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With: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Will Ferrell, Miranda Otto, Zoe Chao, Zach Woods, Julian Grey, Ammon Jacob Ford, Giulio Berruti
Written by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Jesse Armstrong, based on a screenplay by Ruben Östlund
Directed by: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash
MPAA Rating: R for language and some sexual material
Running Time: 86
Date: 02/14/2020

Downhill (2020)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Low Ski

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

An odd, misguided remake of a 2014 Swedish movie, this sour, muddled comedy seems to have missed the original's point, and now it's 86 minutes spent with detestable people who argue and make excuses.

In Downhill, Pete (Will Ferrell) and Billie (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) have taken their two boys on a skiing vacation in the Alps. Pete is still getting over the death of his father, and he sees Billie's henpecking as a deterrent to his living life to the fullest. At lunch one day, an avalanche tumbles down the mountain. Facing certain doom, Billie cradles her children, while Pete grabs his phone and runs away, leaving his family behind.

Later, the couple finds it difficult to talk about the incident, until Pete invites a work friend, Zach (Zach Woods), who was also traveling nearby, to dinner. After an explosive confrontation, Pete and Billie take a couple of days apart from one another to do some soul-searching. Can Pete make up for his mistake?

Force Majeure was an excruciating black comedy so deliberately level and deadpan that it forced viewers to ask themselves the unanswerable question: what would I have done if it were me? The remake, Downhill, draws all its attention to its unlikable characters, and now our only thought is: how soon can I get out of here?

Ferrell and Louis-Dreyfus are capable performers; they do their best here and are not entirely to blame. Ferrell is frankly miscast. He gets his comedy from a sense of childlike arrested development juxtaposed by a large man's body. He's never been about masculinity or bravery. And poor Louis-Dreyfus mainly shrieks and fusses and looks pinched and angry, except in one strange slapstick sequence wherein she nearly sleeps with a sexy ski instructor.

Co-writers and co-directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash, whose wonderful The Way Way Back did seem to have a grasp on human behavior, simply can't decide on what they want to say in Downhill, or how to say it. They settle on a bizarre, semi-humorous ending that borrows a little from the Swedish film, but misses the ambiguity of it.

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