Tag Archives: 5/20

Run, Fatboy, Run

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Slobbish security guard Dennis Doyle is going nowhere, and not just because he’s out of shape. Five years ago he left his pregnant fiancée Libby at the altar, and he’s regretted it ever since; so when Libby appears on the arm of a successful, fit American called Whit, he is spurred on to run a marathon. Just one niggling issue: the race is four weeks away and he’s never run properly in his life.

I’ll let you into a little inside-the-box secret: occasionally, in fact increasingly since I’ve had to (figuratively) go out and sing for my supper, I don’t get round to reviewing a film until a few days after I’ve seen it. Being a man who cares about the accuracy of what he says, I generally like to literally re-view the film, even if half of it is on fast-forward, to confirm my opinions; but with Run, Fatboy, Run (watched about three weeks ago) I’m pretty sure I can do the film justice without seeing it again. Hopefully, ever.

Simon Pegg is Dennis Doyle, an unfit, cigarette-addicted security guard for a tiny lingerie store, living in a dingy basement flat below his landlord Mr Goshdashtidar (Harish Patel) and only just scraping a living. Dennis’ life has been defined by his cowardice five years previously when he ran away from his own wedding and marriage to Libby (Thandie Newton), at the time carrying their son Jake (Matthew Fenton).

Although relations between them are amicable for Jake’s sake, there seems to be little chance of the couple giving it another go; and when suave American banker Whit (Hank Azaria) appears on the scene, all hope is lost. At least Whit appears to be a good guy, considerate towards Jake and super-fit, but that doesn’t stop Dennis from moaning about him to his friend and Libby’s cousin Gordon (Dylan Moran), a hopeless gambler in hock to a shady group of ‘friends’, including smalltime gangster Vincent (Simon Day).

Having been humiliated by Whit whilst trying to get Jake tickets for the Lord of the Rings musical (remember that?), Dennis resolves to prove himself to Jake and Libby by playing Whit at his favourite game – ironically, running. Gordon makes a potentially lucrative but fantastically dangerous bet with Vincent and backs Dennis to complete a marathon in London by coaching him, Mr Goshdashtidar providing extra, painful motivation; however, Whit takes the wind out of his sails by proposing to Libby in grand style on her birthday, and when it comes to the race itself, Whit will go to absolutely any lengths not to be outshone.

Run, Fatboy, Run employs a comedy formula that was quite entertainingly adapted for jobless Northerners in The Full Monty but was already horribly hackneyed by the time it was used in the boorish Beerfest. Not that it needs repeating, but here it is anyway: a lovable loser at a dead end has his inadequacies rubbed in his face by someone successful but psychologically flawed, who probably also has a place in the affections of our loser’s true love (there needn’t be a kid as well, but there often is). The loser decides he’s going to get himself into shape by challenging – at ho-ho-hopeless odds – his rival at the thing his rival does best; and even though there are setbacks, and the plucky loser may or may not succeed in the specific challenge, he will reveal his enemy’s flaw and succeed in both love and life, as he has learnt valuable life lessons just by rising to the challenge.

This being the case, it’s up to Michael Ian Black as writer, Pegg as actor and co-writer, and Friends star Schwimmer as director, to breathe life, energy and jokes into a potentially over-familiar tale. Unfortunately, the filmmakers are not up to this challenge and the result is a stale, predictable lump of a film. I’m a fan of Pegg, but neither his character nor those he has a hand in creating feel like they have any connection with real people, particularly British ones. Libby has very little motivation of her own, Gordon is a lazy combination of Moran’s standard persona and Rhys Ifans’ Spike from Notting Hill, and Whit reveals a nasty streak which is utterly predictable yet out of character with what we’ve seen of him previously.

Worse, most of the film’s jokes fail to rise above the juvenile, lacking the invention of Shaun of the Dead or Hot Fuzz (the latter film was prepared to try things, even if they didn’t all come off). Instead, there’s a procession of groin rubbing, blister bursting, naked bottoms and swearing in English, Asian or children’s voices, all of which is okay for a brief chuckle but hardly a platform for a feature film.

As director, Schwimmer shows very little story-telling flair, resorting to flashbacks within a quarter of an hour, a by-the-numbers training montage and a thuddingly literal interpretation of the ‘wall’ that runners face. He also opts for a typical American realisation of the race, interpreted through TV pundits who are stiff as boards: Denise Lewis and Chris Hollins are hardly big stars, so why not invent some commentators with character?

He also has Libby and Jake jumping away from the over-the-top television coverage to be at the event, a touch owing more than a little to The Truman Show. Finally, there’s the ubiquitous and thoroughly obnoxious product placement which must have paid for a fair slice of the production costs but pervades to a distracting degree; if the idea is to mimic the flavour and colour of the real London Marathon, Schwimmer fails dismally by covering everything in a garish orange.

Actually, if I absolutely had to watch Run, Fatboy, Run again, it wouldn’t be a complete disaster. It has a few funny moments, though these are everything to do with Pegg, Moran and Azaria’s talents as comedians rather than anything the director or script can bring to the party. Watching it for a second time, I’d know exactly how it all pans out. Unfortunately, I had guessed to the last detail how it would pan out within five minutes of watching it for the first time.

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Carry On Abroad

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A rag-tag group of holidaymakers head for sun, sangria and sauciness in the Spanish resort of Elsbels. Problem is, the hotel’s not finished, there’s hardly anyone to serve them, there’s nothing to see and even the weather doesn’t play along. No wonder even the saintly minds of men of the cloth turn to a bit of the other.

Crafty landlord Vic Flange (Sid James) is desperate to get away for a holiday, but that’s less to do with the hectoring of his wife Cora (Joan Sims) than the charms of regular punter Sadie Tomkins (Barbara Windsor). When Cora catches on that by impure coincidence Sadie, like Vic, is taking a trip to Elsbels, she insists on tagging along too, marching her husband down the travel agents to join the package holiday organised by rep Stuart Farquhar (Kenneth Williams) and his leggy assistant Miss Plunkett (Gail Grainger).

Also climbing on board are good-time girls Lily and Marge (Sally Geeson and Carol Hawkins), one of whom catches the eye of would-be monk Brother Bernard (Bresslaw). The frisky mood of the party is taken up by frustrated husband Stanley Blunt (Kenneth Connor), who later takes a shine to Cora because his wife Evelyn (June Whitfield) has no truck with his amorous advances – while she’s sober, at any rate.

Meanwhile, fellow voyager Bert Conway (Jimmy Logan) makes his own ardent advances towards Sadie; effeminate Robin (John Clive) has a series of hissy fits with his friend Nicholas; and mummy’s boy Eustace Tuttle (Charles Hawtrey) is happy to keep himself to himself, so long as he has a bottle for company. The holidaymakers are all in the mood for a good time, which is a shame since the hotel they’re staying in is still a building site, with the Brits forced to share bathrooms and rely on the harassed staff: manager/porter/receptionist Pepe (Peter Butterworth), exasperated chef Floella (Hattie Jacques) and their lothario waiter son Giorgio (Ray Brooks). If they’re not quite set to endure the holiday from hell, the tourists certainly have to make their own fun in Elsbels, even if their idea of a fun day out lands them in jail.

I’ve seen enough Carry Ons now to have a pretty good idea of how the series pans out, and Carry On Abroad fits entirely predictably into the pattern of the later movies. Which is to say, not having a genre or specific film to parody, or pompous authority figures to lampoon, the film instead deals with a slightly drab aspect of 70s British life and unsurprisingly struggles for laughs as a result.

The problem is best exemplified by a summary of what happens in the film: the party take a coach trip to the airport, arrive at the unfinished Palace Hotel and have dinner; have a morning’s sunbathing; take a trip into town which turns – tee hee – into a bunfight and arrests; and a farewell party enlivened by an overdose of love potion and cut short by natural disasters (depressingly, the plot of Carry on Behind is almost identical).

Within this desperately thin frame, Sid carries on his usual doomed wooing of Babs (to Joan‘s swivel-eyed disapproval), Ken is as scared of Miss Plunkett as enamoured of her, Peter goes increasingly mental as events spiral out of control, and Charles drinks his way through the entire film. All of this is done on a typically minuscule budget, of course, so the air travel is stock footage and there’s no chance of the gang getting near a real beach.

As one of the later Carry Ons there are other difficulties too: Talbot Rothwell’s script is high on ladies in (and out of) brassieres, lazy double entendres and references to ’it’, and low on invention and wit. Everyone looks a bit long in the tooth, not least Sid, Babs and Charles Hawtrey (indeed, this was his final appearance in the series); and some of the troupe are criminally underused, not least Hattie Jacques who is reduced to flannelling in the kitchen and sweating over the ‘bloodings’ stove. Furthermore, the new faces, such as John Clive and Scottish entertainer Jimmy Logan, fail to make much of an impression – or rather, their characters are so flatly written that they don’t stand a chance.

Carry on Abroad is not a complete loss; at least Jacques is in it, Jack Douglas merely bookends the piece, and whilst it’s surprisingly explicit (after this long, there’s nowhere for Babs to go except completely naked), it narrowly avoids the hopelessly unamusing smut of Girls and Emmannuelle. On the other hand, this is not even half as good as a Khyber or a Cleo; anyone who says otherwise is trading on pure nostalgia and would be well advised to revisit the good ol’ days.

Earth Girls are Easy

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Troubled California manicurist Valerie has her swimming pool invaded by a trio of furry aliens. Mack, the leader of these, takes Valerie’s eye, forcing her to decide between him and her intended husband, dodgy doctor Ted. The other aliens, meanwhile, cause havoc of their own.

‘Plastic’ is the word that instantly comes to mind when trying to describe Earth Girls are Easy, and not just because the film’s first shot is of a very cheap spaceship that looks more like a toy than anything a life-form could reasonably travel in. The whole film is wrapped in a sheen of primary-colours 80s artificiality, which makes it a distracting experience at this distance of time.

Anway, Geena Davis is Valerie, one of the Earth girls of the title, a manicurist so desperate for love/sex (the film doesn’t make much of a distinction between the two) that she is willing to overlook the obvious philandering of her fiancé, arrogant doctor Ted (Charles Rocket), and blames herself for his not wanting to have sex with her.

Spying on Valerie from a distance are three hirsute humanoids, who crash-land in her swimming pool and, whilst waiting for the pool to drain, get tidied up with the help of Valerie’s friend Candy (Julie Brown, also one of the film’s writers). The discovery that the colourful aliens are, underneath, three quite cute guys – Mack (Jeff Goldblum), Wiploc (Jim Carrey) and Zebo (Damon Wayans) – causes quite a stir, not least within Valerie.

Earth Girls are Easy aims to be a bright, frothy, slightly naughty comedy in a similar vein to Splash!, but is hampered by a massive lack of confidence in its own material. The first part of the film contains a number of overproduced songs which set it up as a musical, but the film steers away from this direction as it gives way to the love interest between Valerie and Mack, the musical idea only making a brief return for Candy’s ’Cause I’m a Blond.

Instead of songs, the film fills the time with items such as Zebo taking part in a protracted dance contest, then Zebo and Wiploc being taken for robbers when pool-drainer Woody (Michael McKean, in annoying surfer-dude mode) tries to take them to the beach. During this time, Mack and Valerie fall for each other, but she vacillates between the exotic new stranger and Ted.

I suspect nervous producers had a hand in cutting out some of Julie Brown’s songs and putting in more comedy; the problem is that the film struggles for laughs throughout, not helped by the fact that the characters are incredibly shallow. We never really get a handle on who the aliens are or where they are from, and neither Carrey nor Wayans, both in very early roles, can do much with the broad fish-out-of-water material they’re given.

The humans are all fine examples of Californian vacuity, so it is hard to either believe in them or care how they turn out: Davis is the best of the bunch, but it is hard to see what she could possibly see in the loathsome Ted, or why she would even consider giving him a second chance. There are flashes of invention – after Valerie and Mack make love, there is a disturbing dream sequence in which Davis imagines her neighbourhood populated by sci-fi monsters and robots (a nod to The Fly?) – and there are a few gems in the dialogue, such as: ‘Finland is the capital of Denmark’ or, Mack after being cleaned up at the hairdressers: ‘Valerie – are we limp and hard to manage?’ But all in all, the film is too wilfully stupid to raise many laughs.

Not a musical, not a great love story, certainly not a science fiction film and not much of a comedy adventure either, Earth Girls are Easy is not as much fun as it could easily have been. It has its incidental pleasures, but fans of any of the above genres would do well to go in search of the real thing.

The Flintstones: Viva Rock Vegas

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Construction worker and caveman Fred Flintstone feels something is missing in his otherwise perfect prehistoric life. It’s not a friend, as he has faithful dope Barney as a constant companion; it’s not advice, as Fred has a sniffy alien called the Great Gazoo to help him; but it may be the love of a good woman. Can Gazoo, on a mission to observe human mating habits, steer both Fred and Barney into the arms of beautiful women who will put up with the boys’ primitive ways?

While it gets occasional runs on the BBC, the cartoon series of The Flintstones never really made much of an impact here (to anyone born after 1970, anyway), Britain unaccustomed to the Honeymooners sitcom on which it was based. Nonetheless, the prehistoric families living quasi-1950s lives with the mod-cons replaced by domestic dinosaurs et al had enough worldwide recognition to make Brian Levant’s 1994 film The Flintstones a financial if not a critical success, with John Goodman and Rick Moranis taking on roles of Fred and Barney respectively, Elizabeth Perkins and Rosie O’Donnell playing their wives and featuring a cameo from Elizabeth Taylor as Fred’s snobbish mother-in-law, Pearl Slaghoople. Given the positive box office, it was little surprise that a second film emerged, again directed by Levant. And whilst it seems bizarre that Viva Rock Vegas is a prequel, taking place before either the Flintstones or Rubbles get together and featuring an entirely different cast to the first film, I suspect the reluctance of some or all of the original cast to return forced the studio’s hand.

Viva Rock Vegas begins with the Universal logo replaced by a ‘Univershell’ one (the first of hundreds of ghastly puns) before introducing us to the Great Gazoo (Alan Cumming), the hapless alien chucked off his spaceship to observe courtship and mating rituals. Gazoo was, from what I can gather, a character introduced late to the cartoon Flintstones who did nothing to stop its slide into cancellation, so why it was thought he would liven up the film is anyone’s guess; but I digress. Gazoo runs into a lovelorn Fred (Mark Addy) and Barney (Stephen Baldwin), and insults and nudges them into asking women out.

Meanwhile, Wilma Slaghoople (Kristen Johnston) leaves behind her bourgeois life and imminent betrothal to casino owner Chip Rockefeller (Thomas Gibson) to work in a burger bar with Betty O’Shale (Jane Krakowski), much to the disapproval of mother Pearl (Joan Collins), although her father Harvey Korman (the original Great Gazoo, fact fans) is too batty to care. As you might suppose, the quartet find themselves on a double date where Betty and Barney discover they have equally irritating laughs, leaving Fred to teach Wilma the joys of bowling (complete with twangy sound effects). Love blossoms but the interference of Pearl, the underhand tactics of Chip – in debt and desperate need of Slaghoople money – and the intervention of a famous singer called Mick Jagged (Cumming again) ensure that the road to happiness is a rocky one (sorry).

Although the first Flintstones was decidedly average, it could at least boast some stars in outrageous garb delivering naff lines, and the novelty of seeing primitive equipment brought to life. Viva Rock Vegas has none of these advantages. The script is just as poor as the first film, but the actors required to speak them seem to have been chosen on the basis that they were the first ones to pick up the phone that day.

Addy sort of looks alright but his impersonation of Fred is horrible (cf. The Time Machine), whilst Baldwin looks the part but has all the comic presence of smallpox – ditto with the square-jawed Thomas Gibson. Jane Krakowski is cute as Betty, but Johnston doesn’t seem comfortable with being the main focus of the film; as she is the main focus of the film, this is a problem.

There are also problems with the prop jokes: a dinosaur roller coaster at the carnival is fair enough, but why is there a woman with a camcorder? Even though it’s made out of rock, there’s no suggestion of how it works and misses the point of the premise entirely. The same goes for the casino, where a bird-operated remote control (fair enough…) switches off CCTV screens (Eh?!?).

And Dino, the pet Fred wins for Wilma at the carnival, is an annoying part-puppet-part-CGI creation designed to generate laughs from children, none of whom will have a clue what the Flintstones are about. Oh, and the Great Gazoo effects are poorly-executed too: Cumming, a talented comic actor, can’t make him any fun, even though he has a laugh with his very broad Mick Jagger impersonation.

‘Jagged’ and Ann-Margret both provide lively renditions of ‘Viva Las Vegas’ reworked to fit the film and these are entertaining, as are a few jokes that escape from the script almost by accident (the guy who constantly threatens to kill all the dinosaurs, for example); but the moments that shine mainly do so because of the acute dullness of every aspect of the rest of the film, a procession of weak performances holding feeble props, powering even feebler puns. I can only hope that talk of a live-action Jetsons movie, originally mooted in 2007 but last slated to appear in 2012, either never turns up, or has some far better ideas than Viva Rock Vegas when it does.

Stepford Wives, The (2004)

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: When power-suited TV executive Joanna Eberhart is fired from her job and suffers a breakdown, husband Walter takes her to the eerily-perfect town of Stepford, Connecticut to recover. In Stepford the wives and partners are happy, docile and obedient to their spouses’ every whim; naturally suspicious, Joanna, with the help of new friends Bobbie and Roger, sets out to discover why.

I cannot claim to have seen it recently, but the original Stepford Wives ranks in my mind alongside other seventies sci-fi fare such as Soylent Green, Coma and the Invasion of the Body Snatchers remake where everything is not as it seems, leading to a tense, paranoid atmosphere resolved by a shocking (and usually shockingly pessimistic) twist. Though the film may not be remembered as a classic, the idea of the ‘Stepford Wife’ has passed into common parlance for someone who is suspiciously faithful and obedient. Accordingly, when Dreamworks (in conjunction with Paramount) decided to have another go at Ira Levin’s story, a straight thriller was presumably out of the question since the tale of men creating robot wives was so well-known.

What we have instead is a macabre comedy in which Nicole Kidman plays Joanna, sacked after she is shot at by a contestant who was humiliated by his wife on one of Joanna’s reality TV shows. Loving husband Walter (Matthew Broderick) takes her and the children away from the rat race to the picture-postcard town of Stepford, where the houses are automated and all she has to do is relax and play the pretty wifey.

However, whereas most of the other wives (and male partners, this is the 21st Century) are perfectly happy to make love, do the shopping, or discuss inane books under the scrutiny of Glenn Close’s matriarch Claire Wellington, Joanna aligns herself with troublemakers Roger (Roger Bart) and Bobbie (Bette Midler). The three are suspicious of goings-on in Stepford, particularly in the lodge-like Men’s Association building run by Claire’s husband Mike (Christopher Walken), but when the town’s secret is revealed – the women are robots, or at least have robotic implants – only Joanna can do anything about it because Roger and Bobbie have themselves been transformed into model spouses.

On the face of it, it makes sense to come at the Stepford Wives from this angle, and the intention behind the film is clear: now that women are thought of as every bit as capable in the boardroom as men, it is fine to make fun of the chauvinistic attitudes that wanted to keep them in the role of domestic goddess, replacing the sinister tone of the original with jokes. However, Paul Rudnick’s script is a miserable failure at providing laughs – a surprise given that he wrote the excellent Addams Family Values and the respected In and Out.

The essential problem is that the women being robots doesn’t shock anyone, least of all the cast. When one of the husbands places a card into his wife’s mouth and she spews forth money as if she were an ATM, Walter accepts the situation as if it were perfectly normal; surely he should be a little freaked out by it? The attitude appears to be that as long as the CGI guys get a workout whilst bringing the gag to life, everything’s okay (the same goes for a joke where Joanna unknowingly gets hold of another wife’s controller and enlarges her breasts before making her run backwards up the stairs).

Not only do we not get the satisfaction of the secret being slowly revealed, but in Oz’s film the nature of the secret is confused. For the first half of the film the wives appear to be completely robotic (one spins out of control at a dance and sparks fly from her), yet when it’s Joanna’s turn to face the ‘Female Improvement System’, the procedure seems to involve little more than a couple of microchips inserted into the brain – there is a hollow body cast but its purpose is not properly explained. And consider the ATM joke: assuming she doesn’t produce counterfeit money, the wife would have to be filled up with notes at regular intervals! The film fails to follow any proper logic, least of all its own, so comes across as hopelessly confused. The bulk of the humour comes from Roger (little surprise from a gay writer), but even this twist on the original feels misplaced when the innate campness of the wives is underplayed. And the less said about the opening parodies on reality TV the better: let’s just say it’s pointless to make fun of something that is already beyond inane.

Nicole Kidman, as Joanna, is miscast, her breathy, intense delivery totally unsuited to making her both sympathetic and comic (although she would have been too young at the time, someone like Anne Hathaway would have been ideal); Glenn Close has the best part in the film and does well with it, whilst Bette Midler and her klutz of a husband (Jon Lovitz) are merely grateful for the paycheques. Broderick is amiable and appropriately bland: the men of Stepford are not sinister objectifiers of women, but whiny geeks who want to sit around smoking cigars, watching sports and playing Robot Wars (geddit?). If there is any satirical message behind these men who can only properly interact with women if they are part machine, it’s hidden deep behind another confused message, that these boys with toys are fundamentally insecure about the fact that their wives are more successful than they are.

There is little about The Stepford Wives that doesn’t fall flat on its face, since it misses the point of the original entirely in pursuit of gadget-inspired gags (even one of the film’s better jokes about the AOL guy making the wives slow doesn’t work these days), losing far more in suspense and intrigue than it gains in comedy, losing the chilling pessimism of the 1975 film’s conclusion for a sappy piece of comedy-drama, tying itself up in knots about exactly what the wives are meant to be, and bringing unsympathetic and unmotivated performances from most of the cast. It’s worth a watch, perhaps, for Glenn Close and the very pretty realisation of the town of Stepford, but otherwise when the title next appears in the listings magazines, keep your fingers crossed that it’s the original. I know I will be.

Serendipity

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: A chance meeting between Christmas shoppers Jonathan and Sara in a New York department store appears to promise great things; but Sara isn‘t so sure and lets the stars decide what happens to them. Some years later, both are destined to be married to others, yet the evening the pair spent together has stuck in both their minds; and if fate hasn’t yet brought them together, perhaps there’s something they can do to give it a helping hand.

It’s a case of glove at first sight (sorry) when New Yorker Jonathan (John Cusack) meets pretty English girl Sara (Kate Beckinsale) at the accessories counter in Bloomingdale’s. Adjourning to the nearby Serendipity bistro-cum-store, the pair discover that they each have significant others; but this doesn’t stop them spending the rest of the evening in each other’s company, playing hide and seek in the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, skating, star-gazing and what have you.

As far as Jonathan’s concerned, he’s met his perfect match. Sara, however, is a quixotic miss who believes that if something is meant to happen, it‘ll happen; so instead of giving Jonathan her number or surname, she declares that she will write it in a copy of Love in the Time of Cholera and give it to one of New York’s many second-hand bookstores; for his part, Jonathan writes his name and number on a five-dollar bill which, if it mystically finds its way back to Sara, will be a sign that their relationship is meant to be.

Several years later, it looks as though it wasn’t meant to be. Jonathan is all set to marry the lovely Halley (Bridget Moynahan) at the Waldorf, whilst Sara is in California, dating long-haired shanai blower Lars (John Corbett). On the surface, all is well as Lars also has marriage on his mind; but she can’t forget Jonathan and, hoping against hope, takes a trip back to New York with new-age (but deeply cynical) shop owner Eve (Molly Shannon). Meanwhile, Jonathan and his anxious best man Dean (Jeremy Piven) head back to Bloomingdale’s to trace Sara, starting only with a receipt containing her Bloomingdale’s account number. As the hours count down to the wedding, the pair race around the Big Apple, missing each other by seconds at various landmarks. Will true love find a way? Hey, it’s written in the stars.

Fine romances – An Affair to Remember, say, or Sabrina or When Harry Met Sally – wear their contrivances easily, throwing lovers in each others’ paths willy-nilly and inviting the viewer to think nothing of it. Conversely, by making chance events (the ‘return’ of Jonathan’s banknote especially) the crux of the film, Serendipity loses the frothy playfulness that makes better films bounce along. Instead, it throws the long-winded set-up at the audience then makes us do all the work. Lazily, the film demands that we fall so much in love with the idea of Sara and Jonathan’s destiny that we completely overlook the fact that much of the film is missing.

And make no mistake, Serendipity asks us to fill in parts of the plot that, were they shown to us, would provide much-needed emotional excitement: Jonathan explaining to Halley (possibly at the wedding), or Sara explaining to Lars, where their destinies truly lie and why the book/New York had such significance to them; or Jonathan confronting Sara over what he thought he saw when he and Dean finally found her house. But it’s all left out and the viewer has to fill in the gaps from their residual sense of romantic comedies.

This approach would be fine if either Jonathan or Sara remotely displayed the charisma needed to distract us from the fact that nothing is going on around them. But whilst Cusack is competent in a ’this is paying for my condo’ way, Beckinsale is horribly ineffective as Sara. She’s clearly meant to be scatty and impulsive, but she’s far too mannered for the part and even manages to make her own accent sound off (it’s as though she’s doing an English accent for American consumption, with too much enunciation and too little emotion). Perhaps she’s exacting British revenge for Andie MacDowell’s turn in Four Weddings; she certainly doesn’t win many hearts and her chemistry with Cusack is non-existent (hardly surprising since they spend most of the film apart).

Crucially, another of the gaps is the comedy. Sure, there‘s some matey banter between Jonathan and Dean, but too often the film has to cover up the lack of sparkle or wit in Marc Klein’s script by trying to be outlandish: witness ‘comic’ French artist Sebastian’s gruesome paintings of his former tenant/muse Sara, the would-be wackiness of Lars’ outlandish musical vision, or Eve being physically abused on a golf driving range. The one bright spot is Eugene Levy, turning in a polished cameo as a possessive shop assistant prepared to assist Jonathan in his quest – at the right price.

More than anything else, to me Serendipity feels like a close relative of Sliding Doors, meaning that there’s a good idea in principle but in execution the movie doesn’t achieve what it sets out to (given the amount of work the leads have to do to make love happen, you could argue that the film is about anything but serendipity). It’s a great shame, because Peter Chelsom is responsible for Funny Bones, a quirky, individual film which is one of my all-time favourites. Serendipity is neither quirky nor individual: it’s an off-the-peg rom-com, and as far as I’m concerned it can go right back on the peg.

Scary Movie 3

WFTB Score: 5/20

The plot: Hapless TV news reporter Cindy Campbell hits on not one but two stories of the century: an alien invasion threatens the Washington farm of an ex-minister and his wannabe rap star brother, and closer to home a killer video tape bumps off her best friend and threatens both Cindy and her strangely prescient nephew Cody. Are the two events linked? And if they are, how the hell do they get themselves out of the bind they’re in?

There is, I dare say, a vaguely interesting tale attached to how David Zucker – one third of the legendary Kentucky Fried Theater group behind Airplane!, Hot Shots! and so on – came to take over the reins of the Wayans Brothers’ Scary Movie franchise after the pretty horrible second film. I’m not moved enough to explore them, frankly, but please feel free to tell me if you have the inside scoop.

Anyway, our returning heroine Cindy Campbell (Anna Faris) finds herself in the thick of some very spooky action when she determines to investigate disturbing goings-on at the farm of Tom Logan (Charlie Sheen), a former minister whose belief in God was shattered by the death of his wife (played by Sheen’s then-wife Denise Richards) in an absurd car crash. Not only that, but Cindy’s seemingly immortal friend Brenda (Regina Hall) has heard rumours of a video tape inhabited by an evil girl who kills people seven days after they’ve watched it.

Predictably, Brenda meets a grisly end, which threatens to be Cindy and her adopted nephew Cody’s (Drew Mikuska) fate when they also view the tape. The key to what’s happening may lie back at the farm, where Tom is struggling to look after his daughter and his unsettled brother George (Simon Rex), a whiter-than-white farmboy desperate to overcome his nerves and make it in the world of rap. Then again, the answers may lie in an annoying Aunt ShaNeequa (Queen Latifah) or the pervy Architect (George Carlin), or a race of deceptively aggressive aliens. One thing’s for sure: US President Harris (Leslie Nielsen) hasn’t the faintest idea what’s going on.

Although it’s never anything but thuddingly unsubtle (not least the gratuitous but nicely self-mocking opening featuring Jenny McCarthy and Pamela Anderson), Scary Movie 3 starts off quite brightly. Faris continues to be perky and likeable, Sheen is impressively straight-laced as the grieving farmer, Rex is endearingly stupid as George and the whole 8 Mile rap battle sequence is great fun.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take long before the attempt to meld Signs, The Ring, The Sixth Sense and The Matrix into a single plot throws all sense and logic out of the window, and the gags become repetitive, dull, leery and increasingly tasteless. It’s as though Zucker and writers Pat Proft and Craig Mazin had seen the earlier Scary Movies, marvelled at what you could get away with these days, and set out to make a film that pushed at the boundaries of taste whilst retaining the trademark ZAZ flippancy.

The result is the unappealing sight of callous violence being played for laughs. If you find any part of Brenda’s wake (her body is slapped, jumped on, pummelled and finally blown apart by electricity in the company of her grieving family) funny, you really want to have a word with yourself (unless you’re twelve, in which case it’s probably ok). Though it’s no doubt intended to be cartoonish, the film’s quick graduation from adults hitting themselves on the head to adults injuring children in a vast number of ways just feels wrong. Two jokes, the baby-sitting Catholic priest and the appearance of ‘Michael Jackson’ – suggest that the filmmakers find the very idea of child abuse laden with comic potential. You can’t believe they’ve gone there, but the reaction is one of revulsion rather than laughter.

Still, at least these sections bring something new to the table: the appearance of Leslie Nielsen signals more clearly than a caption ever could that the Zucker/Pat Proft part of the film has started. While Nielsen is dependable, the fact that his main contribution is to repeat a line from Airplane! shows that the film barely knows what to do with him. By a sad coincidence, this review was written on the day Nielsen’s death was announced*, and watching any of the Naked Gun films (even the third one) would be a much better tribute than trying to enjoy the goofy shtick the writers inflict him with here.

Anthony Anderson and Kevin Hart are no better as the homies who have always got George’s back. I suppose kudos is due to Zucker for retaining a decent African-American presence in the Scary Movie franchise, but neither this pair nor Queen Latifah and Eddie Griffin in the Matrix skit are particularly interesting; and out of the hasty gangsta rap cameos, the only face I recognised was Macy Gray!

If you get to watch them for free, the first 20 minutes or so of Scary Movie 3 are pretty good value; and though it rapidly goes downhill, there’s the very occasional glimpse of humour in the remaining hour amongst the dreadfully weak dross. Whatever it’s few redeeming qualities, however, there’s one thing for which the film can never be forgiven: it allowed Scary Movie 4 to happen.

NOTE: As in 2010, when it actually happened, rather than 2016 when social media re-announced it.