. Hint to the lovelorn: if the guy on the train spends all his time beating up fellow passengers, yanking their bags out of their hands, and digging around in air ducts and behind security panels, he’s probably not the right guy for you.

Source Code is a far cry from The Matrix, Blade Runner, and even Groundhog Day, but you won’t leave the theater wishing you could go back in time to retrieve your ten dollars.

Your Intergalactic Dudeness

Paul OnesheetHas anyone seen my sense of humor? It was here a minute ago. I must have lost it. What else would explain how I sat stone-faced through Paul. Not a laugh, not a chuckle, not a titter. I smiled once, when Blythe Danner delivers a line to Sigourney Weaver that Weaver first delivered in Aliens, one of several homages to science fiction movies. But that was it.

I don’t really think my sense of humor has gone missing. I think, once again, that Hollywood has failed to bring the funny. Paul just never gives you anything much to laugh at. Simon Pegg and Nick Frost specialize in movies that have great central ideas (Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz) but then fall apart in the execution. Here two vacationing sci-fi fanatics from England visit the locations of UFO sightings, when they run into an actual alien, a dope-smoking, obscenity-spouting pop culture addict. In other words, Seth Rogen. It’s a joke that lasts for about as long as the trailer, but at 104 minutes, the joke wears awfully thin awfully fast.

According to the story, Paul is the alien who crash-landed at Area 51 way back when. Since then, he’s been advising everyone from Washington, D.C. to Hollywood. Now his captors are finished with him and want to turn his brain into a tray full of heavy apps. Enter our heroes, who try to help him escape. Not funny, right? In fact, it sounds more like a standard science-fiction action thriller. Question: does the concept have to be funny in order for the movie to be funny? Maybe not. Mars Needs Moms is one of the funniest concepts/titles I’ve heard in a long time, but it isn’t enough, I guess, if the box office is any measure.

So funny must come from the execution, right? We’ve had threatening aliens (War of the Worlds, Alien). We’ve had lovable aliens (ET and, well, ET). We’ve even had straight-faced, no-nonsense aliens (The Day the Earth Stood Still, John Kerry). We’ve even had funny aliens (Men in Black), so why isn’t Paul funny? After all, he looks like a hydrocephalic lizard with the pallor of that leftover chicken leg in the back of the refrigerator. That’s funny, right? And he sounds like a cross between that roommate you never should have let in the door and Jeff Bridges in full Dude-mode. Isn’t that funny? Paul spends a lot of time trying to maintain his buzz, swearing, scratching his privates. He consumes coffee and bagels, cigarettes, pot, live birds, and Reese’s Pieces. But these details never rise above the mildly amusing. He does have at least one good rant. He hates it when Earthlings assume he’s going to anal probe them, and I’m with him on this. I’ve always wondered how it is that an alien life-form can supposedly travel clear across the universe and remain virtually undetected, but their most sophisticated method for examining human life is the anal probe. Really? I mean, really?

And doesn’t context count when it comes to funny? At one point, the house owned by Blythe Danner’s character is blown to bits, killing one of the inept and unknowing government agents chasing Paul. A person has died. but as our heroes drive away, Blythe Danner’s character looks back at the destruction and moans, “My weed!” Maybe the discovery that an older woman is a pothead could be mildly amusing . . . to a twelve-year-old. (Hint to the young: her generation invented weed!)

Maybe the funniest moment, given away in the trailer, happens when Paul revives a dead bird, only to eat it. When his new friends cringe and groan, he says, “What? I wasn’t going to eat a dead bird!” But we’ve seen it too many times to laugh. And anyway, very quickly the theme-machine gets trundled in. “Have you ever fixed a dead person?” Simon Pegg’s character asks. And the big-headed, thin-lipped green guy replies, “Oh no, it could bounce back on me. Very dangerous.” And of course, you know, by movie’s end, our friendly alien will be called on to face that challenge.

Why is Paul so unfunny? Maybe because aliens who are comfortable among us Earthlings, steeped in our culture and caught up in our vices, are only funny for a minute, whereas aliens for whom all of this is new are funny minute-by-minute Think Jeff Bridges in Starman. Think Jerry Lewis in Visit to a Small Planet.

Jason Bateman does a good Tommy Lee Jones impression, but is forced by the script to hide his comic talent and timing. Kristen Wiig has a few moments as a Bible-thumper who swears in imaginative ways, calling a couple of threatening good-old-boys “You vaginas!” But that joke wears thin, too. Stephen Spielberg has a nice cameo. And Jeffrey Tambor has a good turn as a self-important science-fiction novelist who can’t stand his fans. And Jane Lynch has a couple of brief shining moments with her patented brand of sardonic, slightly mean-spirited, slightly suggestive off-the-wallery. Does she bring her own writer to these gigs, or does she make this stuff up? Sadly, even the talents of Wiig, Tambor, and Lynch aren’t enough to revive this dead bird.