[Screen It]

(2002) (Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley) (PG-13)

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Comedy: A process server accepts his mark's counteroffer to serve her wealthy husband with divorce papers before he can do the same to her.
Joe Tyler (MATTHEW PERRY) is a process server whose job entails tracking down various people and delivering less than desirable official papers to them. Working for Ray Harris (CEDRIC THE ENTERTAINER) and having to compete with co-worker Tony (VINCENT PASTORE) for such assignments, Joe hates his dead-end job.

Even so, he agrees to serve divorce papers to Sara Moore (ELIZABETH HURLEY) from her husband, Gordon (BRUCE CAMPBELL), due to the $5,000 payout upon completion. It seems that the wealthy cattle rancher has found a new woman in the form of Kate (AMY ADAMS) and wants to make sure that his divorce proceedings take place in Texas where he's more likely to receive a favorable settlement and thus keep most of his money.

After some difficulty in reaching Sara - due to Tony tipping her off and telling her to flee - Joe finally serves her the papers. Upon hearing of those settlement odds, Sara makes Joe a proposition. If he turns around and serves Gordon with her divorce papers instead, she'll give him a cut of her earnings in the form of one million dollars. He, of course, accepts the offer.

When Ray gets wind of this, he sends Tony to deliver Sara her papers first, while Gordon calls in his henchman, Vernon (TERRY CREWS), to watch for Joe and prevent him from delivering his. With both process servers heading for Texas, it's a race to see who will be the first to complete their task.

OUR TAKE: 3 out of 10
In an ideal world, both viewers and critics alike would attend movies without knowing anything about them, including who's in them and what they're about. Alas, neither the world nor the movies and corresponding movie-going experience are perfect.

Due to advertising efforts, entertainment news programming and individual tastes, viewers often go into movies with too much knowledge and/or preconceived notions about them and whether they'll be any good.

That's particularly true for critics who usually are privy to greater amounts of production info and scuttlebutt. Thus, while we should all act like that little rubber tree plant ant and have high hopes about any given new film, that's usually next to impossible. In fact, sometimes it's a good thing as we can then lower or even eliminate our expectations altogether and therefore give certain films a chance in succeeding on such terms.

An example of that would be "Serving Sara." Pre-release buzz had it that the film was one of those hurried, pre-strike productions (although the work stoppage never occurred) that was then temporarily sidelined due to its star having to enter rehab.

Then there are the facts that said actor, Matthew Perry, appears to have a limited acting range and thus one pretty much knows what to expect of him. The film's director last helmed the abysmal "The Ladies Man," and the trailer gives away too much plot and - because of or despite that - makes it look awful. In addition, the film is written by two novice screenwriters who also penned the equally bad-looking upcoming remake of "I Spy" starring Eddie "Did I Really Appear in Pluto Nash" Murphy (okay, the latter is a cheap shot, but hey, association can be as bad as the direct thing).

Accordingly, I entered our screening expecting next to nothing from the film and that's about what it delivered, although it often struggled to do just that. As directed by Reginald Hudlin ("The Ladies Man," "The Great White Hype") and written by those cinematic neophytes Jay Scherick & David Ronn (who worked on the TV show "Spin City"), the film is a road trip flick featuring mismatched partners who try to make the formulaic, high-concept plot seem fresh and interesting.

Although some lines of dialogue are admittedly funny, the overall film is rather vapid when it comes to comedy, and thus stoops to include a big gross-out sequence in hopes of eliciting some yucks from viewers. It probably will, although they might be more of the disgusted variety as Mr. Perry is forced to massage a certain internal sex organ of a bull from the inside and via the less personable end.

It's a variation of a similar scene from "Say It Isn't So" but taken to the next level with the added sexualization of the material (as the bull mounts a fake cow for collection purposes). It's also about the only memorable scene to be found in this mediocre and forced comedy where hairy backs being shaved, people spitting out bad-tasting wine and a guy wearing a parka and warm weather clothing beneath it - because he's just been to Maine and Florida - are also supposed to make us laugh.

Granted, some people will probably find some of the material as amusing, funny or even hilarious, but trust me, most of it's not. Much of that stems from the fact that the basic plot - concerning a process server taking a better offer from his mark and then trying to serve divorce papers to her cheating husband - isn't particularly funny in concept or execution.

To make matters worse, the filmmakers never do much of anything special with the material. They also miss various opportunities to take some of the material and really run with it, or conversely offer some stupid and/or illogical material such as the husband's bodyguard shooting at the wife and her accomplice (which wouldn't look good in a divorce settlement case).

It doesn't help that Perry ("The Whole Nine Yards," "Three to Tango") doesn't have a great deal of comedic acting range - although he can be funny doing what he does, albeit over and again - or that he looks awful and doesn't seem to be in sync with the work. Although some could argue that's just the character he's playing, that doesn't seem to be the case, and even his various bits of doing different accents seems half-hearted at best.

While Elizabeth Hurley ("Bedazzled," "EdTV") fulfills her eye candy quotient and does possess an agreeable and charming sexiness, her performance is unremarkable due to a poorly written role. They say that hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, but we see little of that here in comedic, dramatic or even emotional form. It doesn't help matters that the chemistry between her and Perry's characters also feels fabricated and forced.

Bruce Campbell ("The Majestic," the "Evil Dead" films) is left even higher and drier in his even less substantial role as the adulterous husband, while Cedric The Entertainer ("Ice Age," "Kingdom Come") and Vincent Pastore ("Deuces Wild," TV's "The Sopranos") are present as additional but different style comedic characters. Unfortunately, neither are very funny.

The same holds true for Jerry Stiller ("Zoolander," TV's "Seinfeld") who only shows up in a few scenes, while the rattlesnake skin boots (with head still attached) worn by Terry Crews ("The 6th Day") are far more interesting and memorable than the tough black cowboy character he embodies.

If you're a big Perry fan and/or see the film with absolutely no expectations beyond burning up some of your time and money, you might find the film as passable entertainment. On the other hand, those looking for a clever, imaginative or well-made comedy will probably wish someone had served these filmmakers with cease and desist letters before they finished this failed effort. "Serving Sara" rates as a 3 out of 10.

Reviewed August 20, 2002 / Posted August 23, 2002

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