12 Burgers is named after its signature burger, which comes with 12 toppings: bacon, cheese, avocado, sauteed onions, mushrooms, bell peppers, pickles, jalapeños, lettuce, tomato, Thousand Island dressing and mustard. Personally, I think that's a pretty dumb name because I wouldn't count Thousand Island and mustard as toppings. (I'd make up some weird word to call them like, I dunno—condiments.) But I'm a dick. At least they didn't name it something really stupid, like Mooyah or Rusty Taco.
Most of the burgers on the menu are priced at around five bucks, but if you want to make your meal into a combo (with fries and a drink) it's $2.75 extra. They have several interesting specialty burgers to choose from, which I find comforting at a Mom & Pop burger place. I like the fact that here, they'll put pineapple on a burger if you want it. They'll throw some chili on there. It's not just the usual tomato, lettuce, onion—unless, of course, that's what you want.
It took me a while to choose my own burger adventure. The 12 Burger was very appealing, but I'm not a big fan of bell peppers on my burger. And something about ordering a 12 Burger with only 11 toppings seemed like it might cause a glitch in the matrix, so I narrowed my choices to only burgers with jalapeños. That left me with the Devil Burger (topped with Frank's Red Hot sauce, grilled jalapeños, grilled onions and Swiss cheese) and the Crispy Jalapeños Burger (crispy jalapeños, American cheese, lettuce, tomato, Thousand Island dressing).
Eventually, I went with the Devil Burger. I made it a combo and got out of there paying just $8.88. And I have to give the devil props. (Easy now, I'm talking about the Devil Burger, not the actual devil. You can't give that guy props. Let's not forget, he's the a-hole who invented jeggings.) The burger was super tasty. Part of the reason: 12 Burgers makes your burger fresh right after you order. No frozen patties, just Angus beef slapped on the grill as soon as you ask for it. The other reason it was super tasty: The chef was gloriously un-stingy and hooked me up with a mountain of grilled jalapeños and gallons of Frank's Red Hot. My face. Lit. On Fire. Yum.
Other people besides James Franco appear in 127 Hours, but as they're unimportant, they will not be mentioned in this review. Danny Boyle's film—based on the story of Aron Ralston, who in 2003 cut off his own arm after being stuck for five days under a rock in a Utah canyon—is a one-man show. Watch what Franco—actor/sleepy grad student/tepid writer/sometimes-funny viral video comedian/unsurprising conceptual artist/enthusiastic scholar of queer theory/aficionado of gender fuckery—can accomplish when he actually focuses for a couple of weeks.
Once the boulder drops, about 20 minutes into the movie, and the title appears on the screen like a punch line, we're stuck in that canyon with Franco. We're as dependent on him for our moviegoing survival as Ralston is on his dwindling supply of water. At first, this means enduring long sequences of frantic failure, as he tries to lift the boulder, push the boulder, pull himself free, straining mightily the whole time. So unbearable is his futility that when Ralston manages the small triumph of picking up a dropped knife with a twig, Franco's exultant "Sweet!" is both mordantly funny and legitimately inspiring.
That scene is emblematic of much of 127 Hours, which, for most of its middle section, is a portrait of American ingenuity, with Franco's likable, practical performance at its heart. He'll get to the arm-sawing, sure, but first, Ralston—once an engineer—devises clever systems of survival and, he hopes, mechanisms of freedom. Soon, he's assembled a complicated pulley system with which he hopes to pull the boulder off himself. All the while, Ralston narrates his predicament into the video camera he's brought along, a filmmaking device that seems awfully blunt at first but becomes a fascinating window into how a smart, funny, non-action-hero guy might behave as he tries to think his way out of a catastrophe.
Soon enough, we're navigating through Ralston's head, and the descent into thirsty delirium begins. "Don't lose it," he commands himself, but he does, and his hallucinations and memories are visceral and affecting. The glimpses of his past build an impressionistic picture of a young man so devoted to the pursuit of experience that he has left human connection behind. He built his life in solitary, and, having never bothered to tell anyone where he was going, is paying the price now.
As Boyle's film flits from the real world to the world of dreams and delusions, so Franco's performance transforms, encompassing both universes. In the film's final act, he's a man in the throes of panic, dying of thirst but dreaming of drowning. When the time comes for his final stab at freedom, he summons not just the courage and physical strength to saw off his arm, but also the last vestiges of his practical former self to work out just how to do it.
About that sequence: It's kind of amazing. It is really gory and funny and compelling. Despite including several horrible steps you probably haven't even imagined, it's over quick—but you'd be excused for thinking it takes forever.
The image that will stick with you, though, is not the dull blade slicing through flesh, but James Franco, eyes wild, slippery knife held firm in his mouth as he tightens his tourniquet. It's a vision of ecstatic violence that brought to my mind, with equal parts sadness and excitement, Heath Ledger as the Joker. With this smartly chosen, intuitively delivered performance, Franco is assuming the role previously filled by that risk-taking actor.
And it's fitting, and fascinating, that it's this movie that will likely earn Franco movie-star status. The film that may turn him once and for all into an unapproachable celebrity, is itself a passionate, bloody argument for engagement with the world.
Cop Out establishes its movie lineage right away, with a slow-motion toe-to-head tilt up, set to The Beastie Boys' "No Sleep Till Brooklyn," of black-cop/white-cop buddies Jimmy and Paul swaggering stone-faced toward the camera. Director/editor Kevin Smith immortalizes his heroes as stock crime-flick badasses in their very first frame.
So far, so middling—until Smith complicates matters by following that shot with an opening sequence that sends Cop Out swerving into smarter territory: Determined to prove his bad-cop "acting" chops to a skeptical Jimmy (Bruce Willis), Paul (Tracy Morgan) interrogates a perp by subjecting him to an unrelenting marathon of movie character impersonations. Beginning with Al Pacino in Heat and moving, logically, through In the Heat of the Night and Training Day, Paul's "homage" (which he pronounces "homm-ige") eventually jumps off the rails. Jimmy, on the other side of the interrogation-room glass, can only gape at his partner's increasingly non sequitur charade: "Dirty Dancing? Star Wars? Everything on cable?"
And so Cop Out announces itself as both loving "homage" to "everything on cable"—particularly '80s action comedies, referenced most directly by Harold Faltermeyer's cheap synth score and an honest-to-goodness plot song (called "Soul Brothers" and sung by Patti LaBelle)—and a sly subversion of genre. It's a movie that shamelessly traffics in the clichés of other cop movies, while also engaging both characters and audience in the spectator sport of catching references to those very movies. Cop Out only works as well as it does—and it works exponentially better than it should—because the movie-trivia game is played smirk-free.
Jimmy, a swinging-dick career NYPD cop threatened by his ex-wife's young, rich new husband (Jason Lee), tries to sell a priceless, long-treasured baseball card so he can pick up the tab for his daughter's wedding. That plan immediately goes horribly awry, thanks to interventions from Seann William Scott as a parkour-practicing thief, and the scene-swiping Guillermo Diaz as a textbook Mexican movie gangster with an atypical baseball obsession. Jimmy and Paul have no choice but to Break All the Rules.
The plot is almost an afterthought, an obvious MacGuffin intended to steamroll a path for the charisma and chemistry of the two leads. Morgan has been brutally undervalued for his work on the NBC series 30 Rock, possibly because it's assumed that the incorrigible comedian he plays is just a riff on himself. In Cop Out, unchained from the temporal constraints and standards and practices of network TV and, according to the press notes, given free rein to improvise, Morgan of course works broad and blue, but he really surprises with his timing and self-control. There are comic set pieces in Cop Out that play out at a snail's pace, turning awkward and uncomfortable for long stretches in order to build toward a big funny, and Morgan not only hangs on, but steers. Willis' main order of business is to stay cool and look good, and this he does well.
Like most of Smith's movies, from Clerks to Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back to Zack and Miri Make a Porno, Cop Out tracks a small arc of maturation for dudes who filter their own lives through popular culture. There was a sincere love letter to the transformative power of filmmaking baked into Porno, but its impact was diluted by what felt like strained overtures to the Apatow audience. On the contrary, Cop Out works as a love letter to film fandom, and its strength is its sincerity. Working with a full-on studio budget for the first time in his decade-and-a-half career, Smith is still making movies about guys just like him. It may be masturbatory, but it's also some kind of creative integrity.
"We are not these people! We are a boring couple from New Jersey!" complains Claire Foster (Tina Fey) to her husband, Phil (Steve Carell), about halfway through Date Night, the latest high-gloss, middle-to-low-brow would-be blockbuster from director Shawn Levy (Cheaper by the Dozen, Just Married). Phil and Claire are middle-class, suburban parents whose plans for a night on the town are thwarted when they're pulled into a web of crime and conspiracy after stealing a dinner reservation from a pair of shifty Lower East Side hipsters (James Franco and Mila Kunis). Having learned that two friends are getting a divorce, Claire and Phil spend much of their wild night bickering about whether or not their own marriage is in trouble—while at the same time committing grand theft auto and evading bad lieutenants. They wanted a night off from mundane matrimony and got it. A few celebrity cameos and 88 minutes of contrived set pieces later, they learn that they're better off bored.
Carell and Fey are, certainly, not these people. This is a mass-market comedy starring actors who generally don't do mass—the leads each have their own sitcom, but The Office and 30 Rock play to specialized audiences. Fey, particularly, has become associated with comedy that's fast-paced, cerebral and laden with cultural references; even more than Carell, she's hurt by the transition from her super-nerd TV role on a show that regularly operates on multiple levels to a film squarely aimed just north of the lowest common denominator.
Phil and Claire are apparently the only "boring couple" left in a tristate area full of dirty cops, extorting baby sitters and sexual deviants. (Mark Wahlberg plays a "security expert" whose permanent shirtlessness sends the repressed Phil into conniptions; a politician's outsize sexual appetites are the catalyst for the film's final absurd plot twist.) There are moments—particularly when Levy switches to a handheld, quasi-Greengrass in-the-shit-cam—when it seems like Date Night could be aiming for a comic indictment of American paranoia. But Levy, the auteur behind the Night at the Museum franchise, glosses over the seeds of social satire inherent in the premise and instead tries to make his movie all things to all quadrants—straight-faced violent action flick, slapstick comedy, relationship comedy, sanctimonious ode to family values. Date Night bears the Frankenstein scars of a script that's been rewritten to death and brought back to life (Josh Klausner has the official screenplay credit). It also bears the distinct ellipses of R-rated material shaved down to a PG-13, the process diluting each individual scene.
Within its jumble of genres, tones and styles, Date Night ultimately strains to be a serious movie about marriage, aiming to convince us that Carell and Fey's romantic compatibility is not to be laughed at. That this fails miserably is in large part due to the pair's total lack of chemistry (at one point, husband invites wife to sit next to him in a diner booth, and when Fey shuffles over to Carell, her body language broadcasts not "attraction," but "contractual obligation"), but also because of Date Night's romantic philosophy.
Between the explosion of bromance (movies that pull back from the couple to focus on male friendships with the potential to thwart or strangle the union—essentially suggesting that every relationship contains more than two people) and the increased emphasis on tragedy (Brokeback Mountain, every Nicholas Sparks movie) and/or taboo (Brokeback Mountain, pretty much every Nancy Meyers movie) in romantic films, it's notable that Date Night sincerely endorses square marriage, caveat-free and with functionality its primary virtue. It might be novel if it weren't so boring.
The Hollywood movies that have most successfully advocated for marriage, such as the comedies of remarriage of the 1930s and '40s, have presented this most conventional construct as the thrilling, unsafe option. There's danger in the relationships of films like The Awful Truth or The Philadelphia Story, because they acknowledge that the coupling has failed at least once, and could easily fail again. And that keeps things interesting.
Date Night doesn't dare deal with such danger. In one of its weakest running jokes, Carell and Fey are preoccupied with getting their "married-people stuff together," even when their lives are at risk—such as when they sit in a stolen sports car, batting around the question of their co-dependency. The joke is that, even when surrounded by excitement, Claire and Phil revert to being dull; in practice, their dullness is just dull. In a great romantic comedy, sex is the subtext of all conversation. In Date Night, the conversation is bland, the sex is left mainly to spies and criminals, and the subtext? That's apparently too much to ask of a boring couple from New Jersey.