The third installment in Larry Cohen's telephone trilogy (following Phone Booth and Cellular), Messages Deleted follows struggling screenwriter Joel Brandt (Matthew Lillard) as he attempts to clear his name after he's implicated in a series of murders - with the various similarities to the deaths in one of his own scripts eventually convincing Joel that he's been targeted for revenge by someone with a serious axe to grind. It's a relatively promise premise that's consistently squandered by Cohen's surprisingly underwhelming screenplay, as the scripter's efforts at transforming the central character into a Hitchcockian everyman fall flat virtually from start to finish - as Joel's consistently suspicious behavior seems dictated by the increasingly difficult-to-swallow storyline (ie after noticing the parallels in his script, Joel doesn't immediately go to the police). Cohen's overuse of self-referential instances of dialogue, though initially kind of intriguing, eventually comes to wear out its welcome, and there does reach a point at which Messages Deleted effectively becomes just a little too slick and calculating for its own good. This is despite an unexpectedly strong turn from star Lillard and the inclusion of a few genuinely suspenseful sequences (ie Joel is forced to watch helplessly as a loved one is murdered), with the all-too-brief glimpses into what could have been only confirming the film's place as a disappointing missed opportunity.
My Best Friend's Girl (September 27/09)
Though it's probably the most entertaining of Dane Cook's star vehicles - which, given the presence of Employee of the Month and Good Luck Chuck within his filmography, isn't really saying much - My Best Friend's Girl ultimately falls prey to the melodramatic silliness that one has come to expect from the romantic comedy genre. There's little doubt, however, that the inevitable shift from big laughs to silly sentiment is far more jarring than usual, as screenwriter Jordan Cahan has packed the early part of the proceedings with an unapologetically raunchy sensibility that translates into a sporadically hilarious atmosphere. The movie - which casts Cook as a man whose job (he takes woman out on horrible dates so that they'll go rushing back to their ex-boyfriends) is threatened after he finds himself falling for a buddy's (Jason Biggs' Dustin) would-be girlfriend (Kate Hudson's Alexis) - consequently can't help but feel like a short that's been awkwardly expanded to feature length, with the fake break-up between Tank and Dustin (which comes at about the midway point) triggering the aforementioned switch from comedy to drama. With the exception of one admittedly funny interlude wherein Tank attempts to derail a wedding, My Best Friend's Girl's latter half primarily boasts the feel of a synthetic and dumbed-down movie-of-the-week that's been unapologetically geared towards the Harlequin crowd - with the emphasis on increasingly eye-rolling elements (ie a montage set to John Hiatt's "Have a Little Faith in Me") cementing the movie's place as a promising yet entirely misguided piece of work.