The Films of Robert Luketic
Click here for review.
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (January 21/04)
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! is the last film one would expect to defy expectations, especially when one considers that it's just the sort of romcom that Hollywood seems to churn out on an exceedingly frequent basis. But after a somewhat depressing start that's rife with sitcom-level cliches, the film actually becomes surprisingly engaging - thanks, in part, to better-than-expected writing and charismatic performances. The film stars Kate Bosworth as Rosalee, a kind and well-meaning checkout girl who enters a contest to win a date with Tad Hamilton (played by Josh Duhamel) - with complications ensuing as Rosalee is inevitably forced to choose between Tad and her affable coworker, Pete (Topher Grace). Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! marks director Robert Luketic's first film since Legally Blonde, and the movie is just as bright and bubbly as that Reese Witherspoon comedy. Though he's perhaps a little too fond of insipid pop songs, Luketic effectively keeps the pace brisk even through the almost interminable opening half hour, which has been peppered with instances of awkwardly placed sentimentality (that aspect of the film never entirely improves, actually). But one expects that sort of thing out of a movie like this, especially one in which the ending is so blatantly obvious. And that's one of the core problems with the movie. Screenwriter Victor Levin asks us to root for Pete to overcome the various obstacles in his way and live happily ever after with Rosalee. But that doesn't really work because Tad is never revealed to be a jerk, which is a primary requirement for silly romantic comedies like this. Consequently, it's hard not to root for Tad and Rosalee to make it - mostly because Bosworth and Duhamel have genuine chemistry with each other (it doesn't hurt that the latter gives a performance that's dripping with charm). Not helping matters is the fact that Grace's Pete spends the majority of the film's running time acting like an idiot (eg he tries to force Rosalee to work late so she won't be able to go out with Tad, etc), which makes it almost impossible to care whether or not he ends up with Rosalee. Still, the movie is undeniably quite entertaining - something that can't be said for a lot of films of this ilk (last week's Chasing Liberty, for example). And Duhamel's star-making performance is ingratiating enough to keep us interested even through the film's occasional over-reliance on formula.
Monster-in-Law (May 8/05)
As snarky as it sounds, there's no getting around the fact that Jane Fonda probably should have stayed retired (ie the actress emerged from a 15-year sabbatical for this?) Fonda stars as Viola Fields, a Barbara Walters-esque journalist who's having an extremely bad week. On top of losing her job to a much younger woman, Viola has just discovered that her brain surgeon son, Kevin (Michael Vartan), is dating a temp named Charlotte (Jennifer Lopez). Because she believes that Kevin is far too good for someone like Charlotte, Viola embarks on a mission to break the pair up - leading to a series of supposed comedic vignettes in which Viola makes Charlotte's life a living hell. Monster-in-Law is, for a little while, fairly engaging, primarily due to the genuine chemistry between Lopez and Vartan. The film's opening half hour - which features Charlotte and Kevin meeting and subsequently falling in love - is surprisingly effective, and both Lopez and Vartan are quite good in their roles (Vartan, in particular, delivers a performance that's oozing with charm). It's only when Fonda's character is introduced that the film starts its slow but steady descent downhill, eventually becoming an interminable and seemingly never-ending experience. That Monster-in-Law is entertaining even for a little while is somewhat surprising, given the massive amount of cliches and stock characters included within Anya Kochoff's screenplay. In terms of the latter, the film's supporting cast is populated with characters that would undoubtedly feel right at home in a sitcom (eg Charlotte's annoying but omnipresent neighbor, Kevin's slutty, vixenish ex-girlfriend, etc). Similarly, Fonda's Viola is the sort of person that could only exist in a silly comedy like this; though it's made clear that she doesn't like Charlotte because of her social standing, Viola's increasingly absurd tactics designed to drive her future daughter-in-law away stretch the limits of believability almost immediately. Of course, were any of this funny, it'd be easy enough to ignore the film's less-than-credible vibe (Fonda's grating, over-the-top performance certainly doesn't help matters). And then there's the conclusion, which is presumably meant to come off as heartwarming but instead feels forced and artificial. As a romantic comedy, Monster-in-Law could've worked; Vartan and Lopez make a convincing couple, and it's hard not to root for their relationship to succeed. But because that aspect of the film is generally pushed aside in favor of the Viola vs Charlotte stuff (which is uniformly moronic and insulting), there's very little here worth embracing.
Based on Ben Mezrich's predictable yet comparatively masterful book Bringing Down the House, 21 follows brilliant MIT math student Ben Campbell (Jim Sturgess) as he's invited to join an underground card-counting operation and subsequently experiences the highs (and inevitable lows) of high-stakes gambling. It's an exceedingly familiar storyline that could've been used as a springboard for something fresh and interesting; in the hands of director Robert Luketic and screenwriters Peter Steinfeld and Allan Loeb, however, the film quickly devolves into an interminable mess of hoary cliches and stale conventions (a trying-on-clothes montage? Really?) The perfunctory performances ensure that the energy level remains virtually non-existent from start to finish, while Luketic's complete and utter lack of style only exacerbates the movie's various problems (this is to say nothing of his woefully misguided decision to eschew film and shoot digitally, which ultimately lends the proceedings a low-rent and downright unpleasant visual sensibility). The end result is an egregiously slick effort that's about as complex as an episode of Las Vegas, with the key difference being that 21 lumbers along for an almost excruciating 123 minutes (seriously, the film just refuses to end).
The Ugly Truth
Infused with a number of almost eye-rollingly hoary elements, The Ugly Truth remains a mildly diverting yet thoroughly uninvolving romantic comedy virtually from start to finish - with Gerard Butler's expectedly charismatic performance standing as the film's one overtly positive attribute. The storyline follows uptight television producer Abby Richter (Katherine Heigl) as she finds herself forced to work with a boorish correspondent (Butler's Mike Chadway) who's been brought in to increase ratings, with Abby's initial disgust eventually transforming into reluctant admiration as Mike teaches her how to win the affections of a hunky doctor (Eric Winter's Colin). There's little doubt that the initial emphasis on Abby and her hopelessly hackneyed exploits ensures that The Ugly Truth gets off to a decidedly underwhelming start, as Heigl proves consistently unable to transform her cardboard cutout of a character into a fully-realized figure worthy of the viewer's sympathy (or even interest). The stagnant, stale atmosphere persists until Butler becomes an increasingly prominent force within the proceedings, after which point the focus shifts to Mike and Abby's unapologetically wacky escapades (ie Abby, wearing an earpiece, receives advice from Mike while on a date) and the film temporarily emerges from its doldrums. Director Robert Luketic's sitcom-like approach to the material subsequently fares best during this stretch, yet it's just as clear that the filmmaker's pervasively superficial approach ensures that the movie begins to seriously run out of steam as it passes the one hour mark - with the third act's lamentably melodramatic bent essentially diminishing the effectiveness of the expectedly upbeat conclusion. The end result is an utterly tired romcom that admittedly benefits from Butler's mere presence, although it's clear from the get-go that the actor deserves better material than this.
A mild improvement over filmmaker Robert Luketic's last few efforts (The Ugly Truth, 21, Monster-in-Law, etc, etc), Killers follows uptight career woman Jen Kornfeldt (Katherine Heigl) as she reluctantly agrees to tag along with her parents (Tom Selleck and Catherine O'Hara) on a trip to France. There, Jen falls into an impulsive relationship with a charismatic stranger (Ashton Kutcher's Spencer) and the two eventually settle down in her home town - with their domestic bliss threatened after a mysterious force from Spencer's illicit past enlists several assassins to take him out. Luketic - working from a script by Bob DeRosa and Ted Griffin - has infused Killers with a laid-back and thoroughly affable vibe that goes a long way towards initially capturing the viewer's interest, with the impressive French scenery and palpable chemistry between the stars generally perpetuating the film's easy-going sensibilities. The lighthearted, almost sitcom-like atmosphere proves effective at carrying Killers through its decidedly uneventful midsection, as the movie settles into a groove that would most likely be disastrous were it not for the good will cultivated by the opening hour (and also by the entertainingly eclectic supporting cast, which includes Rob Riggle, Alex Borstein, and Martin Mull). It's only as Killers morphs into a rather conventional romantic thriller that one's enthusiasm for the material begins to wane, with the emphasis on Jen and Spencer's relentless squabbling compounded by Luketic's less-than-competent approach to the film's action-oriented interludes (ie enough with the shaky camerawork, already). The revelation that many of the people in Spencer's life are actually sleeper agents itching to kill him - think The Truman Show with guns - ultimately proves intriguing enough to compensate for the otherwise lackluster vibe, thus cementing Killers' place as an acceptable time-waster that just barely gets the job done.
Forgettable and generic, Paranoia follows Liam Hemsworth's Adam Cassidy as he's recruited by a tech company to spy on another tech company - with the film detailing the chaos that inevitably ensues. Filmmaker Robert Luketic, working from a script by Jason Dean Hall and Barry Levy, has infused Paranoia with a paint-by-numbers feel that is, at the outset, not as problematic as one might've feared, with the pointedly thriller-specific bent of the narrative, coupled with a cavalcade of familiar faces in supporting roles (Harrison Ford! Gary Oldman! Richard Dreyfuss! etc, etc), ensuring that the movie is, by and large, watchable (albeit in a killing-time sort of way). It doesn't hurt, either, that Luketic has peppered the early part of the proceedings with surprisingly compelling sequences, with the best example of this a low-key scene wherein Hemsworth and Ford's respective characters commiserate over the loss of departed loved ones. There comes a point, however, at which the narrative is suffused with the various tropes generally associated with this kind of thing (eg chases, double-crosses, schemes, etc), and it is, as a result, increasingly difficult to work up any interest in or enthusiasm for the central character's perilous antics. The pervasive tedium of the movie's final stretch is, to put it mildly, somewhat disastrous, and it's ultimately impossible to label Paranoia as anything more than a lazy (and half-baked) thriller that's been unapologetically geared towards undiscriminating teens (ie think "My First Thriller" type stuff).