Anyone who enjoys movies keeps a secret tally of any movie's strengths and weaknesses. Like an Olympic judge rating an athlete's performance, the final score determines whether a movie rates a recommendation or is forgotten as an also-ran.
As far as formula fare goes, one could do worse than the above-middlin' romantic comedy Failure To Launch starring Matthew McConaughey as a 30-something who still lives with his folks (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) until they hire a motivationalist (Sarah Jessica Parker) to help him fly the nest. Naturally and against all odds, McConaughey's and Parker's completely artificial relationship blossoms into something more. Here's how I broke it down:
First, it's funny. Not just an occasional giggle, sit-com kind of funny but infused throughout funny. TV vets Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, who are attached to this year's Steve Carell update of Get Smart, may be green as screenwriters, this being their first project produced, but with that inexperience comes a kind of hunger. Of course, most first-timers become well-fed and lazy after a taste of success like this, but for now, proof of their talent is apparent. Each character is created with a specific purpose, as is every scene, sequence and act. It's all very textbook, but it works. Mark one in the "plus" column.
One big demerit for me was Parker. I just don't like her much anymore. Maybe it's because I recently realized that by making her super-cute Square Pegs character Patty the standard by which I rated every woman I've met over the last 20 years to the total exclusion of all others was unfair to all the Joan Cusacks and Martha Plimptons I probably would have been much happier with. Perhaps it has something to do with the empowering Sex And The City marathon my estranged wife took in before she moved out last year. Peripheral reasons both. What it comes down to is that the last movie I can even remember Parker in was L.A. Story...from 1991 (and I've seen them all in-between). A smile and a pretty face will take you only so far, and I think that she will soon find how far if she doesn't sharpen her chops and do more than just recite her lines. Mark one in the "minus" column.
The antidote for Parker is McConaughey. He's got loads natural charm, and is very good-looking, receding hairline and all. No, I don't swing that way, but he is on my List Of Guys I'd Kiss (If I Had To), which every straight guy has (my other non-threatening placeholders include Antonio Banderas and Mel Gibson before he got all Passionate). It is a little hard to believe that a guy who looks like McConaughey does is still living at home, but it is a minor handicap. Unlike Parker, there is not a movie I have seen him in that I have forgotten. Heck, I remember him from the otherwise ick-flecked Texas Chainsaw 4, and have seen Sahara more than once, though that has a lot to do with how sexy it is hearing Penélope Cruz try to get her Castilian tongue around English.
And the scene that everyone will be talking about on Monday? When Bradshaw finally appropriates his long-wanted "Naked Room", director Tom Dey tries to add a punch line to a punch line with Gratuitous Shots Of Terry Bradshaw's Not-So-Tight End, and it doesn't pay off. In fact, it's just plain mean, to Bradshaw and to us. If ever a scene called for comical Austin Powers-style editing, it is this one. The MPAA may want to consider a new content warning so that viewers have some advance notice of the retinal scarring that is to come. Give me Kathy Bates in a hot tub in About Schmidt any day.
Devilish, bright-eyed pixie Zooey Deschanel is another saving grace. She plays Parker's housemate, a lonely and sullen outsider plagued daily by a mockingbird perched outside her window. It is a great running gag, and she is given three solid scenes to run off with, though unfortunately for us, does not sing in any of them like she did when she surprised the hell out of audiences in Elf. Also well played is the running bit with her suitor, McConaughey's dorky friend played by Justin Bartha. There are times when you secretly hope that the rules of Hollywood were different, and the McConaughey/Parker story could be the side plot. You really want him to get the girl, and you want the girl to get the guy.
So the scorecard adds up as such:
Movie funny = 1
-Apathy/pain associated with Parker = -1
Like/vaguely gay feelings for McConaughey = 1
-Terry Bradshaw's end zone = -1
Zooey! Zooey! Zooey! = 1
Any score adding up to zero would earn an "Eh..." if someone asked you how it was, which you'd likely follow with "Wait for the DVD."
Any score adding up to less than zero would earn an [I don't know how to spell what a fart noise sounds like]. I'd say, "Wait for the DVD...and skip it then, too."
However, this one adds up to greater than zero, and has enough going for it to earn a modest recommendation. Of course, you wouldn't recommend it to a teenager over The Hills Have Eyes, and you wouldn't recommend it to a friend with young kids over The Shaggy Dog. Also, you wouldn't recommend it over The Libertine...wait, you would - The Libertine is skanky and quite unappealing. ("Strike that," as Willy Wonka would say, "Reverse it.") Sure, you won't see the endorsement "At least it doesn't suck," in the newspaper ads, but hey - at least it doesn't suck.