As scattershot and unfocused as its characters, Wanderlust casts Paul Rudd and Jennifer Aniston as George and Linda, a Manhattan couple who have just purchased their first home (a "micro-loft," no bigger than one of Donald Trump's closets). But when George loses his job thanks to his boss' illegal activities and Linda has her documentary about penguins with testicular cancer rejected by HBO, the pair find themselves broke and homeless.
While traveling to Atlanta to stay with George's vulgar, wealthy brother and his spacy wife (Ken Marino, the film's co-scripter, and Michaela Watkins are quite funny in these roles), they chance upon Elysium, a blissful commune where the residents live off the land, share everything (including partners) and smoke lots of pot. As they become acquainted with (among others) the philosophical Seth (Justin Theroux), the cheerful Eva (Malin Ackerman), the nudist winemaker Wayne (Joe Lo Truglio) and commune founding father Carvin (Alan Alda), each spouse weighs the pros and cons of permanently staying at this so-called "intentional community."
Writer-director David Wain's film sports an intriguing premise, but the end result never really commits to any particular viewpoint (is Wain laughing with the commune residents or at the commune residents?), a wishy-washy approach that doesn't allow for any insights into the existence of such a beatific place in our capitalist society. This wouldn't matter if the movie fulfilled its obligations as a comedy, but genuine laughs are spread rather thinly throughout, with some bizarre and inspired bits taking a back seat to the usual raunchy gags -- this includes an agonizing scene in which a nervous George, about to have sex with Eva, ad-libs various vulgar come-ons in front of the mirror.
This endless improv sequence is the type that's usually found as an extra feature on the DVD for a Judd Apatow film (oh, did I mention he's one of this movie's producers?), meaning the home-entertainment branch will have to find something else to fill its slot on the disc. Given the abundance of comparable material -- from Rudd sitting on a toilet to Lo Truglio and his prosthetic penis (he's no Michael Fassbender) bouncing through the woods -- I don't think they'll need to put in any overtime.
Let's give this much credit to Gone: It plays it straight. In an era in which filmmakers come up with increasingly convoluted ways to trick audiences with all manner of daft plot pirouettes, this new thriller respects viewers enough to present the whodunit aspect in a manner that isn't insulting. (Semi-Spoiler Alert!)
While its mystery proves easy to peg (it only takes one lingering and oddly angled shot to establish the identity of the villain), at least it's a break from the sort of dorky fare that has ensnared the likes of Johnny Depp and Halle Berry in the past -- unbelievable yarns in which the protagonist had a split personality or imagined the whole film or started channeling Genghis Khan or what-have-you.
This isn't to say that Gone is a brainy flick; on the contrary, the narrative leaps taken by scripter Allison Burnett are head-smackingly stupid. Her story, primarily culled from Kiss the Girls and The Silence of the Lambs, centers on Jill (Amanda Seyfried), a Portland, Oregon, resident who became the only person to successfully escape from a psychopath who likes to kidnap women and dump them into a hole before eventually murdering them.
Unfortunately for Jill, there was never any evidence that she had been snatched or tortured, so the cops locked her up in a looney bin for a short period. Now a year later, she's convinced that her sister Molly (Emily Wickersham) has been nabbed by the same madman, and as before, the police believe that she's merely a delusional nutjob. (The detectives on the case are all portrayed as uncaring, insensitive and inept, meaning the city of Portland probably won't be using this film as a recruitment tool any time soon.) So it's up to Jill to save her sister single-handedly, a task that requires her to contend with various seedy suspects (including one pegged as having "rapey eyes").
Seyfried does solid work as a damaged woman who's fearful of the world around her, and the early sequences, which delineate the manner in which she functions day-to-day (e.g. nervously crossing the street to avoid any man walking down the sidewalk from the opposite direction), hint at a deeper and more subtle film. That fails to materialize, but Seyfried continues to hold the screen, as her character learns to locate the bravery and drive buried within her own insecurities.
But Burnett's script is laughable in the manner in which Jill's search develops: This is the sort of film that relies on its heroine behaving exactly as necessary for the story to progress, and if she doesn't pick up on every single clue (some really reaching), then the plot would grind to a halt.
Gone wasn't screened in advance for critics anywhere and opened to a desultory $4.8 million gross. Anybody interested in seeing it better head to the theater posthaste, because after a couple more weeks, this mediocre effort is sure to be gone, baby, gone.
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