© 2006 Ray Wong
With a cutesy premise that subtly suggests misandry, Failure to Launch is unmistakably a romantic comedy set out to lure women over 30 and their unsuspecting mates-in-training.
Trip (McConaughey) is a 35-year-old bachelor still living with his parents, Al (Bradshaw) and Sue (Bates). A modern-day Peter Pan who refuses to grow up, Trip plays hard with his buddies Ace (Bartha) and Demo (Cooper) – but nothing sinister or naughty, mostly normal, albeit juvenile, activities such as rock-climbing, surfing, video game-playing, and pizza-eating. Trip is also a serial womanizer, and when a woman shows any signs of attachment, he promptly takes her to “meet the parents,” revealing his status as the loser who still lives with his parents, thus thwarting any potential commitment issues.
Enters Paula (Parker), a professional “motivator” whom Al and Sue hire to help Trip move out of their house. According to Paula’s step-by-step program, she plans to become Trip’s girlfriend and eventually convinces him that he should grow up and move on. All goes well until Paula starts to fall for Trip.
McConaughey (Two for the Money) once again is the tanned and taut romantic lead who has serious issues with commitment. His portrayal of the character is smarmy at times, and sincere at others. But over all, McConaughey phones in a cookie-cutter performance. Fresh off her respectable performance as a frigid woman in The Family Stone, Parker reprises her Carrie Bradshaw-like role as the sexy but lovelorn Paula. She’s equally tanned and taut as McConaughey, and just as charming. The problem is that we really don’t know much about these two characters, and their performances do not rise above the material. Worse, they share little chemistry together as a couple.
Bradshaw (Robots) is cuddly and fun as Trip’s dad, Al, and he is brave enough to do a nude scene (albeit unsightly, just for laughs). Bates (Rumor Has It) gets to keep her clothes on, but her homely portrayal of mama Sue lacks her usual bite and wit. Bartha (National Treasure) plays to his strength as Trip’s geeky pal Ace, and Cooper (Wedding Crashers) is charming and goofy as pal Demo, the last of the trio. Quirky and lovely Deschanel (The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy) is the standout here as Paula’s roommate and friend, Kit.
Beside the lack of chemistry between the romantic leads, the casting is rather odd. Trip is at least 10 years older than Ace or Demo, so one wonders how they become such close friends. Parker also is older than McConaughey, making the coupling a little uncomfortable. Then there is Kit, so much younger than Parker and yet they are supposed to be great friends (which is never explained). Odd as it is, the ensemble does provide much energy to the production.
With four movies to his credit, director Dey (Shanghai Noon) is hardly a novice, but his direction lacks certain finesse. The editing needs work, especially toward the end, when the constant cross-cutting significantly dampens the plot. There are scenes that seem extraneous. There are some funny moments, but on the whole, opportunities are mostly wasted.
Not to mention the script, by TV writers Astle (Tracy Morgan Show) and Ember (Titus), is paper-thin. The dialogue is trite and forced. The plot is spotty and illogical, and the motivation of the characters murky and unconvincing. For example, shouldn’t Paula know everything about Trip after she takes the job? Why the “secret” at the end? That doesn’t make sense.
Worse, for a romantic comedy, the romance doesn’t work; it’s not convincing at all, but the audience is forced to believe that it is. The subplot involving Ace and Kit is cute, but it distracts from the main story. The climatic scene is corny and silly. I do, however, like the ending because it doesn’t blatantly spell out “happily ever after” – there is a chance that the Paula and Trip won’t work out, but it’s not really the point. I think if the writers had focused more on that aspect of the story, the result might have been much more satisfying. As it is, the film fails to… well, it simply fails.
Stars: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Zooey Deschanel
Director: Tom Dey
Writers: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual content, alcohol, partial nudity and language
Running Time: 97 minutes
Script – 5
Performance – 6
Direction – 7
Cinematography – 6
Editing – 6
Production – 7
Total – 6.2 out of 10