Man About Town

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 04/02/07 15:03:41

"Wait, they put 'Surviving Christmas' in theaters, but not this? Huh."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Let’s journey back once more to the gates of Movie Limbo, that dreaded void to where films are callously dispatched when their box office potential is judged to be something less than that of a Uwe Boll picture. If you’re a patient sort, as you watch the gates you will from time to time be treated with the sight of one of these movies being set free, a studio allowing it to return to the real world in the form of a no frills, hope-nobody’s-looking direct-to-video release.

One such picture is “Man About Town,” made back in 2004 with a cast loaded with familiar faces: Ben Affleck, Rebecca Romijn, John Cleese, Gina Gershon, Adam Goldberg, Bai Ling, Kal Penn, Amber Valetta, Jerry O’Connell, Howard Hesseman, and even writer/director Mike Binder, giving himself a prime supporting role. You’ll recognize Binder’s name these days as the man behind “The Upside of Anger” and “Reign Over Me;” his “Man About Town” is yet another entry in his brand of light dramedy. (Earlier efforts include the delightful “Indian Summer” and the middling “The Sex Monster.”)

Two key factors sent “Man About Town” shuffling off to Movie Limbo way back when: 1) it’s just not very good at all, and 2) it was made at the tail end of Affleck’s streak of deadly bombs, including “Gigli,” “Jersey Girl,” and “Surviving Christmas.” Oh my, indeed. Three years (and a quick release in international markets) later, we can finally see the film not for the Affleckian turkey it was seen as being back then, but instead for that first point: it’s just not very good at all.

Affleck plays Jack Giamoro, an ace talent agent who just started a creative writing class (taught by Cleese in one of those shot-in-two-days bit parts) in order to, um, help him figure out his life or something. He is to keep a daily journal detailing his most intimate thoughts - thoughts which include a wife (Romijn) cheating on him, the history of how he started his business through corruption and theft, the occasional Hollywood gossip.

For the first act, we’re watching “Jerry Maguire” rehashed as more of a comedy (example: Hesseman, as Jack’s post-stroke father, gets stuck with a pointless “crazy old man” routine), although the sappy drama drips as well (flashbacks to Jack’s unhappy childhood lay down the schmaltz). Then comes act two, in which Jack’s journal is stolen by a journalist (Ling); bring on the funny (Jack, following a beating, gets faulty dental surgery leaving him with chipmunk-sized choppers, har har)! By act three, Jack is pouring on the drama as he tries to fix his pitiful life, etc., etc., even as the climax builds to the realm of frenzied farce.

Which is the problem of the film. “Man About Town” is frustratingly manic in its tone, rocketing from frantic comedy to maudlin drama within seconds, and the unevenness wears too thin too quickly. Plus, there’s no workable middle ground - the humor is overly broad, sitcom-level high concept yuks, the drama is dopey, moldy cheese. There’s never a moment here that feels genuine. So while a few of the scenes work well on their own (the teeth bit is admittedly funny, and Cleese is great), as a whole, the movie stumbles at every turn, and we’re left with yet another of those “Gigli”-era Ben Affleck movies that have become so very easy to ignore.

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