Downhill

Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Will Ferrell star in “Downhill.”

I will resist the temptation to make a pun on the movie title and its impact on the careers of the two stars. Will Ferrell and Julia Louis-Dreyfus will weather this cinema squall just fine but without at all adding any luster to their halos.

We best know Will Ferrell for his long series of films where he has played more or less the same character. He has the well-meaning but inept dimwit down to a T. Some of his films have delighted moviegoers and some less so. We know what we will get with Ferrell and can go to see him or not.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has a similar niche in the movie world. She created an iconic character on the long-running and mega-successful TV show “Seinfeld.” We can also count on her to deliver the familiar, comforting, expected rhythms of her character. But in this case, they both deliver credible performances as straight-up dramatic actors. They surprised me in how well they made the transition.

I did not see the French original film, “Force Majeure” so I cannot say if the American version improves upon it or not. We have a long tradition of doing remakes of European films, sometimes to good success and sometimes not so much. The old TV show “Sanford and Son” began as a comedy show in England.

The director team of Nat Faxon and Jim Rash also teamed up to aid writer Jesse Armstrong on the screenplay. Neither Faxon nor Rash have done much in the director line in the past, but they both have long years in Hollywood in a wide range of capacities, including as actors.

So, where did they go off the rails? The story. Near the start of the film the family, awkward with each other and discombobulated, take a trip to the Alps as a fun way to firm up the family ambiance. While dining alfresco a huge avalanche roars down the mountain, right at the quaint alpine restaurant. Dad, in an act of stupefying cowardliness, bolts for safety leaving his wife and two boys to die in the catastrophe. Sadly for him, the avalanche stops just short of the endangered trio. He spends the rest of the movie in shame as everyone tries to avoid him.

Do we want to pay money to watch a dastardly man deal with the consequences of his chicken-livered act? Well, no, we don’t. It doesn’t much matter that Ferrell did a great job of acting the part of a jerk and a coward. We properly feel disdain for his character. It doesn’t make for a worthwhile movie experience.

“Downhill” rates a strong R rating for language. The film runs for a short one hour and 26 minutes. I could muster only enough enthusiasm to render “Downhill” a sub-par one and a half sawblades. The beautiful photography of the Alps gives it extra points. Imagine that. It opens this week with “Sonic the Hedgehog.” I might have picked the wrong movie to see.

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