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"Hell & Back" poses a sharp contrast in quality between the wealth of
its talented voice cast and the sheer pedestrian mediocrity of its
screenplay. It's amazing that a barrage of talented and proved comics
from the likes of T.J. Miller, Mila Kunis, Bob Odenkirk, and J.B.
Smoove, would subject themselves to something so bland and ugly. From
its choppy stop-motion style of animation, its lack of real creativity
in its jokes, and its miserable color palette, there is a striking
joylessness present in "Hell & Back" that is only highlighted by the
film's lackluster writing.
The story opens in a failing theme-park, largely run by slacker
employees Remy (voiced by Nick Swardson), Augie (T.J. Miller), and Curt
(Rob Riggle). When Curt borrows a mint from Remy, taking a blood oath
to pay him back before reneging on his promise shortly after, the three
are sucked into a vortex that takes them to Hell, where they are seen
as "mortals" awaiting sacrifice. While Curt is the only one who is set
to be sacrificed, for breaking a blood oath, Remy and Augie are also
planned to be executed simply because of their presence in Hell as
mortals. As a result, they team up with a demon named Deema (Mila
Kunis), who is searching for Orpheus, a famous spirit who is said to
have saved countless mortals who's souls were doomed to perish in Hell
in time before the Devil (Bob Odenkirk) decides to sacrifice the three
Despite the high stakes, the film feels like a constant array of tired
stoner jokes written by a gang of adolescents that still find using at
least two curse words in every sentence is hilarious. Admittedly,
however, the film did get some laughs out of me when the small-scale,
background jokes took over. Consider the scenes that involve the demons
of Hell tempting the souls by having a Taco Bell/Pizza Hut counter.
When one of the souls requests a pepperoni pizza, the demon informs him
that they only have the Pizza Hut sign up as decoration and they are
only a Taco Bell. "Welcome to Hell," the demon says whilst giggling,
upon informing the poor soul. This happens a couple of other times in
the film and works because of how simply outlandish and ridiculous the
scene plays out, in addition to a few scenes of demons looking up the
sins of the souls to see what constitutes their presence in Hell.
These scenes are few and far between, however, as the bulk of the film
has Remy and Augie bumbling on to random setpieces in Hell, witnessing
some crass display of juvenile gags all captured in some of the most
visually ugly scenery I've seen all year. With all the lame jokes
occurring and the setting feeling so dim and dingy, there's simply very
little positivity in this film to keep an upbeat frame of mine.
Comedies set in underworlds or places of little hope obviously have
difficultly meriting this constant stream of upbeat humor in contrast
to the setting, but when both elements fall apart here, "Hell & Back"
doesn't have a leg to stand on, frankly.
Finally, there's a real cheapness to the animation here. The
stop-motion animation is evidently rushed, as characters, especially
when walking or moving very quickly, show a peculiar jerkiness to their
motions that indicates that figures' poses were shifted too quickly,
and thus, don't appear fluid. This doesn't occur frequently, but when
it does, it makes the whole film seem off balance, and, much like the
writing, poorly conceived.
I remember hearing of "Hell & Back" earlier in the year and thought it
would be something of a box office surprise; we rarely get adult
animated films, and if we do, they are usually so obsessed with the
idea of being vulgar and animated ("Cheech and Chong's Animated Movie"
and "Jay and Silent Bob's Super Groovy Cartoon Movie" to name a few)
that they wind up being throwaway projects of little merit. I felt that
the talented cast of this particular film would crush that stereotype
and lift it up to certain quality. Unfortunately, with the startlingly
silent marketing for the film and the quiet release, "Hell & Back" will
likely join other contemporaries as an experiment that failed largely
because of its worst tendencies.
Tags for Hell and Back Full Movie
, Mila Kunis
, Nick Swardson
, T.J. Miller
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