One of my fellow film critics breezed into Good Luck Chuck right before it began. "I don't even know what it's about," she noted as she sat. I, charitably, leaned forward with a synopsis: "Dane Cook plays a young man laboring under a curse where every woman he's involved with then goes on to find true love and marriage with the next man she dates. When he meets and falls for Jessica Alba, though, he wants to break the curse." I then added, half-hopingly and half-jokingly, "It may be a whimsical piece of magical realism."
I assure you wholeheartedly, it is not. The problem's not the pitch -- you could probably make a sweet, silly, movie from that premise -- but in the execution, which is so ham-fisted and blunt that you feel like you're being beaten about the head with clubs made out of artificial breasts, sexism, gross-out humor and Dane Cook's naked body. Another friend, after I dismissed Good Luck Chuck as unfunny trash, said "It'll probably be the top of the box office, then" and offered that I was "an elitist." Well, to paraphrase David Rees, if 'elitist' means 'not the dumbest person in the room,' then hell, yes, I'm an elitist. And Good Luck Chuck may make money; so does cocaine, but I don't feel like that alone is a reason to endorse either product.
During a teen game of spin-the-bottle, young Charles draws 'seven minutes in heaven' with a Goth girl who's secretly longed for him; spurning her advances, he brings down her wrath, and a curse. Leaping to the present day, Chuck (Dane Cook) has grown to be a dentist, and his 'lucky charm' status is something of an urban legend. Now, women hurl themselves at Chuck so that, after sleeping with him, they might then find true love. Chuck is willing to take advantage of this, but only up to a point: "What's sex without love?" His boorish plastic surgeon buddy Stu (Dan Fogler) howls an answer: "It's SEX! It's STILL SEX!"
This is the height of wit in Good Luck Chuck, a movie that shoots for the Judd Apatow mix of potty-mouthed comedy with warm-hearted characters, but gets the mix horribly wrong. We're supposed to titter (and, yes, I do mean titter -- this movie has the breast-obsessed eye of a randy 14-year-old, and an I.Q. to match) at split-screen panoramas of Chuck with his multiple conquests. Ha, ha -- sex and boobies are funny, right? And when Stu tries to convince Chuck he's doing a public service and may as well enjoy it, Stu offers this line of reasoning: "Don't tell me that Gandhi wasn't getting some sweet Native American trim. ..." Ha, ha -- Stu's confusing the meanings of 'Indian!'
But then Chuck meets the plucky, clumsy penguin expert Cam (Jessica Alba), and he is smitten. Chuck doesn't want the curse to affect her feelings for him -- or, rather, to lose her to another guy -- so he starts lavishing affections on her and also tests the curse by sleeping with the most unattractive woman he can find. Wow, penguin suits and back acne jokes, a barbershop quartet performing Beyonce's "Crazy in Love" and pubic-pelt effects makeup -- what an embarrassment of riches!
But really, it's more of an embarrassment. Director Mark Helfrich is making his debut as an auteur here -- his previous credits include editing several films by Brett Ratner (or, as I call him around the house after Rush Hour 3, X-Men 3 and Red Dragon, "that no-talent ass-clown Brett Ratner"), so I guess you could suggest he's had a PhD-level course in the construction and presentation of crap guaranteed to make money. Screenwriter Josh Stolberg's credits include various pieces of TV junk animation, and his capacity for mixing tired gags with sexist smut and bowel-movement comedy makes the Farrelly brothers look like the second coming of Noel Coward and Oscar Wilde.
I actually like Cook's stand-up -- he's dimwitted, sure, but he's got the courage of his convictions, and there's something to the meathead brio he brings to his surreal short-attention-span gags. But having him play the guy in a romantic comedy -- a little damaged, striving to do better, crazy in love -- is a completely wrong fit for him. As for Alba, she may be the dreamgirl for millions of teen boys -- or, rather, of pre-teen boys who sigh over their copies of Maxim and dream of one day being teens -- but on-screen she's deadly dull and exasperatingly stiff. Has Alba ever given a performance of any note? Or is she just a well-proportioned mammal where fate and the insane nature of modern fame have mysteriously plucked her from a life of car shows and county fair product demonstrations? Good Luck Chuck suggests the latter -- because, honestly, if you actually read the script for Good Luck Chuck and still wanted to be in it, it's fairly obvious you have no real sense of 'good' or 'bad' motivating your choices as a performer, just an understanding of the binary division between 'working' or 'not working.'
The thing is, as mentioned before, you could probably make a good movie out of Good Luck Chuck's pitch; that just didn't happen here. And I like a good, funny, smutty comedy; the problem is that Good Luck Chuck is a bad, unfunny smutty comedy. Good Luck Chuck thinks the following things are funny: Skin eruptions. Fake breasts. Sand in the genitals. Fruit-aided self-pleasure. Flightless birds eating their own excrement. Overweight people in lingerie. Overweight people in swim suits. Overweight people in general. Barbershop quartets performing pop singles. Chipped teeth. If these things -- in and of themselves, without any attachment to plot or character or elegant construction or witty execution -- are funny to you, you'll love Good Luck Chuck. And may God have mercy on your soul.