Based on Toby Young’s 2001 memoir of the same name How to Lose Friends and Alienate People is perhaps this year’s most refreshing comic surprise especially since we had no expectations that a book like this could ever be made into a successful movie much less a romantic comedy. The film like the book charts Young’s (now renamed Sidney and played by Simon Pegg) move from London to New York to become a contributing editor at Vanity Fair magazine (now called Sharps). The movie’s plotline details the absolute knack this guy has for saying just the wrong thing at the wrong time. Sidney finds he is in way over his head but the magazine’s owner Clayton Harding (Jeff Bridges) discovers something in him worth keeping. Since Young had written the counter-cultural polar opposite type of material in England it’s odd that he suddenly is thrust into the world of American celebrity where he manages to befriend and become a confidante of Hollywood starlet Sophie Maes (Megan Fox) and strike up a romantic interest in co-worker Alison Olsen (Kirsten Dunst). We watch as Sidney balances his new professional and personal life living precariously on the edge of imminent disaster in both. Pegg somehow sets up this loser (at least initially) for audience sympathy. It’s no small achievement but he’s alternately obnoxious and endearing--just the way we love to see him. Sidney manages to insult just about everyone with his complete social ineptness yet Pegg never sails off the edge and keeps him grounded comedically. You can imagine what might have happened had someone like Will Ferrell or Adam Sandler gotten their hands on this script. Pegg is almost a throwback to the Chaplin era a comic buffoon with heart we can’t help but like. In fact the whole cast is terrific. Dunst can be annoying but not this time. She’s absolutely winning and the perfect foil for Pegg. Their budding romance is believable even though on the surface they couldn’t be more different. Bridges with long graying hair does his best Graydon Carter impression as the sly owner of the glossy gossip magazine. The stunning Fox lives up to her name and she happens to be very funny too as a vapid starlet obsessed with creating an image. The main cast is rounded out by Danny Huston as Young’s immediate boss and Gillian Anderson delicious as the grand dame of PR in New York. Robert Weide won an Emmy directed HBO’s hilarious sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm which he shepherded for five seasons. Certainly if he can handle Larry David’s almost entirely improvised style of comedy he’s a cinch to make this thing sing--and he does in style. At every step of the way this is the kind of movie that could have gone broadly overboard but sticks smartly and faithfully to character instead. Sure there are missteps but mostly it all goes down like a fine glass of chardonnay. The movie shot largely in London--which doubled for New York in many scenes--looks great and the superb cast is clearly in the hands of a man who knows his way around a nifty comic premise. There’s even a running homage to Fellini’s La Dolce Vita that cineastes are gonna love particularly a scene at a celebrity party where Fox gets the paparazzi’s attention by walking fully clothed across a shallow pool. Weide cleverly scores it with Nino Rota’s gorgeous Dolce Vita theme a wry moment in a fun movie worth checking out.
If there’s one positive thing about Delta Farce is that is actually follows a tried and true comedy formula-- namely the fish-out-of-water scenario—with moderate success. Down on his luck after losing his job and his girlfriend on the same day Larry (of the Cable Guy variety) decides to join his neighbor Bill (Bill Engvall) and his combat-happy buddy Everett (DJ Qualls) for a relaxing weekend of playing army. But when the three unlucky guys are mistaken for Army Reservists they’re loaded onto an army plane headed for Iraq--and mistakenly ejected in a Humvee somewhere over Mexico. Don’t ask. Convinced they’re actually in the Middle East the clueless wannabe soldiers turn into Magnificent Seven meets the Three Amigos and save a rural village from a siege of bandits proving to be real heroes after all. If you need to laugh at the war on terror you might as well do it with Larry the Cable Guy. He serves up his particular brand of comedy making light of a bad situation. In fact not only does he come off somewhat sympathetically as the hapless boob with a heart of gold he also gets the hot chick at the end of the movie. Go Larry! As his accomplice fellow stand-up Bill Engvall follows his own comic routine playing a hen-pecked trailer trash denizen who views this adventure as a great way to escape his overbearing wife and snotty kids. As the third doofus DJ Qualls (Hustle & Flow) plays a trigger-happy wannabe jarhead who sees this opportunity as a way to gain some street cred. And in a supporting role Danny Trejo a Robert Rodriguez regular pokes fun at his scary looks as the leader of the marauding bandits aptly named Carlos Santana. Yes the jokes are plenty. Director C.B.Harding is obviously a Larry the Cable Guy crony since his only other feature film credit is the Blue Collar Comedy Tour movie. Honestly all that’s really required of him is to point and shoot with maybe a few action sequences to coordinate here and there. But while the formula works as a cohesive movie having to sit through Delta Farce’s comic stylings is the tricky part. What it really boils down to is whether you’re a fan of Larry the Cable Guy. If so you’ll (I would hope) realize you’re watching a pretty stupid comedy but will laugh in the appropriate parts. If not I would really wonder what the heck you are doing sitting in the theater.
Attempting to delve into one of Tinseltown’s most curious scandals--the mysterious suicide (or was it?) of the original TV Superman actor George Reeves--the story begins after Reeves (Ben Affleck) is found dead of a seemingly self-inflicted gunshot wound during a late night party in his Benedict Canyon home. The case then unfolds through the eyes of Louis Simo (Adrien Brody) a street-smart publicity hungry private dick hired by Reeves’ grieving mother. As Simo slowly peels back the layers of Reeves’ seemingly glamorous life he discovers an actor of charm talent and sophistication whose every opportunity for a big break fizzled forcing him to lead a frustrated existence slumming in the superhero show he deemed beneath him. Gradually identifying with Reeves’ failed expectations for himself Simo discovers a host of candidates who may have actually pulled the trigger on the actor including his young party girl paramour (Robin Tunney) his longtime lover and patron (Diane Lane) and his lover’s husband a powerfully connected studio “fixer” (Bob Hoskins). It is Brody not Affleck who carries the bulk of the film on his shoulders and the Oscar winner delivers a finely etched turn as Simo who’s fractured potential mirrors Reeves’ but quite simply Simo’s story isn’t nearly as dark or engaging as Reeves’ life or the mystery surrounding his death. Affleck an actor who has had his share of ups downs duds and disappointments in Hollywood delivers one of his most charming and fully realized performances to date even if his spot-on recreation of Reeves’ speech pattern is a bit distracting. The luminous Lane’s acting talents remain in full blossom in a character she’s well-suited to play—the aging beauty fearing the road ahead—and she commands every scene she’s in. Unfortunately there should have been many many more of them. She’s almost criminally underused. Hoskins more menacing then ever and the reliable stable of supporting players like Joe Spano are all top-notch as well; only Tunney apparently trying to channel both Betty Boop and Bette Davis simultaneously seems a bit off her game as the wannabe femme fatale. Best known for his strong turns helming many of the best episodes of television series such as The Sopranos Sex and the City and Six Feet Under first time feature director Allen Coulter’s cool assured hand and meticulous recreation of Cold War Los Angeles are major bonuses here. Even when Simo’s story sags in comparison to Reeves’ Coulter keeps us interested particularly when staging the Rashomon-like sequences depicting the various theories behind Reeves’ demise. But by skimping on Reeves’ story in favor of a less compelling fictional framework built around a private detective investigating the case we never see one key suspect’s possible murder scenario enacted visually and it comes off as a glaring omission.