Wednesday, December 31, 2008


Just say NO to the new Jim Carrey comedy “Yes Man” (** out of ****), a frivolous exercise in high-concept celluloid that co-stars dishy Zooey Deschanel and grim-faced Terence Stamp. This one-note nonsense about a negative-minded man who realizes the affirmative power of the word ‘yes’ recalls an earlier Carrey epic “Liar, Liar” (1997) about an unprincipled lawyer who prevaricated at the least provocation. The gimmick in “Liar Liar” was his son’s birthday wish that his father couldn’t fib. Consequently, the reformed attorney had to tell the truth no matter what the situation.

In “Yes Man,” the rubber-faced funny man must say ‘yes’ to everybody with a request. Inevitably, our hero’s life takes some hallowing turns, but nothing really surprising happens. Well, perhaps something surprising occurs in one scene where dentures in a glass of water on a night stand figures prominently. Mind you, moviegoers who appreciate risqué humor will split their sides laughing. Fastidious folks, on the contrary, may grimace with horror and feel offended by this salacious twist.

Along with its single usage of the F-word as prescribed by the Motion Picture Association of America in all PG-13 flicks, “Break Up” director Peyton Reed’s “Yes Man” recycles the typical boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-wins-girl back tale. Audiences that adore Carrey’s elastic-cheeked clowning no matter what he does may find this far-fetched foolishness farcical. Discriminating audiences will feel like they’ve been cheated, even at matinee prices. At 104 minutes, “Yes Man” qualifies as more mess than merriment.

Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) loves to say ‘no.’ As a bank loan officer, nay saying is second nature to him. As it turns out, our pitiful protagonist lost his wife, Stephanie (Molly Sims of “Starsky & Hutch”), after six months of marriage because she felt Carl was too dull for her own good. Since their divorce three years ago, Carl has shunned his friends, particularly Peter (Bradley Cooper of “The Comebacks”) and Rooney (Danny Masterson of “Face/Off”), and confined himself to his apartment watching Blockbuster DVDs. At work, Carl tolerates his goofy boss, Norm (a hilarious Rhys Darby of “"The Flight of the Conchords"), who keeps inviting him to his masquerade parties. Speaking of product placement, this Warner Brothers release shamelessly touts its own movies, such as the “Harry Potter” franchise and “300” for Norm’s parties.

One day while he is relaxing outside the bank, Carl meets a former bank colleague, Nick (John Michael Higgins of “Evan Almighty”), who lives life to the hilt and shows no ill effects for all his reckless indulgence. So impressed by Nick’s carefree attitude is Carl that he attends a self-help seminar hosted by charismatic Dale Carnegie-type counselor Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp of “Superman”) who preaches about the positive power of saying ‘yes.’ Appropriately enough, Carl resists the urge to say yes, but the crowd around him changes his mind.

No sooner has our hero left the seminar than a shrewd homeless man, who has been taking advantage of Bundley’s converts, hits up Carl for a free ride to a far-off park, the use of his cell phone, and every dollar in his wallet. Not only does Carl run out of gas by the time he reaches the park, but also the homeless guy (Brent Briscoe of “Mr. Woodcock”) has depleted Carl’s cell phone battery. Carl traipses several miles back into town to fill up his gas container. At the gas station, he meets free-spirited, non-conformist Allison (Zooey Deschanel of “The Happening”) who is gassing up her motor scooter. She sports a helmet with Tweety Bird eyes painted on it so you know she is a little wacky, too. Anyway, Allison offers Carl a ride, and he says ‘yes’ to a new relationship. At the same time, Carl decides to take flying lessons, guitar lessons, learns to speak Korean, and searches for a spouse at the website Eventually, things sour for our love birds because Allison learns that Carl has programmed himself to say yes to everybody.

Watching Jim Carrey is always a treat because he is so spontaneous. His physical humor and his facial antics are as infectiously funny as ever. The contrived screenplay by “Fun with Dick & Jane” scribe Nicholas Stoller as well as newcomers Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogol, however, runs out of comic momentum about 45 minutes and becomes hopelessly predictable. One amusing moment occurs when our hero saves a suicidal man (Luis Guzmán of “School for Scoundrels”) by using his newly acquired guitar playing skills and getting the man as well as a crowd of spectators to join him in a sing-along.

Carl’s love interest is flaky as all get-out; she teaches a photography class where students jog around Griffith Park and snap photos. You’d think Allison would have noticed how Carl always blurts out ‘yes’ to anybody. She decides to dump our hero because she feels that he isn’t so much attracted to her ridiculous life-style as he is committed to the ‘yes’ covenant he made with Bundley. Meanwhile, Rhys Darby matches Carrey’s maniac comic energy with his use of childish nicknames and nerdy parties. Terence Stamp, who played General Zod in the Christopher Reeve “Superman” movie, makes a great comic foil as the harried guru who bullied Carl into taking his covenant and regrets having done so during our hero’s fourth-quarter meltdown.

Indeed, the “Yes Man” trailer makes this movie look far better than it is. Aside from the possibly objectionable scene with an elderly, sex-starved neighbor who promises to relieve our hero’s anxieties, “Yes Man” amounts to a made-to-order, upbeat date movie. Nevertheless, compared with Carrey’s funnier films, especially his “Ace Ventura” movies, “Yes Man” is one big No-No.

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