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Failure to Launch (0/10)

by Tony Medley

It’s hard to believe a major studio could make a film worse than Elizabethtown (2005). It was hard to believe that a major studio could make “Elizabethtown,” but Paramount did. Leave it up to the good folks on Melrose Avenue; they never give up. They have exceeded themselves with one of the all time stinkers, called “Failure to Launch.” This movie must have been in development for a long time, so we can't blame the current new management of Paramount for all of it, but how could they release a film with a leading man who is a ne’er do well, but charming, 35-year-old son still living with his parents and the leading lady is, let’s face it, a prostitute, and really think it could be an entertaining romantic comedy?

Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is still living at home with his parents, Sue (Kathy Bates) and Al (Terry Bradshaw). Mom and Pop hire Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who is in the business of hiring her body out in these situations, to get him to fall in love with her so he will move out. With that insipid plotline, Paramount makes it far worse by saddling McConaughey with two of the dopiest friends this side of Walt Disney’s Dumbo, Ace (Justin Bartha) and Demo (Bradley Cooper). These two guys always need a shave and look like refugees from the goofy women friends in “Mona Lisa Smile” (2003).

The theme song for the movie is Herb Alpert’s “This Guy’s in Love With You.” This song was a minor hit for The Tijuana Brass, written especially for Alpert to sing by Bert Bacharach and Hal David, in 1968. It has a range of about four notes, because Alpert was a trumpet player, not a singer, and his voice probably didn’t have a range that broad. It had its place in the sun for a few weeks and that was it. Now it’s being resurrected for this sorry film, sung by someone else. Alpert wasn’t Frank Sinatra, but he did have a way with this song. It probably became a hit because of his rendition. Have you ever heard anyone else sing it?

There are too many silly scenes and plot lines in this to count. Here are just a few. To start off with, let’s deal with Paula. What is she, exactly? Well, she hires herself out to make guys fall in love with her so they will move out of their parents’ home. Unlikely as that sounds, what it is, is that she’s trading sex for money. There’s a word for that. And the nice word is prostitution. Ah, let’s call it what it is; she’s a whore. Not an enticing woman to hope that our hero, Tripp, will get to spend the rest of his life with.

But that’s just one. Tripp and Demo and Ace go rock climbing. Tripp gets bit by something ugly and falls 40 feet, landing on his back. Is he killed? No. Is he injured? No. Is he immobilized, scratched, banged up, anything? No. He laughs it off.

Here’s another. Tripp and Paula are going sailing in what looks like a million dollar sailboat. It’s never explained how this apparently aimless, jobless, jerk (but still charming), can get access to such a boat. But there they are, going sailing. Tripp gets knocked into the water. That’s a dangerous, life-threatening occurrence. Someone falls off a sailboat with the sailboat under full sail, by the time it swings around and goes to find him, the chances are not good that he will be found. But no sooner does Tripp fall off the boat, it is miraculously turned around and stopped dead in the water as Paula and Tripp have a conversation, like “Do you want me to throw you a flotation device?” Which he ponders as he treads water, instead of swimming the ten feet that separates him from the boat.

Paula has a friend, Kit (Zooey Deschanel, who gives the only redeeming performance in the movie), but she is off the charts unsmilingly weird. She is ten times better looking that Paula (given the fact that Paula is played by the singularly unattractive Parker, that’s not much of an achievement), but apparently has a hard time finding a man. Finally she finds one, one of Tripp’s friends. She tries to help Paula, but Paula gets ticked off and says, “Just because you convinced a guy to sleep with you more than once, doesn’t make you an expert on relationships.” And that sums up the moral tone of this movie. It doesn’t seem to bother Tripp’s parents that he brings single women home to sleep with him in their home. Sleeping around is just like kissing someone goodnight. No consequences; no commitments. While I’m at that, it doesn’t seem to bother Tripp’s parents that they hire a prostitute to lure him out of the house.

There are lots of disgusting scenes and dialogue in this movie. Just the concept is enough to make one run to the bathroom with finger down throat. But maybe the worst is the idea that Al needs a “nude room.” I have never heard of a “nude room.” But apparently at Paramount people have rooms in their homes in which they cavort without clothes. If you thought the sight of Kathy Bates in the altogether a few years ago in “About Schmidt” (2002) was disgusting, wait until you see Terry Bradshaw in the buff. Is this what happens to NFL players when they age? Do people really have rooms like this in their homes or is this just a figment of the imagination of a studio that could foist something like “Elizabethtown” on its unsuspecting audience?

Director Tom Dey brings the film to a climax by having Paula confront Tripp as he’s all tied up in a chair. Tripp’s lifetime friends, the two goofballs named Ace and Demo, have bugged the place where this confrontation takes place with 36 cameras and they access it on a laptop (with an Apple logo; more reprehensible Corporate Placement, but where else would they get the money to finance this turkey but from a corporation like Apple?). These guys are such buddies of Tripp that they somehow project the scenes onto a huge screen at the bar or restaurant or wherever they are so the entire clientele can voyeuristically watch Paula and Tripp’s mating dance. A rattlesnake would seem preferable to having these two guys as friends.

Maybe the worst part of this film is the dismal moral tone: Paula is a prostitute and lies incessantly; Tripp is a ne’er do well and lies incessantly to his girl friends; Al and Sue aren’t honest enough to confront Tripp about his still living with them so they hire the prostitute to seduce his love to get him to move out; Tripp’s “friends” betray his confidentiality, get the picture? These are morally reprehensible people. There’s not one admirable person in the entire film. But Paramount thinks this is great fodder for a “romantic comedy.”

For those who are opposed to the death penalty, this film could be a good alternative. Just sentence people convicted of capital crimes to life watching this movie over and over and over. That, my friends, would be what is called a fate worse than death.

March 6, 2006