December 19, 2008

REVIEW: Yes Man (C+)

Of all the quirky character traits a movie's protagonist could have, an inability to say the word "no" has a surprising amount of potential. Unfortunately, Yes Man's team of young writers took the concept far too literally; the awkwardly meandering story makes it clear they were saying "yes" to just about any idea that popped up in their writing sessions. As I haven't read the book on which it's based, which details the real-life experiment of Scottish humorist Danny Wallace, I can't say with any authority that parts of it are completely made up.

But if the idea was to make an inspiring movie about living life out loud and seeking new experiences, ridiculously juvenile scenes (portraying oral sex from an elderly neighbor, for example) greatly reduce any chance that Yes Man can be seen for anything other than what it is: a completely predictable, ultimately disappointing romantic comedy. Clearly playing off of Liar Liar, the set-up also reminded me of Shallow Hal, which yes, also has plenty of immaturity to spare (it is a Farrelly Brothers movie), but leaves you with a more meaningful lesson, if not a lot more humor, than Yes Man.

Jim Carrey's career is in need of a good boost, but as perfect as he is for this part, the spotlight primarily shines on Rhys Darby, who doesn't stray much from his character on HBO's "Flight of the Conchords", and Zooey Deschanel, the underachieving actress who unknowingly almost killed her career last summer in The Happening. Together along with Bradley Cooper (an experienced actor known mostly from Wedding Crashers) and Terence Stamp (who plays a conscientious S.S. officer next week in Valkyrie), the cast ambles its way through repetitive gags and a disappointingly bland storyline.

The major laughs come from the minor situations - a Harry Potter-themed party, a mail-order bride fiasco, Korean language lessons (Carrey actually learned some Korean for the part). This is the good stuff, but it's still overshadowed by one too many sight gags, as if to prove Carrey can still do slapstick comedy as he inches toward age 50. Why not make use of his dramatic talent and add a little heart and soul to the character? And here's another thing: at one point his character clearly says "No" (in denying that he's a terrorist). Is this an egregious error in the story, or is there something I missed about the rules of the game? If so, forgive me for losing focus - and interest - as the movie progressed.

"Hey buddy, don't you go stealing every scene from me now..."

I'm not exactly sure why Yes Man is being rolled out during the Christmas season, where it's likely to get lost in the shuffle of the award contenders. Why not position it for a strong March or April release, where it clearly belongs? Maybe the story has come to life and the studio is saying "yes" to a risky marketing campaign. Or maybe I'm wrong and the movie will strike gold during this gloomy economic period. Either way, can you wait to see it on DVD or during its inevitable repeated play on TBS? Yes, man.

Writing - 7
Acting - 9
Production - 7
Emotional Impact - 8
Music - 5
Social Significance - 3

Total: 39/50= 78% = C+


  1. It sounds a LOT like "Liar Liar."

    Can't say I'll be rushing out to theaters or even the video store to see this one. I have way too many movies on my plate already.

  2. Any more words on Rhys Darby? I know he has a small role, but he is just so fucking good on Flight of the Conchords (BBC radio show and HBO series) that his involvement may just be enough to get me to see this.

  3. Sounds like it, looks like, feels like it, Sarah. As I say, were this out in March or April it would have gone gangbusters. No reason for anyone to make a serious effort at seeing it at the peak of Oscar season.

    It doesn't sound like I can add anything that you don't already know, k. Granted, Carrey plays off of him perfectly, but Darby takes every scene he can and runs with it, as is the case on FotC. Did you ever see Eagle vs. Shark? It would have been a lot better with Darby in it.

  4. I did see Eagle vs. Shark. It was OK, could have been better. I just kept waiting to see Bret and Murray though...

  5. I am such a huge fan of Ms. Zooey Deschanel that I was planning on seeing this, but when they replaced the Ben Button press screening with a screening of this, it cut deep. So I don't think I will see this film ever.

  6. I know, k, Eagle v. Shark was pretty disappointing. I only gave it the one shot in the theater but I haven't heard anyone tell me it gets better with repeated viewings. I wonder why Darby wasn't in it?

    Haha, Nick, thatta way to hold a grudge. Depending on how amazing Button ends up being, I would hold your position - but Deschanel does get a healthy amount of screen time...

    Yeah so I obviously have no idea what I'm talking about in my talk about the release in my last comment and in the review, since Yes Man just buried the competition at the box office this weekend. Jim Carrey beat Will Smith at the box office? SOMEBODY beat Will Smith at the box office?! Unbelievable!

  7. Yeah but Americans love a comedy...especially in times of economic stress. And Smith's film is a downer that no one knows what it's about.

  8. Very good points there, Matthew. Ironically, I'd argue most people should actually STOP saying "yes" to everything - that's what got half of them up to their eyeballs in debt in the first place.

  9. I think Sony shot themselves in the foot by being so secretive about "Seven Pounds." They thought they would intrigue everyone by being mysterious about the plot...turns out no one cared.

  10. Yeah, I'll admit I was planning to take a pass on this even before reading your expected but excellently reasoned piece. I got a good laugh out of "saying yes to everything that popped up in their writing sessions." Jim Carry to my mind, (an actor who does have talent, but few projects to accurately gage it) only wholly succeeded in ETERNAL SUNSHINE. I did take note, however, that you did admit that Rhys Darby and Zoey Deschanel stole the spotlight (yes Zoey's career did take a hit after THE HAPPENING) and that wonderfukl actor, terrence Stamp.
    One too many sight gags? Indeed, and there are simply too many other movies to see at crunch time.

  11. Still trying to figure out why you saw this in the first place? The only reason I can come up with is that you had already seen everything else out. Is this true? Note: must answer "yes." Thanks.

  12. Yeah, Matthew, they out-mysteried the audience with the marketing campaign. Of course I haven't seen the trailer (or the movie yet) so I don't know how they were spinning it, but I have found out how it ends, and I never like that. I'll still see it.

    Thanks much, Sam - and calling this "crunch time" is an understatement. Yes, Fletch, there are quite a few movies sitting there waiting for me that I still haven't seen - those "In Theaters" in my sidebar that have no grade next to them. Plus I missed Ashes of Time:Redux last week and it's come and gone. I have seen Bedtime Stories and Valkyrie, though, so I only have Button and The Reader added to my personal viewing list this week.

  13. Daniel -

    I was somewhat intigued by the premise of this, but your review confirms what I feared from seeing the trailer - that's a very broad, contrived, dimwit comedy. Which is a shame because the idea of someone changing their attitude and deciding to be open to new things could have made a nice, modestly inspiring little movie. But they tipped their hand by casting Jim Carrey and then allowing him to work in "crazy" mode. I agree with Sam on Carrey - he's very talented, but needs a good project and some directorial restraint to really shine.

  14. I know, Pat. There was likely an inspiring story in here somewhere, but the craziness wins out. Then again, the real guy Danny Wallace is apparently a bit of a wild child, so the casting may have been somewhat accurate.

    Either way the movie is passable.

  15. I lurvs Eagle vs Shark. Great characters, acting and one of the best fight scenes EVAH!

    But yeah, Darby would have made it better, but that's because he is awesome, not because of any fault of Eagle vs Shark.

    As for Yes Man I liked it better then I thought I would, which I guess makes it a success. The C+ sounds about right for it. Though I must say it deserves credit for using Journey in a way which doesn't totally suck, which is quite hard to do being that it is Journey and they do indeed suck.

  16. Well I can at least agree that the fight scene was memorable, even if I didn't enjoy it as much as you. The whole movie just seemed flat to me, like they were lacking the energy or wit or pizazz that they usually have.

    Yes Man - very interesting. Again, we have to agree to disagree, because that Journey song is awesome for any occasion. It's funny, Bedtime Stories features one of their biggest hits as well. How is this band STILL popping up on soundtracks?


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