Tearin' down the walls 

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Breaking the fourth wall is an old convention in theatre and cinema.Basically, anytime a character addresses the audience it is considered a break in the invisible wall separating the story from the viewer (these days apparently there is a fifth wall too, which artists break by directly addressing the critics).

Back in the day, though, it wasn't cool to break the fourth wall — that would spoil the illusion everyone was working so hard to create. But art evolves.Bugs Bunny, The Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, Shrek... lately the fourth wall has been taking a hammering as popular culture gets more self-referential, post-modern and "meta." Think of a flick like Zombieland, built on a set of rules designed to teach the audience how to survive a zombie apocalypse and with Bill Murray playing himself.

The fourth wall gets utterly nut-kicked this week with the release of Deadpool, opening Friday at the Village 8. Deadpool, a minor comic anti-hero from the Marvel universe, is an ex-mercenary whose untested cancer treatment leaves him with horrific scars, a super-powered healing factor and a psychotic sense of humour. Now he's a give-no-eff's bad guy who gleefully skips about town laying the smackdown on even worse guys, with a bunch of anal sex jokes thrown in to keep things 18A.

Just like in his comics, the movie Deadpool breaks down the fourth wall almost immediately: the opening credits are tongue-in-cheek homages to action movie staples like "the hot chick" and "the gratuitous cameo" and Deadpool references everything from the X-Men to the Deadpool that popped up in the Wolverine spin-off to (Deadpool actor) Ryan Reynolds' other failed superhero movies. There is fourth wall breaking within fourth wall breaking amidst a literal flurry of slow-motion carnage, juvenile humour and mile-a-minute jokes from Reynolds, a B.C. actor who shines in the role.

The problem is Deadpool wants to have its cake and sodomize it too. For all the genre-bending, satirical mayhem and hype about smashing the superhero-movie mold, the filmmakers have also slotted in a very regular superhero origin story through incongruous flashbacks. As well, they slap a creepy, from-beyond love story where the horribly disfigured Deadpool peeping-toms his old wife (yes, exactly like that terrible Spawn movie). Which isn't to say this flick isn't a 16-in-the-clip-and-one-in-the-hole barrage of ick-joke awesomeness (it is), but it's also uneven and totally peters out as it progresses (and X-Men's Colossus is utterly wasted).

Also opening, in a month when studios usually dump their crappiest movies, Zoolander 2 hopes to capture some of that Blue Steel, Left-Turn-Only male modelling magic that surprised its way into the hearts of the world back in 2001. Red flag though: despite a huge cast and built-in fanbase, there were no pre-screenings of this one, so that is another bad sign.

The fourth wall comes down right away though. Zoolander 2 opens with Justin Bieber, playing himself, being shot to death in a dark alley. It's not funny but it sets things in motion, for better or for worse. The problem, I suspect, is that 2001 was a long time ago and no one involved in this movie got any younger, hipper, or more in tune with either the fashion industry or cinematic comedy since then. It's Zoolander and Hansel so you kinda-gotta give it a chance (Penelope Cruz, too!), but you also know that if it was any good it wouldn't be opening this Friday. And it is.

Also opening, How to be Single. Is it bad that I hated this flick based on the font they used in the trailer? Or am I just in tune with the art form? In any case there were no pre-screeners for this one either but it looks like it's about a newly single hot chick (Dakota Johnson) being dragged around by her lewd, crude, street savvy friend (Rebel Wilson) on a series of sexual and emotional misadventures, until eventually everyone learns something about love and, oh, isn't that just so precious. And somewhere in there, Leslie Mann has to act old and not hot (which is so impossible it almost breaks the fourth wall right there).

How to Be Single is 2016's official selection for "The shitty date movie released just before Valentine's Day." It's written by Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein, the same people who wrote "the shitty Valentine's Date movie" in 2009 (He's Just Not That Into You) and 2010 (Valentine's Day) and 2012 (The Vow). At first I found that absolutely baffling, such a string of stinkers, and yet it continues... Why? How? And then I remember about the fifth wall and I guess the joke is on me. Happy Valentine's Day indeed.

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