Thursday, September 20, 2007

BFF: Good Luck Chuck

The BFF website has probably been corrected by now, but the printed schedule showed this 96 minute movie running at both 8:00pm and 9:30pm on Monday - and the two folks I was talking to in the audience didn't seem like they'd come for the festival; they'd just bought tickets when they saw it on the list of showtimes in the lobby, and "hey, I didn't think this opened until Friday" seemed to sell more tickets than the festival itself.

I was kind of wondering why this was playing the festival - it's not a prestigious preview - until I saw Dane Cook was a local guy, although he and the director didn't seem to be hanging around for the second night.

Anyway, if they're reading this... I do like fun movies, really, I do. This one just wasn't that much fun.

Good Luck Chuck

* * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 17 September 2007 at AMC Boston Common #14 (Boston Film Festival 2007)

It's instructive to examine the advertising for Good Luck Chuck. The posters are as generic as can be, just Dane Cook and Jessica Alba standing next to each other. The first trailers laid out the story and featured a lot of Cook, but the recent ads are almost entirely Jessica Alba acting goofy. Why? Well, people like pretty girls, slapstick and penguins; emphasizing the pretty girl doing slapstick with penguins must surely make a middling film look irresistible!

Fair warning: Those bits are, in general, from fairly early in the film, before it settles into a bit of a rut and flounders because its high concept - that because of a hex laid on him when he was ten, any woman who has sex with Dane Cook's Charlie will meet her true love after they break up - isn't nearly as funny as it sounds. He actually meets Alba's Cam Wexler at the wedding of one of his exes, and they click right off, but when Charlie finally finds out that there's this curse on him, he sets out to test it, and his panic winds up creeping Cam the heck out.

The big problem here is that Charlie just isn't that interesting, especially compared with Cam. Just look at where they live; Charlie's got a blandly nice house while Cam's place is kind of funky both outside and in (she really likes penguins). Charlie's defining characteristic initially is that his relationships go south, but the only one we see is right at the start, so it doesn't say much about his personality. He's a nice guy, basically, so much so that his decision to take advantage of his supposed curse (he doesn't believe in it, but so long as the women around him do...) seems out of character, and actually makes us like him a bit less. It's also a problem story-wise: Charlie doesn't actually have to grow over the course of the movie; he's already good to women and a little mopey over the shallowness of his relationships, so the logical path of the story would be figuring out how to end the curse, but that's barely a factor.

What does work? Dane Cook and Jessica Alba are actually an enjoyable pairing. They banter nicely during their meet-cute at the wedding and when disaster seems to inevitably follow Alba's Cam early on, his mild alarm complements her cheerful acceptance of what happens to her and apologies for what happens to him (this has happened to her all her life and she's used to it) nicely. Most of writer Josh Stolberg's previous credits are stuff for kids, which probably explains why kids show up so often in a comedy that is so off-handedly raunchy and are used pretty well (the game of spin the bottle that opens the movie is perhaps my favorite example of both these traits). And the ending, while a bit predictable, is cute.

That's what makes the filler around the good parts so frustrating. There's a "Charlie screws a morbidly obese woman to test the curse" segment that goes on forever, is not very funny, and is uncharacteristically mean both on the surface and underneath. The women who come to Charlie to take advantage of his hex/curse/charm are also a strange case - the two we meet and talk to come across as sympathetic and individual, but the montage of weird phone messages, bare breasts, and comedic sexual positions that follow basically just feeds the "women want to get married at any cost!" stereotype. The one-note sidekick characters are just lazy writing: Cam's brother Joe (Lonny Ross) is a stoner who does embarrassing things; Charlie's friend Stu (Dan Fogler) is a breast-obsessed cosmetic surgeon who unfailingly says the crudest thing possible. And, of course, once the movie starts to focus on Charlie's "emotional growth", suddenly Cam gets much less clumsy.

I didn't hate Good Luck Chuck; I didn't even really dislike it. Even when one of the jokes scores a hit, though, I always felt like the movie could, and should, be funnier - that if everybody put the same amount of effort into their work that Ms. Alba did, there would be a really funny movie here, rather than a kind-of-amusing one.

Also at eFilmCritic

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