“Downhill” is the wrong holiday comedy and lives up to its bad title. She is Julia Louis Dreyfus and Will Ferrell as a couple on an alpine skiing trip, and she is not the worst hypothesis. They quarrel and make mistakes within the limits of their familiar comic characters, and you almost believe that their characters (Billy and Pete) can actually get married. He is in need, friendly, and a little hysterical. It’s impatient and anxious. Their twin sons (Julian Gray and Ammon Ford) hardly have characters at all, but as the family arrives in Austria, the audience seems likely to have fun even if the characters aren’t there.
But it does not work that way. “The Descent” by director Nat Vixon and Jim Rush (who was a former holiday comedy, “The Way, Way Back”) is a new version of “Force Majeure,” a 2014 Swedish movie directed by Robin Ostlund. A comparison of the two is a disgraceful practice. The Ostlund Edition is a relentlessly sharp satire of male insecurity and middle-class complacency, which disturbs the real discomfort between unlikely laughter. The humor in “Downhill” is broader, which is pretty good in itself, but the movie is dirty, shy and unsure of its accent. It is not annoying, just annoying.
Early in their stay in a luxury mountain resort – after they met the courteous Euro-Garbage Caricature (Miranda Otto) but before the hashtag couple full of hashtags (Zak Woods and Zoe Chao) – Pete and Bailey try something that threatens to destabilize their relationship. The “controlled collapse” launched by the resort management appears to be out of control and heading to the open-air restaurant where the family is about to have lunch. Pete escapes in a panic, grabbing his phone and leaving Billy with the terrified children. Later, he denies and reduces his cheese, while seeing Pelly.
This is exactly what happens in “force majeure”. The idea that Chapter Two, an unimaginable act like Pete, might reveal a flaw in his character and a rift in their marriage is strong enough to sustain a second movie. But Faxon and Rash, who wrote the script with Jesse Armstrong, lacked the nerve or imagination to make the idea their own, or to make her work with a group of American comic artists. There are some trite parts, some trite parts, an exciting moment, and some great outrageous displays of Louis-Dreyfus, but they are thrown together like salted nuts and cheap sweets in a mix of snacks.
Like many American comedies these days, “Downhill” looks scared of its shadow. Nato and drug references cannot hide paralyzed panic – from parenting, sexual politics, family dynamics, work-life balance, or anything else that might actually be exciting or risky. The movie is not sure whether he will take the side of a house or Billy, or if he should take a side at all, so he hovers as a non-hubby friend, nods and laughs and rejects judgment.
The result is a small disaster. Not a totally terrible movie – mostly thanks to Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus – but it’s a movie that cuts its stars into impossible positions at one point in time and isn’t a big challenge. The “slope” turns away from the skis, although it never leaves the slope of the rabbit.
R rating. Some salty talk. Show duration: 1 hour and 26 minutes.