"Imagine "Deconstructing Harry" Without The Warmth"
There have been plenty of films over the years involving sad and misanthropic artists who are unable to make their real lives work as well as their personal ones–Woody Allen’s brilliant and sadly underrated “Deconstructing Harry” is one of the very best of this particular subgenre–but I cannot recall one in recent memory that I have flat-out hated as much as “Dedication,” a film so stridently annoying that I was actually convinced for a few minutes that it was actually meant to be a straight-faced parody of the format.Billy Crudup stars as a bile-filled writer who inexplicably pens a best-selling children’s book along with friend/mentor/steadying influence/illustrator Tom Wilkinson. When Wilkinson kicks the bucket and Crudup doesn’t want to write the contractually obligated follow-up, his publisher (Bob Balaban) hires a new illustrator, played by Mandy Moore, to pry the work out of him. Of course, our sad-eyed ball of white-hot hate is unforgivably cruel to her but since she has plenty of experience with hateful people in her life–she is currently dealing with the return of her rotter ex-boyfriend (Martin Freeman) and a mother (Dianne Wiest) with more mood swings than the entire cast of “Cuckoo’s Nest”–she doesn’t back down and Crudup finds himself beginning to care again, at least until he learns about her upcoming $200,000 bonus for getting him to finish the book. Will he realize the error of his ways and try to win her back? Will she take him back if he does? Most importantly, will there be anyone out there with enough patience to sit watching these dopes for 110 minutes to find out if they do?
The main problem with the film is that the central character is such a complete horse’s ass from start to finish that you’ll find yourself relishing the few moments in which he is kept off-screen. Of course, there are ways of creating a character that is a boorish and unrepentant cretin while still making him interesting and worth following around for a couple of hours (again, I point you in the direction of “Deconstructing Harry”) but none of them seem to have occurred to debuting screenwriter David Bromberg–he seems convinced that we will find the guy as fascinating as he evidently does and that we will be hanging on his every word and (mis)deed until the utterly unbelievable and unsatisfying finale. (Of course, the only possible way it could end in a believable and satisfying manner would be if someone planted a tire iron in the guy’s skull.) A good actor when given the right material (I would like to point you in the direction of “Almost Famous” and “Jesus’ Son”), Crudup never finds the glimmer of humanity in his character that the screenplay insists is there and Mandy Moore (who, on the basis of a 2007 that has consisted to date of “Because I Said So,” “License to Wed” and this film, is clearly in need of new batteries for her crap detector) is woefully miscast in a role that, as written, is virtually unplayable.“Dedication” marks the directorial debut of Justin Theroux, an actor who has appeared in two of the very best films to emerge in this decade (the David Lynch mindbenders “Mulholland Drive” and “Inland Empire”) and one of the very worst (“Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle”). Based on the evidence presented here, I can only hope that he is keeping his day job since this film not only doesn’t suggest that he might one day have a good movie in him, there isn’t even an indication that he has ever seen a good movie before in his life.