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"YES MAN"
(2008) (Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Comedy: A loan officer, known for always saying no in his professional and personal life, finds his world turned upside down when he's forced to say yes to everyone and everything.
PLOT:
Carl Allen (JIM CARREY) is a junior loan officer known for always saying no to everyone and everything in his life, both professionally and personally. At work, he turns down loan requests as well as offers by his outgoing but naive boss, Norman (RHYS DARBY), to hang out. At home, his ex-wife, Stephanie (MOLLY SIMS), left him due to his negativity, while he's always coming up with excuses not to help his elderly neighbor, Tillie (FIONNULA FLANAGAN), or do things with his best friend, Peter (BRADLEY COOPER), who's just gotten engaged to Lucy (SASHA ALEXANDER).

Things change when an acquaintance, Nick (JOHN MICHAEL HIGGINS), convinces Carl to attend a self-help seminar run by Terrence Bundley (TERENCE STAMP) who preaches the power of saying yes. While Carl is skeptical, Terrence essentially makes him believe that bad things will happen if he ever says no again. It initially seems the opposite when Carl agrees to give a ride to a homeless man and ends up with a dead cell phone, a car out of gas, and his wallet empty of money after the man asks for that and is shocked to receive it.

All of that, however, results in Carl meeting the quirky and fun Allison (ZOOEY DESCHANEL) who zooms around town on her scooter when not performing in a techno rock band at night and teaching a combination of jogging and photography during the day. From that point on, Carl's world opens up as he develops feelings toward Allison, all while having to contend with the effects of saying yes to everyone and everything offered to and asked of him.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
Considering how many times humans are instructed of something in the negative during their formative years -- "Stop!" "Don't!" "Look out!" and the simplest but most direct "No!" -- it's surprising any of us grew up capable of being confident and/or answering anything in the affirmative.

That's where self-help motivators come into the picture, helping people do just that. Gurus like Terrence Bundley (Terrence Stamp) who runs a "you can do it" seminar to teach people the power of taking risks and learning how to say "yes." The latest addition to his class is Carl Allen (Jim Carrey), a person who always has an excuse to say no.

That includes at work turning down both loan requests and offers by his boss (Rhys Darby) to hang out, and in his personal life, thus causing his ex (Molly Sims) to dump him and his best friend (Bradley Cooper) to grow discouraged with his constant array of negativity.

Coming out of the seminar, Carl ends up having to answer yes to everything, a premise that holds a decent amount of promise in the appropriately titled "Yes Man." And with Carrey as the protagonist afflicted with that perpetually affirmative condition, the stage is obviously set for a collection of gags featuring the rubbery actor doing his trademark shtick.

If that sounds a bit like Carrey's "Liar, Liar" from a decade ago, you wouldn't be far off the mark in making the comparison. Yet, unlike that pic (where a magical spell of sorts caused a lying lawyer to tell nothing but the truth for 24 hours) and despite the impression made by the ad campaign, the main character here isn't forced -- magically or not -- to answer yes to everything. In fact, he can use the word "no," but when he does, an accidental set of circumstances cause him to believe (as told by the guru) that he'll be jinxed if he does, so he sticks to the positive and lets the chips, not to mention offers, fall where they may.

Without the involuntary element, the script by Nicholas Stoller and Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel loses a bit of its zing, not just in believability (not truly being forced, it's hard to believe some of the things he does and accepts, thus taking the viewer out of the moment), but also in terms of out and out creativity. Imagine the predicament one could find his or herself in if they literally couldn't say no, both in terms of sheer accident (stumbling across an offer) and someone trying to take advantage of such a situation.

A little of that is present, but the scribes and director Peyton Reed ("Down With Love," "Bring It On") never take that far enough in terms of generating laughs. Instead, they leave much of that up to Carrey who, no surprise, is pretty much up for the task. While a fair amount of what's present isn't particularly novel for the character, the comedian does the best with some of what he's offered, and in the process generates some fairly decent and sometimes fairly big laughs.

Granted, those who've never liked his brand of exaggerated comedy (expressions, slapstick style material, etc.) won't be swayed by what's offered here, and diehard fans of the same might not find this to be his most inspired effort. I'm somewhere in the middle, but did find various bits quite funny, even if they could and should have been taken so much farther.

The same holds true for the romantic chemistry between his and Zooey Deschanel's characters. There's a certain segment past the half-way mark in the film where it simply clicks (thanks in part to the endearing if goofy charm she brings to her character), and one only wishes that happened earlier and would stick around longer. Yet the plot mechanics -- apparently lifted from the blueprint for a standard romantic comedy -- necessitate the obligatory falling out between the two, and once that happens the cute and funny chemistry between them never returns to the fun levels it briefly reaches for a time.

A subplot featuring Darby as the protag's "I think I'm hip but I'm oblivious to the fact I'm not" boss generate some decent laughs, due both to his overconfident na´vetÚ as well as exaggerated fan boy moments (the best revolving around a "Harry Potter" themed costume party).

Somewhat akin to "The Bucket List" and other films of its ilk where the main characters eventually learn how to live life to its fullest, the plot has Carrey's character basically doing the same, albeit without any sort of life-threatening disease or overbearing schmaltz.

Instead, such moments are peppered and fueled by laughs, some of which are conceived and executed well enough that they create a fairly entertaining if far-fetched diversion. Unless you can't stand Carrey and his usual brand of physical comedy, fans of the comedic actor will probably be hard-pressed to say no to "Yes Man." The rest of us will find it amusing enough to rate as a 5 out of 10.




Reviewed December 10, 2008 / Posted December 19, 2008


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