Judge David Johnson has a free tip for the studios: when making a derivative comedy saddled by a ridiculous premise and a lacking humor, charm or chemistry, avoid using the word "failure" in the title. It just invites danger.
To leave the nest, some men just need a little push.
Matthew McConaughey (Sahara) and Sarah Jessica Parker (Sex and the City) join forces to bring you a romantic comedy for people who harbor malice in the dark recesses of their soul. Some men may indeed need a little push out of the nest, if by "push" you mean "willful deceit and prostitution."
Facts of the Case
Tripp (McConaughey) is a content guy. He's a successful boat broker, has two best friends that he can confide in, dates gorgeous women and pays no rent. You see, Tripp still lives at home with his loving, but eccentric, parents (Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates) and he's got no problem with that. In fact, he loves it. That way, if a relationship starts to get too serious, he brings the girl home where she is promptly freaked out when his parents barge in on their lovemaking.
Desperate to let their son go (and get some time to themselves), Mom and Dad bring in a woman named Paula (Parker), who specializes in these types of cases. Paula explains that Tripp's reluctance to fly the coop is tied to a condition called "failure to launch," clinic-speak for "homebody losers."
Tripp's parents hire Paula to date their son, get him to fall in love with her, and then, when he's effectively committed, aid him in his departure from home. With a plan like that, what could go wrong? Well, everything, because, wouldn't you know it, the two hit it off. Their real and potent feelings for each other will make it all the more harder for Paula to have that "I like you a lot and can really see this relationship going somewhere, but your parents paid me to date you, so, yeah, I'm kind of a whore" talk.
Looking at the title of this flaccid affair, it's ironic to note that this romantic comedy is so peppered with failures that cheap shot barbs just write themselves: "Failure to Laugh" or "Failure to Give a Crap About These Rotten Characters" or "Failure to Understand Why Kathy Bates Needs a Paycheck So Bad" or "Failure to See Why This Asspile of a Film Was Made in the First Place."
Failure to Launch is one of the few movies I've seen that sabotages itself right out of the gate by its own stupid premise. What kind of person is Paula? Why make a living at entering into faux relationships that will eventually lead to horrible, painful heartbreak? What's that other profession that some women do where they refer to men with whom they have intimate relations with "clients?" And why would we ever want to root for this despicable person to begin with? If you study your rom-com playbook, you certainly can foresee the moment in the film when Tripp realizes what's going on. The sad part is, the only authentic emotion this sloppy endeavor elicited from me was schadenfreude, when Tripp tells Paula off. Good! Serves her right! And his dumb parents, too! And answer me this, what kind of demented parents would willingly do this to their son?!?
Now, Tripp is no angel either, and the writers have done their damndest to paint him as this slacker, womanizing goofball who deserves to be put in his place. That's standard RomCom guidelines too: the man always had to be a dick, no matter how much worse the woman is. And in this case, the woman is much worse. But in the overblown finale, we're supposed to buy into a relationship jerk equivalence, which comes across as utterly contrived and phony, capping a movie that was utterly contrived and phony to begin with.
"Why you hatin'?" you may be asking. Look, romantic comedies may not be my bag, but if I get a good one to watch, I enjoy the things. I've seen my share of great romantic comedies, and Failure to Launch is not even in the same space-time continuum. Hardly anything works. The lead characters are superficial and unsympathetic, the inevitable resolution would never happen (it's not like anyone's rooting for these two emotional retards to get together and produce emotionally retarded offspring anyway), the talented supporting actors are totally wasted (Zooey Deschanel serves no purpose other than to inject synthetic quirk into the proceedings and Kathy Bates is tossed one pointless piece of emoting that is shoehorned into the plot and has no bearing on anything), and, worse, it's just not funny.
"Romance" and "comedy," the two root words of the genre. The former is nowhere to be found and the latter is just as unaccounted for. The only times I laughed were during the incessant animals-attacking bits, a recurring set-piece that has Tripp menaced by a chipmunk, dolphin and iguana. In a separate storyline a mockingbird is shot with a bee-bee gun and given mouth-to-mouth. Yes, animal cruelty, the cheapest way to get a laugh, and even that grew tiresome—and I hated myself for laughing.
Not funny. Not romantic. Not worth 12 consecutive seconds of your time. Failure to Launch so appropriately fizzles before take-off. Then explodes. Then nobody cares.
The film looks and sounds good, presented in a striking 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer and an effective, but under-utilized 5.1 surround. The lame-ass extra features perfectly suit the lame-ass movie. Boilerplate stuff like a promotional "making-of" documentary and a Movefone.com interview with McConaughey and Terry Bradshaw are the highlights and everything goes downhill from there. "The Failure to Launch Phenomenon" spotlights grown me in their late 30s who still live home with their parents and love it (and celibacy), "Dating in the New Millennium" is a completely superfluous featurette on trendy new ways to meet people (complete with blatant marketing plugs), and costars Bradley Cooper and Justin Bartha reveal the winners of the MySpace "Failure to Launch" contest, where one of three finalists who still lives at home is awarded six months worth of rent.
(As I write this, my wife, who watched it with me, just pointed out that the story is eerily similar to a much better McConaughey vehicle, How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days, and recommends anyone reading this to check that one out instead; I'll go one step further and recommend you feel around for potentially-cancerous lumps on parts of your body instead of watching this movie.)
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Scales of Justice
• "Casting Off: The Making of Failure to Launch"
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