Judge Patrick Bromley thinks this film looks dandy in its pinstripe suit, spats, and porkpie hat. Unfortunately, it isn't very good.
Welcome to the deep end of a very shallow town.
Writer/director Mike Binder has had a fascinating career. He made a modestly charming debut with 1993's Indian Summer, then followed that up with a horribly lame, high-profile studio comedy: the Damon Wayans vehicle Blankman. His next two films, 1999's The Sex Monster and 2001's Londinium, were both mixed bags that couldn't quite find an audience and wound up going straight to video. Perhaps feeling burned by the studio system, Binder turned his efforts to cable television and created The Mind of the Married Man for HBO.
Like his previous two cinematic outings, Married suffered from a lack of focus and a disconnect between Binder's sincerely sticky emotional conflict and his broadly juvenile comedic sensibilities. The resulting series, which lasted only two seasons, was something consistently worth watching but which never quite worked (though, in all fairness, it did a better job covering the same territory as Chris Rock's I Think I Love My Wife, currently in release). Then, in 2005, Binder finally hit his stride with The Upside of Anger. Not only did it provide a showcase for Joan Allen's best performance to date, but was also Binder's first film to find a consistency in tone and a cohesion to all that he wanted to say. It was one of that year's best movies.
Now, with the follow up to Anger, 2006's Man About Town, Binder has fallen back into most of his old traps—trying to cram too much into too small a box and never getting a handle on the tone of the film. And, once again, Binder is a director without an audience, as Man About Town bypasses theaters altogether and makes its debut on DVD. This despite the fact that it features a number of bankable stars—Ben Affleck, Rebecca Romijn, Gina Gershon (Prey for Rock and Roll), Adam Goldberg (Sunset Strip), and John Cleese (A Fish Called Wanda)—and is probably the first Binder film that could capitalize on the success of his previous work.
The movie follows Hollywood super-agent Jack Giamoro (Affleck, Smokin' Aces, The Third Wheel), a workaholic with a host of problems: he's got to take care of his sick father (Howard Hesseman, Private Lessons), he's having trouble signing an important client (Jerry O'Connell, Scream 2), and he has just discovered that his wife (Romijn, Femme Fatale) is cheating on him. Jack's solution? To enroll in one of those adult education courses that focuses on journal writing—all well and good until his journal is stolen by a jilted writer (Ling Bai, Entourage, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) who threatens to reveal all of Jack's secrets. Now, all Jack has to do is get his journal back, sign his client, and patch things up with his wife. Oh, and get his teeth fixed.
If the above plot description left you cold, I wouldn't be surprised. Actually, Man About Town had me up until the "stolen journal" subplot, which seems to be a painfully wedged-in McGuffin (Hitchcock's term for the thing that drives the plot) in a movie that doesn't require any such thing. It's as though Binder wasn't comfortable just allowing the film to be a character piece (as he had already done to great effect with The Upside of Anger…too bad he didn't learn a lesson there) and needed to force some comic hijinx into a movie that doesn't want them. And don't even get me started on the Affleck-gets-beat-up-and-needs-caps-on-his-teeth sequence; it's so misguided and out of place that it becomes almost surreal. You wouldn't believe that a film could jump the tracks so badly, and yet for a while, scene after scene, Man About Town does just that.
By the end, however, the movie has found its way again. The focus shifts back to the characters and their relationships, and that's where Binder's strengths are. There's a good movie buried somewhere in Man About Town, but the writer/director never quite found it; as usual, his efforts to do too much amount to too little. And though he does have a knack for working with actors, the lead performance by Ben Affleck winds up a bit stranded. Admittedly, Affleck never seems to have much of a character to work with—his crisis feels like a hollow version of Jerry McGuire—but he does what he can with the role and comes out of it intact. Then there's poor Rebecca Romijn. Right on the heels of her very first TV show meeting a grisly demise (though I confess to having watched several episodes of Pepper Dennis, and it pretty much got the treatment it deserved), she's now appeared in two consecutive films that have gone straight to video: first Lies And Alibis, and now Man About Town. She's good here as a beautiful woman who hasn't been given much of a chance to be anything but pretty, a disconnect that leads her to make some bad choices. It's an interesting bit of casting, actually, in that it requires Romijn to be vulnerable and not sexy; that she achieves such a feat is further proof that she is more than a model trying to act. When a director knows what to do with her, Romijn is the real deal.
Lionsgate releases Man About Town on DVD with more extras than are usually afforded a straight-to-video movie. The film is presented in its original widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1, enhanced for 16x9 viewing, and does a marvelous job bringing DP Russ Alsobrook's gorgeous photography to the small screen. The 5.1 audio track is preferable to the standard two channel track, but both do a serviceable job of presenting the dialogue. There are two featurettes included, one which focuses on the look of the film (more props to Alsobrook, and to Binder who continues to refine his visual style) and another which focuses on the Hollywood/agent aspect of the film. Several deleted scenes are also included, none of which are too terrible but which also wouldn't have added much to the film. It's unfortunate (though not surprising, considering) that Binder isn't really present throughout the extras; a director's commentary would have proven particularly valuable in this case—not just because of the film's eventual fate, but also because of just how messy the finished product is.
Man About Town also features one of the most bizarre extras I've ever seen on a DVD: it's a "blooper reel," only the bloopers aren't from the film. They're outtakes from the interviews that were conducted for the extras section on the DVD. Are you getting this? The world is swallowing itself. The extras now have extras. Are we living in a Philip K. Dick novel?
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