(On DVD, October 2016) Katherine Heigl as a neurotic shrew whose personal anxieties prevent her from finding true love? Well, that actually works—especially given that it describes maybe half of Heigl filmography so far. I’m not sure she got the screen persona that she wanted, but it doesn’t matter: It’s consistent and even a gnawing feeling that we’re supposed to dislike her works in 27 Dresses’ favour most of the time. As a freelance wedding planner who can’t manage to tie the knot, Heigl gets to go through the usual romantic comedy gamut of emotions regarding the male lead of the story, from exasperation to love. A rom-com in the classical mould, 27 Dresses can be confounding in its plot logic, lazy on its reliance on idiot plotting and not quite smooth in the way it lines up its set pieces, but it’s a generally harmless piece of fluff that can be watched easily and forgotten almost immediately. Judy Greer gets a few laughs as a deliberately promiscuous friend of the heroine, while James Marsden makes for a serviceable male protagonist. Some of the cynical commentary about the wedding industry is amusing, but would have been deployed to better effect in a darker kind of film. Much like the use that the film makes of the titular 27 dresses, this is a film that aims for the average rom-com and achieves it … leaving the full reactions to the viewers.
(Netflix Streaming, March 2016) I’m constantly surprised at the number of romantic comedies that revolve around tragic material. In this case, Life as We Know It is a film founded on the brutal accidental death of a one-year-old girl’s parents—the laughs are supposed to come when two mismatched friends are designated as guardians. Will they overcome their initial disgust toward one another to bond with the baby and for a family? Of course they will—and part of Life as We Know It’s appeal is not only in the way the expected moments will come, but also in how it somehow manages to get laughs from a situation that’s more tragic than comic. Let’s not pretend that the result is an unqualified success: Life as We Know It is largely a routine film, with few surprises on its way through a familiar arc. The stakes are a bit too high for comfort (although the film does get a bit of emotional depth by taking the tensions experienced by new parents and cranking them up to 11) but the plot points are well-known. Katherine Heigl does herself no favours by taking on a very familiar character, work-driven and uptight to an almost unpleasant degree, while Josh Duhamel isn’t much more than a usual overgrown bro in a somewhat stereotypical take on a new father. Some of the supporting performance shines, though, whether it’s a pre-stardom Melissa McCarthy, Christina Hendricks (very briefly) or Sarah Burns as a quirky CPS case worker. While Life as We Know It emotionally zigs and zags a bit too much to be completely satisfying, it actually manages to build something halfway decent out of very strange elements. If nothing else, it may be of comfort to new harried parents looking for any affirmation that things could be worse.
(On TV, March 2015) There’s a fine line between being irreverent and obnoxious, and The Ugly Truth often walks on the wrong side of it. The premise has a bit of sparkly potential, as a TV producer meets an abrasive shock-jock with a specialty in realpolitik relationship advice. The rest is straight out of the romantic comedy playbook, with generally likable performances from Katherine Heigl and Gerald Butler in the lead roles, neither of them straying too far from their usual screen persona. The problem is Butler’s love-burnt cynical character, who too-often comes across as repellent –the script makes a point to present an even worse replacement character near the end, but it’s a bit too late by that point to make a difference. The script has a dearth of amusing or memorable moments, often needlessly twisting itself into familiar shapes in order to deliver even-more familiar payoffs. The material plays vulgarly blue a bit too often, without payoffs either in sexiness or humor. (Surprisingly or not, this often-crass, even-more-often-misogynistic script was penned by three female screenwriters.) It often feels like wasted material: wasted lead actors, wasted effort, all in the service of something that doesn’t rise above mediocrity. Still, and this is an important “still”, The Ugly Truth has the advantage of working within a congenial sub-genre: Romantic comedies, even when they are not very good, are usually just likable enough to pass the time pleasantly. So it is that The Ugly Truth barely gets a passing grade on the strength of a formula perfected in better movies, and actors that are capable for much better.
(On TV, January 2015) I’m slowly getting up to speed on the comedy landmarks of the past decade, and Knocked Up certainly looms large on the list of unmissable films that I had managed to miss. I’m not a big fan of Judd Apatow’s school of crude observational comedies: Their scripts feel loose, the laughs a bit weak, and far too many of the premises are based on cringe-worthy material. I simply don’t identify with the result. Knocked Up is, in many ways, an encapsulation of it all as it studies the aftermath of a one-night stand between a pot-addled slacker (Seth Rogen, who else?) and a wound-up career woman (Katherine Heigl, in something near a career high). It does have the merit to use laughs as a way to address a complicated scenario, and in ways that won’t fail to resonate (even faintly) with any couple. It can also boast of a cast of supporting that would become, later on, a credible who’s-who of American comedy films, from Paul Rudd to Jason Segel to Kristen Wiig to Jonah Hill to Ken Jeong to Jay Baruchel and so on. There are poignant moments and silly laughs all wrapped up in a film that is daring enough to be noticeable, but not so much as to turn everyone against it: Traditional family values are espoused despite the raunchy details. Still, the film feels long and meandering at times, and I’m at the stage in my life where I see the fable of “shlubby nerd gets hot girl” as more toxic than empowering. (To summarize endless pages of hard-earned diatribes that go well beyond the scope of this review, my messages to my younger fellow nerds isn’t “be yourself and something magical will happen” but “grow up; it’s good for you”.) But back on track: Knocked Up may not be everyone’s cup of tea (the sexism is undeniable and the stoner-chic movement has to go away), but it is a films of cultural significance when put alongside the films it drew from and those it inspired. That’s something I’m willing to concede, even if I may not be the best public for its kind of laughs.
(On Cable TV, May 2013) Ensemble movies are a tricky mixture: there are usually too many characters and not enough running time to do them justice, and that’s even before getting into the sad fact that not all stories are equally as compelling. New Year’s Eve does its best at using pre-built sympathy for Dec.31 to launch a tapestry of romantic subplots, but the results are still variable. The links between the characters are intricate (sometimes even played for ironic laughs, as the moment near the end where we think two characters are racing to meet… only to pass each other on the street as they race to get to someone else) and figuring them out can be a good way to keep those synapses busy… but the real point of New Year’s Eve is a big mushy feeling of romantic satisfaction by the time the end credits roll. Director Garry Marshall does his best to keep everything interesting while juggling roughly two dozen name actors, but the script isn’t his best friend in this regard. In fact, New Year’s Eve may be most remarkable for its inability to deliver a consistently enjoyable subplot. Everything feels contrived, conventional, overly dramatic or implausible beyond belief. Zac Efron romancing Michelle Pfeiffer? Eh, why not –but don’t expect anyone but those two to care. While it’s hard to single out any actor as being better than the others, it’s not so difficult to identify those who are more irritating than others: Sofia Vergara is particularly exasperating in her usual shrill near-incomprehensible screen persona. Katherine Heigl also does herself no favour by reinforcing her already-annoying typecasting. Otherwise, the best the actors can do in this mess is to remain unnoticed. It’s not as if New Year’s Eve is dislikable; in fact, much of the issues with the film are that it tries so hard to be loved that it feels desperate in taking no chances. See it at the tail end of Dec.31 if you must, but don’t let it come between you and any meaningful contact with your loved ones.
(On-demand Video, June 2012) If shouldn’t be a surprise if a fluffy romantic crime-comedy novel ends up being adapted as a fluffy romantic crime-comedy film. Janet Evanovich’s “Stephanie Plum” series is a formulaic blend of criminal laughs and romantic thrills, and this big-screen adaptation generally operates in the same vicinity. Katherine Heigl looks good as a curly brunette protagonist who turns to bounty-hunting, and her attitude is more or less faithful to the novel as well. (Heigl won’t allow Plum to be anything but glammed-up, though: no baggy clothes on display here.) Plot-wise, One for the Money can’t escape the limitations of the original novel, which conveniently has the heroine chasing after an ex-flame and repeatedly meeting him thanks to the flimsiest of coincidences. The plot is filled with contrivances and happenstance (which doesn’t really matter), as well as sudden shifts of tone and casually dismissed violence (which matters considerably more). There are also a few issues of stereotyping and sexism that don’t work as well on-screen than in an unabashedly romantic novel. To be fair, tone is tricky in a criminal romantic comedy, and novels operate on slightly more forgiving grounds than films. What seems OK on the page can feel silly on-screen, and that’s where One for the Money loses some credibility. While the film is intended to launch a franchise based on the seventeen other novels in the Plum series, that project seems like a non-starter at the Cineplex: There isn’t enough going on here, and a TV miniseries may have served the project better. What is on-screen isn’t terrible, but it’s not much either: it’s almost instantly forgettable, leading one to suspect that there will never be a Two for the Show.
(In theatres, June 2010) Likable actors, a promising high concept, action-packed plotting and the ever-enjoyable absurdity of an assassin trying to settle down in bland suburbia. What can go wrong? Well, start by explaining why this so-called comedy struggles so much to earn even indulgent chuckles. Killers starts slow with an overlong prologue that tells too much and wounds the picture before it even gets going, only to restart again three years later. Overstaying its welcome before it even starts, this film simply never clicks. It doesn’t help that boy-hero Ashton Kutcher is never believable as a potentially murderous psychopath: even in action sequences, he seems to be preening in front of the camera, too self-absorbed to make us believe in his character. If you ever want to know what went wrong with Killers, start with the lead casting. On the other hand, there are a few good actors elsewhere in the movie trying their best to deal with what they’re given: Tom Selleck is great as a moustachioed dad, Catherine O’Hara does what she can as a boozy mom (how droll…) while Katherine Heigl –in-between high-pitched squeals—gives viewers a splendid excuse to look at her in low-cut outfits and gratuitous lingerie. None of them can save the film, but they rescue it from a complete lack of interest. The script is about one rewrite away from passable, placing far too much trust in actors who don’t have good comic timing. With so many problems, it hardly seems fair to nit-pick the plausibility of the plot, the horrible moral evasiveness of the conclusion of the preposterousness of the setup. The direction isn’t any better, wasting two otherwise promising suburban car chase through lawns and backyard fences. Killers is so good-natured that it does escape variations on “I hate this movie”, but it’s so bland, unfocused and a waste of its own potential that it can’t even reach the level of a marginal recommendation.