You're just asking for trouble when you put the word "failure" in a movie title. It doesn't matter what it's about; it doesn't matter if you've made the next Citizen Kane. Inevitably, some reviewer usually The Today Show's mustache-in-residence Gene Shalit will comment: "It's a failure, all right! Har har!" In the case of Failure to Launch, the latest entry in Sarah Jessica Parker's spotty post-Sex and the City career, it's certainly true.
This Failure attempts to play on the same mating-ritual stereotypes that fueled How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, another idiotic chick flick where a prim, brittle blonde attempted to tame the dubiously titled "Sexiest Man Alive." Here, Matthew McConaughey stars opposite Parker as the unfortunately named Tripp, a 35-year-old with no plans to leave the comfortable shelter of his parents' three-story colonial. An arrested adolescent and proud of it, Tripp makes a living selling boats but seems to spend most of his time indulging in macho pastimes paintball, surfing, rock climbing, one-night stands so the filmmakers can use exotic locations.
Enter Parker as Paula, a self-proclaimed "professional interventionist" hired by Tripp's folks to fake a relationship with him, jump-start his self-esteem and move him out of the house so his parents can finally have sex. (Not a pretty picture, considering that they're played by Kathy Bates and sportscaster and "actor" Terry Bradshaw.)
A computer could and presumably did write the rest: Scheming girl falls in love with boy; boy finds out girl's scheme; boy and girl make up and live happily ever after. But these actors are way too old to be doing the boy-meets-girl thing. Parker shares a house with the incomparably cool Zooey Deschanel, who seems about 20 years younger than the Cosmo-sipping Manhattanite. McConaughey, in his open-to-the-navel Hawaiian shirts and bandanas, looks more like Jimmy Buffett than an emotionally stunted slacker. He's flanked by two other stud muffins (Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper) who also appear largely shirtless for most of the film; the eye candy is nice, but it's unbelievable that three well-to-do hunks wouldn't have their own bachelor pads/sex dens.
You can see some evidence of a darker, weirder movie lurking somewhere in Failure to Launch, one that could've been coaxed out of the material by a better filmmaker. Deschanel, Bates and other actors on the sidelines including cameos by comedian Patton Oswalt and The Daily Show's Rob Corddry make light of subjects ranging from suicide to Star Wars. And at heart, Parker's character is basically serving as a whore, hired by this guy's parents; what could be weirder than that? But director Tom Dey is all too willing to bog the movie down with inane physical gags; for example, fake-looking chipmunks, dolphins and lizards assault McConaughey for no particular reason.
Mostly, Failure is just another disappointing chapter in Parker's misfired attempt at movie stardom, after Christmas' sappy Family Stone. Once again, she surrounds herself with a talented supporting cast, presumably so that if she falls flat on her face, there'll be other people to distract from her, uh, failure to launch a leading-actress career. Say this for the former Carrie Bradshaw: She may be making poor role choices, but at least she's not afraid to let funnier performers upstage her.
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected].