A Life Less Ordinary (1997) / Comedy-Romance
MPAA Rated: R for violence, language and sexuality
Running Time: 103 min.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Delroy Lindo, Holly Hunter, Ian Holm, Dan Hedaya, Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Maury Chaykin
Director: Danny Boyle
Screenplay: John Hodge
Review published March 28, 2001
A Life Less Ordinary marks the third straight collaboration between director Danny Boyle (28 Days Later, The Beach), screenwriter John Hodge (The Final Curtain), and budding superstar Ewan McGregor (Down with Love, Big Fish), following on the heels of their critically acclaimed offbeat films, Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. It would also be their most uneven work, trying so very hard to deliver a zany comic caper, succeeding in small moments while completely botching the big picture. It's certainly an ambitious piece of work, but try as Boyle might to deliver a knockout blow of hilarity, A Life Less Ordinary reeks of desperation from beginning to end. Laughs don't flow out naturally, but Boyle's style is so hip, and the actors put out their best effort, you want to be as in tune as the filmmakers by laughing at it, even if the laughs aren't earned. Ordinary seeks to be extraordinary, but lacks the material or talent to do it.
The film starts off with Hunter (Crash) and Lindo (Heist) playing a couple of bumbling angels who are given one last chance to redeem themselves by making two mismatched people, a Scottish janitor (McGregor) and the debutante daughter of the head of corporation he works for (Diaz, The Mask), fall in love. After getting the can, the janitor decides to kidnap the heiress, who proceeds to take his side in the deed by going along with his plans to screw dear old dad (Holm) out of his money, but as close as they become, they haven't come to the conclusion that they are in love. Enter the angels who try to save the day by scaring the two together and making them close out of desperation, pretending to be hired killers under orders from the disgruntled father.
Self-indulgent and, for the most part, misguided, A Life Less Ordinary is a bad film with occasional moments of genuinely good humor. If one were to look at the frenetic tone of the film, you could compare it to the works of the Coen Brothers, and perhaps more specifically, Raising Arizona coincidentally starring Holly Hunter). However, unlike that film, Boyle's attempts seem to lack a cohesive vision. Raising Arizona had a definite skewed narrative tone, but A Life Less Ordinary has several, and flip-flops back and forth between them from scene to scene without reason. Watch this turn from an energetic comedy to a thriller to a romance to a musical, but at no time is a tone established that says that anything can happen, and certainly very little is invested in the characters to make us truly interested in their agendas. In short, it's a mess of brain farts and experimentation without a clue what the perceived outcome should be.
When all is said and done, it's really the actors that end up saving the film from being one of the worst of 1997. Through their energy and personality (and likeability), they manage to be entertaining despite the uneven script and spastic direction. For that reason, fans of the leads will probably enjoy the film despite the substantial flaws, while many other viewers will likely give up on it within the first twenty minutes. Meanwhile, the Boyle/Hodge duo succeed only in failure, and in delivering on the titular promise to be less than ordinary.
©2004 Vince Leo