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dir Stephen Greene
scr Kristin Gore, Matthew Silverstein, Dave Jeser
prd Kia Jam, David Bergstein, Frederick R Ulrich, Matthew Rhodes, Judd Payne
with Jessica Biel, Jake Gyllenhaal, Catherine Keener, James Marsden, Tracy Morgan, Paul Reubens, Beverly D'Angelo, Kurt Fuller, David Ramsey, Bill Hader, Kirstie Alley, James Brolin
release US 20.Mar.15, UK 19.Jun.15
Hole in the head: Biel and Gyllenhaal
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With an emphasis on slapstick, this comedy dubiously uses a serious brain injury as its central plot point, which makes it feel like a Farrelly Brothers movie without the underlying pathos. So even if it's about someone propelled into the national limelight by her sheer honesty, the meaning is lost in an onslaught of inane goofiness.
In small-town Indiana, rollerskating waitress Alice (Biel) is excited that her dreamboat cop boyfriend Scott (Marsden) wants to marry her. Then she has a nail accidentally fired into her brain, and can't afford the medical treatment. Scott backs out of the engagement, and Alice loses her job. So she travels to Washington to contact rookie Congressman Howard (Gyllenhaal). He manages to get a medical-insurance provision added to a moon base bill proposed by his senior colleague Pam (Keener). But this creates a series of political scandals that threaten Howard's career. And of course Alice's life.
All of this is played for broad laughs, although not many are forthcoming. Perhaps the problem is that head trauma and America's health care quagmire aren't actually funny, and this movie's silliness swamps any pointed satire. Directing under a pseudonym, David O Russell deploys nutty music, manic camera angles and frantic pacing, so at least the film is never dull. But since Alice shifts personalities every time her head is bumped, Biel is unable to create a character who is even remotely relatable.
At least she is championing a worthy cause we can root for. All of the other characters veer wildly through a range of crazed personality swings. The cast is packed with adept scene-chewing actors, but they bizarrely try to play even the most insane scenes dead-straight, like an unfunny 100-minute Saturday Night Live sketch. At least Biel and Gyllenhaal are likeable dorks, while Keener and Reubens (as her grim assistant) are fierce in their satirical roles.
There's also a stream of big-name side roles to add spark, even if most of their scenes feel random (such as Alley's moment as Alice's deranged veterinarian aunt). But the real problem is that the spiralling tonal chaos belittles the themes the movie is playing around with. There's the germ of a great idea in here, tackling the stagnation of the American political system. But this film is a frenzied, flailing mess.
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© 2015 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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