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Secret, The: Dare to Dream
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by Peter Sobczynski

"BS On The Bayou"
1 stars

For those of you who had either forgotten about it or have until now remained blissfully unaware of its existence, “The Secret” was a self-help book by Rhonda Byrne that managed to spawn an entire cottage industry back in the mid-2000s after Oprah Winfrey publicly endorsed it. The popularity certainly wasn’t the result of its underlying thesis, which was little more than reheated Norman Vincent Peale-style piffle about how if you really desire something in life and think really hard about how much you want it, the universe will snap into ask-and-ye-shall-receive mode. After a few years, the craze died down and I had assumed that it vanished to the grand metaphorical closet where all the pop cultural embarrassments of that period are tossed away and quickly forgotten. And yet, for reasons that I am at a loss to explain, along comes “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” a film that takes its inspiration, for lack of a better word, from the book’s teachings, for lack of a better word, and jams them together into a film that also seems like a refugee from about 15 years ago and not just because that was around the last time that one might normally have seen the likes of Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas scoring top billing in a film.

Holmes plays Miranda, a New Orleans-based widow and mother of three whose is stuck in a rut and facing numerous financial woes that could presumably be eliminated if she marries her super-rich boyfriend/boss (Jerry O’Connell, whose presence goes a long way to explaining her hesitation). On a day that has already seen her giving her boyfriend crabs (cheap joke—he owns the restaurant she manages), undergoing a root canal, dealing with a petulant teen daughter (Sarah Hoffmeister) who frets that no one will come to her 16th birthday party because another party the same day will have a food truck and preparing to ride out a hurricane, she accidentally rear-ends Bray Johnson (Lucas), who, despite the name, is not a character from a Clive Cussler novel.

Not only is he fine with it, he even offers to fix up her bumper and when a tree branch crashes through the roof of the house (cue the daughter groaning “What about my party?”), he even agrees to fix that up as well for only the cost of materials. While Miranda and the kids fall under the sway of Bray’s platitude-heavy patter, both the fiancee and Miranda’s former mother-in-law (Celia Weston) are convinced that there is something not right about him. As it turns out, he is carrying a secret—not technically The Secret, though it is certainly ludicrous enough to have been inspired by the same mind—and it is only a matter of time before it is revealed in the most awkward manner imaginable before everything comes together in a conclusion that even Nicolas Sparks might have sent back to the drawing board for another go.

Okay, so perhaps I am having a little fun with “The Secret: Dare to Dream,” which is far more than most people will have actually watching it. Some of you may be getting the sense that I hold the whole “Secret” concept in such contempt that there is no way I could possibly see around it to give this film a fair critical chance. In fact, I found it surprisingly easy to put all of that stuff to the side and instead focus on all the conventional ways in which it fails. The screenplay is a shameless pile on contrivances that throws in everything from a mysterious character whose identity is deliberately kept from us in a ham-fisted way of distracting us from their true identity (though when they are fully revealed, it does inspire a number of new questions) to a finale that actually involves the arrival of a pony as part of the happy ending.

As for the big secret Bray is carrying, that thread is stretched out beyond all plausibility and also raises more than a few questions of its own that it has no interest in answering. The characters played by Homes and Lucas are boring simps throughout and they seem to be struggling to keep their eyes from rolling whenever they are on the screen. (This may be the first time in cinema history where the most likable character in a movie was played by Jerry O’Connell, depending on your feelings towards the “Piranha” remake.) Wrestling all of these elements together is director Andy Tennant, who seems almost as bored with the material as the actors and whose visual approach is as flat and uninvolving as can be. The whole film has the look and feel of a slightly more adult version of those stultifying Disney live-action film of the 1970s that always seemed to take place in an imperfect alien simulacrum of the American way of life. (Sadly, there are no place-kicking mules on display but perhaps the pony could be trained.)

“The Secret: Dare to Dream” is a dumb, silly and treacly concoction that will sorely test the patience of anyone who tries to sit through it without the aid of a box or two of wine. The whole concept was foolish fifteen years ago and, as this film proves more than conclusively, time has not exactly done it any favors. If the film does prove anything, however, it does pretty much illustrate that Katie Holmes and Josh Lucas must not themselves be practitioners of the teachings espoused in the film—if they were, they presumably would have wished for a better screenplay than this to star in.

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originally posted: 07/30/20 16:15:55
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