Failure to Launch (2006) / Comedy-Romance

MPAA Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language
Running Time: 97 min.

Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Terry Bradshaw, Tyrell Jackson Williams Kathy Bates
Tom Dey
Screenplay: Tom J. Astle, Matt Ember
Review published March 11, 2006

Here's a movie title that practically writes my review for me. 

Interminably silly, Failure to Launch is a go-with-the-flow kind of comedy that has its share of laughs and clever ideas, and yet, sometimes it tries to be too funny for its own good.  Director Tom Dey (Showtime, Shanghai Noon) employs a kitchen sink approach to comedy, where he is willing to indulge in completely tangential gags and goofy subplots in order to inject laughs into scenes where nothing funny would otherwise happen.  He does manage to get the laughs, but not without a price, as these seemingly random occurrences create a wild and wacky tone that undermines the later scenes where things get serious and romantic, creating an uneven quality to the movie as a whole.  When Terry Bradshaw's ass is trotted out as a comedic device, you can sense the desperation of the film's creators in trying to squeeze out whatever chuckles they can, knowing there really isn't anything funny to the film once you get past the initial premise. 

This premise involves Matthew McConaghey (Two for the Money, Sahara), who plays Tripp, a 35-year-old man still living with his parents, and despite a great job, active social life, and a well-adjusted personality, he is hell-bent on remaining there.  It's a great setup, with all of the money and time he saves not paying rent or having to do household chores, so that he can play all day and night.  He can even date as much as he likes, and when the woman looks like she's getting too serious, all he has to do is take her back home to meet the 'rents, and she's gone for good. 

Mom (Bates, Warm Springs) and Dad (Bradshaw, The Cannonball Run) have been anxiously awaiting his departure for years, but it looks like he's just never going to leave, so they call in a professional -- an interventionist that has made a career out of seducing men still living at home into coming out and living on their own.  Sarah Jessica Parker (State and Main, Miami Rhapsody) plays Paula, the interventionist with an unbelievable success rate, and quite confident she's going to be the one to finally cure Tripp of his leeching ways, but complications arise, especially when she realizes that she might be growing feelings for him.

To be fair, the idea of a romantic comedy built around the concept of men intentionally living at home into their mid-30s is amusing, as is the concept of an interventionist that makes it a career out of luring the man out.  However, this concept isn't quite as fleshed out as it needed to be in order to inspire believability and to avoid contrivance.  It's never quite clear how the whole intervention thing can work after a certain point, as it seems unlikely that a man would move out of his parents house in order to be with a woman that won't actually move in with him, have sex with him, or even get too emotionally close.  It also doesn't make sense that she should be working in the same town she lives in, as there would prove to be too many jilted and angry men to have to watch your back for, especially when given the fact that she handles more than one client at once, potentially being seen by the men she is trying to seduce or one of their friends, and ruining all she has tried to do. 

It looks like Dey and the screenwriters also know that there is a fatal flaw in their plot, as they spend an inordinate amount of time trying to distract us from it whenever they can.  When more screen time is given to Paula's roommate and her quest to kill a noisy bird outside the apartment window than they give to one-on-one conversations between the film's two romantic leads, it is obvious that the one-joke premise not only doesn't work, but there isn't enough humor value in it to fill up a feature length film with.  Yes, the scenes with Zooey Deschanel (The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Eulogy) have their amusement value, but her character is completely superfluous, and calls into question the relative worth of the rest of the movie, because her would-be romance with the lovable geek Ace (Bartha, National Treasure) proves more interesting and amusing to the screenwriters than the main romance at the heart of the film.  Easily even more desperate is the "man with the tragic past" angle injected later to create some sort of superficial conflict, and also to explain why an older man likes spending much of his time with a young prepubescent boy (also a needless character created to get easy laughs).

Failure to Launch does have its moments, particularly early on when it still seems like it might end up being a legitimately winning romantic comedy.  However, once you start seeing several scenes of random animal attacks, five minutes of a scene involving an attempt to buy a shotgun, and CPR administered on an unconscious bird, you begin to realize that they just didn't have an idea of what kind of movie they wanted to make here before they started to roll film.  Desperate times call for desperate measures, and Failure to Launch reeks so much of desperation that whatever laughs one might have throughout also carry that bitter why-couldn't-have-been-better aftertaste as you leave the theater. 

Qwipster's rating:

2006 Vince Leo