Keri Russell in Cocaine Bear (Photo: Universal)

By Matt Brunson

(View From The Couch is a weekly column that reviews what’s new on Blu-ray, 4K and DVD. Ratings are on a four-star scale.)

The Big Bus (Photo: Kino & Paramount)

THE BIG BUS (1976). With opening text that references Earthquake, The Poseidon Adventure, The Towering Inferno, and The Hindenburg, The Big Bus sets itself up as the end-all and be-all of disaster-movie spoofs. Alas, it’s a mediocrity in every way — thankfully for filmgoers, Airplane! was right around the corner, hitting theaters (and funny bones) four years later. The titular vehicle is a nuclear-powered behemoth making its maiden voyage from New York to Denver — the driver (Joseph Bologna) is a burnout suspected of once eating his passengers to survive, the bus designer (Stockard Channing) is his former flame, and the co-driver (John Beck) has a tendency to pass out while behind the wheel. Among the passengers are a bickering couple (Richard Mulligan and Sally Kellerman) on the verge of divorcing, a priest (Rene Auberjonois) who has lost his faith, and the requisite little old lady (Ruth Gordon). All of the stock characters and established clichés are in place and ready to be ribbed, but the gags are hit-and-mostly-miss, and, with the minor exception of Murphy Dunne as an obnoxious lounge singer, nobody is remotely funny. The greatest element of this movie isn’t even on the screen — it’s the glorious poster art (reproduced on the Blu-ray cover) by Mad’s Jack Davis.

Blu-ray extras consist of film historian audio commentary; TV spots; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for other films on the Kino label.

Movie: ★★

Aaron Holliday and O’Shea Jackson Jr. in Cocaine Bear (Photo: Universal)

COCAINE BEAR (2023). In 1985, a black bear ate some cocaine and fatally overdosed. That’s hardly enough of a story to pack ‘em in, so writer Jimmy Warden embellished (to put it mildly) this true-life incident by adding lots of diverse characters and lots of gruesome deaths. The result is Cocaine Bear, a deliberately campy outing that provides some moments of mirth but can’t sustain itself for the entirety of its 95 minutes. Set in a Georgia state park, it centers on the various folks who come into contact with a bear that has ingested sizable amounts of misplaced coke. Drug lord Syd White (the late Ray Liotta) wants his drugs back, so he sends an underling (O’Shea Jackson Jr.) and his own son (Alden Ehrenreich) to fetch it — others who converge on the forest that’s housing the homicidal and drug-crazed bear include a mom (Keri Russell) looking for her young daughter (The Florida Project’s Brooklynn Prince), a surly park ranger (Margo Martindale), and a detective (Isiah Whitlock Jr.) out to nail Syd. A movie called Cocaine Bear should not go easy on the outrageousness, but after a promising start, the film settles into a comfortable and safe groove, steering away from the wild antics of its leading mammal and toward banal developments among its human players — with a critter on the rampage, do we really want to spend time with a plucky mom trying to save her kid, or a cop engaging in a gun battle with some Tarantino-lite crooks?

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director Elizabeth Banks; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; and a gag reel.

Movie: ★★½

John Barrymore in Counsellor at Law (Photo: Kino)

COUNSELLOR AT LAW (1933). There are many reasons why William Wyler is considered one of the all-time great film directors — for starters, he holds the record for the most Oscar nominations in that category with 12, winning thrice for Mrs. Miniver, The Best Years of Our Lives, and Ben-Hur — and Counsellor at Law shows at least one example why. Wyler’s film moves at such sound-barrier-breaking speed that it’s not only easy to forget that it’s based on a play (by Elmer Rice, who also wrote the screenplay) but that it takes places entirely in one spot, a law office located in the Empire State Building. John Barrymore is excellent as George Simon, a successful attorney facing peril on both the personal and professional fronts: A past legal misdeed done for a noble reason stands to get him disbarred, while his snobbish wife (Doris Kenyon) is considering running off to Europe with another man (Melvyn Douglas). A few overly melodramatic moments are no match for the array of interesting characters and the rat-tat-tat dialogue. Three years later, Wyler would focus even more intently on a similarly splintering marriage in the masterful Dodsworth.

Blu-ray extras consist of audio commentary by Wyler’s daughter, Catherine Wyler, and film historian Daniel Kramer, and trailers for four other Kino titles directed by Wyler (including Detective Story and The Big Country, both aces).

Movie: ★★★½

Jack Black in Envy (Photo: Shout! Factory)

ENVY (2004). Envy is a steaming pile of celluloid crap. Pardon the coarse language, but the excrement reference is entirely appropriate, given that the plot concerns itself with a loudmouth named Nick (Jack Black) who invents Vapoorize, a spray that magically makes dog doo disappear into thin air. His creation turns him into a millionaire, a development that vexes his best friend Tim (Ben Stiller) since the latter had passed on the opportunity to invest in the venture when it was still in the planning stages. Now torn apart by jealousy, Tim foolishly takes guidance from the J-Man (Christopher Walken), a drifter whose suggestions invariably backfire and make matters worse. Barry Levinson, an accomplished Oscar-winning director (Rain Man), can do absolutely nothing with the perfectly dreadful script by screen newcomer Steve Adams (formerly of TV’s Fridays). Initially, the movie tries its hand at black comedy, but there’s no edge to any of the scenes. Then it tries to mimic the Farrellys by tossing a dead horse into the proceedings (don’t ask), but this subplot goes on forever and yields a minimal return on investment. Finally, everybody simply seems to run out of ideas, and the picture limps its way toward a conclusion that’s even more poorly realized than everything that had preceded it. Stiller, Black, and Walken couldn’t Vapoorize this movie from their resumes fast enough.

Blu-ray extras include a still gallery and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★

Salma Hayek Pinault and Channing Tatum in Magic Mike’s Last Dance (Photo: Warner)

MAGIC MIKE’S LAST DANCE (2023). If 2012’s Magic Mike had too much plot and 2015’s Magic Mike XXL had too little plot, then Magic Mike’s Last Dance follows the lead of Goldilocks’ Baby Bear and offers just the right amount of plot. It’s just a shame it isn’t stronger material, thereby resulting in the weakest picture in the trilogy. That’s not to say there still isn’t a fair amount to enjoy, as Mike Lane (returning star Channing Tatum), who considers himself retired from the stripper life, agrees to accompany the wealthy Maxandra Mendoza (Salma Hayek Pinault) to London in order to revamp a moldy and sexist stage play into something modern and sexy. Yes, it’s the old “Hey, kids, let’s put on a show!” routine, and even the contemporary trappings can’t camouflage the unbending nature of this template (auditions! conflicts! setbacks! triumphs!). What gives the movie its power is, as before, Tatum, who once again excels as Mike. While his character’s camaraderie with his fellow strippers (a major component of the first two pictures) is missed — former co-stars like Joe Manganiello and Kevin Nash are relegated to a Zoom call for a solitary scene — he establishes a nice romantic rapport with Hayek Pinault and effortlessly mixes it up with those filling out key supporting roles. The strong sense of equal-opportunity female empowerment also returns, nicely serviced during the closing numbers.

Blu-ray extras consist of a making-of piece and a deleted scene.

Movie: ★★½

Audie Murphy and Michael Redgrave in The Quiet American (Photo: Sandpiper)

THE QUIET AMERICAN (1958). Director Phillip Noyce’s 2002 adaptation of Graham Greene’s novel features a performance by Michael Caine that can only be described as a thing of beauty. (Caine deserved to win the Oscar but had to settle for the nomination, bested by The Pianist’s Adrien Brody.) There’s nothing quite as remarkable in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s 1958 version, although that’s not meant to disparage Michael Redgrave: The actor is typically excellent in the role later shared by Caine, and he’s indeed the best thing about a thematically compromised piece. The fault with this adaptation comes down to the times. Greene’s novel is a blistering indictment of American interference in foreign affairs, but since that wouldn’t wash in the 1950s, the film version does an awkward 180 and emerges as an unconvincing piece of simplistic jingoism. Redgrave commands the screen as a British journalist living in Saigon and involved with a young Vietnamese beauty (Giorgia Moll), but Audie Murphy delivers a stiff performance as the title character, the earnest Yank who (according to this interpretation) is no longer the problem but rather the solution. It’s no wonder Grahame was offended by this picture, although those not bothered by the bastardization should enjoy Mankiewicz’s ability to capture and sustain an aura of political and social unrest.

There are no Blu-ray extras.

Movie: ★★½

Lori Loughlin and Kelly Preston in Secret Admirer (Photo: Kino & MGM)

SECRET ADMIRER (1985). When high school student Michael (C. Thomas Howell) receives an anonymous love letter, he assumes (hopes) it’s from the girl of his dreams, the blonde beauty Deborah Anne (Kelly Preston). It’s actually from his brainy best friend Toni (Lori Loughlin, absurdly playing the “plain” girl), who, for reasons unknown, pines away for this clod. Toni goes the Cyrano route and writes letters to Deborah as if they’re from Michael, and then is somehow shocked and jealous when Deborah falls for Michael based on these scribblings. And so it goes in this often idiotic comedy that’s largely saved by its interlocked plot thread: These unsigned letters end up in the hands of Michael’s parents (Dee Wallace Stone and Cliff De Young) and Deborah’s parents (Fred Ward and Leigh Taylor-Young), and soon the adults are suspecting each other of infidelity. Despite its standing as an ‘80s teen sex comedy, it’s rather tame when it comes to the expected nudity and raunch (a couple of minor cuts and it could have been a PG-13 rather than an R) — at any rate, the movie is more interesting when it hangs out with the adults rather than the kids, with a grouchy Ward swiping the show from all concerned.

Blu-ray extras include audio commentary by director David Greenwalt, co-writer Jim Kouf, and associate producer Lynn Kouf; radio spots; and the theatrical trailer.

Movie: ★★½

Bob Hope and Martha Raye in Never Say Die (Photo: Kino)

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY (1938) / NEVER SAY DIE (1939). Hope — Bob Hope — springs eternal at the Kino Studio Classics label, as the outfit has now released approximately half of the approximately 50 movies the comic actor headlined. Here are two of his earliest pictures making their Blu debuts.

Hope made his feature film debut in The Big Broadcast of 1938, a commercial hit that introduced his signature song, the Oscar-winning “Thanks for the Memory.” Hoping to quickly cash in on its success, the studio was back nine months later with Thanks for the Memory, which reunited Hope with his Broadcast co-star Shirley Ross in a stilted comedy about a couple who try to stop their partying ways long enough for him to finish his novel. The humor is often more grating than funny, although the badly dated material (the stay-at-home author finds his masculinity threatened by his working wife) may draw some chuckles … or groans … from modern audiences.

A better bet for sustained laughs is Never Say Die, even if it does dry up for a mid-movie stretch. Erroneously informed that he only has a month to live, millionaire John Kidley (Hope) tries to keep away from a conniving widow (Gale Sondegaard) whose two husbands died under mysterious circumstances and who’s after Kidley’s fortune. Seeking to thwart her, he quickly weds the sweet Mickey (Martha Raye), who’s similarly running away from an undesirable marriage. The script (co-written by Preston Sturges) packs most of its laughs in the first act, with the movie dipping with the arrival of a tiresome rube (Andy Devine). The climax involving a duel and some confusing wordplay is lively, but this routine would later be polished to perfection in the 1956 Danny Kaye classic The Court Jester.

Extras on each Blu-ray release (sold separately) consist of film historian audio commentary; the theatrical trailer; and trailers for 15 other Hope flicks offered by Kino (including a couple of faves, 1940’s The Ghost Breakers and 1941’s Nothing But the Truth).

Thanks for the Memory: ★★

Never Say Die: ★★½


Review links for movies referenced in this column (all links open in new window):
The Big Country
The Court Jester
Detective Story
The Florida Project
The Ghost Breakers
Magic Mike
Magic Mike XXL
Nothing But the Truth

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