วันพุธที่ 18 พฤศจิกายน พ.ศ. 2552

smother (2008)

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It's so sad watching really talented people grasp at straws in a project that was doomed from conception. Nothing works in Smother, and nothing ever should -- it is a story that doesn't need to be told, makes jokes that would never be construed as funny, and represents money that should never have been spent. Watching actors like Diane Keaton and Liv Tyler get saddled with impossibly unfunny, disrespectful material is like watching the slow-motion video of the guy getting hit with the cannonball -- they are lining up to get submarined by a movie that had no business being made.

Smother is a catastrophic train wreck that rightfully abandoned any hope of being released theatrically, but isn't even a solid bet for mindless entertainment in its final destination on video store shelves. The entire movie reminds me of one of those Saturday Night Live sketches centered on a character with a very uncomfortable one-note quirk, like "Massive Head Wound Harry" or "Debbie Downer." This film could have been titled Madcap Marilyn, and the title would have fit the material, but the movie still would have sucked.

The plot is like an assembly line explosion at the Bad Idea Factory: Dax Shepard plays Noah, a recently-fired physical therapist who wants to change his luck by starting his own practice. Noah is married to Clare (Tyler), whose only discernible personality trait is that she wants a baby. Marilyn (Keaton) is Noah's mother, and she is spastic, zany, and clingy in the same way most Diane Keaton characters are, only this time the character doesn't come off as endearing as it does in a Woody Allen or Nancy Meyers movie. Marilyn has left her husband because they don't like each other anymore, and she has decided to live with her son until she discovers what she's going to do with her life. But Noah already has so much going on, and having his overbearing mother along for the ride is just too much! She's "smothering" him, you see? She also travels with a troupe of dogs that run around and soil the furniture. Comic gold, right?

What any of these plot threads has to do with one another, or if any of them even work on their own, is beside the point -- the movie's only two purposes are to turn Keaton into as annoying a character as possible, and to squeeze awkward laughs out of situations that are not funny. Mike White shows up in not merely a thankless, but also inexplicable and unnecessary, role as Tyler's cousin, who does nothing other than sit around writing a terrible screenplay. Shepard takes a job at a carpet store, where the boss makes sexual undulations behind unsuspecting geriatric female customers. There's also a really nasty string of scenes involving Noah's attempts to kill his sperm so he won't impregnate his wife, which then lead to scenes where Tyler struts out in various forms of undress, only to be turned down by a whiny guy who is much less attractive than she is.

Smother is another tiresome example of a comedy so magnificently miscalculated that it thinks laughs are created simply by putting off-kilter characters in painful situations. What director Vince Di Meglio and co-writer Tim Rasmussen fail to realize is that off-kilter without some sort of humorous or ironic attitude is not funny... it's just uncomfortable. This movie is all sorts of uncomfortable, from its story to its characters to its unseemly obsession with immature potty humor.

On a similar note, it is shocking that this film -- with its coarse language and seedy sex jokes -- garnered a PG-13 rating. Based on the fact that there are certain instances where tamer lines have been sloppily dubbed in over the coarser originals, it seems that the film first intended to cash in on the Apatow Era of raunchy comedies, and the studio then neutered it down to an inappropriate PG-13 in order to sell a few extra DVDs. Or maybe the MPAA figured that no rating would be more appropriate if the filmmakers treated the shock humor as if they were 13 themselves.

Needs chocolate syrup.


Does Diane Keaton owe some loan sharks a considerable amount of cash? Are there incriminating photos of her that she's insistent never see the light of day? I'm having trouble understanding why Diane Keaton would, over the course of a single year, take part in both "Mama's Boy" and now "Smother." Perhaps she was poisoned by merciless Asian gangsters with strict instructions to make two career-denting comedies that methodically peel away her integrity before she was allowed the sweet kiss of a life-saving antidote. Heavens, I hope that's the impetus behind these recent professional decisions, otherwise Keaton has lost her mind.

Noah (Dax Shepard) is trying to settle down with his ovulating wife Clare (Liv Tyler), searching for gainful employment to support their future family. Into their home comes Noah's mother Marilyn (Diane Keaton), a diabetic motormouth who loves to insert herself into her son's life. Marilyn starts to cause havoc in the home immediately, insisting her husband is cheating on her and taking a carpet sales job alongside Noah. Bursting with frustration and forced to sabotage his elaborate plans for procreation, Noah gradually comes to identify with his mother's troubles, eager to finally communicate with her on a level she understands.

Ok, to be fair, it's not really Diane Keaton who stinks up the screen alone in these pictures. With "Mama's Boy," Keaton was paired up with Jon Heder. Ouch. "Smother" combines the absent-minded slapstick of Keaton with Dax Shepard. Even more ouch. An agonizingly sarcastic performer, Shepard is not a funny fellow, and even less of a leading man. Tossing around one-liners with all the easygoing, everyman appeal of a biopsy, "Smother" balances almost entirely on Shepard's fragile shoulders and he's nowhere near the ace comedian to be leading the heavily improvisational laugh brigade. I've always regarded Shepard as a short term Hollywood goof, yet "Smother" shows explicit career ambition from the former "Punk'd" star that makes a few promises I don't want to see kept.

The rest of the cast is handcuffed by the viciously sitcom screenplay, swimming upstream trying to make the hoariest of comedic situations (drunken karaoke, awkward eulogizing, and career humiliations) work under the robotic direction of Vince Di Meglio. Keaton does her spaz routine as the titular troublemaker, Tyler is kept in her underwear (no complaint here, but the role is shockingly beneath her), and screenwriter Mike White shows up in a supporting role as a clueless screenwriter (har-har). There's no invention to enjoy, just one-dimensional predictability that's perfectly pre-digested for airline showings and dental waiting rooms, and the weight of this laugh-free production is suffocating.

Without any perceptible effort from the production, "Smother" should be quickly deduced as serious waste of time. Remember when Diane Keaton was once choosy with her roles, waiting years to appear on the big screen in just the right starring vehicles? If the prospect of sharing the frame with Dax Shepard now makes Keaton sprint to the set with pride, it's obvious those award-winning, reputation-fostering days are over.

--- D