The last time Will Smith teamed up with director Gabriele Muccino, the result was the box office smash The Pursuit of Happyness. With their latest collaboration, it seems as if the pair were engaged in the pursuit of crappyness. That might sound like an especially harsh pronouncement for a film that seeks only to provide uplift, and I expect there will be many who will respond warmly to the picture’s message of selflessness. But why spend up to 10 dollars on a ticket when a Hallmark card expressing the same sentiments -- and in a less laborious manner, to boot -- can be had for a mere three bucks? Smith, charisma intact, stars as Ben Thomas, an IRS agent who’s clearly up to something good. Reaching into the lives of various strangers, he tries to get to know them before bestowing his blessings -- and his finances -- upon them. Among those he contacts are a blind telemarketer (Woody Harrelson), a battered single mom (Elpidia Carrillo) and, most importantly, Emily Posa (Rosario Dawson), a woman in desperate need of a heart transplant. Meanwhile, a deadly jellyfish lurks in the background (no, really). Scripter Grant Nieporte attempts to keep all the puzzle pieces from connecting until the end, but the scattered flashback sequences allow viewers to suss out what’s up. Nieporte’s screenplay does hit all the proper notes of sincerity, though his story thread distribution is lacking: The movie might have had more emotional resonance had we been able to watch Ben spend equal time with all his targets, but because the focus is on the Ben-Emily romance, the other bits never gather much steam. Harrelson in particular gets gypped: His sightless man is the most intriguing character, but he’s disappointingly held in check.
No one can really blame Jim Carrey for returning to the same spastic well time after time. When the actor attempts to stretch, as in the woefully underrated Man on the Moon or the time-wasting The Number 23, audiences usually stay away in droves. So, yes, Yes Man finds the elastic comic working a variation on his patented routine from such hits as Bruce Almighty and Liar, Liar. The difference here is that there’s a winning romance to go along with his hyperactivity -- for once, he’s as sweet as he is sweaty. Much of the credit goes to co-star Zooey Deschanel, who matches up better with the comedian than either Bruce Almighty’s Jennifer Aniston or Me, Myself & Irene’s Renee Zellweger, to name but two past movie g.f.s expected to stand aside as he cut loose. Deschanel, often cast as a charming flake, mines similar ground here, and her off-kilter personality allows Carrey to maintain his goofy brand of humor while also displaying a softer side. It results in a likable turn as Carl Allen, a perpetually gloomy introvert whose entire life changes after he’s convinced by a self-help guru (Terence Stamp) that he must say “yes” to every situation that comes his way or risk a spell of bad luck. Thus, Carl ends up saying “yes” to a homeless man (Brent Briscoe) needing a ride, a nerdy boss (New Zealand actor Rhys Darby, very funny) who invites him to a Harry Potter costume party, an elderly neighbor (Fionnula Flanagan) who offers to “service” him, and so on. Into this mix comes Allison ( Deschanel), a free spirit who responds to Carl’s newfound sense of adventure. As is often the case with Carrey, his shtick can be appealing in some scenes and simply tiring in others, and the film itself runs too long for its own good. But the sequences between Carrey and Deschanel provide the picture with a needed boost.
The 1951 version of The Day the Earth Stood Still still holds up beautifully as a science fiction classic, but I’ll refrain from taking the usual route of using a cherished original to bludgeon a shoddy remake to death. In the case of the new Day, there’s no need: The film mostly fails on its own terms. In fact, this feels less like a remake of that 50s gem than a companion piece to the Oscar-winning documentary An Inconvenient Truth. The difference is that Al Gore was a lot more fun to watch than Keanu Reeves, who’s so stiff in this outing that you fear rigor mortis will set in before the movie comes to an end. Reeves plays Klaatu, an alien who arrives on Earth with the intention of -- what exactly? Initially, he asks to speak to our planet’s leaders (as the original’s Klaatu did), presumably to provide them with an ultimatum: Shape up or face the dire consequences. But the next minute, he’s already settled on wiping out the human race, because all he knows about us is that we love war and violence and death. It actually comes as a shock to him that humans, as repped by sympathetic scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connelly) and her stepson Jacob (a self-conscious Jaden Smith), are capable of love and affection and devotion. I dunno, you’d think a visitor from a far advanced civilization would have done a little bit of intergalactic homework before stopping by -- at least a cursory glance through the best-selling Earthling Customs for Dummies or something. This inconsequential production strives to seem important by addressing humankind’s destruction of our natural resources and intrinsic need to pollute the planet. And yet one of the movie’s key scenes in set inside a McDonald’s. Nice.
There’s a perverse pleasure in taking down a bloated, big-budget Hollywood bomb that has managed to siphon away two hours of our precious time -- let’s face it, attacking turkeys like Battlefield Earth and The Love Guru won’t lead anyone to lose even a second of sleep out of guilt. But lambasting an independent feature made with copious amounts of dedication and hard work is another matter, and that’s the feeling stirred by the animated film Delgo. It’s no fun playing the bully, but when the end result is as atrocious as what’s on display here, it’s even more difficult to remain silent. Produced over the course of several years by Atlanta’s Fathom Studios, Delgo is as hard on the eyes as it is on the brain, employing an ungainly brand of animation to relate its crushingly dull yarn about a long-standing blood feud between two separate factions in the land of Jhamora. In tested Romeo and Juliet fashion, young Delgo (voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr.), a Lockni, and Princess Kyla (Jennifer Love Hewitt), a Nohrin, fall for each other, even though their respective tribes are perpetually primed to declare war. An evil officer (who else but Malcolm McDowell) takes advantage of the situation and sets up an alliance with the exiled Sedessa (the late Anne Bancroft, who passed away 3-1/2 years ago), who’s spent 15 years hoping to return to power. Val Kilmer, Burt Reynolds and Kelly Ripa are just a few of the name players lending their vocal cords to the cause, but their line deliveries are as flat as those of the two leads. The one exception is Chris Kattan, who provides the comic relief as Delgo’s sidekick, Filo. He’s absolutely insufferable in a noisy turn that tags Filo as one of the worst characters ever to (dis)grace an animated motion picture -- it’s like witnessing the resurrection of Jar Jar Binks. Then again, he’s the perfect torch bearer for a film that wears out its welcome almost before viewers can down that first handful of popcorn.