Last Holiday

Reviewed By brianorndorf
Posted 01/13/06 16:16:38

"Queen Latifah has charm, the film does not"
3 stars (Average)

A quieter Queen Latifah? “Last Holiday” attempts to give audiences a sweeter, gentle Latifah, and she does a good job. The rest of the film is not nearly as inviting. With broadly written characters and some poor excuses for physical comedy, “Holiday” doesn’t aspire much further than basic romantic comedy standards.

Georgia (Queen Latifah) is a shy, practical department store cookware clerk who dreams of taking lavish vacations and meeting her beloved cooking idols. When an innocuous visit to a doctor reveals Georgia has a rare brain tumor, she’s given three weeks to live, leaving her distraught and fed up, looking to God for help. Telling off her bosses and leaving behind her crush (LL Cool J), Georgia travels to the Czech Republic to live out her last days at the majestic Grandhotel Pupp, where she can lose her worries in the land’s snow-capped beauty and the hotel’s extravagant amenities.

A remake of a 1950 Alec Guinness comedy, “Last Holiday” is a simplistic fairy tale comedy that is meant for mass appeal. Its eager-to-please attitude isn’t much of a surprise, but a glance at the production credits could leave one dizzy. Produced by Robert Zemeckis? Directed by Wayne Wang? What are these guys doing with a film as white bread as this?

In Wang’s case, the slow dimming of his artistic light isn’t all that startling. After “Maid in Manhattan” and last year’s flavorless “Because of Winn-Dixie,” Wang has dissolved into a company man, newly birthing unconscionable hack tendencies. What happened to the cracking imagination of the filmmaker who gave us the sex drama “The Center of the World,” the beguiling “Joy Luck Club,” or the quiet introspection of “Smoke?” Those days are over, replaced here with new directorial lowlights that include a dressing room montage that allows Queen Latifah to comedically pretend she’s an angry pimp for a second or two.

That’s not to say “Holiday” is an absolute waste of time. The film is presented as a life-affirming fantasy, and it plays well into that pocket. Beautifully photographed by Geoffrey Simpson, the film shimmers with golds and whites, setting a luminous backdrop to Georgia’s final hurrah. To counteract the visual brightness, Wang asks Latifah to settle down, begging her to can her traditionally brassy personality for at least one movie. Many in the cast are asked to play against type (LL Cool J as a meek, lovestruck guy?), but Latifah registers the strongest, allowing an unusual level of charm to come out of herself. She’s great with the film’s more restrained moments, including the awestruck soaking in of her sumptuous surroundings, and Georgia’s interaction with the smitten hotel chef, played with expected (and welcome) invention by Gerard Depardieu. Wang is good with the smaller moments, dealing out some unexpected emotional truth to balance with the broader material, and these sections of the film keep “Holiday” from losing itself completely in the quicksand of audience-pleasing filmmaking; but not for long.

The rest of “Holiday” is quite unpleasant and highly noxious, with Wang reaching a bit too far to get laughs, and to create the evil figures in Georgia’s life. Truly sickening is the trotting out of “whitey” stereotypes, embodied poorly here by Timothy Hutton and Matt Ross, who try to sink Georgia at every step, stopping millimeters short of becoming the full “Scooby-Doo” villains they’re written as. I was also perplexed by the film’s inclusion of a corrupt politician character, who Georgia tries to set straight with her angelic ways. It’s a completely unnecessary subplot. Couple the agenda with tired slapstick, and too many “you go girl!” moments of feminine epiphany, and “Holiday” begins to act more like a cheerleader than an actual movie.

“Holiday” certainly is harmless entertainment, but considering the pedigree of the talent here, the final product is more than a little disappointing.

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