by Mel Valentin
"Yes Man," a high-concept comedy starring Jim Carrey ("Fun with Dick and Jane," "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," "Bruce Almighty," "Me, Myself & Irene," "Man on the Moon," "The Truman Show," "Liar, Liar," "The Cable Guy"), is surprisingly, sadly, less than the sum of its comedic parts. Despite Peyton Reed ("The Break-Up," "Down With Love," "Bring It On") behind the camera and Nicholas Stoller ("Forgetting Sarah Marshall") as one of two credited screenwriters, "Yes Man" flounders once it quickly exhausts its premise of a character who can’t say no. Featuring a mix of tried and tired sight gags and verbal humor, plus the usual Carrey camera mugging, "Yes Man" is the un-perfect film for the holidays, sporadically funny, often not, and entirely forgettable.In his forties, divorced, and stuck in a dead-end job as a junior loan officer at a savings and loan, Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) says no to everything, including his two best friends, Peter (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson). Despite their best efforts to help Carl get over his ex-wife, Stephanie (Molly Sims), he still pines for her. When he’s coaxed out of his apartment to hang out at a bar and celebrate Peter’s upcoming marriage to Lucy (Sasha Alexander), Carl runs into Stephanie and her new boyfriend. Disconsolate, Carl retreats to his unfulfilling daily routine until he runs into an old friend, Nick (John Michael Higgins), who suggests Carl needs to attend a self-help seminar run by Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp), a Tony Robbins clone with a British accent and a Zen-like demeanor who counsels seminar attendees to just say “Yes” to everything. If Carl doesn’t say yes, bad things will happen.
"Kids, just say "No!" to Yes Man."
Figuring he has nothing to lose and maybe, just maybe, everything to gain, Carl attends one of Bundley’s seminars and even gets one-on-one attention from Bundley himself. Moments after leaving the seminar, Carl’s decision to say yes to everything runs into the first obstacle, a homeless man (Brent Briscoe) who needs a ride into the local park, some time on Carl’s cell phone and cash. Seconds later, Carl’s car runs out of gas. At the gas station, Carl meets Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a free-spirited woman who offers Carl a ride on her scooter and a kiss to end the evening. Rolling with the new “yes” philosophy, Carl takes up guitar lessons, studies Korean, and learns to fly a plane. By again saying yes to a flyer promoting local bands, he runs into Allison again as she performs with her band Munchausen by Proxy.
Yes Man fits neatly into Carrey’s earlier, commercially successful high-concept comedies, Bruce Almighty and Liar, Liar. In Bruce Almighty, God (Morgan Freeman) gives Bruce (Carrey) his powers. In Liar, Liar, the central character, a lawyer discovers he can’t tell a lie, even when his professional and personal life depends on it. Along with Yes Man, each comedy gives Carrey plenty of room to get physical, throwing his body to cough up a few laughs. Yes Man is tamer in comparison, maybe because Carrey has hit his mid-forties and isn’t as durable as he once was. Then again, Carrey’s attempts at drama, specifically The Number 23 and, more successfully, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Man on the Moon, and The Truman Show all suggest Carrey’s desire to break away from his comedic roots, until, of course, he needs another commercial hit, as he obviously does now.
Thematically and dramatically, there isn’t much to Yes Man. Carl’s a drip, stuck in a negative spiral of bitterness and unhappiness, almost miraculously, turns his life around by following a simple (and simplistic) philosophy that puts a premium on divine guidance or blind luck (probably the latter). As with any character in a Hollywood comedy or drama, Carl has to undergo personal change. By the end of Yes Man, his experiences, good, bad, and middling, are expected to turn him into a “better” human being, at least one who’ll take the plunge into the most dangerous sporting activity of all, romance. That he gets there and, more importantly, that we care, is due primarily to Carrey’s charms as an actor and not Peyton Reed’s anonymous direction or Nicholas Stoller and co-screenwriter, Jarrad Paul’s writing, which rarely rises above the obvious and the maudlin.Far worse than "Yes Man’s" comedic inconsistencies has to be the blatant, ubiquitous product placement. Early on, we get “treated” to Carl taking a stroll through a Blockbuster video store, Carl lovingly fondling a DVD copy of "300," Carl picking up a copy of "Transformers" to rent, Carl showing up at a date with Allison overloaded on Red Bull, Carl appearing at Norm’s Harry Potter party dressed as Harry Potter, a body- and face-painted Carl cheering wildly at a Nebraska Cornhuskers football game, Carl borrowing an acquaintance’s Ducati motorcycle (pronouncing it several times, just in case the audience didn’t hear Carl the first and second time), and driving past a UPS truck as he speeds toward his romantic destiny. Those examples are just the most obvious. A more discerning would likely pick up several (many?) more examples of blatantly obnoxious product placement.
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originally posted: 12/19/08 14:19:00