Case Number 08739: Small Claims Court


Magnolia Pictures // 2004 // 90 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // March 6th, 2006

The Charge

She's rich and famous. He's poor and shameless.

The Case

So I get this movie I have never heard of, and it stars Kelly Rowland of Destiny's Child. It looks like an urban comedy that would have been at home on UPN back in the days when Homeboys from Outer Space was paired up with Moesha. I can feel the dread rising up in me as I pop it in the player. Then, the strangest thing happens when it starts rolling -- I kinda like it. Damn you, Kelly Rowland, and the strange power you have over me! First I grooved an entire summer to "Can't Nobody" and "Stole" from Kelly's solo album (they still pop up on the iPod), and now this. Kelly's a hometown girl who has spent a lot of time here in Houston, and I think she's the one member of Destiny's Child who has been underappreciated all these years. Beyonce's the smoking hot one, and Michelle has the gospel thing down, but Kelly is the one I want to cuddle up with and take home.

A struggling law student (Duane Martin, Any Given Sunday) accepts a gig as a seat filler at an awards show (people who sit in the chairs vacated by celebrities in awards shows so the audience always looks full). Destiny kicks in, and he winds up sitting next to Jhnelle (Kelly Rowland, Freddy Vs. Jason). She's a beautiful singer; she mistakes him for an industry executive. They fall in love, but he's pretending to be something he's not. Will his conscience stop him from the love of his life?

The Seat Filler is a likable romantic comedy from director Nick Castle (The Last Starfighter) which goes down easy, then dissipates softly in the air. It's the kind of movie you'll smile through, and then not think about later. If it were a confection, it would be cotton candy. I found myself shocked it moved well, and the stars came off nicely. Kelly Rowland isn't known for her acting ability, and wisely she plays a singer. It's not a far stretch for her, and she relies on her natural charisma as a performer to carry her through. At the end of it I still wanted to cuddle with Kelly, and that means she did her job admirably. Duane Martin gets the bulk of the slapstick bits, and has an innate sense of comedy timing that benefits the film. He's got a background in (big surprise) UPN sitcoms, so he's a natural at getting the laugh. And who's that playing Jhnelle's assistant and best friend? Yep, it's Melanie Brown, who is also known around the world as Scary Spice. I hope she and Kelly form a new super group and call it either Destiny's Spice or Scary Child. They make a great team here.

I admire The Seat Filler, because it's an urban romantic comedy without any offensive stereotypes. It takes its characters and stays colorblind, and lets them be sophisticated and endearing. It's not confrontational like a Spike Lee Joint would be, but it is revolutionary for allowing the cast to be fully realized people who live in a world where they aspire to be lawyers and talented, successful singers. Momentum Entertainment had a different marketing strategy with this film -- they released it only in urban areas where a film with an African-American cast would be a draw, rather than going wide with it. What a pity, because the film is a great little romantic comedy that could play wide easily.

There are definitely a few things off about the movie. It was made on a dime like most indies, and the awards sequences and big productions seem too small to feel appropriate in scope. The ending is a little too neat and cute, but that seems to be a general trap of the romantic comedy genre. You've got to have a "meet cute" and a "cute resolve." By making it a romantic comedy, the filmmakers feel they have to make it a typical one, and I sometimes wish they had resisted that urge. But then again, that is half the battle in overcoming what would be seen as an urban comedy. It has to be a little whitewashed to feel progressive.

The Seat Filler comes to DVD with a lot of attention for an independent project. The DVD is packaged with some neat extra features. First up is an all-access featurette which is presented as a glossary of terms from film. Also included are some wisely deleted scenes, most of which deal with a subplot about a teenage legal prodigy taking the bar exam. They're nice to see, but thank God for the editor. There's also an extended cut of the performance Kelly gives of a song ironically called "Follow Your Destiny." There's also a commercial for hair straightener, and a text bio for Ms. Rowland. The technical end of the product is fine. Image is a little grainy, but that may have to do with budget. Sound is a nice five speaker surround mix which mainly uses the center speakers. Rear channels are used for ambient noise, and to fill out the performances and audiences of award shows.

If you're looking for a nice romantic comedy with an urban cast, The Seat Filler is a nice surprise. The movie adheres to the established rules of most romantic comedies, but with a cast this fresh you won't mind. It's nice to see another member of Destiny's Child up there on the silver screen. Kelly Rowland deserves all the love for years of being "that girl who replaced all the other ones." She should be proud of her work here. And Kelly, if you ever need a seat filler at an awards show to sit next to you, I can free up my schedule in a flash, girl.

Review content copyright © 2006 Brett Cullum; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 86

Perp Profile
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Video Formats:
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)

* Spanish

Running Time: 90 Minutes
Release Year: 2004
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13

Distinguishing Marks
* All Access Featurette
* Deleted Scenes
* Extended Performance

* IMDb