Last Holiday

Reviewed By Doug Bentin
Posted 01/27/06 06:58:04

"Are you gonna eat that?"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

The little girl who sat behind me, kicking the back of my seat and laughing fit to burst, must have been around eight years old. Yep, that’s the real audience for this movie, and she enjoyed it a helluva lot more than I did.

“Last Holiday” is a gutless remake of a movie released in 1950 that starred Alec Guinness as a quiet man who, when he finds out he has but weeks to live, decides to spend is final days spending his money and having a good time. It was a situation tailor-made for Guinness by the brilliant English playwright/novelist J.B. Priestley. In fact, the only real laugh the new version generated for me was the credit “Based on a screenplay by J.B. Priestley.”

I must say, though, that for once, Latifah, who has gone farther in movies with less acting talent than anyone since Pauley Shore, sets aside that sassy gal persona that works so well for her—and the other aging and/or large women from Pearl Bailey to Debbie Reynolds who have worked it—and actually attempts to create a character.

Not to say that Georgia Byrd, salesclerk and amateur chef, is much of a stretch. A real actress could phone in a performance like this. In fact, several have.

After receiving a bump on the noggin at work, Georgia’s doctor informs her that she’s going to die from some rare disease. That part probably worked better in 1950 than it does now. She’s faced with life or death surgery that will cost her over $300,000 and she just gives up without getting a second opinion. Uh huh.

So she collects all her savings and goes to Europe to eat fancy foods and go out having a good time. Ugly American in a world of starvation? Why, what do you mean?

But faster than you can say, “Shouldn’t at least some of this be making sense?” she meets a group of spoiled, corrupt rich folks from back home who need her blue collar decency and common sense to solve all their problems.

For all the Food Channel goodies spread before our eyes, this movie is vanilla pudding. It’s oatmeal. Wonder Bread and tap water. Leftover grape Jell-O with rubbery edges. If one of your New Year’s resolutions was to lose the weight of pointless movies hanging around your neck, this one won’t tempt you to break your diet.

LL Cool J co-stars as the man who loves Georgia chastely from afar. I’ve seen this guy on talk shows and he’s too smart to fall for this kind of warm fuzzy crap. I have to assume his motivations for doing this movie were greed and cynicism, which I can respect far more than I can the idea of wealthy actors performing material that is beneath them in order to give a few minutes of hope to the poor, little people out there in the dark.

Timothy Hutton, who plays good guys on TV and arrogant pricks in movies, is the arrogant prick. Alicia Witt is his mistress, and Susan Kellermann is the stuck up German who works at the hotel Georgia stays in. They and the rest of the cast are good sports who bring a good-old-college-try pep to the sitcom characters they play in this most sitcommy of movies.

Only Gerard Depardieu scores any points as the eminent hotel chef. He seems to be having a good time so when the chef advises us that the secret of life is “butter,” we believe him.

Wayne Wang directs with the shaky hand of someone who isn’t sure if the material is even supposed to be funny if a character isn’t tripping over something.

“Last Holiday” won’t poison you, but it won’t nourish you, either. Wait for it to come out as a TV dinner.

I have just this to add: Little girl, don’t kick the back of the seat in front of you. Some mean old man just might pour his Coke all over your head.

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