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"LAST HOLIDAY"
(2006) (Queen Latifah, LL Cool J) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: When a woman is told she only has three weeks to live, she cashes in her savings and heads off for an extravagant European vacation where she unintentionally fools others into thinking she's a wealthy person to watch.
PLOT:
Georgia Byrd (QUEEN LATIFAH) is an unassuming New Orleans woman who sings in the church choir and dreams of marrying coworker Sean Matthews (Sean COOL J) when not working with him in Kragens department store where she has a mean boss and an unfulfilling job cooking samples for the store's customers. Things change when she goes to the company doctor after accidentally knocking herself out. And that's because he has bad news for her -- if she doesn't immediately have surgery to correct a previously undetected and rare medical condition, she's going to die in three weeks.

Not having the $340,000 for the procedure and with her insurance unwilling to pay for it, Georgia decides to cash out her savings and go out with a bang. Since she's never been farther north than Mobile, Alabama and her favorite TV personality is Chef Didier (GERARD DEPARDIEU), she takes her money and heads for Europe and the Grandhotel Pupp where he works.

Not telling anyone about her situation, she treats herself lavishly, an act that makes everyone else -- except for the no-nonsense floor valet Ms. Gunther (SUSAN KELLERMANN) -- think she's some wildly successful businesswoman. That gets Matthew Kragen (TIMOTHY HUTTON), the head of the department store where she recently quit, concerned. Staying at the hotel with his assistant and secret lover Ms. Burns (ALICIA WITT), Kragen is wining and dining some Washington politicos -- Senator Clarence Dillings (GIANCARLO ESPOSITO) and Congressman Bob Stewart (MICHAEL NOURI) -- for some much needed support.

When he thinks Georgia might be a spy, the competition or, worse yet, someone who might make him look less favorable in the politicians' eyes, he sets out to prove himself better and more important than her. While dealing with that and with Sean trying to track her down with some important news, Georgia tries to live her last days to the fullest.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
When it comes to choosing a direction in which to proceed with the old "You've only got X weeks to live" plot, storytellers essentially have just two options. One is to go the pure and occasionally weepy dramatic route where the doomed protagonist reconnects with friends, family and loved ones and tries to make amends or set things right before time is up. Another is to go down the path of comedy where the main character takes the "I might as well live it up" approach and the humor, be it black, ironic or juvenile and slapstick, falls where it may.

Of course, both are variations of the old "Christmas Carol" cautionary theme of reminding viewers to do all of that while times are good and before it's too late. In 1950, Alec Guinness starred in "Last Holiday," a fun little film that took the dry comedy route in telling its tale of an ordinary guy who decides to make the most of the last six weeks he's been given to live.

For better or worse, old movies are never allowed to rest in peace. And thus we now have the 2006 remake of that little seen picture that arrives with the same name and some of the same plot, but a completely different attitude and approach, not to mention main character. In Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman's adaptation of J.B. Priestley's original screenplay, Queen Latifah plays the main character, a department store kitchen wares employee who -- thanks to a faulty CAT scan, is mistakenly diagnosed with an obscure disease that will kill her in three weeks if she doesn't have the corrective surgery.

Unfortunately for her, and one of the reasons we know it's a mistake (beyond the overall light tone), she doesn't get a second opinion. And since she can't afford the procedure and her insurance won't pay for it (in a brief bit of black humor about such matters that the film could have used far more often), she cashes out her savings and heads for the real Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic where she plans on living large, including eating the delectable offerings concocted by her favorite TV chef (played with a good sense of fun by Gerard Depardieu).

As is to be expected, she's mistaken for somebody important -- and then realizes she truly is that (in her own world) -- as she tries out experiences and offerings she never would have dreamed of back in her previously safe, years-to-live life. And along the way, she affects others' lives, purposefully and coincidentally setting them straight.

I'll admit I had severely diminished expectations before seeing the film. Not even taking into account that it was yet the umpteenth remake of this "naught-naught" decade (that being the 00s), the commercials just made it look bad in one of those over the top fashions where touchy-feely meets zany comedy. Yet its one saving grace (beyond Depardieu and Susan Kellermann as a steely but funny floor valet) is its star.

I've always like Queen Latifah, but have rarely felt the comedic vehicles she's chosen have matched her onscreen charisma. While this one's far from great, it suits her well, or perhaps I should say the reverse as most any other actress I can think of would not have been as entertaining in the role (as far as keeping the light and occasionally zany theme intact).

While the plot is full of holes, contrivances and lapses of logic, director Wayne Wang gets some good mileage out of his willing star who manages to lift the film up a notch or two from deplorable to something akin to mediocre. Faint praise it may well be, but I have to say the film isn't as bad as I expected and feared and that's due to Latifah and her winning performance.

That said, she and the film are otherwise beset by problems. It's not as funny or knowing as it could and should have been. There are too many musical montages (which are designed to depict fun, character growth or the passage of time in a compact cinematic tactic, but usually come off as necessary, time-killing filler which is how they feel here).

And a huge subplot featuring Timothy Hutton as the main character's former corporate boss (who she never previously met) who's having an affair with a subordinate (Alicia Witt) when not feeling the need to compete head to head and toe to toe with Latifah's character, simply doesn't work. Not only does it not make sense (he has no reason to act threatened by her and it seems unlikely he'd be as successful as he is in the business world if that's the way he acts), but it's also not remotely funny. Sure, some viewers will enjoy seeing him being bested by an ordinary gal, but even that's pretty much botched.

As is a more satisfying subplot featuring LL Cool J as the coworker she's fantasized about dating and marrying (she has a "Possibilities Album" where she's pasted their heads on others' wedding photos in a dreamy if slightly comically creepy fashion). The two performers have decent comedic chemistry together, but the filmmakers separate them for most of the movie, thus severely limiting how much fun can be had from that story angle.

If you only had a limited amount of time left to live, I don't think you'd waste it watching this film. On the other hand, if you have plenty of that and patience to spare, as well as little to no expectations of anything great from this offering, you could probably do worse than taking this "Last Holiday." The film rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 7, 2005 / Posted January 13, 2006


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