by Mel Valentin
In "Failure to Launch," a romantic comedy directed by Tom Dey ("Shanghai Noon"), a 35-year old semi-slacker, Trip (Matthew McConaughey), prefers the ease and comfort of living with his parents, Al (Terry Bradshaw) and Sue (Kathy Bates), than living on his own. Al is more than eager for Trip to move on and move out. Sue is the classic enabler. Part of her wants Trip to move on too, but another part of her wants to coddle and care for him. To that end, she's both cook and housemaid. Trip's slacker friends, Ace (Justin Bartha) and Demo (Bradley Cooper), also live with their parents (it seems to be a neighborhood epidemic, as one scene involving middle-age parents seems to indicate). Al has had enough, especially after Trip brings his latest girlfriend home to "meet the parents" (Trip's passive-aggressive way to force a breakup).Al and Sue hire Paula, a professional interventionist (i.e., a therapist of some kind, but itís unclear whether sheís actually licensed to practice psychotherapy), to help convince Trip to move out on his own. Paula has made a living at surreptitiously helping child-men like Trip develop self-esteem and confidence by acting as a surrogate girlfriend. Paula has dating down to an emotion-free science. It helps that Trip is tall, well tanned and has charm and self-confidence to spare (and letís not forget a gleaming set of porcelain white teeth). So why is still living with his parents? The short answer: Trip has commitment issues, but he's not quite the egotist he appears to be. For one, he spends quality time with his "nephew." Trip's friend Ace, a socially awkward software engineer, has a crush on Paula's acerbic, sharp-tongued, temperamental roommate, Kit (Zooey Deschanel).
"Another generic, forgettable romcom with zero chemistry between the leads."
As Trip and Paula play act at romance, Failure to Launch goes where every romantic comedy has gone before, with reversals, revelations, betrayals, and the inevitable (this is a romantic comedy, after all) affirmation of monogamous bliss as the end credits roll. The obstacles facing couples in romantic couples come in predictable varieties, from class, to race, preexisting relationships, even to gender orientation, but often the obstacles are internal, e.g., prejudices, biases, misconceptions, or, as in Failure to Launch, deception and fraud.
Much of the comedy (what there is) in Failure to Launch comes from Kit's wry, cynical one-liners and her near homicidal response to a mockingbird that won't let her sleep at night (there's a highly humorous scene inside a Wal-Mart-like store where Kit tries to buy a shotgun from a concerned salesperson played by The Daily Show's Rob Cordry). Then there are Trip's unfortunate encounters with hostile wildlife that don't jell with the rest of the film. Demo gives us the punchline: Trip's life is out of natural balance (as if we needed a running gag that turns on literalizing a metaphor) There's also a painfully funny gag involving Al's free-wheeling, let-it-all-hang-out inclination (it's memorable, but perhaps not in the way the filmmakers intended).
But let's get to the heart of the matter, romantic comedies depend on the chemistry between the leads, and while McConaughey and Parker throw off the occasional spark, they just donít sizzle together. McConaughey's (limited) range makes him well suited for lightweight romantic comedies, but pairing him with Parker turned out to be bad, hard-to-figure-out choice (and someone, anyone, please turn down the brightness on McConaughey's teeth). The rest of the cast, particularly Bartha, Cooper, and Deschanel fare better in supporting roles. Cooper could (and should) probably carry a lead role in a romantic comedy, while Bartha and Deschanel share an off-kilter chemistry that wouldn't have been out of place in an indie film. Alas, Kathy Bates has little to do here, with the exception of a confessional scene late in the film.Let's face it, "Failure to Launch" isn't (and wasn't) made for cynics or viewers (and critics) easily disturbed by a credibility-stretching premise and slightly unsympathetic central characters. It's admittedly quite a lot to accept, but if you go with it, "Failure to Launch" isn't a half-bad way to spend a Saturday evening at the local multiplex. Other than that, though, "Failure to Launch" is another generic, forgettable romantic comedy that Hollywood seems to churn out on a regular basis.
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originally posted: 03/27/06 19:46:11