Sunday, December 21, 2008

Insert Clever Title For Yes Man Review Here

I was going to call this "No No No To Yes Man" but USA Today beat me to it then I came up with "Nowhere Man" which I thought was even better but, sure enough, that was taken by the New York Times. Finally, I thought of "Negatory" but that hoagie-eating bastard Roger Ebert scooped that up already. Therefore, I have decided to unleash the power of imagination and let you, the reader, come up with a super cool name for this review. This counts as your Christmas present.

As for the movie itself, I pretty much called it on Thursday when I gave it a 50-50 chance of being good since 50% of the jokes are funny and 50% should be wished into the cornfield.

In one respect, this is the most startlingly realistic movie Jim Carrey has ever done. Carrey plays Carl Allen, a guy who, after his divorce from his wife (Molly Sims), basically gave up on life and allows every opportunity to pass him by while he simply sits alone in his apartment watching DVDs and screening his phone calls. I might do the same thing if Molly Sims divorced me. I can see myself sitting alone, night after night, mumbling how I would never again get to touch that perfectly toned Sports Illustrated swimsuit model body, so he's actually a believable character in that regard.

Another believable thing about him is how he gets sucked into some bullshit self-help movement in which he has to say yes to everything. A friend drags him to see motivational speaker Terrence Bundley played by Terence Stamp. If there's a guy who has the presence and gravitas to convince you that he can sway people to change their behavior while making millions of dollars doing it, it's the guy who, over a quarter century ago, was able to yell at the top of his lungs, "BOW DOWN BEFORE ME, SON OF JOR-EL! KNEEL BEFORE ZOD!" without people laughing their asses off at the sheer corniness of it. Still, no matter who's saying it, if you've ever been to some convention center or hotel conference room where guys like this speak, you'll recognize it as the same meaningless, though artfully constructed, gibberish you've heard before. As I said, though, it's artfully constructed and backed up by a room full of Terence Bundley fans who all know when to reinforce their guru's patter about saying "Yes" to everything and it becomes perfectly plausible to Carrey's Carl Allen would suddenly become one of Bundley's Yes Men.

The realism does a slow leak out of the movie after that but that's not the problem. One doesn't look for realism in a big budget comedy. If we did, we'd have rejected the movie where Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd had to fight a giant marshmallow man. No, the problem with Yes Man is that too many of the jokes aren't funny and most of those are Carrey's fault. Carrey, like Robin Williams before him, is the kind of comic actor who is so successful that he's allowed to do pretty much whatever he wants to onscreen. Also, like Robin Williams before him, he's the kind of comic actor who should not be allowed to do whatever he wants to do onscreen. Hell, no one should be allowed to do that because it never works. It's not at all uncommon for actors to say to the director, "Hey, look at this," and demonstrate some sort of improvisation that they think would be good in the movie. What's uncommon is seeing that improv anywhere outside of DVD extras. One good example of this is Seth Rogen and Bill Hader having an extended conversation about semen being used to solve crimes in Superbad. What's that? You saw Superbad and don't remember a five minute bit about semen? That's because it was in the Deleted Scenes menu and not in the feature itself. Stuff like that may be very entertaining but it can pull you out of a tightly written script and make the movie itself too long. Every filmmaker on the planet probably has a story about a scene in a movie that was probably his or her favorite scene but had to be cut due to length or because it just wasn't a good fit with the rest of the story. But try telling that to Jim Carrey.

All through what could have been a pleasant little Christmas season comedy I have to hear Jim Carrey suddenly step out of character to deliver one-liners about purposefully misunderstanding a man who's speaking Korean and how repulsive it'd be to have sex with an old woman (a scene that turns funny when he ends up saying yes to that). Sometimes the supporting characters actually manage to build up some comic momentum on their own, especially Flight Of The Conchords actor Rhys Darby playing Carl's socially awkward boss, but that momentum gets derailed by Carrey's antics. The movie is at its funniest when the jokes flow with the story and it's at its unfunniest when the jokes unflow with the unstory of Jim Carrey's ad libs. It's not that Carrey wasn't often quite funny, it's that Carrey was also quite often not funny.

So, to sum up, Yes Man fails as a chock-full-of-laughs comedy but epically succeeds as a brutally realistic expose about self-help movements. If the self-help stuff sounds like your cup of tea, you'll count Yes Man as among the finest movies ever written. Like I said earlier, though, it's pleasant enough and you may have a decent time watching it even though, when you try to tell people how the movie was, you'll probably have a hard time describing what you liked about it. Still, when someone asks you if you want to go see it, you may as well say, "Yes."

Get it? Say yes? Cause it's Yes Man? Oh, never mind.

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