Paul Rudd shrinks and supersizes in Ant-Man and the Wasp, but his superhero character Scott Lang aka Ant-Man’s biggest gift remains his amiability in Marvel’s latest adventure, making him the only ant anyone would ever invite to a picnic. But while millions of people will have no trouble finding that insect, no matter how small, in theaters this summer, Rudd has two more movies out now, Ideal Home and The Catcher Was a Spy. And even if one of them presents as more of an intriguing failure than anything else, to play on the title of one of his classic comedies, this season presents a Rudd hot American summer.
Ant-Man and the Wasp
Even when he’s on the right side, ex-con Scott can’t help somehow being found in the wrong. Ant-Man and the Wasp opens with Lang nearing the end of house arrest, his punishment for taking part in that little rumble with The Avengers in Captain America: Civil War. He is looking forward to spending time with his daughter Cassie (Abby Ryder Fortson) unrestricted to his own four walls and partnering with Luis (Michael Peña) and their pals on a new security firm. But Dr. Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) and his daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly), who now has her own suit and superhero identity as the Wasp, have plans for the Ant-Man. Like Michael Corleone in The Godfather: Part III, Scott keeps trying to get out, but they just keep pulling him back in, this time complicated by a corrupt restaurateur (Walton Goggins) and a young woman (Hannah John-Kamen) convinced Pym and Ant-Man hold the key to what ails her.
To say more, would give away too much of the story. Big stunts provide the thrills. If the Ant-Man and the Wasp doesn’t always make full use of its San Francisco setting, it makes up for it with scenes set in Muir Woods and on the famously crooked part of Lombard Street. Jokes, some involving a Pez dispenser and Morrissey, provide the laughs. Director Peyton Reed and a writing team that includes Rudd have a lot of fun with the Alice-in-Wonderland-type possibilities that arise out of people, animals, and objects that enlarge and miniaturize. If there is a race between the humor and the action, it’s a tie. Both are in abundance
Of this, Ideal Home, and The Catcher Was a Spy, this is the most classic Rudd: lovable guy with a killer sense of humor. Plus, he sings a Partridge Family oldie, “Come On, Get Happy.” Just a few bars, but enough to add another layer of giddy fun to the movie. With Ant-Man and his surroundings constantly changing sizes, the Ant-Man movies are clearly as dependent as any of the Marvel movies on special effects to make their larger-than-life tales come alive, yet with Rudd at their center, they are also the most purely human. That’s a wonderful thing.
Exactly 10 years ago, Rudd starred with Seann William Scott as a pair of boy-men who attempt to influence youth as reluctant volunteers in a Big Brother-type program in Role Models. A decade later and edging ever closer to 50, Rudd’s at it again, this time with Steve Coogan in Ideal Home, streaming on Amazon, iTunes, Vudu, and other platforms. Written and directed by Andrew Fleming, who previously made the underrated Coogan vehicle Hamlet 2, this screwball comedy stars the two as long-time partners who find themselves saddled with a 10-year-old kid who hides his vulnerability behind endless layers of hostility and sass.
The child is actually the grandson of Erasmus, the latest in the long line of comic narcissists that Coogan plays with such brilliance, a Santa Fe chef and host of a cooking show. Rudd is Paul, his long-suffering producer, as well as lover, who keeps threatening to decamp to New York and a job with Rachel Ray. The heart wants what it wants, so he stays. But the arrival of Bill (Jack Gore) throws the couple for a loop. Paul wasn’t even aware that Erasmus had a son from a long ago fling, let alone a grandchild. The imp, who won’t even tell them his name at first and refuses to eat anything but Taco Bell, adds another layer of tension to an already fraught relationship.
There are definite sitcom elements to the story’s unfolding, particularly as it races through its third act. A messier tale would have come to an equally predictable conclusion, but might have had more emotional resonance. Still, it is funny. Some of it is just built-in sight gags, particularly the sight of the oh-so-English Coogan in cowboy duds tooling about Erasmus’ desert home. The tart dialogue is also sharp, made more hilarious by Coogan and Rudd’s dipped-in-acid delivery. As a couple, they are kind of a car wreck, yet they are also a matched set in taste and bitter wit. Neither is exactly parent material – Erasmus admits he never tried to be part of his son’s life – but when presented with a child, paternal instincts kick in.
Just what is the Ideal Home? That’s the question the movie attempts to answer. Bill has clearly had a rough upbringing, but then so has dad Beau (Jake McDorman). How much of that might have to do with Erasmus’ total neglect, the movie doesn’t attempt to answer. But as Erasmus and Paul face teachers, social workers, courts, and Beau in their quest to make a home for the boy, they have to define for themselves as much as for anyone else just what a family is. And like those man-children in Role Models, it is from learning through sometimes disastrous interactions with a child, that these middle-aged adolescents might finally grow up themselves.
The Catcher Was a Spy
Rudd stretches his dramatic muscles to play a pro baseball player turned covert World War II agent in The Sessions‘ director Ben Lewin’s The Catcher Was a Spy. Unfortunately, the film—in limited release and streaming – serves neither actor nor subject well. What ought to be a rip-roaring yarn simply isn’t. Lewin was probably the wrong director for a story requiring a level of suspense, but the screenplay is also at fault. In adapting Nicholas Dawidoff’s book, screenwriter Robert Rodat never finds a way to make the cipher at the center of this tale a flesh-and-blood human being. Rudd’s considerable charm can only do so much.
The reality of Moe Berg was this. He was never a star, retiring with a .243 batting average. Nevertheless, he hung on through 15 seasons and four teams before finishing his career in 1939 with the Boston Red Sox. He was also a multilingual Princeton graduate with a law degree. His intellectualism made him an odd duck in dugouts, but so did the way he lived his life. He never married. The film intimates that he was bisexual (there is a frank sex scene with a live-in girlfriend played by Sienna Miller, but the drama is far more discreet in intimated same-sex encounters). And when war broke out, Berg joined the OSS, the precursor to the CIA where his ease with languages made him an asset in Europe.
The bulk of The Catcher Was a Spy follows Berg on a wartime mission to suss out where the Germans are in their attempts to beat the Allies to the development of the atom bomb. If Nazi success looks imminent, he has orders to kill Nobel Prize-winning physicist Werner Heisenberg (Mark Strong), the scientist spearheading the program. This should be thrilling stuff with Berg and his cohorts evading death on the battlefields they must traverse and detection as they close in on their quarry. But the tension never rises. And because Berg himself is so opaque, we never get a sense of the urgency of the mission or Berg’s own feeling of danger.
The Catcher Was a Spy is an interesting story told in the most uninteresting way. Berg deserved better and so did the actor in role. –Pam Grady