Failure to Launch

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/24/07 16:16:21

"Awful. Just flat-up, plain ol' awful."
1 stars (Sucks)

How aptly titled: “Failure to Launch” is out of gas, stalled on the pad, dead on arrival. It’s a romantic comedy so horrible that you actively root for the relationship to crash. Neither convincing nor charming, the film plays like an abandoned Adam Sandler project clumsily retooled for the chick flick crowd.

I name check Sandler because “Failure to Launch” has far more Happy Madison elements than I would have expected: a former pro athlete (in this case it’s Terry Bradshaw) brought in for supporting funnyman duties; male rear nudity used for cheap comic effect; ultra-wacky parents, including a mother played by Kathy Bates (a stretch, I know, as Bates appeared in only one Sandler film, but still); pointless subplots that go nowhere. Mix with this substandard romcom clichés: a relationship founded on deceit; leads with impossibly perfect jobs and plenty of free time to spend impossibly perfect time off with friends; a convoluted finale in which the leads reconcile while others cheer them on from afar; pointless subplots that go nowhere.

The premise: Trip (Matthew McConaughey) is the perfect guy - great looks, great job, great pals. He also still lives with his parents (Bates and Bradshaw), which puts off the ladies. Enter Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who runs a business in which parents hire her to date their sons, having them fall so much in love that they finally move out, wherein one supposes she breaks up with them. Trip’s parents hire Paula for such a service, but wouldn’t you know it, she ends up falling in love with the guy for real.

Never mind that the entire plot revolves around sexless prostitution paid for by parents too gutless to deal with their idiot sons. Never mind that we’re expected to believe that there’s so much demand to be had for such a service in the first place. Never mind that the movie features characters with names like “Trip,” “Kit,” “Ace,” and “Demo.” Even without all this, “Failure to Launch” is a stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid movie.

Screenwriters Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember make their feature debut here after years of writing sitcoms, and it shows - this one’s a lousy sitcom in movie form, complete with best-bud characters named “Demo” and “Ace” (played by the guy from “Alias” and the guy from “Gigli”). Scenes are clunky set-ups to clunkier punch lines, all overplayed. One scene has Trip getting bitten by a squirrel, another has Ace performing CPR on a bird. When the writers run out of ideas, they just have the character go play paintball for a while, which is as dull as it sounds.

Meanwhile, we have Zooey Deschanel, looking irritated at the very idea of having to be a movie this asinine. She plays Paula’s sassy/bitchy roommate, and there’s an entire subplot about how she wants to kill the mockingbird who chirps outside her bedroom window, resulting in various asides in which she buys a rifle. Her character’s presence is the sort that could only make sense to a couple of sitcom writers trying to fill time. (Side thought: imagine just how horrid a movie must become before it removes all the allure from Zooey Deschanel.)

And just when you’re tired of the comedy, in comes the drama. Astle and Ember attempt to give the Trip character the weight of a tragic backstory (a girlfriend who died years ago), but it doesn’t work, coming off with too much desperation, a strained effort to tug at heartstrings.

To his credit, McConaughey does fine with his role, as he’s aptly cast once again as the easy-going slacker. He handles the goofier slapstick moments as easily as he does the charming ones. (Parker, meanwhile, stumbles over every punch line, delivering an uneven, miserable performance.) But consider the casting: McConaughey may be the best choice for such a role in terms of box office draw, but watch how director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon,” “Showtime”) fills similar roles. Paula’s other clients are supergeeks and megalosers, including Patton Oswalt in a cameo as a “Star Wars”-obsessed slob. This tells us that the movie thinks all guys living at home are big fat nerds… unless, of course, we need one to be the star of our movie, and then they’re hunks. (Side thought: imagine just how horrid a movie must become before it removes all the funny from Patton Oswalt.)

Dey does such a miserable job staging the comedy (heightened by some of the shoddiest editing to ever make it into a major motion picture) that every minute of the film just hangs there, limp as can be. By the time we get to the finale - in which (and oh, how I wish I were making this up) a kidnapped Trip and Paula must confront each other while friends, family, and strangers look on via webcam! - we’re worn out by the complete idiocy of it all. “Failure to Launch” is a stupid movie about stupid people doing stupid things, adding a shot of Terry Bradshaw’s ass for good measure. It’s everything wrong with bad romantic comedies, all rolled into one easy-to-hate package.

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