Sony // 2007 // 91 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker (Retired) // July 11th, 2008
Take one part dreamer, one part hero, and...
Wowser, was this an ill-conceived little project.
Just Add Water is Director Hart Bochner's third -- and most nakedly eager -- attempt to make an offbeat cult movie. While PCU and High School High were written by others, Bochner scripted Just Add Water himself, and he executive produced it.
I'm sure it all looked adorable on paper -- not in script form, but as notes, maybe on a yellow legal pad.
Personable, salt-of-the-earth, loserish nice guy Ray Tuckby (Dylan Walsh, Nip/Tuck) works in a parking garage all day, then drives home every night to his depressing home in the dying desert town of Trona, Calif., where he lives with his wife (Penny Balfour) and teenage son (Jonah Hill, Superbad), both of whom are either brain damaged or charmingly quirky (you decide). The entire town is owned and operated by meth-dealer Dirk (Will Rothhaar) and his band of quirky miscreants.
Ray's great joy is visiting the local grocery store, where he works with the lovely and quirky Nora (Tracy Middendorf), who has harbored a crush on him since they were in junior high. It doesn't matter that the grocery has a dwindling supply of items that are never replaced; Nora is always cheery.
Ray also meets Merl (Danny DeVito, Taxi), who's building a Chevron station and mini-mart in this godforsaken place. Merl is wealthy and quirky and has a hot young wife, and he encourages Ray to dream...dream big. Merl also serves as narrator, prattling preciously and pointlessly about nothing in particular (Example: "For most people nowadays, the American dream doesn't really exist. For my friend, Ray Tuckby, it was no different." Uh, thanks, Merl.)
There's all sorts of other quirky characters here, including Ray's sister and mother, who have a to-the-death struggle over a pie recipe; his brother, who sells sauerkraut at a roadside stand; and various neighbors and passers-through. It's like Bochner went wild coming up with enough crowd-pleasing pseudo-weirdness, visiting most of his obvious outlandishness on poor Ray in a desperate attempt to make the guy endearing. Look, Ray keeps a turtle in a little pen in his yard. Aw, Ray stops his car to pick up garbage on the side of the road. Hee-hee, Ray photocopied a $5 bill and fooled a meth bully with it. Uh-oh, Ray's doing a happy dance, guess we're at mid-point!
By the end of the film, Ray will have divested himself of the wife; taken up with Nora; and, most important, galvanized the neighbors to rise up against the meth dealers. This entails dressing everyone in camos, blowing up the meth lab, and then calling the police. Why blow up the lab -- a significant piece of evidence -- before calling the police? The same reason it took them the entire length of the movie and beyond to call the police in the first place, I guess.
The actors try, but they are sabotaged by the one-two punch of Bochner's obnoxious script and ham-fisted direction. If the semi-stylized dialogue, "wacky" situations, and gruffly whimsical narration don't get you, then wait until you hear John Swihart's cloying and prompting soundtrack. I don't know why Bochner didn't just include title cards telling the audience how to react.
Sony just plunks out this disc with a decent, though unspectacular, transfer and audio and no supplements whatsoever. You'd think Hart Bochner would have paid them to let him do a commentary, but no dice. We do get trailers for films that look as bad as this one, such as My Mom's New Boyfriend and Wieners.
Self-conscious and irritating, Just Add Water cries out for you to embrace its wonky world of lovable misfits.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
Running Time: 91 Minutes
Release Year: 2007
MPAA Rating: Rated R