Last Holiday
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Wayne Wang
scr Jeffrey Price, Peter S Seaman
with Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Gérard Depardieu, Alicia Witt, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Nouri, Jane Adams, Susan Kellermann, Ranjit Chowdhry, Mike Estime, Matt Ross
release US 13.Jan.06, UK 3.Mar.06
06/US Paramount 1h52

Something's cookin': LL Cool J, Depardieu and Latifah

latifah ll cool j hutton

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Last Holiday This cheerful remake (of a 1950 Alec Guinness movie written by JB Priestley) is enjoyable, even if the filmmakers can't avoid sliding into a corny finale.

Georgia Byrd (Latifah) sells cooking implements in a department store, has a secret crush on a salesman (LL Cool J) and dreams of becoming a chef. But her frugal life doesn't allow for risks. Until she finds out she has a fatal illness. She cashes in her savings and heads for Karlovy Vary to meet her favourite chef (Depardieu). But fate has a few surprises in store, and both luck and coincidence make her last holiday rather life-changing for everyone she encounters.

It's a nice surprise to see how nicely Latifah captures Georgia's bland, workmanlike existence and her dreams of worlds far beyond her own. Her big, gospel "why me?" scene is surprisingly powerful. And when she finally gets out there and starts living, there's an honest sense of wonder and discovery that makes the character thoroughly endearing.

The gang up against her offers a strong contrast--Hutton's shark-like businessman, Witt's aggressive mistress, Esposito and Nouri as slimy politicians--although their conspiratorial subplot is pretty lame. Better are Georgia's interactions with LL Cool J's hang-dog nice guy, Adams' sparky coworker, Kellermann's grumpy valet and even Depardieu's Euro-trash food-lover.

This is a terrific story with lots of wonderful ideas swirling around inside it, and a few genuinely wonderful sequences. But the film suffers from a complete lack of attitude or style. Wang deploys the same anonymous, over-cute directorial approach as his previous Hollywood efforts (Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie). Even the glorious Czech countryside comes across as a picture-postcard that looks more like an over-lit Matte painting than the real thing.

Alas, Wang completely misses any opportunities to create witty, edgy side characters or to meaningfully deepen the central narrative. The story is so full of possibility that it keeps us interested, but the silly slapstick makes us wince. And despite all the delicious food on screen, the trite, moralising, over-emotional climax leaves us with a bad taste in our mouths.

cert 12 themes, innuendo, language 1.Feb.06

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© 2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall