Lionsgate // 2011 // 87 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // June 21st, 2011
If you don't play you won't take home the big prize.
I don't know when Bradley Cooper got the skills to go from solid supporting character in numerous TV shows and small movies roles to square-jawed leading mean, but there's no doubt that his big break was The Hangover. That 2009 sleeper hit provided a big boost to everyone involved, and almost certainly lead to Cooper's involvement in The A-Team and Limitless. For such a recently made star, he's not jumping at a lot of high-profile projects, leading to a lack of product. To fill that gap, some of his older material is obviously surfacing, including his 2002 effort Bending All the Rules. Although the film will primarily be of interest to Cooper fans, it's a decent little indie romantic comedy that plays cleverly on genre expectations.
On the surface, Bending All the Rules has a story as old as the genre: free-spirited artist Kenna (Colleen Porch, Transformers) has two boyfriends and a bundle of nerves because her first solo exhibition coming up. One boyfriend (Bradley Cooper, The Hangover) works with her as a bartender, DJing on the side despite coming from money. The other boyfriend (David Gail, Perfect Opposites) is an up and coming professional man. With her photography bringing up many emotional issues, which guy will Kenna end up with?
Given the plot summary, I was really suspicious of Bending All the Rules. The last thing the world needs is another film where a free-spirited, artistic woman has to choose between the passionate, artistic boyfriend and the slick, rich boyfriend. Luckily, Bending All the Rules doesn't succumb to any of the easy genre options it could have fallen victim to. The film gets things right out of the gate by making the three main characters well-rounded people. Kenna isn't just a cookie-cutter heroine. In addition to her artistic inclinations, she's also the daughter of a carny whose mother left when she was young. This gives her a pretty novel twist on the whole "family issues" front and gives the film some opportunities for amusing flashbacks. Her boyfriends are similarly human. One is a bartender but is really passionate about spinning old soul records, while the other is driven because he came from a large and poor family. In an even better twist, the businessman boyfriend is actually the nicer of the pair, with her bartending beau tending to be more of a jerk.
The film wrings all the tension it can out of the looming-deadline of Kenna's photography exhibit and the possibility of her driving one or both of her men away. The flashbacks to her carny childhood make for some interesting diversion, while the fact that her long-absent mother keeps trying to contact her provide another subplot. I don't want to give away the ending, but it too is a fairly surprising twist on what we've come to expect from these either/or kind of romantic comedies.
Bending All the Rules gets a fine, if slight, DVD release. The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer is clean and bright. The film overall has a pretty flat style to it, which is appropriate for the material. It was shot in the Tampa Bay area, and some of the outdoor shots do a great job of capturing Florida's west coast. The 5.1 surround mix sticks mainly to the center channel, but dialogue is clear and well balanced. The lone extra is the film's trailer. That's a shame because it looks like Bending All the Rules was shot in 2002, but this is the first DVD release I can find evidence of. It would certainly be interesting to hear how the film got released, as well as what Cooper and castmates think of the film now.
Bending All the Rules is still a romantic comedy, and still has to follow at least some of the genre conventions. Thus we get some flirting, a few sex scenes, a little bit of nudity (male and female), and lots of musing about the nature of love. Strangely enough, I found Bending All the Rules least enjoyable when it was trying to be funny. There are a few laughs here and there, but overall the film works in spite of, not because of, its funnier moments. The film was also obviously somebody's passion project, and some of the writing is more enthusiastic than polished. That makes it a little hard to judge some of the performances. I think all the leads are solid, but Bradley Cooper (for instance) learned quite a bit between filming Bending in 2002 and his appearance on Nip/Tuck five years later.
Bending All the Rules doesn't throw out the rulebook (giving fans a classic romcom), but it does offer some decent twists in the formula performed by some talented actors before they became stars. The DVD does a fine job presenting the film, but the lack of extras makes anything more than a rental difficult to recommend.
Bending doesn't break the rules, making it not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 87 Minutes
Release Year: 2011
MPAA Rating: Rated R