November 28, 2005 10:54am EST
Frank Beardsley (Dennis Quaid) is a widowed Admiral from the U.S. Coast Guard with eight kids and one hell of a regiment. In fact you could call him downright anal retentive when it comes to raising his children. Meanwhile his poor kids ardently hope that someday they’ll land somewhere permanently. They get their wish when Frank runs into Helen North (Renee Russo) his former high school sweetheart. Helen is also widowed a free-spirited handbag designer with 10 kids who takes a more relaxed approach to parenting. Deciding its fate they’ve been reunited the two get married without their combined 18 children knowing about it. When the kids find out that their lives are about to drastically change all 18 of them band together to break up their parents--but learn a few life lessons instead. Sweet isn’t it? Watching Russo is always such a treat. Even grappling with a script like Yours Mine and Ours she manages to make the most of her eccentric flustered character. Quaid on the other hand deviates little from the character he played in The Parent Trap or The Rookie or any other movie he’s been in lately. If you have seen one of his movies you’ve seen them all. Thankfully the kids are the best part of the movie each of them finding a way to endear themselves. The youngest two kids--Ethan Beardsley (Ty Panitz) and Aldo North (Nicholas Roget-King)--are the most entertaining to watch because they are so young and naïve. Whether they are getting in trouble for something their older siblings put them up to or fearing the “hammer” (aka the Admiral’s discipline plan) they bring some welcomed relief in the otherwise stale comedy. Director Raja Gosnell best known for helming comedies such as Scooby Doo Big Momma's House and Never Been Kissed should know have known better than to try to resurrect and remold the Lucille Ball/Henry Fonda1968 original. It just isn’t necessary. To start with the story which is based on the real Helen North Beardsley’s book Who Gets the Last Drumstick? isn’t all that entertaining. It’s also a little dated for these modern times especially when we’ve seen the same material covered in far better films such as Parenthood. But at least Gosnell knows how to highlight the calamity of having 20 people together in one house--a house which also includes two large dogs and a pot-bellied pig. Yeah a pig. Whether it’s a paint fight among the family or a party among the older kids Gosnell puts you inside this zoo the Beardsley-Norths call home. Just be glad you don’t live in it yourself.
As Love Actually begins we are told that perhaps the world isn't such a dire and hateful place that "love actually is all around." Around London anyway. The film explores no less than seven different romantic scenarios within the bustling British capital--all of which interconnect and eventually resolve on Christmas Eve. There's the newly elected dashing Prime Minister (Hugh Grant) who is smitten with his secretary the earthy Natalie (Martine McCutcheon); Karen (Emma Thompson) whose husband Harry (Alan Rickman) has strayed with his seductive secretary Mia (Heike Makatsch); Sarah (Laura Linney) the American wallflower who has a crush on her colleague Carl (Rodrigo Santoro); Jamie (Colin Firth) who falls for his pretty Portuguese housekeeper Aurelia (Lucia Moniz)…there are lots more but you get the gist. As love goes things may not get tied up neatly in brightly colored packages for everyone but there's still enough good cheer to spread around.
Showcasing some of Britain's finest actors Love Actually doesn't have a bad banana in the bunch. Floppy-haired Hugh Grant turns in an endearing performance and proves there isn't a romantic comedy he can't handle. He has an uncanny knack for connecting with any actress he happens to be romancing; in this case it's the adorable McCutcheon best known for the hit British TV drama EastEnders. Rickman and Thompson are quite good as the couple whose long-term marriage is beginning to crack; Thompson especially does a nice job trying to hide her pain while being a happy mom. Linney too shines as Sarah who glows with excitement when she finally gets what she so ardently wished for. Veteran stage and film actor Bill Nighy (Underworld) however steals the show as a carefree aging rock star desperate for a comeback. His Billy Mack smacks of Mick Jagger Keith Richards and Rod Stewart all rolled into one.
"I'm worried that we don't have the word 'massacre' in the title " writer/director Richard Curtis fretted to Entertainment Weekly referring to how horror-loving American audiences might not take to his new romantic comedy that is already a huge hit in Britain. True perhaps a romantic comedy starring a multitude of A-list British actors might not bring in the required masses. But who cares about the money (did I just say that)? Curtis who has written some of the best romantic comedies of the last decade including Four Weddings and a Funeral Notting Hill and Bridget Jones' Diary steps behind the camera for the first time here and is able to give each story a unique point of view from the lovesick to the wacky. There actually may be too many stories in Love Actually but it's a small gaffe. Love Actually is a refreshing good old fashioned warm and gushy movie that takes your mind off the bad things for the holiday season and Curtis should feel confident about his directing debut.
Any marriage is going to have its ups and downs. But what if those "downs" start happening the minute you step off the altar? Such is the premise of Just Married as blue-collar radio traffic announcer Tom Leezak (Ashton Kutcher) meets rich free-spirited writer Sarah McNerney (Brittany Murphy) and after a whirlwind romance they decide to get hitched. Oh if it could be that easy. Their course to true love has several strikes against it and the rest of the movie is spent figuring out if they are going to make it or not. Strike No. 1: Sarah's well-to-do parents (whose nicknames for each other range from "Pee-Wee" to "Pussy") are completely appalled she's marrying "beneath her." Strike No. 2: Sarah's sophisticated rich ex-boyfriend Peter (Christian Kane) the one Daddy McNerney (David Rasche) favors wants Sarah back. Strike No. 3: after they get hitched anyway the two young marrieds' honeymoon in Italy quickly turns horrific. In fact it's so unbelievably awful--from their small yellow box posing as a rental car being pushed off a mountain cliff to the cockroaches crawling over them as they try to make love in a run-down Venice shack to said ex-boyfriend showing up to thwart all that is good--your only hope is that they don't kill each other before they can get the sucker annulled. Of course we don't really believe they'll break up do we? We know better. With any good old-fashioned romantic comedy the power of love wins out. Blech.
It's not easy being relatively new faces in the film business and having a major feature film rest on your shoulders. Yet Kutcher and Murphy do their best with a formulaic script and some painful-looking physical comedy added in for good measure. It's evident the two click (so much so they became a real-life couple) so it's nice to wholeheartedly believe they are mad for one another. Their youthful appeal is about the only thing that saves the film from total drudge to be honest. Individually Kutcher gets to venture off from the one-note innocuously stupid guy he's played in movies such as Dude Where's My Car? and Fox's That '70s Show just a little to show some heartfelt moments especially when telling his new bride how much he loves her. To his credit he doesn't fail miserably at it. On the other hand Murphy who has the acting chops having handled meaty roles in dramas (Girl Interrupted) as well as comedies (Clueless) has nothing whatsoever to go on as Sarah. Clearly she must've been listening when her agent said "Do this movie! It'll be great for your career!" The rest of the cast blends in with Rasche being the only standout as Sarah's no-nonsense all-business millionaire dad.
You might feel sorry for this movie being released the second week of January just after an enormous onslaught of Oscar-touted films if it wasn't for the fact that 20th Century Fox obviously timed it to capitalize on the youth audience in a field of so-called "boring old people movies." Just Married is just the ticket for young people. Kutcher has developed a following after the surprising hit movie Dude Where's My Car? and Murphy just made a splash with Eminem in 8 Mile. The film has the age group 16-24 written all over it. But come on folks even good intentions to capture a certain market can't make up for a downright silly movie. Director Shawn Levy whose credits include 'tween flick Big Fat Liar and Disney Channel's The Famous Jett Jackson handles Just Married pretty much like his previous--broad and wacky with very little substance. The best part of the movie is the very beginning when the two newlyweds walk off the plane fuming and one-upping each other. Ah married life. The irony is duly noted but then the film goes straight into a flashback sequence lapsing periodically between pratfalls saying the wrong thing at the wrong time and gushy professions of love. Chalk it up to bad judgment.
Welcome to the world of klutzy assistant veterinarian Corky Romano (Kattan) who loves bad '80s music and is by nature a cheery fellow. However he is also the son of an organized crime family who was kicked out long ago for not fitting in. Hmm wonder why? When the family including "Pops" Romano (Peter Falk) and his two dysfunctional sons Peter (Peter Berg) and Paulie (Chris Penn) come under FBI investigation they convince Corky to go undercover and join the FBI to disrupt the case. Corky becomes the darling of the bureau through no fault of his own which irks its resident jerk (Matthew Glave) who loathes Corky from the start. Seems Corky's bogus FBI résumé has been beefed up to enable him to gain access to his father's case file. It all ends predictably happy.
Saturday Night Live's Kattan is at his best when going out on the comedy limb and as Corky he climbs out with élan rather than dropping with a sickening thud. Corky is a fun character infused with that manic energy Kattan displays so well in his SNL personas. He is very close to being able to carry this film. But alas this isn't quite the role that could establish him as a leading man. Veteran Falk who has about one moment where he is really funny and Fred Ward who plays the family's right-hand man are the only other actors of Kattan's caliber in the film and their characters seem to have been watered down to allow Kattan to shine. The other performances while serviceable fall right into cardboard cutouts especially those in the FBI. Clearly the casting was done with an eye on keeping the audience squarely focused on star Kattan. in star focus.
Unfortunately keeping Kattan in the forefront is also one of the main problems with the film. It was nice watching all the comic's antics laughing our butts off as he jerks his way down the aisle after inhaling a bunch of cocaine but couldn't we have had a good story to go along with it? Here the story exists exclusively to provide setups for Kattan's gags. Do we have to see a bunch of FBI agents make fools of themselves again? The film seems to follow the same route other SNL stars have taken recently focusing on the comedian rather than the film as a whole. At least Corky is not based on one of Kattan's SNL characters. Will Ferrell seems to be one of the only SNL members to have mostly steered clear of any star-making opportunities seemingly satisfied with playing really funny supporting characters (not counting A Night at the Roxbury). Maybe Kattan would be better served following the lead of his good friend.
David Arquette is happy-go-lucky Gordon Smith a dog-fearing postman in the Jersey 'burbs who likes to hang with his buddy Benny (Anthony Anderson) watching sports and eating Cheetos and enjoying a life free of responsibility. Until that is the hot neighbor Stephanie (Leslie Bibb) he's been trying unsuccessfully to date is left without a babysitter and leaves her young son James (Angus T. Jones) in his care. Meanwhile mobster baddie Sonny Talia (Paul Sorvino) puts a hit out on the hardworking FBI canine Agent Eleven who helped bust up his drug deal. Eleven escapes protective custody and ends up hitching a ride in - you guessed it -- Gordon's mail delivery truck. Now Sonny's hit men (and the FBI) are after all three of them.
Arquette who's best known for his AT&T spots "Scream" movie roles and marriage to "Friend" Courteney Cox is good at pulling off the physical comedy required to portray a kid in a grown man's body with his wild hair wacky attitude fart jokes and breakdancing abilities. While most kiddie flicks feature annoyingly precocious tots you'd rather strangle than watch on-screen the pudgy terrifyingly cute Jones comes across just like any regular kid. You wouldn't guess that perfect-looking Leslie Bibb ("Popular") could be so appealing but she's willing to get dirty -- literally - and is able to pull off slapstick schtick with the best of 'em. Michael Clarke Duncan as Agent Eleven's way-too-devoted human partner Murdoch is over-the-top silly but gets plenty of laughs. The dog's cute too.
Director John Whitesell whose only other film credit is 1993's "Calendar Girl " does a good job of hanging this not-so-original tale around a likeable energetic cast that really looks like they're having fun. Thankfully the movie doesn't go overboard with sentimentality -- "Spot" hits the right emotional spot tempering the tear-jerking stuff with juvenile comedy and throwing in some jokes that'll make adults laugh too. Young and old will enjoy this movie although it might be overlong and too confusing for some very little ones to follow and some of the humor gets pretty gross - watching the hapless Arquette roll around in doggy doo for 10 minutes was a bit much.
After catching her live-in boyfriend in a compromising position Amanda sets out to find a new place to live. She ends up rooming with four supermodels (Shalom Harlow Ivana Milicevic Sarah O'Hare and Tomiko Fraser) whose apartment has a great view -- especially of Jim the "perfect guy" across the way. When Amanda in a "Rear Window"- type scenario witnesses Jim committing what she thinks is a murder she sets out to prove that he did it. However to her surprise she ends up falling head over heels (literally a lot of the time) for him instead.
The chemistry between Prinze and Potter is near perfect. Potter does a great job of playing a klutzy girl who can't seem to stay on her feet long enough to have a conversation with Jim. But then again who could? Prinze exudes his usual charm and winning smile while at the same time showing great comic timing. The more pivotal moments with the four models who are "struggling " as they like to say are well done and surprisingly hysterical. Who needs a drama when you can have four models who are actually funny?
Director Mark S. Waters and Prinze Jr. are together again after their 1997 film "The House of Yes." "Head Over Heels" is a cross between "Fatal Attraction " "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "There's Something About Mary " which means it's a bit muddled in its direction. Waters tries a little too hard for the shock value while at the same time trying to convey romantic comedy elements almost overshadowing the performances of the actors. But hey then again we get to see supermodels covered in poop. Priceless. Still the fairly clever and darker script plus the winning chemistry between the lead actors makes it worthwhile.