Review: ‘The Bubble’ is an overlong, self-indulgent slog

The Bubble
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2
On April 1, 2022
Last modified:April 1, 2022

Summary:

If you're looking for a hilarious, star-studded, self-aware, and cameo-stuffed film-within-a-film that generates big laughs and plenty of spectacle, then watch 'Tropic Thunder'.

The glaring problem with Hollywood’s rampant desire to continue churning out movies and TV shows about the pandemic, is that nobody really wants to see movies and TV shows about the pandemic.

Entertainment is about escapism at the end of the day, which is why the majority of projects powered by COVID as a plot device have either been panned by critics, completely ignored by audiences, or in many instances both, unless of course we’re talking about an unadulterated cinematic masterpiece like Corona Zombies: Barbie & Kendra Save the Tiger King.

Judd Apatow’s latest The Bubble is the freshest film to come along and try and wring laughs out of a situation that’s still causing thousands of deaths on a daily basis, but even a splashy Netflix-sized budget and an all-star cast of talented stars fail to elevate the tonally misjudged comedy above tedium, and it succumbs to many of the same self-indulgences that have plagued the filmmaker’s work for a long time.

Even the central premise is bizarre, when The Bubble is clearly partially designed as a satire of a blockbuster that hasn’t even been released yet. Apatow was inspired by the stories of how the entire cast and crew of Jurassic World Dominion were forced to quarantine together before the sixth installment in the franchise was given the okay to resume shooting, and that basic setup is essentially bolted onto the broad strokes of Ben Stiller’s Tropic Thunder, right through to the epilogue.

The Bubble

It isn’t as entertaining as a Jurassic Park adventure, or as funny as the aforementioned Vietnam film-within-a-film, leaving The Bubble in a very strange and fairly unfortunate position. If you like TikTok dances, dancing in general, montages, and an assortment of celebrity cameos with no point and very little payoff then you’ll be thrilled, though, because there’s multiple instances of each.

Celebrities and movie stars have spent the majority of the pandemic being roasted online for their feeble attempts to come across as relatable and “one of us”, which instantly puts the everyone who appears onscreen in a difficult predicament. They’re all very rich and famous people playing rich and famous people who get holed up in a five-star hotel where they’re forced to co-exist, which is where art imitates real life given the way The Bubble was shot.

While the performances are solid across the board, it’s hard to invest in what’s supposed to be a knowingly meta rumination on how the day-to-day lives of the A-list weren’t all that greatly affected by the pandemic, when they all end up behaving like spoiled children who continue to sleep around, get wasted, and have a great time in spite of their unique set of circumstances.

Having sat out the fifth entry in the series, Karen Gillan’s Carol Cobb reluctantly agrees to return for Cliff Beasts 6, but there’s an air of resentment among the rest of the regulars after she abandoned them in favor of Jerusalem Rising, an alien invasion actioner where she played a half-Palestinian and half-Jewish hero.

The Bubble

This is one of the few times where The Bubble generates a laugh, and the strongest part of the entire operation by far are the references to either outside projects, or the actual shooting of Cliff Beasts 6. There are a couple of inspired green screen gags, but even then it becomes increasingly repetitive the more it gets leaned on for humor.

Peeling back the curtain just a little without winking too heavily at the viewer is when things are at their strongest, with the sheer ridiculousness of filming an effects-driven romp in the midst of a global health crisis shining Hollywood’s mindset under a microscope, which even comes complete with a Tom Cruise reference.

The Bubble runs for 126 minutes, which is at least 20 too many, if not more. The sheer size of the cast means there still isn’t enough screentime to go around, so what we’re left with are a handful of interesting ideas that don’t get explored anywhere near as much they should, ably performed by a handful of scene-stealing supporting players, with the rest of the story stitched together like a series of skits as opposed to a cohesive narrative, which is an approach that yields about as much consistency as you’d imagine.

Keegan-Michael Key’s Sean Knox may or may not have started a cult, but we never get into it beyond that, even though it’s a potentially interesting idea. Pedro Pascal’s Dieter Bravo is charismatically sleazy and desperate to hook up with Oscar-nominated Borat alum Maria Bakalova’s hotel clerk, which is both a summation and a waste of their contributions.

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Leslie Mann and David Duchovny play a formerly married couple who can’t resist the urge to reconnect, Fred Armisen is the middle-aged Sundance wunderkind director way out of his depth, Iris Apatow is the social media sensation brought on to bring Cliff Beasts 6 to a younger audience, and those are just a few of the broadly-drawn archetypes found dwelling within the titular isolation zone.

That being said, credit should go to Peter Serafinowicz’s deadpan producer, Guz Khan’s wantaway comic relief, Ben Ashenden and Alexander Owen’s motion capture performers, Samson Kayo’s Bola, and Harry Trevaldwyn’s safety officer, who all manage to make an impression despite existing on the periphery of everything that goes on.

Apatow has been narrowing his focus and expanding his thematic horizons recently through the likes of Trainwreck and The King of Staten Island, but The Bubble takes him back to a time before basics. The improv-heavy approach is fine if the edit is judicious enough, but the scattershot nature of virtually every exchange ends up wearing you down.

Less is almost always more, but the creative freedom afforded by Netflix must have meant that the director, co-writer, and producer didn’t feel obligated to leave much on the cutting room floor. As a result, The Bubble throws everything and the kitchen sink into the mix, but very little of it manages to stick.

Disappointing

If you're looking for a hilarious, star-studded, self-aware, and cameo-stuffed film-within-a-film that generates big laughs and plenty of spectacle, then watch 'Tropic Thunder'.