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"HELD UP"
(2000) (Jamie Foxx, Nia Long) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: Determined to get his fiancée back after she left him for deceiving her, a man finds his life turned upside down when he and several other convenience store patrons unwillingly become part of a comical hostage situation.
PLOT:
Mike Dawson (JAMIE FOXX) and his fiancée, Rae (NIA LONG), are taking a vacation from their busy lives in Chicago with a romantic getaway to the Grand Canyon. That's short-lived, however, for when Rae discovers that he spent their home savings on a vintage car, she dumps him at the "Sip & Zip" convenience store where they stopped for a bathroom break, and catches a ride to the Las Vegas airport.

Determined to win her back, Mike immediately runs into problems when his car his stolen. Heading into the convenience store to call the police, Mike meets the store's manager/clerk, Jack (JOHN CULLEM), along with Rusty (SAM GIFALDI), a video game junkie who thinks he's Puff Daddy; Clarence, an all-knowing philosophy spouting biker; and Mary (SARAH PAULSON), a somewhat shy woman who knows her man is cheating on her.

With Deputy Beaumont (JAKE BUSEY) on the way, Mike thinks that he might have a chance to get to Vegas before Rae catches her plane, but that's before Rodrigo (EDUARDO YANEZ), and his two bumbling associates, Trina (ROSELYN SANCHEZ) and Sal (DIEGO FUENTES), enter the store, prepared to rob it. When the deputy finally arrives and gets suspicious of what's occurring in the Sip & Zip, he calls Sheriff Pembry (BARRY CORBIN) who shows up with an entourage of armed, but not altogether brilliant locals.

Not surprisingly, Trina and Sal take off, leaving Rodrigo with a small number of hostages, the most perturbed being Mike who realizes he's running out of time. As the locals show up to gawk at the event and the press arrives to cover it live, Rae sits in an airport bar, drowning her sorrows with bartender Gloria (JULIE HAGERTY), hoping that Mike will show and make up with her.

That begins to seem increasingly unlikely as even more people show up at the convenience store, including a Vegas S.W.A.T. team that awaits orders from Sheriff Pembry to move in. Realizing that he's surrounded by idiots on both sides of the situation, Mike does what he can to resolve the crisis so that he can get to Vegas and stop Rae before she boards her plane back home.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Eons from now, disciples of the great 20th century philosopher, Forrest Gump, just may still be following the wisdom of his most famous quote, "Stupid is as stupid does." Of course, whether or not that will be the case will be determined sometime in the future. What's certain now, however, is that "dumb" movies are still as popular as ever.

Unlike some critics who are either too pompous to find them entertaining or are afraid to admit that they enjoy them for fear of doing so lessening their "credibility," I'll readily admit that I've often enjoyed such "dumb" films, as long as they're done correctly, and will always give the latest one the benefit of the doubt as it unfolds before me on the big screen.

In essence, there are two ways to portray the characters in such films. One is make them so stupid and ridiculous that they don't come off as realistic but still manage to make audiences laugh at their antics and, well, general stupidity.

Of course, traveling down that path is a precarious endeavor since one person's "stupidity if funny" is another's "stupidity is just dumb and intolerable." As such, for every film featuring a Navin R. Johnson (Steve Martin in "The Jerk") or Lloyd and Harry (Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels in "Dumb and Dumber"), the cinema is littered with scores of failed efforts such as the recently released "Drowning Mona."

The second approach in portraying such characters it to make them human, but victims of their own follies and beliefs, where everyone realizes they're a bumbling idiot, but still loves them anyway. The prime example is Don Knotts' fabulous portrayal of Deputy Barney Fife on TV's "The Andy Griffith Show."

Thus, if you're the filmmakers behind "Held Up" - a dumb comedy concerning a man who hopes to stop his girlfriend from leaving him but gets caught up in a bungled robbery/hostage situation - the question is which route and what type of characters to choose to populate one's story.

Whether director Steve Rash ("Eddie," "The Buddy Holly Story") and screenwriter Jeff Eastin's (the creator of TV's "Shasta McNasty") initial choice of the first group was the correct one is debatable, but unfortunately, their results fall into the dumb and intolerable category rather than as comedy classics. As a result, their film also comes off that way as well.

What "comedy" is present in characterizations, dialogue and plot development can only be considered lame at best. While lowest common denominator humor has its place and its fans, it has to be presented in just the right fashion for the masses to find it funny. This film just slops such material into our laps like some disgruntled prison cafeteria worker, not caring what hits or misses. In the end, that analogy becomes somewhat appropriate since you'll feel as if you've been incarcerated and tortured for one hundred or so minutes after watching this picture.

Among the film's many problems, two in particular stand out. For one, Eastin's plot never strays from the predictable (the kidnaper and his hostages become buddies, the press shows up, etc.) nor creates the proper comedic tension and urgency needed for the story to work. A film about a guy wanting to make up with his girlfriend but hampered by the idiotic and/or irritating behavior of everyone else around him obviously has potential to be funny. Yet, the filmmakers here pretty much let any related clever or imaginative material slip through their collective fingers.

The other big problem is that we don't really care about the protagonist, played by Jamie Foxx ("Any Given Sunday," "Booty Call") or his predicament. Of course, we don't have to love the character for the film to work. In fact, making him into a complete cad and then having all sorts of comedic misfortune rain down upon him could be just as funny as portraying him as the good guy bedeviled by all sorts of funny complications.

Unfortunately, Foxx's portrayal of Mike Dawson falls somewhere in between the two and that nebulous element prevents the audience from rooting for either his success or failure. While Foxx is a gifted comedian, he simply can't do much with the part as written.

In addition, there's zero chemistry (either romantic or comedic) between him and the character played by Nia Long ("Boiler Room," "The Best Man"). That ultimately prevents us from caring whether he gets to the airport in time or not and makes us wonder why in the heck she hangs around waiting and hoping for him to arrive.

Directly related, there's no concrete comical impetus for Mike to have to make it to the airport to make up with Rae - he could simply do the same back in Chicago. Thus, there's no credible, frantic sense of urgency for him to disentangle himself from the situation impeding him and get there in time (as was the case in a film such as "Honeymoon in Vegas"). If there had been, the film would have benefited from some much needed motivation and related energy, but as it stands it constantly feels flat.

The supporting performances don't help matters much, as the likes of Eduardo Yanez ("Wild Things," "Striptease"), Sarah Paulson ("The Other Sister," TV's "Jack & Jill"), and Jake Busey ("Home Fries," "Starship Troopers") can't do anything with their characters. Meanwhile Barry Corbin ("Nothing in Common," "War Games") inhabits the typical sheriff role in something of a Wilford Brimley type fashion, while Julie Hagerty ("Lost in America," the "Airplane" films) is wasted in a small role.

While it's possible some moviegoers will enjoy the proceedings, it's likely that the vast majority of them won't and will find all of it far more intolerable and just plain stupid rather than humorous. Although the film has some potential, it's squandered by uninspired performances, writing and direction. Appropriately titled, "Held Up," will leave most viewers thinking they've been robbed of their time and ticket money. The film rates as just a 2 out of 10.




Reviewed May 10, 2000 / Posted May 12, 2000


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