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Three Comedies from Warner Bros.

Chaos Theory (March 27/09)

Chaos Theory follows an orderly efficiency expert (Ryan Reynolds' Frank Allen) as he slowly but surely sheds his anal-retentive ways to become a far more laid-back and downright carefree figure, with the trigger for this radical lifestyle change a simple misunderstanding that inexplicably results in the destruction of his marriage. Though armed with a surprisingly affecting performance from Reynolds, Chaos Theory's downfall is cemented by the inherently flawed nature of its premise - as the increasingly absurd and flat-out stupid spat between Frank and wife Susan (Emily Mortimer) stretches the limits of credibility well beyond the breaking point (ie one conversation would clear up the entire matter within seconds). It's a confounding plot device that essentially casts a pall over the remainder of the proceedings, which is undoubtedly a shame given the inclusion of several admittedly engrossing sequences - including a stand-up-and-cheer-worthy interlude detailing Frank's dominance over an obnoxious bar bully. Screenwriter Daniel Taplitz's decision to place an increased emphasis on distinctly silly elements - ie Frank's plan to murder longtime friend Buddy (Stuart Townsend) - ensures that Chaos Theory peters out in a fairly substantial way as it approaches its woefully melodramatic finale, with the movie's ultra-sentimental resolution ultimately unable to hit the viewer with even a portion of the impact it's presumably been designed to pack (ie the film simply hasn't earned the right to offer up such a sappy send-off).

out of

Mama's Boy (January 25/09)

Diane Keaton's disastrous run of comedies continues with Mama's Boy, and while the movie is probably not quite as flat-out unwatchable as Because I Said So, Keaton's (expectedly) spastic performance would seem to indicate that her best days are far, far behind her. In the case of Mama's Boy, however, it's impossible to lay the bulk of the blame on any one of the performers - as screenwriter Hank Nelken offers up a hopelessly flawed premise that effectively drains the life from virtually every aspect of the proceedings. The movie stars Jon Heder as Jeffrey Mannus, a socially-inept 29-year-old whose comfortable lifestyle - he lives at home with a mother who does his laundry, makes his lunch, etc - is threatened after mom (Keaton's Jan) starts dating a successful self-help guru (Jeff Daniels' Mert Rosenbloom). It's the kind of set-up that'd hardly be workable in the best of hands let alone a scripter as prone to cheap jokes and obvious instances of plotting as Nelken, with his decision to eschew an actual narrative in favor of ill-conceived "comedic" interludes (ie Jeffrey participates in a role-playing warrior match, Jeffrey's head gets caught in a mini-golf prop, etc, etc) exacerbating the film's various problems. Of course, there's certainly no understating the ineffectiveness of Heder's relentlessly (and irritatingly) over-the-top performance - as the performer infuses Jeffrey with all the subtlety of a third-rate Saturday Night Live caricature. And while Daniels' expectedly amusing turn as Keaton's love interest sporadically buoys one's interest, Mama's Boy ultimately comes off as a bottom-of-the-barrel endeavor that hopefully marks the nadir of Keaton's increasingly erratic filmography.

out of

Yes Man (January 2/09)

Though hopelessly uneven and eye-rollingly sentimental, Yes Man nevertheless establishes itself as Jim Carrey's most entertaining comedy since 1997's Liar Liar - which, given the presence of such underwhelming efforts as Bruce Almighty and Fun with Dick and Jane within his recent filmography, isn't exactly high praise, admittedly. The movie casts Carrey as Carl Allen, a dull banker whose decision to say yes to every opportunity that comes his way substantially changes his life for the better (ie he meets and falls in love with Zooey Deschanel's quirky hipster). It's a high-concept premise that's generally employed to positive effect by director Peyton Reed, as the filmmaker - working from Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel's script - does a nice job of peppering the proceedings with a number of overtly wacky and unapologetically silly interludes. Carrey has clearly been given free rein to indulge in his every comedic whim, and - depending on one's tolerance for the actor's particular brand of humor - it's subsequently worth noting that the joke-to-laugh ratio remains surprisingly high during the film's opening hour. The stellar supporting cast - including, among others, Terence Stamp, Bradley Cooper, and John Michael Higgins - effectively (and effortlessly) perpetuates the downright affable vibe, while the romance between Carrey and Deschanel's respective characters is actually pretty sweet and charming (despite their obvious age difference). There reaches a point, however, at which the movie jettisons its light-hearted modus operandi and morphs into something that's as eye-rollingly sentimental as one might've feared, with the inclusion of several frustratingly melodramatic plot twists effectively bringing the proceedings to a dead stop. And while the astoundingly underwhelming third act does prove a test to one's patience, Yes Man ultimately manages to just skate by based on the strength of everything that preceded it - with Carrey's go-for-broke performance certainly standing as an obvious highlight.

out of

© David Nusair