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In Judd Apatow’s ‘The Bubble,’ a film shoot during the pandemic definitely does not go well

In the Judd Apatow comedy ‘The Bubble,’ on Netflix, a film shoot during the pandemic definitely does not go well

Leslie Mann and David Duchovny in "The Bubble."Laura Radford/Netflix

It’s hard to say why something is funny. The best humor eludes explanation. Brain waves hardly matter for belly laughs. It may be even harder to say why something isn’t funny. This makes reviewing “The Bubble” a challenge.

“The Bubble” starts streaming on Netflix April 1.

Judd Apatow directed and co-wrote (with Pam Brady). So that’s promising. Also promising is an intriguingly oddball cast that includes Leslie Mann (Apatow’s wife), Keegan-Michael Key, David Duchovny, Fred Armisen, Maria Bakalova, and Kate McKinnon. Playing a film-studio boss, McKinnon is the one reliable laugh-getter. The other actor who consistently holds his end up is Peter Serafinowicz, he of the blended-whiskey voice, playing a movie producer.


Studio head? Movie producer? “The Bubble” is a movie about making a movie, but with a public-health twist.

The movie being made, or whose making is being attempted, is the sixth film in “the 23d-biggest action franchise of all time.” That would be “Cliff Beasts.” Cue the CGI. Apatow enjoys including scenes from that movie within this movie.

But we’re talking about the pre-vaccine days of the pandemic. So the “bubble” the title refers to encloses the film shoot. “The safest place in the world right now is a film set,” an agent tells a client. Oh, the places you’ll go? Oh, the things people will say to get their 10 percent.

Karen Gillan in a scene from "Cliff Beasts 6" in "The Bubble."Courtesy of Netflix

Cast and crew assemble in a luxury hotel in the English countryside. Bakalova is among the increasingly bemused staff. The director (Armisen) is definitely out of his comfort zone. “I won Sundance with a movie I made on an iPhone!” he reminds people. One of the stars (Key) is less interested in the movie than in promoting something called Harmony Ignite. “It’s not a cult,” he explains. “It’s a lifestyle brand.”

To try to broaden the franchise’s appeal, a TikTok star (Iris Apatow, Mann and Apatow’s daughter), is making her movie debut. Two “Cliff Beasts” veterans (Mann and Duchovny) are a married couple — and seriously estranged. Another cast member (Karen Gillan) skipped “Cliff Beasts 5,″ and now that she’s back on board she’s not going to be allowed to forget that act of disloyalty. “It’s a hotel, not a war zone,” the producer says to the head of security. Yes and no.


Keegan-Michael Key in "The Bubble."Laura Radford/Netflix

Stringing together a set of skits and calling it a movie isn’t the worst thing in the world. It had better not be, since that’s how an awful lot of American film comedy has functioned since the ‘80s. Call it the “SNL” effect. But at least some of the skits have to be funny. It helps, too, if the donnée, as Henry James, that master of matters mirthful, might say, is interesting. The targets here are depressingly easy: the narcissism of actors, the mindlessness of special-effects movies, the even greater mindlessness of TikTok videos.

In his last movie, “The King of Staten Island” (2020), Apatow was stretching, both emotionally and tonally, and it largely worked. Here he isn’t, and it doesn’t. The question isn’t whether he’s shooting fish in a barrel (shooting fish in a “Bubble”?). It’s how many bullet holes there were even before he began to fire.

There are compensations. It’s not every movie where you get to hear McKinnon intone the words “hakuna” and “matata.” The ending offers a nicely meta twist. Also, keep an eye out for cameos from Beck, John Cena, Benedict Cumberbatch, John Lithgow, James McAvoy, and Daisy Ridley. “Cliff Beasts” meets “Where’s Waldo?”




Directed by Judd Apatow. Written by Apatow and Pam Brady. Starring Karen Gillan, Leslie Mann, David Duchovny, Iris Apatow, Keegan-Michael Key, Fred Armisen, Kate McKinnon, Maria Bakalova. Streaming on Netflix. 124 minutes. R (language throughout, sexual content, drug use, and some violence).

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.