Eric D. Snider

30 Years to Life

Thirty years to life is approximately how long it takes to watch "30 Years to Life," an embarrassingly amateurish and cloying comedy about a group of urban blacks coming to terms with being grown-ups.

Rarely have so many bad ideas been sloshed together into one film. Casting "Saturday Night Live" cast member Tracy Morgan as a lead character was the first and biggest mistake. Morgan has his moments on "SNL," where an inability to act is not necessariliy a liability. In a film, though, where he's playing an actual role with motivation and depth and stuff, his community-theater-quality hamminess just makes you uncomfortable, like watching an especially bad number at the high school talent show.

Morgan's character is a hip-hop comedian named Troy, who seemed on the verge of major success a few years ago but is now disappointed to realize he hasn't made it yet. He's a moocher, a slacker and not a very funny comedian (though the movie seems to think he's hysterical), and his agent, Generic Jewish White Guy Agent, keeps getting him auditions to stupid pseudo-joke films like "The Colonial Williamsburg Project" (where he and two other blacks would wander around the woods with video cameras, in search of the modern-day slave-owners who legendarily still live there. Are you laughing yet?).

Meanwhile, there's Natalie (Melissa De Sousa), whose recent 30th birthday has made her desperate. She takes up with Troy's doctor friend, Bruce (Kadeem Hardison), a six-toed man who expects her to fill "traditional" female roles -- which she is initially willing to do, even though she's usually a strong-willed career woman.

Meanwhile, generically commitment-phobic Leland (T.E. Russell) is worried about Joy (Erika Alexander), whom he's been living with for a few years and is showing signs of getting comfortable -- i.e., she's stopped caring about always trying to look gorgeous when she's around him. In one of several thousand sitcom-like plot turns in the film, Leland buys her a bracelet but accidentally winds up with an engagement ring instead; when she opens it, he has no choice but to propose to her. The wackiness!

Meanwhile, everyone's fat friend Stephanie (Paula Jai Parker) loses weight and no one recognizes her. (The weight loss should come as no surprise to the viewer, as the fat suit on the actress in the first scenes looks ridiculous.)

Meanwhile, Maleek (Allen Payne) has given up his high-power corporate life to become a model.

Fine. You know, whatever. None of these stories is particularly original, but they're certainly issues worth exploring in what could have been a pleasant ensemble film. The problem, not to put too fine a point on it, is writer/director Vanessa Middleton. This is a hack of the highest order, make no mistake. Her screenplay is terrible, with two-dimensional sitcom characters, lame set-up/punchline gags, and plot twists that any viewer of "Seinfeld" should immediately recognize: Natalie's revulsion at Bruce's six toes, Stephanie almost losing a real estate sale because her fat legs make swishy noises when she walks, the whole bracelet/ring switcheroo, the scenes of Troy's life-reflecting stand-up that are stitched in occasionally, the many scenes in which charcters sit around and talk about nothing, etc., etc., etc.

As a director, she's no better. Many scenes are framed as if by a blind person, with characters half-way out of the shot. The sound mix is porn-like, as people's voices keep getting louder and quieter, obviously due to the boom mic being moved around. Time passes indistinguishably, with no change in the weather, characters' dress patterns, or anything else. There are even moments when actors have clearly flubbed their lines (stumbling over words and the like), yet there those moments are, still in the movie. Was the whole film shot in one take? Couldn't someone have stopped this mess from reaching the public?

There are two or three good scenes, ones where some actual insight on the Battle of the Sexes is offered. The rest are awkward and lame. You've seen this movie before, and I bet you didn't like it then, either.

Grade: D

Rated R, abundant harsh profanity, some sexuality

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