Sunday, March 12, 2006

Failure to Launch

Title: Failure to Launch (2006)
Dir: Tom Dey
Tagline: To leave the nest, some men just need a little push.
Rating: *** out of 5

For the Diamondback....

A 35-year old man who plays XBox all day is forgivable; a 35-year old man who collects Empire Strikes Back action figures is tolerable; but a 35-year old man who still lives with his parents is just not something most women can accept.

In Tom Dey’s Failure to Launch, that 35-year old slacker is Trip, a boat salesman who lives a comfortable life in his parents’ house. Portrayed by Matthew McConaughey (Sahara), Trip is obviously not your run-of-the-mill mama’s boy. He is handsome, charming, and irresistible to women – until he brings them home to his unconventional bachelor pad. With no intentions of moving out, he sabotages one relationship after another without care.

Eager for some time alone, Trip’s well-meaning parents (played by Misery actress Kathy Bates and former QB Terry Bradshaw) hire a “professional interventionist” named Paula (Sex and the City’s Sarah Jessica Parker) to motivate their son into moving out. Her goal is to simulate a romantic relationship with Trip, so that he will detach from his parents and become a self-sufficient adult. She does attract Trip, but her usual strategy for wooing a man does not work as planned.

The movie follows that familiar formula used in romantic comedies like She’s All That and 10 Things I Hate About You wherein one character pretends to love another for a job or a bet but unexpectedly falls for their target. This usually culminates in a line like, “Everything you ever told me was a lie!” but the protagonists eventually work it out. It doesn’t happen exactly like that in Failure to Launch, but it is close enough to be tiresome and predictable.

The film gets no points for originality, but it does offer some quirky amusements. In a strange running gag, Paula’s roommate Kit (Zooey Deschanel, Elf) grows angry over a mockingbird that keeps her awake at night. When she considers buying a shotgun to end its chirping, there is a funny cameo by The Daily Show’s Rob Corddry as a gun shop clerk. Does the mockingbird have anything to do with Trip and Paula’s story? Doubtful, but it makes for a light distraction from all the romantic mush.

The bird is not the only animal reference in the film. In fact, there is another running motif involving Trip and a variety of animals biting him. Eventually you get the film’s point, but the first time a chipmunk takes a bite out of McConaughey, you may be scratching your head thinking, “What just happened?”

Because the animal jokes are so absurd, you will probably love them or hate them passionately. They are also the only distinguishable element that Failure to Launch has to offer. Everything else is over-done chick flick material, so the film’s goofy sense of humor will probably make it or break it. If reruns of America Funniest Home Videos have you rolling, expect to be won over. If not, watch at your own risk.

Sometimes it is downright eerie how a film’s title reviews itself. True enough, Failure to Launch runs at a steady pace without really getting anywhere - it, ahem, fails to launch. Sometimes it feels like just an endless stream of sight gags.

As for the leading couple, McConaughey and Parker never really develop on-screen chemistry. From the beginning, we know Paula is a fraud, and Trip is an immature playboy. Furthermore, the director never really develops a love affair between the two.

Consistently more appealing are Kit, along with Trip’s best friends Ace (Justin Bartha, National Treasure) and Demo (Bradley Cooper, Wedding Crashers). These supporting characters are way more charming and funny than their protagonist counterparts, even if they are sometimes forced to ham it up.

Watching this film, I could not help but recall Parker’s last romantic comedy, The Family Stone, where all the melodrama sucked the romance and the comedy right out of the movie. To the credit of Failure to Launch, it escaped this fate. With an above-average level of absurdity, it avoids the heavy drama that tore down Stone and some other comedies.

To you guys living at home, or girlfriends of those guys, do not expect a film you can relate to. Matthew McConaughey does not portray a realistic case of a man who lives at home, but instead portrays, well, Matthew McConaughey. Trip is a cocky ladies man who willingly chooses to destroy his relationships by bringing the girls home to Mom. The emphasis is placed more on Trip’s fear of commitment due to some emotional baggage. If you are looking to watch a more realistic man-child and an all-around better film, 40 Year Old Virgin is the way to go.

For a date night movie, Failure to Launch can’t hurt. Depending on your sense of humor, you might really enjoy it. It does have the benefit of being light and not taking itself too seriously, which some romantic comedies have forgotten. If seeing this movie keeps you out of the Ultraviolet and Big Momma’s House 2 theatres, then by all means, see it! Otherwise, I recommend you wait for the DVD and have a date-night on the couch.