[Screen It]

(2006) (Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: Hired to manipulate a 35-year-old man into moving out of his parents' house, a woman surprises herself when she ends up falling for him.
Trip (MATTHEW McCONAUGHEY) is a 35-year-old boat broker who still lives at home with his parents Al (TERRY BRADSHAW) and Sue (KATHY BATES). Like his best friends Ace (JUSTIN BARTHA) and Demo (BRADLEY COOPER) who do the same with their parents, Trip has grown accustomed to the lifestyle of having a live-in maid with no rent, but he actually has an ulterior motive for living there. And that's to scare away girlfriends who become too romantically serious and thus threaten his bachelorhood.

When nothing else works, Al and Sue hire a professional to do the job. She comes in the form of Paula (SARAH JESSICA PARKER) who dates such men and encourages or manipulates them into moving out on their own. No sex is involved, and Paula makes sure not to get attached to any of them, a point that doesn't escape her deadpan roommate Kit (ZOOEY DESCHANEL) who's preoccupied with a mockingbird that's keeping her awake at night.

As Paula covertly starts dating Trip in hopes that she'll get him to move out, little does she realize the repercussions that will follow when she makes the mistake of falling for him and his charming ways.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
When it comes to NASA and its various spacecraft, failure to launch is not a good thing. Whether it's due to human, mechanical or natural reasons, the inability to get their craft off the pad can cause considerable headaches over lost time, money and work.

Unlike the space agency with its limited time windows, however, parents have plenty of opportunities to get their kids out of the house. Yet, for any number of reasons -- some legit, most just excuses -- a growing number of adults still live with their parents, much to the latter group's dismay.

For 35-year-old Trip, the reasons are simple. For starters, he has no rent or mortgage, but does have a maid in the form of his mom. But the main reason he still lives at home is to scare away any girlfriends who become too serious for his bachelor comfort level. As a result, his parents have hired a familial exterminator of sorts who will help the homebound Casanova finally leave the nest.

Thus is the gist of "Failure to Launch," a romantic comedy that pretty much lives up to its title. For those of us who've watched attempted lift-offs of other such genre works, however, the failure here isn't that surprising, although it's still disappointing. Working from an architectural, narrative blueprint by scribes Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember, director Tom Dey ("Showtime," "Shanghai Noon") has constructed this rom-com with many of the similar design flaws that have grounded other such vehicles or caused fiery and expensive crashes during their attempted cinematic flights.

There's the usual array of colorful roommates and/or friends, the various montages, and a flight plan that's pretty much the same course as previous trajectories. And the one such vessel this one closely resembles is "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." That's not only due to it having the exact same pilot -- the charming and strikingly handsome Matthew McConaughey (who seems to have replaced Hugh Grant as the go-to guy for these sorts of films) -- but also because it's plot is rather similar.

In the earlier film, the characters played by McConaughey and Kate Hudson had ulterior motives for getting into a relationship with each other, only to end up falling in love. Here, there's only half of the deception as Sarah Jessica Parker -- now making another run on the big screen after being done with HBO's "Sex and the City" -- plays the familial pest exterminator who poses as the new girlfriend. Not surprisingly, she ends up attracted to her target. They fall in love, break up, and yada-yada-yada.

Fans of the rom-com formula might like it, but neither the cast nor crew manage to do anything original or interesting with the tired material. That said, beyond the usual number of montages -- including a paintball one that goes on far too long and is obviously nothing more than filler -- Dey does include a number of "when animals go bad" scenes where McConaughey's character is on the wrong end of encounters with a dolphin, chipmunk and lizard (while an unrelated subplot deals with attempts to get rid of a noisy mockingbird). The point is that until he's true to himself and others (and leaves the nest as has occurred by his predecessors throughout the ages), he'll always be at odds with nature. Yet, this running gag does nothing for the film.

Nor does the presence of Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw as his afflicted parents. The roles are so blandly constructed that it wouldn't have made any difference who played them. And in that case, we wouldn't have had to see the repeated views of Bradshaw's bare tush (or that of his "stunt" butt double). That's supposed to be funny, but I can only imagine that since Bates did her nude scene in "About Schmidt," someone thought it would be hilarious for Bradshaw to do the same. It's not.

Justin Bartha and Bradley Cooper play the male friends and easily could have been lifted from any other rom-com or even a sitcom. Zooey Deschanel is the most interesting character, although that's by default only and she's doing that deadpan sarcastic thing she can probably now do in her sleep. As far as the leads, their star power can only carry them so far. McConaughey is his usual, easy-going and charming self, but Parker is pretty much limited to lots of reactionary squeals (as if standing on a kitchen chair in heels with mice scurrying about below her), making me wish I kept a running count of them.

Their chemistry together is passable but hardly red-hot, yet like the rest of the film, it never achieves any great heights. Sporting the sort of name critics love (as it makes caustic review taglines far too easy to concoct), "Failure to Launch" lives up to its title and rates as just a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed February 22, 2006 / Posted March 10, 2006

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