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Six Comedies from Maple Pictures

Employee of the Month (March 6/07)

Disastrously unfunny from start to finish, Employee of the Month is a complete mess that wastes the increasingly questionable talents of star Dane Cook and a surprisingly competent supporting cast (which includes Dax Shepard, Andy Dick, and Harland Williams). The film - which follows Cook's Zack as he competes with Shepard's Vince for the affection of Jessica Simpson's Amy - strikes all the wrong notes virtually from the get-go, with screenwriters Don Calame, Chris Conroy, and Greg Coolidge (the latter of whom also directs) emphasizing comedic bits that generally come off as uncomfortably broad and thoroughly desperate (the "hilariously" miniature motorcycle that Zack drives is a perfect example of this). Of course, there's certainly nothing more awful within Employee of the Month than Simpson - as the would-be actress delivers as astoundingly inept a performance as one could possibly imagine and indeed seems to have been hired solely for her ability to snugly fill out a sweater. The inclusion of several melodramatic elements (ie an entirely unwarranted fake break-up) only cements Employee of the Month's status as an utterly generic PG-13 comedy, and though armed with a relatively short running time, the film just feels endless and there's ultimately very little here to appeal to even the most die-hard Cook fanatic.

out of

Giving It Up (October 9/07)

Written and directed by Christopher Kublan, Giving It Up is a smug, oppressively talky romcom that fails to hold the viewer's interest virtually from minute one - with the filmmaker's emphasis on uniformly uninteresting characters certainly playing a key role in the movie's downfall. Mark Feuerstein stars as Ralph, a cocky ladies man who decides to abandon his skirt-chasing ways after falling for an intelligent account executive (Amy Redford's Elizabeth). Not surprisingly, Ralph's efforts prove fruitless and he's soon pursuing a beautiful model (Ali Larter's Amber) - a move that ultimately throws his would-be relationship with Elizabeth into jeopardy. It's a familiar premise that certainly could've worked in a better movie, but Kublan's relentlessly self-conscious dialogue - coupled with the underwhelming performances (Redford's flat work here ensures she'll never be mistaken for her father) - ultimately prevents the whole thing from achieving lift-off (or anything resembling lift-off).

out of

Love and Other Dilemmas (January 31/08)

Though there are certainly plenty of deficiencies within Love and Other Dilemmas, it's the uniform lack of authenticity among its characters that immediately stands out as the film's most problematic element. Screenwriter Deborah Peraya has painted the movie's various figures with as broad a brush as one could possibly imagine, and it's clear that Peraya primarily views these people solely as mouthpieces for an increasingly lame batch of jokes (there's seriously not a single laugh to be had here). The eye-rollingly silly storyline follows Gabrielle Miller's bride-to-be as she's faced with a whole host of problems on her wedding day, including a groom (Stephen Lobo's Henry) with a gambling problem and a family curse that basically transforms her childhood friend (John Cassini's Bart) into a zombie. Director Larry Di Stefano is clearly going for the vibe of a fast-paced, madcap comedy, yet - armed with Peraya's woefully underwhelming screenplay and a visual sense best described as styleless - there's little doubt that the whole thing ultimately comes off about as well as a bottom-of-the-barrel sitcom. And although some of the performances are admittedly pretty effective - Miller, in particular, proves to be a charismatic and affable screen presence - Love and Other Dilemmas is otherwise a dead zone of a romantic comedy.

out of

Pipe Dream (January 30/08)

Saddled with a premise that's downright irresistible, Pipe Dream primarily comes off as an affable romantic comedy that boasts expectedly terrific performances from stars Martin Donovan and Mary-Louise Parker. Donovan plays David Kulovic, a lonely plumber who convinces his casting-director buddy (Kevin Carroll's RJ) to hold auditions for a non-existent movie - thus allowing David, under the guise of up-and-coming director David Coppelberg, to select a date from a pool of would-be actresses. Problems ensue after the script, pilfered from David's neighbor Toni (Parker), takes on a life of its own and receives the go-ahead to start shooting, leaving David with no choice but to direct the movie himself (albeit with a substantial amount of help from Toni). There's little doubt that Pipe Dream works best in its first half, as one can't help but get sucked into the admittedly outlandish storyline; in addition to the overt romcom elements, the film also proves to be very effective as a comedic look at the behind-the-scenes shenanigans of an independent production. It's only as director and co-writer John Walsh starts to emphasize a more laid-back pace that one's interest begins to falter, and there's ultimately no denying that the movie fizzles out in a serious way towards the end (the inclusion of several melodramatic elements, including the dreaded fake break-up, certainly doesn't help matters). Still, Pipe Dream is - more often than not - an engaging little comedy that undoubtedly stands as a testament to Donovan's ample talent and charisma (it goes without saying that, in lesser hands, his character surely would've come off as a sleazy scumbag).

out of

She Gets What She Wants (January 28/08)

Originally titled Slap Her... She's French, She Gets What She Wants casts Jane McGregor as Starla Grady - a Texan high schooler who agrees to take in a French exchange student (Piper Perabo's Genevieve LePlouff) to secure her victory at a beauty pageant. Though the two become fast friends, Starla is shocked to discover that Genevieve's pleasant demeanor is merely a front for a conniving opportunist who is determined to make Starla's life her own. Director Melanie Mayron has infused She Gets What She Wants with a bland, entirely unremarkable visual sensibility that admittedly reflects Lamar Damon and Robert Lee King's stultifying screenplay, and it becomes increasingly apparent that the film's various creative minds are unwilling (or unable) to offer the viewer a single reason to actually care about any of this. And even if one were willing to overlook the downright aimless storyline, there's still the dearth of laughs and muddled character motives to contend with. To be fair, Genevieve's sociopathic behavior (as well as Perabo's questionable accent) is explained in the eye-rollingly predictable conclusion - yet it's clear that this is simply a case of too little, too late by that point. If nothing else, however, She Gets What She Wants just might be worth a look for its jaw-dropping (and utterly absurd) amount of references to Diet Pepsi (there's even a line of dialogue that mentions the low-calorie drink!)

out of

Vulgar (January 29/08)

The directorial debut of Kevin Smith crony Bryan Johnson, Vulgar is an amateurish, unpleasant, and primarily worthless effort that doesn't possess much in the way of positive attributes. Johnson's efforts to ape the characteristics of Smith's dialogue undoubtedly play a substantial role in the film's ultimate downfall, as the filmmaker proves to be far less talented a screenwriter than his mentor - ensuring that there's just something painfully self-conscious about the words being spouted by the film's uniformly underdeveloped characters. Vulgar casts Smith regular Brian O'Halloran as Will Carlson, a struggling clown who concocts a plan to bring his particular brand of humor into the adult realm by hiring himself out to bachelor parties. The plan proves to be disastrous, however, as Will (AKA Flappy) is raped by a trio of hillbillies during his first gig - yet things eventually start to look up for the would-be entertainer after he rescues a little girl from an armed maniac. It's a bizarre premise that would probably feel more at home within a Harmony Korine flick, although - admittedly - even Korine himself has proven he's able to infuse his flicks with at least a modicum of style. An amusing cameo by Smith notwithstanding, Vulgar primarily comes off as an entirely needless piece of work that - appropriately enough - appears to mark the beginning and end of Johnson's cinematic career.

out of

© David Nusair