As much as I hate to burst “The Bubble,” the Netflix movie sinks under the weight of its own overwrought and farcical and only intermittently funny execution, despite a clever premise, one of my favorite comedy writer-directors behind the camera and an all-star cast that throws itself gamely into the material — even when the material is landing with all the subtlety of a CGI dinosaur clomping through the wilderness.
According to the Hollywood Reporter, “The Bubble” director and co-writer Judd Apatow was inspired to create this meta-movie by the real-life trials and tribulations endured by the cast and crew of “Jurassic World: Dominion,” the sixth installment of the dino franchise, which was delayed multiple times while everyone was stranded in the United Kingdom for months during the pandemic.
In “The Bubble,” the movie-within-the-movie is “Cliff Beasts 6: The Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem,” the latest installment in what appears to be an unbearably corny, utterly cheesy, second-rate but financially successful franchise. With the pandemic raging across the globe, the producer, director, cast and crew of the film congregate on the closed set, aka a “bubble,” where wacky hijinks will ensue as they struggle to film this green-screen debacle in a production where everything that could go wrong … WILL GO WRONG.
Netflix presents a film directed by Judd Apatow and written by Pam Brady. Rated R (for language throughout, sexual content, drug use and some violence). Running time: 126 minutes. Available now on Netflix.
All right, so that’s kind of a fun setup, yes? (Netflix even released an entertaining trailer for the movie that made it look like a real movie.) Especially when you check out this roster of comedic/dramatic actors. Meet the cast and crew of “Cliff Beasts 6!”
- Peter Serafinowicz is Gavin, the producer, who meets with hotel staff before the cast arrives and tells them, “Actors are animals. You are animal handlers. Sometimes they want to play with you. Sometimes they’ll rip your b---s off.”
- Fred Armisen is Darren Eigan, the artsy-pompous director who shot a Sundance favorite on his iPhone and has been brought in to class up the franchise, or some such thing.
- Karen Gillan, who gives the best and most empathetic performance in the film, is Carol Cobb, who ditched the “Cliff Beasts” franchise to take the lead in “Jerusalem Rising,” a bomb so bad it “managed to offend both Palestinians and Jews,” as one critic put it, but has returned for the sixth chapter and is trying to win back the trust of her fellow cast members.
- Leslie Mann is Lauren Van Chance and David Duchovny is Dustin Mulray, two of the primary faces of “Cliff Beasts.” This on-and-off-again couple reunites on the set, much to the horror of their recently adopted teenage son, who sees them together on a video chat and says, “Mom! I thought you were dating that guy who used to be on ‘Friends’!”
- Keegan-Michael Key is Sean Knox, who loves doing his own stunts (not very well) and has created a lifestyle brand called “Harmony Ignite.”
- Pedro Pascal is Dieter Bravo, a Sean Penn-type serious actor.
- Iris Apatow (daughter of Judd Apatow and Leslie Mann) is Krystal Kris, a teenage TikTok star who has been cast by the studio in a desperate bid to reach the kids out there. (When asked if she’s a “Cliff Beasts” fan, the cheerfully clueless Krystal says, “No, but I saw the trailer for the second one, it was so cool!”)
- Kate McKinnon is Paula, the studio head, who appears on video chat from ski chalet “in the only country that was open … thank God I got my shot.” When Gavin the producer says, “I thought [shots won’t be] available for six months,” Paula responds, “Oh they’re not, for normal people. I’m with rich people.”
You get the idea. Lots of stuff about Hollywood poking fun at itself, in broad caricatures. The moviemaking scenes feature the actors flailing about and complaining about the script in front of green screens, while two hapless Brits portray the flying beasts that will be added in post via CGI.
We get an idea of how truly awful “Cliff Beasts 6” will be when Krystal Kris faces a baby beast and connects with it when they mirror each other’s dance moves to the sounds of “Started” by Iggy Azalea. This is but one of three dance numbers in “The Bubble,” as we later see the cast bopping to a virtual Beck as he covers “Ladies’ Night,” and everyone does a cocaine-fueled dance routine in the hotel to “Sea Talk” by Zola Jesus. These superfluous numbers are mildly entertaining but ultimately just pad the two-hour-plus running time, which features a number of sitcom-type subplots, e.g., Carol hooking up with a soccer star whose team is staying at the same hotel, a couple of cast members plotting their escape from the bubble and a mole who spies on the production.
“The Bubble” is ultimately a mediocre movie about the making of an even worse movie.