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Failure to Launch

(2006)  1/2 Pg-13
97 min. Paramount Pictures. Director: Tom Dey. Cast: Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper.

Even Sarah Jessica Parker's fans will be hard-pressed to enjoy her in the abysmal comedy Failure to Launch. In it, Parker plays a bunco artist willing to prostitute herself. Oddly, the audience will realize this fact long before the screenwriters, the director, or the character do.

Writers Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember begin with a promising premise: what to do with a 35-year-old man happily squatting in his parents' house? Pampered, full-grown Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) loves living with Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw...and there's a match made in Actor's Studio hell), but they're sick of the arrangement, partly for his benefit and mostly for their own.

Here are the makings of an interesting comedy—even perhaps an interesting romantic comedy, with the addition of Parker—but Astle and Ember almost immediately lose interest in the realistic premise to chase the bizarrely ornate farce-lite of modern romantic comedies, which are predicated on lies no sane resident of Planet Earth would ever have the cojones to tell someone.

Parker plays Paula, a so-called "professional interventionist" surreptitiously hired by Tripp's parents to convince him to move out on his own. Parker's supposedly tried-and-true plan is to date the child (apparently always a man) and thereby motivate him to commit to an independent life. It's an hour into the movie before Paula cops to "an ethical problem" (an unavoidable sexual romp with Tripp), and the parents are equally untortured about their deception. To me, Paula's practiced fraud sounds criminal at worst and grounds for civil suits at best, but to Hollywood, it's a romantic comedy.

Good luck finding the romance or the comedy in it. Abandoning the comic possibilities of the failure to launch, Astle and Ember instead write their screenplay as if it's a location-scout worksheet, with scenes set at a paintball range, at an aquarium, at a baseball game, at a cliff-face (for rock-climbing), and on a sailboat (count the seconds until McConaughey gets knocked into the water by an errant boom).

When hilarity inconveniently fails to ensue, the writers devise an absurd "when animals attack" running gag (a chipmunk, a dolphin, a lizard and a mockingbird all go rabid, perhaps as fodder for a drinking game). But stupid slapstick and a sizeable pop-music budget get director Tom Dey (Shanghai Noon) nowhere. McConaughey gamely gives it the old college try, but he's surrounded by idiocy. Aside from a few chuckles from Zooey Deschanel as Parker's surly roommate, Failure to Launch is downright repellent.

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