Judge Christopher Kulik has dedicated his screenplay in memory of his mother, though he refuses to dishonor her memory by casting Mandy Moore in it.
"My best is, at best, depressing!"—Henry Roth
The irony of The Charge is that the film Dedication is, at best, pretty depressing, particularly for a romantic comedy. The romance itself is superficial, the leads have no chemistry, the acting is stale, and the ending is utterly ridiculous. Granted, there will be those that will take a chance on this indie flick with a highly capable cast, and they are certainly free to do so. However, this film is just one of hundreds of examples why romantic comedies of today seem to want to do nothing but borrow and copy from their cinematic ancestors and not make it special in any way. As a result, the movie has a colossally predictable storyline, with elements that are introduced and paid off so arbitrarily without conscience. However, the screenwriter isn't the only person to blame here, and it was difficult for this reviewer to note at least a few positive aspects of Dedication, which now comes to DVD courtesy of Genius Products and the Weinstein Company.
Henry Roth is a Hawaiian playboy who meets a delightful girl who happens to be suffering from short-term memory loss and…oh, sorry, wrong movie. The Henry Roth of Dedication, played by Billy Crudup (The Good Shepherd, Almost Famous) is a writer of children's books, yet dislikes children as much as he dislikes anyone else. His illustrator, Rudy Holt (Tom Wilkinson, Michael Clayton), is an aging pervert who likes to drag Henry out to porno theaters against his better judgment. However, after seeing one such movie, they conjure up a new character for their next book: a beaver named Marty. Their editor, Arthur Planck (Bob Balaban, For Your Consideration) gives them the go ahead, and the book is a best-seller. After the Christmas book signing, however, Rudy gets an unexpected brain tumor; before dying, he urges Henry to get out of his shell, experience life, and even find a nice girl.
Enter Lucy, a girl who has no recollection of being hit on the head with a pineapple and…dammit, wrong movie again. The Lucy of Dedication, played by Mandy Moore (A Walk to Remember, Because I Said So), is a new, young illustrator who failed to get a PhD in English Literature. She lives in an apartment building where her landlord-mother Carol (two-time Oscar winner Dianne Wiest, Bullets Over Broadway), who is frustrated that her daughter hasn't paid the rent in four months. Carol kicks her out, and soon Lucy is asked to become Henry's new illustrator. While she is disgusted and offended by his close-minded attitude and cold insults, she agrees to work with him only after Arthur offers her $200,000. As a result, humbug Henry is challenged for the first time in his life by this "nice girl" and (yawn) falls in love with her.
Granted, it could only be a coincidence that the lead character's names are the same as the ones in 50 First Dates, though David Bromberg would be the one to ask for confirmation. Dedication was his very first screenplay, and I find it hard to believe that he consulted with Syd Field in developing this thoroughly unoriginal and tiresome narrative. The paradigm may be there, but Bromberg never allows us to empathize or care for his characters. Henry Roth is a mean-spirited creation that is given pathetic dialogue, and Bromberg never really gives us a satisfactory explanation for his malcontent existence and malarkey of misery. As Rudy lay dying, he suggests that his mother brought violence upon him as a kid, though it's beyond comprehension how he became a successful writer of children's books after a supposedly antisocial adolescence.
On that note, I refuse to believe that the sincere, though hardly outgoing, Lucy (who appears to have no friends herself) would make him change his attitude within a few days. Despite all the crap going on her life—as well as the crap she gets from Henry—Lucy comes off as enjoying life, despite the fact she looks like a spruced up version of Ally Sheedy's character from The Breakfast Club. Thus, the romance is awkwardly executed and never once does it really click for the viewer; at one point, Henry buys her a telescope so that they could look at the stars while working on a new book. Lucy accepts his gift and moments later they are sleeping together. Whoa! So that's what you do to get a girl into bed, even if she never mentions any interest in astronomy? What Lucy saw in this rude runt of a human being I have no idea, because he's been unlikeable from the very beginning, despite an apology or two.
As far as the performances are concerned, the only one that emerges from this sterile shite unscathed is Tom Wilkinson, who provides the film's only laughs and appeal. I was hoping that Billy Crudup could pull off the role of Henry Roth, but he is constantly acting like he is unsure of the character as well as his performance. It's clear that he was trying to add his own quirks to make Henry an emotionally complex character, though it results in being the worst performance of his career. The usually reliable Dianne Wiest is unforgivably wasted, and talented character actor Bob Balaban is boring and underused. Peter Bogdanovich (director of The Last Picture Show and Paper Moon) has a two-second cameo near the end of the film for no rhyme or reason. In fact, if I didn't know better, it looks as if he just accidentally entered the set that day and director Justin Theroux thought it would be cool to get a quick shot of him looking up at Billy Crudup.
And then there is Mandy Moore. Ah, the young pop singer who got her start with the Backstreet Boys, sold a few albums, and somehow got into Hollywood films. She was on the initial list of nominations for a Razzie Award this year, though I didn't vote for her because she not near as bad as many others of her generation (i.e. Jessica Alba). In Dedication, she does have a sweetness, though it's of the sugar-free variety, and she simply doesn't have the "sassy" personality that the plot synopsis on the back of the DVD boasts. Sure, her high school dialogue didn't help, though she can't even rise to the level mediocrity with her cheerless demeanor and stoned facial expressions. (Note to Mandy: Please don't take that the wrong way. I'm not suggesting that you do drugs like your cheap, talentless British competitor Amy Winehouse.) Nevertheless, knowing Moore from her previous films, she was the one I was praying for to give this film some much needed juice, though she couldn't do it, unfortunately. Maybe next time.
What I can say that is good about Dedication is the nice print on the DVD, considering the fact that this is a low-budget film. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen print is free of scratches and debris, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround sound is serviceable. However, my woofers didn't feel happy while playing the Deerhoof songs, which are meant to be hip and edgy, but come off as annoying and grating. Subtitles are provided in English and Spanish. There is not a single special feature, making this a bare-bones disc to the core; not even a trailer is included. Then again, I personally wouldn't have been excited listening to a commentary or watching a documentary on this one anyway.
I've seen movies that are far, far worse I must admit, though they don't include Howard the Duck, that's for sure. For a romantic comedy, however, with humor that is intended to be loopy and a story that is intended to be sweet, this one's a dud. The court finds the film guilty, and dedicates this film to Wal-Mart bargain basement bin. Case dismissed.
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Studio: Genius Products
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