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The secret cinephilia of Ken Kwapis, director of “Dunston Checks In.”

The secret cinephilia of Ken Kwapis, director of “Dunston Checks In.” (photo)

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The news that “Dilbert” is poised to become a live-action movie didn’t exactly set the internet on fire with glee. Nor did the news that Ken Kwapis is going to direct it.

Because of his resume — which includes Faye Dunaway-vs.-a-chimp flick “Dunston Checks In,” the Robin Williams vehicle “License To Wed” and, most recently, “He’s Just Not That Into You” — he’s generally slotted, if not in the uber-hack category, among the ranks of insignificant directors. Given his track record, this seems fair. The important word here is “seems.”

I’m not about to mount a defense of “Dunston” (which even the child target audience could tell was bad). But I am going to offer one for “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” the adaptation of the YA novel that Kwapis took to screen in 2005. It wasn’t a movie I sought out: I was dragged there on a date, like most of the males in America who saw it.

I wanted to hate it — it’s a movie aimed squarely at the tween market, crassly calculated to knock over every demographic. It’s four girls are tailored to each speak to someone: Greek girl who has a blithe foreign summer romance, the totally normal blond girl who has sex too soon and grows, the Latina child of divorce, the Hot Topic pseudo-goth. The girls bond over a pair of magical jeans that fit all of them. It sounded insufferable.

But there’s an edit in it that seemed like an homage to “Lawrence of Arabia”‘s famous match cut, and a few shots that seemed deliberately modeled after Antonioni. The movie’s not perfect, but it’s far cannier and better than you’d expect, and doesn’t have that irritating feeling of condescending vacuousness so many films aimed at teens do.

Spotted those references made me feel like I was hallucinating or rationalizing, but they were confirmed by Ray Pride’s interview with Kwapis, in which the director acknowledges both reference points and many more (Rouben Mamoulian! Andreas Gursky! “Sunrise”!). He is, in short, a shockingly well-versed cinephile nerd of the arthouse order. Everything that made “Sisterhood” better than it had to be accorded with his intellectual overqualifications.

05272010_sisterhood.jpgSo why does Kwapis continue churning out so many universally reviled comedies? It’s not that he’s stupid, and he doesn’t have the problem of the likes Ang Lee or John Sayles, whom frequently seem too smart for their own good and end up underlining their subtext in the movie equivalent of red ink. Being smart and well-versed in film doesn’t automatically equal making good ones yourself — but the stuff about “Sisterhood” that’s good belong to Kwapis, the demographic cynicism all being from the source material.

What Kwapis’ career reminds me of is that — as with everything — talent and intellect are helpful but not overwhelming. Who knows how many adept filmmakers get buried under a sea of mediocre (or awful) material they were powerless to elevate? It’s a reminder that few filmmakers deserve to be automatic punchlines because of their resumes. Kwapis is in some ways a studio system casualty — albeit a successful, working one, who’s made some passion projects and directed many widely beloved TV shows (his work on “The Larry Sanders Show” is impeccable).

Here’s the trailer for “Pants”:

[Photos: “Dilbert,” Sony Pictures Television, 1999-2000; “The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” Warner Bros., 2005]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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