Alibi V.15 No.10 • March 9-15, 2006 

Film Review

Failure to Launch

Abort! Abort!

Failure to Launch

Directed by Tom Dey

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker

“OK, we flip a coin. The winner gets to shoot themselves in the head. The loser has to keep making this movie.”

Occasionally, moviegoers like to play a game called “What the hell is wrong with film critics?” In this game, they attempt to figure out what it is that makes film critics so different from ordinary folks. Clearly, people who review movies for a living are a pack of crusty old player-haters. How else to explain the fact that, say, that jerk from the Alibi hated Big Momma's House 2? Big Momma's House 2 was hilarious! It was the No. 1 movie in America! Obviously, the guy hates film and knows nothing about the tastes of the average American.

Sorry to say, but that's simply not the case. About the only thing that separates me from any other moviegoer at the cineplex is the fact that I see probably five times more movies than the average stubholder. Look at it this way: If you ate out at a restaurant once a month, you'd probably enjoy most of your meals. But, if you were forced to eat out every night of the week, you'd spend roughly 70 percent of your time eating all-too-common foods like burgers. After a while, you'd get pretty sick of the same old hamburger. It would take a pretty damn good burger to catch your attention. That's what it's like for movie critics.

If Maid in Manhattan was one of the six films you saw in theaters in 2002, chances are you probably found it sweet and enjoyable. If, on the other hand, you were me, and Maid in Manhattan was one of roughly 186 utterly formulaic Hollywood romantic comedies you saw that year, odds are you were bored silly with it.

Which brings us, in a roundabout way, to Failure to Launch. It will be a hit. It may even be the No. 1 movie. A lot of people will walk out of the theater saying things like, “That was cute!” or “How sweet!” or “It made me laugh!”--none of which changes the fact that it is a fundamentally shitty movie.

“Yeah, my parents got the name from J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey . ... At least they weren’t reading Tristan and Isolde .”

Failure to Launch takes a number of charismatic stars (Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Kathy Bates and--I swear I'm not kidding--Terry Bradshaw) and strands them in a painfully contrived, utterly predictable “I've worked on TV sitcoms and once took a weekend screenwriting course in Van Nuys”-style romantic comedy script.

The film starts out relatively promising, introducing us to Trip (McConaughey), a thirtysomething ladies' man who still lives at home with his parents. Trip, it seems, is the ultimate slacker bachelor, using his parents as a defense anytime a girl starts talking about marriage. One day, however, he meets Paula (Parker), who seems like the perfect girl. Could she be the one to actually make him give up the cocoon of parental safety? In short: Of course.

As we quickly learn, however, Paula is actually a freelance relationship interventionist for hire. (A what now?) Her job is to seduce men so that they will fall in love with her, thereby growing up, gaining emotional responsibility and moving out of their parents' houses. (I'm sorry, where was this particular job on high school career day?) Naturally, she's been hired by Trip's parents to work her love magic on the boy so they can turn the spare bedroom into a gym. (And where exactly would you find this woman listed in the phone book?)

Yes, sadly--most sadly--Failure to Launch is just another in Hollywood's endless parade of “Big Lie” romcoms. The formula works like this: Boy meets Girl, Boy lies to Girl (or Girl lies to Boy), Boy and Girl fall in love, Girl discovers Boy's Big Lie (or vice versa), Boy and Girl break up for about 10 minutes worth of screen time, Boy and Girl are tearfully reunited with the Big Public Smooch (normally initiated by the NBFs--Nosey Best Friends).

With Failure to Launch, it's simply a matter of waiting around for the inevitable plot points to tick away. Predictably, Paula falls in love with her client. Predictably, Trip finds out about her “real” motivations. Predictably, they have a fight and break up. ... Feel free to fill in the rest yourself.

When it comes to the actors, there's very little to complain about. McConaughey and Parker are both cute, likable and amusing. Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) draws the eye no matter what she's doing. (Good thing, too, because her NBF character is so far removed from the proceedings that she spends most of her time trying to kill an annoying mockingbird outside her bedroom window.) Hell, even Terry Bradshaw does good work here--intercepting the film's only genuinely hard-earned laughs by stripping his post-post-NFL body buck-nekked.

Unfortunately, the script can't even seem to figure out what's funny about this situation. Whenever the film feels an absence of humor, it drops in a random slapstick sequence in which someone is bitten by an animal. Chipmunks, birds, lizards, dolphins, all are seen chomping down on people with a regularity that makes one wonder if this is supposed to turn into some sort of horror movie. What the hell is up with all the inexplicably rabid animals in this film?

If you go out to the theater only on the rare occasion that Jennifer Lopez has a new movie, you're likely to succumb to the minimal charms of this Launch. If, on the other hand, you're sick of the same boring old formula Hollywood insists on cranking out (“Big Lie” romcoms, comedians in latex fat suits and an endless supply of Texas Chainsaw Massacre rip-offs), steer clear of this Failure.