Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Movie Review: Failure to Launch

(FYI Note: One of my work duties is editing my company's monthly employee newsletter. Sometimes I write movie reviews for it. I thought I’d start posting them here, too.)

One of the knocks on the recent Academy Award ceremonies—not to mention the movies they were celebrating—was that they were pretty heavy this year. Very serious. Self-important. Humorless, even. The suggestion has been made that perhaps some movie-goers are growing a bit tired of all this seriousness, and the attendant politically charged, intellectually weighty films. If that’s the case, then
Failure to Launch, which opened March 10, will do very well for itself.

If that sounded like a back-handed compliment to you, then, well, you’re right. But the critical opinions (which have already been
quite negative) may not matter, as “Failure to Launch” is unapologetically designed to please ticket buyers, not critics. And in this sense, it’s already on its way—topping the box office in its first week with a $24 million take.

Nevertheless, it’s still a bad movie. Facts is facts.

It is often said that good art creates an alternate universe we immediately recognize as our own. Take that, flip it upside down, and you’ve got “Failure to Launch.” It stars
Matthew McConaughey as Tripp, a 30-something ladies’ man and his two buddies who all still live in their parents’ homes. And happily so. Mom still makes breakfast in the morning and folds up the laundry, and if a girl ever dares to make the dreaded Where Is This Relationship Going inquiry, one need only bring her home, introduce the folks, wave good-bye as she runs for the hills, and return to your life of skirt-chasing, Chardonnay and non-threatening extreme sports. Who ever figured living with your parents would un-cramp your style?

Of course, Tripp’s parents (
Kathy Bates and football celebrity Terry Bradshaw, who—I must warn you—does a nude scene. I’m not kidding) love him, but are ready for him to strike out on his own. Enter Paula (an oddly tan Sarah Jessica Parker), a young professional who makes her living as a specialist in just these situations. She dates guys who still live at home, convinces them to get their own place, then dumps them and cashes the check. The parents are the ones who hire her. Huh? Either way, Tripp is her latest client.

I’m not sure I need to articulate the fact that romantic high jinks ensue.

Matt, we've discussed this. Please lower your hands. This is very unprofessional.

But what a strange version of reality. Starting with that main storyline, there’s just something not-quite-right about every detail. Has it ever, you know, raised any eyebrows that parents pay Paula to date, mislead and then hurt their sons? Am I really supposed to root for this person, or expect that it will pan out? If Tripp’s job is really that of a boat salesman, shouldn’t he, at some point, sell a boat? Or at least reference the fact that he has sold or plans to sell a boat? Why is everyone boozing constantly, but never showing any effects? Every part of the movie is like this--it's not a problem of inconsistent or sloppy filmmaking per se; it's a problem of their world not making sense.

So this alternate reality, coupled with under-developed characters, the predictably predictable ending, lukewarm comedy and dialogue clunkier than my grandmother’s Pinto all combine to give this movie a mechanical quality. It’s as if someone gathered up a bunch of data about modern America along with every romantic comedy ever made, fed it all into a computer, and “Failure to Launch” immediately extruded from the printer. It’s a bland, soulless film.

But in the end, I guess there are worse things. “Failure to Launch” certainly means well, and there's no doubt it’s a photogenic cast—even the house pets have piercing blue eyes. It’s a positive-minded movie that wants to be liked, and it will be. In fact, it just might break the record for the number of times a movie is described as “cute.” And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. People with more critical tastes will pan it, while the Saturday matinee crowd shakes its collective head and wonders what those gloomy Gusses couldn’t find to like in such a cute little movie. Then they will go home, tell someone else what a cute little movie they just saw, and promptly forget the title.

(Photo credit: Paramount Pictures)

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