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Case Number 00088

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A Life Less Ordinary

Fox // 1997 // 103 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // August 8th, 1999

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All Rise...

The Charge

A comedy for anyone who's ever been in danger…of falling in love.

Opening Statement

A sweetly oddball romantic comedy, seasoned with black humor, A Life Less Ordinary is a nice cinematic change of pace from typical Hollywood fare. On the other hand, the disc is typical 20th Century Fox.

The Evidence

Now that we've become thoroughly familiar with Ewan McGregor as the brash young Jedi Knight, Obi-Wan Kenobi, it is a pleasant surprise to check out some of his previous and less visible work. His talent as an actor may have been overly restricted by the unique demands of The Phantom Menace, but here he gets a role that allows him to build up his acting muscles. Equally important, Cameron Diaz is up to the acting challenge, and the two of them build a screwy chemistry that holds the movie together.

Heaven must be an interesting place, because we open with what looks like a typical big city police station, excepting that the people and surroundings are all cloaked in white, and apparently the Archangel Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) runs this particular precinct. Two of his top operatives, Jackson (Delroy Lindo) and O'Reilly (Holly Hunter), are in trouble for being poor matchmakers for us regular living folks. They are given one more case, and told to succeed or they won't be allowed back into Heaven.

The couple in question start out in very different circumstances. Robert (Ewan McGregor) is a janitor whose dreams of writing a trash novel are rudely interrupted by corporate downsizing. In fact, not only is he being fired, he and his colleagues are being replaced by robots. Things get even worse when he is dumped by his girlfriend. At the same time, Celine (Cameron Diaz) is a bored but willful daughter of a rich CEO, who entertains herself as a feminine William Tell. The pair are brought together when Robert determines to revenge himself upon the instigator of his unemployment, namely Celine's father, Naville (Ian Holm). Things don't go as Robert had planned, so (with her help!) he ends up kidnapping Celine and escaping with her.

Robert is clearly not an expert kidnapper, as within a matter of hours Celine has slipped free from his restraints, but oddly enough, does not make a break for freedom. Instead, she prompts him to demand a ransom and coaches him in proper kidnapper techniques. Sadly, Robert doesn't take instruction too well, and Celine has to take the initiative in demanding her own ransom. Meanwhile, Jackson and O'Reilly are concerned that their targets won't fall wholly in love, and so agree to act as hired muscle on behalf of Naville to rescue his daughter. The angels figure that external stress, properly applied, will cause Robert and Celine to grow closer.

When the first attempt to collect the ransom yields only a bunch of carrots (I told you this was a strange movie!), Robert feels totally inadequate as a kidnapper, and only Celine's support keeps him going. After some tequila and karaoke at a local bar, our couple makes another attempt to collect the ransom, only to fall afoul of a somewhat supernatural trap of the angels' design. Robert and Celine are subjected to quite a substantial degree of shared jeopardy, at Jackson and O'Reilly's hands, before making their escape.

With their resources dwindling, Celine, with Robert's reluctant cooperation, stage an impromptu bank robbery. When Robert is injured, the pair seek refuge at the home of Elliot (Stanley Tucci), a former boyfriend of Celine who is himself recovering from one of Celine's William Tell episodes. Matters end up badly, with Robert infuriated by Celine's attentions to Elliot, and the couple split. The angels are desperate to reunite them, and Jackson finds the inspiration to write a love poem in Robert's name that is certain to find Celine's heart.

In a truly funny scene, the angels discover much to their anguish that humans are a most odd and unpredictable species. In a fit of despair, they kidnap Celine, hoping that Robert will come to rescue her and finally kindle the spark of true love. He does so, but unexpectedly Naville and his henchman also crash the party. Tod and his even odder friend ride to the rescue, but only divine intervention (at Gabriel's request) averts tragedy. In the end, love does conquer all. (Just be sure you stick around for the end credits, a truly odd claymation end to this flick!)

The video is decent, but not exceptional. Given that this is a modern movie, I was a little let down by the lesser degree of color saturation, which seemed more reminiscent of a movie about ten (or more) years older. Sharpness was adequate, and the contrast in a few scenes seemed less so, giving those scenes a slightly hazy appearance. The transfer is generally clean and free of defects, and I noticed only minimal shimmering or ringing from digital enhancement. On a minor note, the flesh tones seemed a bit off at times, but without being too distracting.

The audio is of somewhat higher quality, with clean dialogue, good channel separation, and good reproduction of the frequency spectrum, but perhaps a little muted at the higher frequencies. The soundtrack is as odd as the movie, but that only adds to its effectiveness in setting the quirky mood. I'm not sure if my subwoofer got any use, but that is not terribly surprising in this sort of a flick (which is not a 5.1 mix, as well).

Other than Celine and Robert the cast of characters is a borderline over the top mix. This is not to mean they aren't funny, or well acted (they are), but to say that these roles give their respective actors a limited range when compared to the more fully developed roles that Ewan McGregor and Cameron Diaz have. Ian Holm, perhaps best known for his roles in Time Bandits and Alien, does give a delicious performance as Celine's disapproving father.

The story is wildly unpredictable, veering from light comedy to drama to dark comedy to romance and back again, which can either be fascinating or disconcerting, depending on your tastes. I appreciated this quality, but it certainly won't appeal to a truly mass market audience trained to expect more conventional scripts.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

This is yet another disc that makes me think that Fox sees DVD as only marginally different than VHS. I find it hard to explain why they insist upon charging a premium price ($30) for a non-anamorphic disc with only a full frame (but reasonable quality) theatrical trailer as an "extra." If any Fox executive thinks this is worth the extra money, I'd like to talk to them about selling them the Brooklyn Bridge. You do get movie themed menus with sound, but that's really not saying much.

Closing Statement

If you are looking for a movie to watch with your spouse, but are looking for something other than a traditional romantic comedy, then this is the movie for you. With its unusual take on love and romance, a roster of eccentric characters, and dark humor, it should at least prove an entertaining diversion. I highly recommend a rental, but the price ($30) and lack of features counsel against a purchase unless you are a true fan.

The Verdict

The film is acquitted, but 20th Century Fox is sentenced to remedial DVD Consumer Satisfaction classes.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 80
Audio: 83
Extras: 6
Acting: 80
Story: 86
Judgment: 67

Perp Profile

Studio: Fox
Video Formats:
• 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• English
• Spanish
Running Time: 103 Minutes
Release Year: 1997
MPAA Rating: Rated R
• Comedy
• Crime

Distinguishing Marks

• Theatrical Trailer


• IMDb

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