7 Days in Hell (2015) - Can't Stop the Movies
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7 Days in Hell (2015)

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It is a match spoken of in the hushed whispers of tennis fans and with great respect among sports historians.  One fateful Wimbledon match brought Aaron Williams, American tennis bad boy, and Charles Poole, Britain's reluctant tennis champion, head to head in the most epic match of tennis history.  Jake Szymanski directs 7 Days in Hell from a screenplay written by Murray Miller and stars Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington.

Boogie all nightBless director Jake Szymanski for 7 Days in Hell, as it is not only the funniest movie of the year but has the good sense to know how much is too much.  In this post-Apatow era of comedy we've traded concise jokes for meandering character building and longer improved scenes.  This isn't a bad thing, as the still hilarious 40-Year Old Virgin attests to, but the state of comedies hasn't produced a heck of a lot of laughs lately.  No matter how well-manicured the visuals and soundtrack are, if it doesn't make me laugh, it's not working.

The laughs start early and continue often throughout 7 Days in Hell, and thanks are partly due to Szymanski and screenwriter Murray Miller's decision to have form follow function.  7 Days in Hell is only about 45 minutes long but, since it's a sports documentary spoof of the kinds of fluff you'd see on ESPN, that makes it the perfect construct if you factor in commercial breaks.  It's a crucial part of the joke that this isn't like a 30 for 30 film, where a director may really dig into a sports persona or event, but something which may catch your eye flipping through the channels.

I hope abstract courtroom drawings are not just a fanciful idea of 7 Days in Hell and aren't far off in our world of legal reporting.

I hope abstract courtroom drawings are not just a fanciful idea of 7 Days in Hell and aren't far off in our world of legal reporting.

This allows Szymanski and Miller the perfect opportunity to skewer multiple layers of media at once.  Sure, there's the easy jabs of how boring tennis is to some viewers, but by the time we're watching an infamous Taiwanese animation of a Swedish prison orgy complete with birds being slapped away by the fleeing Aaron Williams (Andy Samberg), it's clear we're dealing in extremities with the comedy but not with monkeycheese humor where anything can happen.  Sequences like the detailed history of a Disney-inspired Swedish courtroom artist contain an entire other mockumentaries worth of material but are perfectly condensed in two minutes stories to not overstay their welcome.  Really, I'm glad they did, because I didn't want to spend much longer on the evolution from Disney to abstract courtroom drawings, but I'm darn happy they did.

Szymanski and Miller have room to craft some very specific, and hilarious, media archetypes from its multi-channel-yet-stuck-on-sports approach.  They range from the subtly flamboyant, like the pink-suit clad and perpetually cheery sports commentator played by Will Forte, to the unnecessarily proper, such as Fred Armisen's haughty Wimbledon historian who says that no one wants to discuss Aaron's rampant drug use because it's rude to point things out in England.  My personal favorites were Mary Steenburgen's comically overprotective mother and Michael Sheen's brilliant riff on English intellectual personality Christopher Hitchens.  I couldn't stop laughing during each of Sheen's appearances as his bulging gut, constant flop sweat, and perpetually coughing cigarette fits brought his perverse and open voyeurism of poor young tennis pro Charles Poole (Kit Harington) to a comic boiling point.

It speaks highly of 7 Days in Hell that Harington's character is possibly the worst in the film, because it's already a hilarious creation.  He sheepishly plays off the way Americans will accept just about anything told to them so long as it's told in an accent, and unsuccessfully conceals his dumb as a post intelligence with frequent use of the word "indubitably".  But Harington was doomed to be second banana to Samberg's Aaron, who is more '80s hair metal front man than he is tennis pro.  He brings such zest to his self-destructive lifestyle that at times it seems Samberg is channeling John Belushi's whiskey guzzling spirit.

Samberg's willingness to go "all the way" with his portrayal of Aaron leads into some of 7 Days in Hell's most wonderfully over-the-top moments with a surprising willingness to be equal-opportunity with the jokes.  One sequence has a female streaker come onto the court and interrupt the match.  This seems to be par for the course as HBO has trouble fielding a show without female nudity.  But then the male streaker enters the screen wearing even less clothes, we see the enthusiasm Aaron has for the scrotum-freeing clothing line he develops, and we take on a greater appreciation for Samberg's performance as he is truly willing to go to any and all depths to portray Aaron's limitless appetite for life.

Everything about Michael Sheen's performance is beautifully disgusting, especially the way he grunts out his verbal approval of Charles' well-sculpted abs.

Everything about Michael Sheen's performance is hilariously disgusting, especially the way he grunts out his verbal approval of Charles' well-sculpted abs.

With the tight construction and amazing characters, it still makes me sad to say some of the humor doesn't work.  A subplot involving magician David Copperfield as a fictional version of himself really weighs down the film.  It's not funny enough by itself that "Copperfield" partied with Aaron, and Copperfield's contributions to 7 Days in Hell aren't filmed with the kind of flair we'd expect of a magician.  When "Copperfield" interferes with the match in a surprising way it's a slight violation of the comic rules which 7 Days in Hell establishes, as the media world of Copperfield's magic never overlaps in style with the sports mockumentary.

But Copperfield, like the rest of the cast, is game for whatever Szymanski and Miller were able to think up.  7 Days in Hell is hilarious, but also an excellent showcase for the value of a tightly constructed screenplay and establishing context, no matter how quick, for its comic universe.  Even knowing what happens in the end I hope Aaron and Charles aren't gone forever, especially if it means Michael Sheen's disturbing leer isn't far behind.

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Tail - 7 Days in Hell7 Days in Hell (2015)

Directed by Jake Szymanski.
Screenplay written by Murray Miller.
Starring Andy Samberg and Kit Harrington.

Posted by Andrew

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