Helen Harris (Kate Hudson) is the quintessential Sex and the City single gal with a fabulous job at a top modeling agency and a swingin' social life. But her carefree lifestyle comes to a screeching halt when her beloved oldest sister Lindsay (Felicity Huffman) and brother-in-law are killed in a car accident and Helen is suddenly named the legal guardian to her sister's three kids--Audrey (Hayden Panettiere) 15; Henry (Spencer Breslin) 10 and Sarah (Abigail Breslin) 5. Sure Helen is great at being the coolest aunt in New York but as a mom? A whole different story. Coupled with this is the fact her other sister Jenny (Joan Cusack) a supermom in her own right is completely flabbergasted Lindsay did not choose her as legal guardian and takes every opportunity to tell Helen she isn't cut out for mommy-hood. Still Helen is determined to at least try to adhere to her late sister's wishes and finds a little help along the way with Dan Parker (John Corbett) the handsome young pastor and principal of the kids' new school. But it's tough for the party girl to ditch her old ways--even for the new loves of her life.
Even if her choices have been suspect of late (Alex & Emma? Bad idea Kate) Hudson does have a certain joie de vivre that radiates on screen and makes even the most cornball script palatable. Even if Raising Helen falls into the predictable Hudson's Helen never does; all her emotions are veritable and heartfelt especially when she's dealing with the kids. The young actors also do an excellent job adding to the film's emotions. Panettiere all grown up from child roles in Joe Somebody and HBO's Normal does a nice job as a teen struggling with the loss of her parents as well as raging hormones while the Breslin siblings Spencer (The Cat in the Hat) and his younger sister Abigail (Signs) handle the tear-jerking scenes with aplomb especially Abigail. It doesn't matter what frame of mind you're in watching a little girl cry over the fact she can't tie her shoes because her mother isn't around to teach her is gonna get you every single time. Cusack inhabits yet another uptight role in a string of uptight roles (School of Rock; In & Out) but she does it so well you can't blame her. Same goes for Corbett. He continues to play the same adorable sexy man he's played countless times before (Sex and the City My Big Fat Greek Wedding) and we don't mind if they just keep letting him.
Labeled a "heartwarming comedy" from director Garry Marshall some may be hard pressed to find any comedy in Raising Helen. Grief-stricken children; rebellious self-destructive teenagers; feuding sisters not to mention death--oh yeah this film is hilarious. At least the heartwarming part is true-- a technique Marshall has mastered having directed all-out hankie producers such as Beaches and romantic comedies such as Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. The director certainly isn't afraid to show feelings as he brings out more than a few genuine emotions in Raising Helen especially between Helen and the kids. In one particularly honest moment teen Audrey has gotten herself into a bit of trouble and while Helen wants to be the parent should be the parent she just cannot find a way to reprimand the girl leaving the duties to the tough-as-nails Jenny. It's definitely a scene that hits home. Yet for all the truthfulness Raising Helen still has an overabundant amount of schmaltz--laying it on thick too many times and leaving very little surprises on how things are going to turn out.
Dizzy (DJ Qualls) is already what you could call the epitome of pathos at his school but his reputation as a loser and social misfit is cemented when the aging school librarian breaks his penis--in front of the entire school. He thinks there is no hope until a prank lands him in jail overnight and his cellmate Luther (Eddie Griffin) teaches him a few tricks that will guarantee him popularity. The only problem is he needs to start with a clean slate which basically means switching schools. Dizzy eventually gets his wish and enrolls at East Highland High School. He changes his name to Gil Harris and religiously follows Luther's rules which include making a grand entrance (which he does Dr. Hannibal Lecter style) and beating up the biggest guy in school. Although the entire geeks-vs.-popular crowd theme has been done countless times before scribe David Kendall manages to supply a few good lines making it a bit more entertaining to watch.
DJ Qualls who was drop dead funny in Road Trip carries on the tradition in The New Guy mostly due to his reactions and gut-busting facial expressions. For example when he tosses away a lighter he's playing with to look cool and inadvertently sets a statue on fire he displays this expression of pure shock as he walks away calm and collected. (And in case you are wondering he's not a deejay: his initials are short for Daniel Joseph.) As the inmate Luther Eddie Griffin (John Q) is also pretty funny thanks in part to some great lines such as: "High school is a lot like prison. The sex you want you ain't gettin'. The sex you gettin' you don't want." He also does the buggy-eye thing eerily well. Lyle Lovett has a small role as Dizzy's father and is mostly the butt of the joke in all his scenes including when he gets hit in the eye with a flaming marshmallow. Keep your eyes peeled for a multitude of cameo appearances including former Black Flag frontman-turned-poet/actor Henry Rollins former "Ice Ice Baby" rapper Vanilla Ice and the commercially successful skateboarder Tony Hawk.
Ed Decter makes his directorial debut here but he's no stranger to comedy: he helped pen the 1998 comedy There's Something About Mary and last year's Head Over Heels. The New Guy is nothing to boast of visually. It's ugly and sloppily pieced together. There's a great soundtrack to the film that includes The Offspring Mystikal Cypress Hill and Outkast but the tracks are loud and overpowering (I am still convinced that Qualls' character mumbles something about chili before he kisses the film's heroine towards the end of the film.) Qualls' performance however turns the film into a more enjoyable experience than it otherwise would have been with his shooting-daggers stares--complete with whipping sound effects--and his "radical" transformation which consists basically of a haircut. Considering the film is already a cliché some of the laughs might have gone over better had Decter avoided the crass toilet bowl humor and midget jokes that have become so antiquated.
Ryan (Freddie Prinze Jr.) and Jennifer (Claire Forlani) first met on a plane when they were 12. He’s terrified of planes she promptly tells him about her first period so it’s granted that they don’t exactly click. Fast-forward to high school where they bump into each other again. Now he’s the school mascot she’s the homecoming queen. No sparks. Fast forward to college where he’s the geeky engineering major (yes you read correctly) and she’s the free-spirited rocker-dating Latin student. Finally here they become friends help each other with their love issues and despite their opposing viewpoints … well take a guess.
Prinze the BMOC in "She’s All That " is supposed to be an anal-retentive doofus. And while the pageboy cut (split down the middle) and glasses do little to mask his good looks he plays against type surprisingly well doing his best to rise above the cliché-filled script. Forlani who was calm and luminous in the sluggish "Meet Joe Black " still has "proper British upbringing" written all over her so she’s not really believable as an outrageous one-night-stander (she also looks too old for Prinze). Heather Donahue (showing a promising comedy career post-"Blair Witch") and Amanda Detmer make a great supporting cast but the show is stolen by an underused Jason Biggs. As Ryan’s woman-chasing roommate Biggs also gets the single funniest scene in the film which you’ll miss if you walk about before the credits roll.
"She’s All That" director Robert Iscove is back and using the same traits again. First we have the you-are-there flashback narration ("So I was watching him play with his band " a character might reflect in her dorm room and suddenly she’s sitting at the concert still in her pajamas). Then there’s the choreographed dance number. Disguised as a scene to show Ryan trying to loosen up at a "foam club" (like a car wash soapy water douses the dancers) it’s really an excuse to show off Iscove’s choreography background by having all patrons wiggle simultaneously to Apollo Four Forty’s "Stop the Rock." It’s cute and all but the biggest faux pas Iscove makes is having Ryan and Jennifer take a "walk" from Berkeley … and miraculously wind up at the Golden Gate bridge.