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(2000) (Heather Graham, Luke Wilson) (R)

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Comedy: A woman does whatever it takes and goes to any extreme to save her marriage with her estranged husband.
Joline (HEATHER GRAHAM) is a young woman who's firmly committed to her marriage to Carl (LUKE WILSON), a photographer. Problem is, Carl isn't happy with his life, thinks he needs some space, and thus heads off to find it and presumably himself, but doesn't tell Joline where he's gone.

Joline's carefree brother, Jay (CASEY AFFLECK), and his lesbian roommates, Mimi (CLEA DUVALL) and Jenny (KIM DICKENS), don't understand her obsession with making her apparently failed marriage work, and think she should get on with her life.

She feels differently, however, and via a random decision, decides to head to Texas to look for Carl. She eventually finds him working for an El Paso newspaper, but decides to tail him for a while to see what he's been up to. By doing so, she ends up meeting Carmen (PATRICIA VELAZQUEZ), a Mexican American waitress whose presumed affair with Carl has angered her part-time lover, T-Bo (MARK RUFFALO).

Joline also meets one of Carl's few desert-based neighbors, Neil (GORAN VISNJIC), while staking out his trailer home, as well as Carmen's grandfather, Grampy (ALFONSO ARAU), who tries to help her efforts by using various sorts of spiritual and mystical applications. As Joline and Carmen become fast friends and Jay eventually shows up to see what his sister's doing, Joline continues with her quest of following, eventually confronting, and trying to convince Carl that their marriage is worth saving.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
If you've ever had a friend or acquaintance who thought they were funny and/or charming, but weren't, or were cornered by such a person at a party and felt nauseated and/or bored by such an encounter, then you'll begin to have an idea of what it's like to sit through and experience the "comedy," "Committed."

A film that starts off with a weak premise and then goes nowhere but downhill from there, this is the sort of unsatisfactory and insipid picture that probably would not have had as high a profile release as it's getting if not for the presence of the new "it" star, Heather Graham.

Hot off her appearance in 1999's "Austin Powers" sequel, this picture has apparently been earmarked as her breakthrough, starring role. Unfortunately for her and anyone unlucky enough to see it, this is the sort of picture that could stall, if not outright kill the burgeoning acting career of many a rising performer.

Supposedly a humorous tale of a woman who will go to any exaggerated length to save her marriage, the production has to be one of the lamest comedies to come down the cinematic pike in quite some time. Unlike a relatively similarly plotted film such as "Honeymoon in Vegas" - that may not have been a comedy classic but was certainly funny, charming and energetic - this one is flat, annoying and boring.

As written and directed by Lisa Krueger ("Manny & Lo"), the film has a myriad of problems that undermine its efforts. For one, its attempts at comedy simply aren't funny. While humor obviously lies in the funny bone of the beholder (much like beauty residing in one's eye), it's doubtful that many, if any people who willing opt to see this film will find it amusing. Forced and unimaginative instead of being clever and freely flowing from the material, the film's attempts at being funny are nothing short of a complete bust.

Another problem is that while it's always a good thing for a story to jump into the "meat" of the plot as quickly as possible, a film shouldn't forgo establishing the basic story and displaying the necessary chemistry between its characters in order to do just that. Unfortunately, that's what occurs here. Since we barely see the married couple together, we don't really feel any chemistry between them. Thus, once Carl's gone and Joline eventually figures out what he's really been up to, we neither understand nor root for her success at achieving her goal.

Now, whether Krueger's intent was purposefully to have that happen or simply to show that the protagonist's a crazy woman operating with a warped, but strict set of principles is debatable, but the film doesn't really work in either regard. As such, it never hits the proper or requisite emotional notes (us feeling sorry for her), comedic ones (her exaggerated and/or ridiculous attempts at saving her marriage), or audience pleasing moments (her eventually deciding to get even with her estranged, philandering husband) to make much of any sort of positive impression on the viewer.

Sporadic bits of voice over narration from the protagonist don't do anything to help the proceedings or impart any useful or funny insights into that main character, and the film is filled with the sorts of stupid material - such as Joline "staking out" Carl by parking her car just feet from his trailer where we're supposed to believe that a) she'd be dumb enough to be so conspicuous on a "street" with only a handful of small, desert homes or b) he wouldn't recognize her car - that collectively only serve to irritate any viewer who hates the inclusion of such insipid moments (and that's not even going into how she chooses to begin her search in Texas). In a picture such as "Dumb and Dumber," one could accept such stupidity, but this film - fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at things - doesn't take that approach.

The film is also hurt by the way in which the character played by Heather Graham ("Bowfinger," "Lost in Space") is written, develops (and we use that term loosely) and ultimately portrayed by that charismatic actress. While Graham certainly gives it the old college try, most everything about her character is incorrectly configured and executed. The result is that we don't really care about Joline, much less find her antics charming, amusing, or, on the flip side, disturbing.

As her "better half," Luke Wilson ("My Dog Skip," "Blue Streak") isn't give much of a chance to make much of an impression with his character, other than that he's a complete jerk. While that's probably the intended effect, he doesn't have any superlative or outstanding qualities - either positive or negative - to make him particularly noteworthy.

The same holds true Casey Affleck ("Drowning Mona," "200 Cigarettes") as Joline's oddball brother, Goran Visnjic ("Practical Magic," "Welcome to Sarajevo") as another odd man who hits on her, and Patricia Velazquez ("The Mummy") as a foul-mouthed, loose waitress. Even director/actor Alfonso Arau ("A Walk in the Clouds") can't do much with his stereotypical old and wise spiritual man character.

There's little that's more painful to sit through than a "comedy" that isn't funny, and this is a prime example of such cinematic torture. Despite the presence of Graham, who's unfortunately been steered in the wrong direction of how to play the character, there's little here that's of any redeemable quality. If only those responsible for the film had taken its titular advice and put this film away for good where it couldn't harm the public, all would have been well in the world of moviemaking. Unfortunately, "Committed" wasn't, although those looking for a good comedy may just think that's what will happen to them after sitting through this stinker. The film rates as just a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed April 25, 2000 / Posted May 5, 2000

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