J.Law brings the funny in the enjoyably naughty sex comedy ‘No Hard Feelings’; ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’ delivers megatonnes of mecca-action for fans

Odd couple: Jennifer Lawrence (left) and Andrew Barth Feldman in ‘No Hard Feelings’.

NO HARD FEELINGS ***1/2 (103 minutes) MA
With a premise that feels like it was time-tripped from the sex-comedy era of the early-1980s, No Hard Feelings is a consistently funny, innocuously naughty romp with just enough substance to keep it from being the throwaway offering it was otherwise destined to be.

Continuing her pleasingly unpredictable choice of film roles, Jennifer Lawrence plays Maddie, a financially strapped, promiscuous woman living in the New York state holiday town of Montauk (remember it from Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind?) as a bar tender and Uber driver.

Desperately in need of cash after her car gets towed she takes on a mission from a wealthy couple (Matthew Broderick and Laura Benanti) to bring their timid, college-bound teen son Percy (Andrew Barth Feldman) out of his sheepish shell. Her reward is a car with which she can get back to her Uber business.

Though granted full license to deploy whatever wiles she deems necessary to activate Percy’s hormones and get his blood flowing to parts of his anatomy that have remained inexplicably dormant, Maddie finds it hard work.

He’s a tough nut to crack and appears impervious to her considerable sexual appeal, her advances failing to raise Percy’s interest. Nothing seems to do the trick: skinny dipping, close-quarters twerking, suggestively sitting on his lap all draw a blank. Not even direct requests to get it on get him off.

What develops in such an odd, somewhat difficult-to-swallow space – the suspension of disbelief required here is comparable to any sci-fi fantasy scenario – is a friendship that actually explores some engaging ideas about teen boys in the modern age.

Chief among these is the over-parenting that has produced such an emotionally introverted and feeble young man.

Percy’s predicament also taps into the topical issue about masculinity and what qualifies as being “man” enough.

Director Gene Stupnitsky (Good Boys), who co-wrote with John Phillips, doesn’t exactly deep dive into anything, though the film does have a lot of fun with Maddie’s age.

Apparently, at 32, she is considered old enough to have to lie about her age, her appearance at a college mixer party drawing comments of her being a “cougar”, an epithet once reserved for attractive middle-aged women in their 40s and 50s.

Perhaps it’s intended as a comment about how Hollywood ages women so quickly, certainly compared to men. The film is not a satire, but we’ll take what we can get.

Admittedly, the film does play safe, and clearly could have gone down some other obvious comic avenues. For instance, it’s only fleetingly mentioned how Percy has some gay porn on his browser history, the slight suggestion being that it could explain his response – or lack thereof – to such a sexually forthright woman.

It’s not picked up on, though. Had No Hard Feelings been made in the 1980s the film would no doubt have toyed with the idea. Dare do that in a studio film in today’s climate of fear and everybody associatged with the movie would probably have ended up cancelled and in jail. That’s just a theory. Could have been fun.

The film also side-steps how the same idea with the genders switched would have been perceived very differently. In the hands of a good director such a film could easily work, only it wouldn’t be allowed.

All that said, No Hard Feelings is a very enjoyable ride, with two qualities selling it as a winning comedy with lots of cheek and charm.

The first is just how funny it is. The timing is terrific as Lawrence (also a producer) shows her comic chops without relent or prudery, including a fleeting full frontal that draws a big laugh. If only the film itself had matched that degree of daring.

The other is how we see both characters mature beyond the film’s crude premise; Maddie confronts some hard truths about her wreckless behaviour while Percy grows out of his awkward shell on his own terms, not Maddie’s or his parents’.

All up, it’s very well done and satisfying, going from broad and jokey to being a sufficiently sincere tale of transformation studded with an appreciable quotient of rude jokes.

And what a crime it would be to not mention that Percy was also the name of the appendage belonging to the main character in two vintage British sex comedies about a man who gets a penis transplant: Percy (1971) and Percy’s Progress (1974).

Could be a coincidence, but if it is it’s a whopper.

More mecca: The Autobot gang grows bigger for ‘Transformers: Rise of the Beasts’.

More megatonnes of mechanical mayhem await fans in Transformers: Rise of the Beasts even though this highly enjoyable outing is not directed by franchise father Michael Bay, who instead sits back as a producer along with the world’s No. 1 Michael Bay fan, Steven Spielberg (Jaws; E.T.; Schindler’s List, etc).

The great news here is that director Steven Caple Jr.(Creed II) does such a good job maintaining the thrill-a-minute pace and orchestrating the frame-filling VFX-driven action of the other films that it looks as though it was directed by Michael Bay. No greater praise is possible, surely. (The same applied to Travis Knight on 2018’s Bumblebee.)

So, what’s going down in the seventh installment of this monumentally popular, critic-defying series?

We’re in 1994 New York where unemployed ex-military tech wiz Noah (Anthony Ramos) and ancient artifacts expert Elena (Dominique Fishback) are drawn into the quest for a special key – called the “transwarp key” – that, once assembled, will determine the fate of our unfortunate world, which seems to have been constantly under threat of imminent destruction or takeover since Independence Day.

The Terrorcons – the evil robots from outer space – are in a race with the Autobots – the good robots who live among us disguised as various vehicles (trucks, cars, motorcycles , etc) – to acquire the key.

Cue reels and reels of pretty cool action sequences with loads of robot-on-robot violence that incorporates the Maximals, a new swag of robots that live in the Peruvian jungle disguised as animals. For instance, there’s a chap called Optimus Primal who looks like a gorilla.

And so the silliness stretches quite pleasantly over the two hours but for the volume level durintg the crash-bang segments, so either bring ear plugs or be prepared to watch large swathes of the film with your fingers in your ears. (Plugs are recommended).

Apart from the liberal doses of humour – another Bay signature – one very cool thing about Transformers VII is how we feel as much for some of the robots as we do about the human characters. It’s a mark of Caple’s capable direction.

And, of course, there’s more to come, so be sure to sit through the closing credits for the usual teaser.