‘The Bubble’ Turns Hollywood Covid Protocols Into Thin Pandemic-Era Comedy

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

“The Bubble” is an apt title for what feels like a long, tightly sealed inside joke, a filmmaking satire filled with flashy Hollywood references and plenty of stardom. It’s also an old-fashioned family affair, with co-writer/director Judd Apatow joined by his wife and daughter, neither of whom can make this bubble worth entering.

The potentially fun conceit involves the production of the latest sequel (#6!) to “Cliff Beasts,” a fictional film franchise described as the 23rd highest-grossing in history. The cast must come together under imposed production guidelines at the height of Covidsequestered together in a hotel when they’re not suspended by wires in front of a green screen, spouting out stiff dialogue and battling computer-generated monsters.

“The safest place in the world right now is on a film set,” one of the cast members, Carol (Karen Gillan), tells her agent when she balks at participating, having already irritated her co-stars skipping the final sequel to make a misguided project about Jews and Palestinians uniting against aliens.

All the craziness that goes into producing a film is essentially put on steroids, with the crew receiving warnings about how weird actors can be, the eccentricities accentuated by isolating everyone in a confined space.

Obviously, the lack of creativity in sequel-conscious Hollywood is ripe for parody, but any shy asides would probably play better at a film industry premiere than at home via Netflix. These baseball gags include a mention of the People’s Choice Awards, an actor convinced he can improve the script, and a studio boss (Kate McKinnon) who issues threats from afar with a sincere smile.

Yet the boredom the actors endure sitting in isolation begins to spill over to the viewer, overcoming the over-the-top efforts of Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife), David Duchovny, Keegan-Michael Key, Pedro Pascal, Iris Apatov — playing an influencer role to tap into his social media — and plenty of celebrity cameos, which manage to be both awe-inspiring in their sheer volume and more importantly gratuitous in their execution.

Sharing script credit with Pam Brady, Apatow delivers some clever lines, but they’re mostly lost in the overall noise and manic tone. While it’s not necessarily too early for a funny Covid movie, “The Bubble” strives for a sought-after level of insanity until the very end.

“I am the painter and you are the painting,” the stressed director, played by Fred Armisen, ends up snapping at his cast.

Having recently spent time on documentaries about comedy legends Garry Shandling and soon to be George Carlin, Apatow has certainly done his share of memorable comedies since “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” “The Bubble” also openly affirms its unassuming mission, which is to provide people with a light distraction in these troubled times.

It’s a cool idea, but as distractions go by, this one feels too much like watching the paint dry.

“The Bubble” premieres April 1 on Netflix.

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