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Saturday, December 20, 2008

Yes Man

The problem with Yes Man is pretty much evident in the trailers and even the title itself. It's sole and central gag is that Jim Carrey is a man who cannot say no to anything. Therefore, we pretty much know what's going to happen, and can even sometimes plan out the gag in our head as soon as it is set up. The movie seldom disappoints our expectations, which is a disappointment itself. It's too safe, too predictable, and never seems to trust Carrey's enormous talent for improv and flying by the seat of his pants. He's grounded here, and the movie itself feels like it has a lead weight tying it down.

Walking into the movie, I thought maybe they would explain the fact that his character could not say no due to some magical circumstances. I was reminded of Carrey's 1997 comedy, Liar Liar, where he played a lawyer who could not tell a lie due to a birthday wish his son made. It was a pretty loose concept to be sure, but hey, I was able to buy it. Here, there's no magic or wishing at work. His character simply decides to say yes to everything, no matter how dangerous or stupid it may be, because he feels like he's missing out on life. Carrey plays Carl Allen, a guy who's been in a funk for the past three years ever since his wife walked out on him. He says no to everything, generally ignores his friends, and seems destined to lead a sheltered and lonely life. That's when one of his friends takes him to a "Yes Seminar" hosted by a new age self-help guru (Terence Stamp). The guru's advice to his followers is to say yes to life by saying yes to all opportunities that present itself. The entire time I was listening to the concept, I thought it sounded like a dangerous notion, but Carl takes it to heart.

His new look on life starts right in the parking lot outside of the seminar, where Carl gives a ride to a homeless man who winds up taking all of his money and using up all the batteries in his cell phone. Just when Carl is beginning to regret his decision, he has a chance encounter with a cute woman named Allison (Zooey Deschanel), whom he strikes up a relationship with. This is enough to convince him that his positive encounter with Allison is all due to him saying yes to the homeless man, so he starts saying the same thing to everything. He says yes to the horny old lady who lives in the apartment next to him and is always trying to invite him over, which leads to a scene that is better off left to the imagination rather than described. He also uses his new look on life on the job. He works at a bank, and begins approving every single loan that walks up to his office. Given our current economic situation, you have to wonder if somehow this screenplay got in the hands of some real life bank workers a few years ago. In this movie, Carl saying yes to every loan gets him promoted.

Yes Man plows ahead with its own premise, never realizing how underdeveloped or hard to swallow it really is. The situations it sets up are also seldom funny. Carl says yes to a bar fight with a man twice his size. Carl is told to go jump off a bridge, so he tries his hands at bungee jumping. Carl says yes to learning Korean, so he can later speak fluently with a Korean woman who works at a bridal shop and is having relationship problems. None of these situations are funny by themselves, and the screenplay seems stuck in finding ways to make them funny. Carrey does his usual lovable goofball act, twisting his rubber face and riding around on a motorcycle in a hospital gown just so the movie can give us a bare ass shot as the back of his gown blows in the wind. His heart doesn't seem to be in this kind of stuff as it used to be, however. Maybe it's the fact that he's pushing 50 in real life. It's not that he doesn't try to rise above the material he's given, it's just that he seems to be at a loss as to how.

After a series of slapstick and bizarre set ups, the movie tries to get serious on us when Carl starts questioning if his new approach to life isn't hurting those around him. His friendly co-worker and former boss at the bank (Rhys Darby) does not get promoted along with him, and even winds up losing his job. And when Allison discovers that Carl has been saying yes to everything, she questions if he truly wants to be with her. Carl's efforts to win her back seemed half-hearted, and did not really deserve the final half hour of the movie or so that it takes up. I kept on waiting for the movie to connect with me on some level. Aside from a few scattered laughs, it never did. Not even the film's final gag hits home. And trust me, if you can't make Terence Stamp standing in front of a room of naked people funny, you're not doing your job right.

When it was over, I was left wondering why Yes Man lacked so much energy. After all, Carrey and Zooey Deschanel are both very talented people and more than capable of carrying this movie. Maybe they knew that the whole idea behind the thing just didn't work. Maybe they were just having an off day. Or maybe Yes Man is just a very mediocre movie, and there was nothing they could do about it. Take your pick, there are no wrong answers.

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