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Overall Rating
3.3

Awesome: 3.7%
Worth A Look44.44%
Average: 29.63%
Pretty Bad: 22.22%
Total Crap: 0%

4 reviews, 3 user ratings


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Baxter, The
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by Erik Childress

"Missing The Point, The Mark And The Boat"
2 stars

Imagine for a second that Ben Stiller was the bad guy of There’s Something About Mary. That’s what I figured when I heard the announcement of that Farrelly Bros. project. He would be the crazy stalker who hires the far more handsome Matt Dillon to follow Cameron Diaz and hence, falling in love for himself. That wouldn’t seem right in the annals of romantic moviedom since it’s the less-likely who should run away with the girl at the end. Director Michael Showalter wants to play with such a flip of the cards by telling the story from the perspective of the guy who loses the girl at the altar because the male lead intervened at the last moment to steal her away. A fascinating idea as such if Showalter had any clue or insight in how to tell it. He fails miserably and The Baxter winds up having the opposite effect.

Showalter plays the self-described “Baxter”, Elliot Sherman. “Nerd” is the more appropriate term of endearment; an accountant who reads the dictionary and hangs around with other nerds of the like. This is a mistake right from the get-go since it flies in the face of the very story he wants to tell. In romantic comedies we want to root for the underdog, the shy guy, the lifelong friend who must stand on the sidelines while the richer, prettier (and even jerkier) guy gets the girl until the final act denouement. This is not the guy being left at the altar. He is the one showing up at the chapel to stop the wedding. This is historically personified in The Graduate and everything since has been a spoof or a ripoff of this classic scene. The guy left at the altar should be the pretty boy, but we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

One morning, Elliot will meet two women in his office. The first is Cecil (Michelle Williams), a shy, mousy temp who is also reading the dictionary and is obvious a perfect match for him. The other is Caroline (Elizabeth Banks), an incredibly attractive client who somehow takes an immediate shine to Elliot. The two of them become a couple and Cecil is left to fend with her own boyfriend. Elliot has had a lifelong curse of never acting when he should and losing the girl to someone else. To his horror as fate would have it along comes Caroline’s high school sweetheart, Bradley (Justin Theroux). He’s a pretty boy. He’s got money. THIS is who the movie should be about.

Beyond drastically mucking up where the satiric slant of old school romantic comedies should be, Showalter even downplays the remaining clichés to such a laughless degree that they become as stale as the same scenes in the films that play the material straight. The coincidences of who knows who and how they correspond to affecting the rest of the plot may seem ironic for a split second, but there are scenes of endless banter so witless that we forget what the setup of the screwballesque situation actually was.

Showalter also does the film no justice by casting himself in the lead role and playing him with such a nerdish unlikability that we’re actually rooting against him most of the way. Think of the overstuffed fratboys and nouveau riche rule-sticklers that have been the villainous “wrong guy” for our heroines? If Showalter is commenting on the “boring” nice guys who always lose out to the more dashing, adventurous dudes, why transform him to such an extent that just argues the case for the heroine to leave him? We want to see the story of the character willing to crash his plane into the two people who screwed him or the reforming of the jerk at the altar who realizes if he was a little bit nicer, he might not have lost the girl to the best friend. In a satire all bets are off, but Showalter never comes close to the ticket window.

It’s unfair for anyone to think of the recent 40-Year Old Virgin while watching The Baxter, so I won’t even entertain the ol’ Godard theory. Putting that vastly superior and miles funnier film aside (even with Paul Rudd showing up, only to be wasted), what I wasn’t able to escape was how director Michael Showalter completely missed the boat. In Wet Hot American Summer, Showalter (as co-writer) recognized the trivialities of the 1980’s teenage summer camp flicks and slaughtered them like a genuine satirist fed up with the same old thing. With seemingly thousands of romantic comedies to slay, Showalter wound up joining the party instead of peeing in the punch.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=12861&reviewer=198
originally posted: 09/21/05 05:01:51
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User Comments

7/22/09 Tess The movie is quite sweet with a very well-written script and wonderful actors 5 stars
3/24/09 brian If not for the cameo by the always-wonderful Peter Dinklage this would be a complete bust 3 stars
9/23/05 Dean Backus Worth a lookk for the terrific supporting cast 3 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  26-Aug-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 13-Dec-2005

UK
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