Sometimes, you keep adding photos to top of a review just to avoid having to write it.
Because I’ve been a fan of Judd Apatow, and I just knew his turn towards indulgent, overlong, nepotism-laced “comedies” in recent years wasn’t going to be helped by giving him Netflix money, casting control and final cut.
“The Bubble” is a bad movie about making a bad franchise movie in the middle of the COVID pandemic. Cast and a skeletal crew assemble in a British hotel and assorted green screen soundstages to quarantine, go stir crazy and film “Cliff Beast 6.”
Two hours and six minutes is a lot of screen time to fill with tired Hollywood “types,” off-camera sexcapades or pandemic protocol capade-blocking, dance and lip-sync interludes and a showcase for yet another limited-ceiling Apatow daughter he’d love to turn into a starlet.
No, it doesn’t come off. The entire enterprise feels under-developed and hamstrung, and not just by whatever level of “lockdown” conditions this was filmed under.
The cast — actors played by Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Pedro Pascal, David Duchovny, Guz Khan, a new Tik Tok “influencer” (an Apatow daughter) and Karen Gillan, playing a semi-humbled and resented member of the ensemble who left the franchise, briefly — reassemble for another green-screen and special effects extravaganza involving dinosaurs “feeding” on the scorched, climate-changed lower reaches of Mount Everest.
They’ll be tended to by a purring taskmaster producer (Peter Serafinowicz), Mr. “I won Sundance!” indie-now-in-over-his-head director (Fred Armisen), production assistants, a “wellness team” (Samson Kayo and Harry Trevaldwyn) and a tiny hotel staff (Maria Bakalova and Vir Das).
A busted Hollywood marriage (Mann and Duchovny’s characters) is archly, absurdly renewed. He’s a heel who considers himself “the guardian of the franchise,” and is determined to rewrite the script. She’s a ditz who insisted they adopt some 16 year-old who hates them, and whom they left behind in La La Land. One actor’s (Key) trying to start his own “Lifestyle Brand/Motivational System” (religion). One “Oscar winner” (Pascal, a hoot) deftly slings a Latin accent on camera, and does every drug under the sun while off camera, propositioning every “socially distanced” woman in sight.
“Would you like to have sex with me?”
The newcomer tries to keep her social media followers engaged with lip-synced song and dance numbers (“Boss Bitch” by Doja Cat) involving the whole cast. Cute.
It’s a film of broad caricatures of movie “types,” Hollywood “types” and Hollywood parenting. Bakalova, of the last “Borat” movie, plays an Eastern European desk clerk determined to virginally seduce Dieter the Oscar winner (Pascal) as a “pure angel.”
Accidents, “security” issues, walk-offs and fresh quarantines dog this slow-motion disaster-in-the-making, presided over the by rich and tone-deaf ( bouncing from 1 percent resort to resort) studio head, played by Kate McKinnon, whose big screen track record remains unblemished — all dogs.
Back in their “Knocked-Up” days, Apatow and his Ap-Pack invented “best line on the set wins” comedy, but without the contributions of an ensemble of hilarious comics-turned-actors, his films play like a balloon the air’s sputtering out of.
Ideas that somebody like Christopher Guest could have gotten a droll, amusing film out of (the hapless “behind the scenes” videographer) wither on the vine, and even the ironic “Actors are some of the toughest people we know” nonsense explaining how these coddled “cattle” “power through” a troubled shoot with actors getting sick or injured all along the way has no place to go.
But the montages of “stir crazy” quarantine, in which the director gets cast members to use some special skill to dress up mundane moments of isolation, pays off. Gillan’s twerking/pole-dancing lessons pay off, and Mann — Mrs. Apatow — rollerblades her way around the remote resort hotel like the star of an ’80s Dire Straits video.
Mann, a dazzling comic talent who is Madeline Kahn reborn, is always the MVP of the movies she makes with her husband. But that shouldn’t encourage him to keep casting his kids in these comedies. That’s a move that’s fraught with risk, because growing up in the movies and being competent in a part doesn’t translate to charismatic. And some of us are going to call him on this BS.
If you don’t realize at first that he’s cast another of his children here, you might wonder “OK, this character ‘type’ has promise. Why didn’t they get somebody with some spark to play her?”
Netflix quickly developed a reputation for giving blank checks and free rein to filmmakers, some of whom made “Buster Scruggs,” “Roma,” “The Irishman” and “Don’t Look Up” with that money and control. Every one of those films had indulgent flaws that undercut them. Apatow isn’t the first to serve up something that needed outside input, voices of experience and reason pushing back against his indulgences.
Maybe alter those blank check contracts, Netflix. Offer “consulting on final cut” guarantees, so that you can get a slightly-less-awful 90 minute movie out of a flaccid farce like this one. And perhaps a “no nepotism” rider is in order, just to protect filmmakers from their blind spots.
Apatow isn’t doing his films or his kids any favors with that.
Rating: TV-MA, violence, drug abuse, sex, profanity
Cast: Keegan-Michael Key, Leslie Mann, Karen Gillan, Pedro Pascal, David Duchovny, Guz Khan, Fred Armisen, Samson Kayo, Kate McKinnon, Vir Das, Maria Bakalova, Peter Serafinowicz, Maria Bamford, John Cena, Beck and some Apatow daughter or other.
Credits: Directed by Judd Apatow, scripted by Judd Apatow and Pam Brady. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:06