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Sony's May '06 Releases

If Only (May 14/06)

If Only casts Jennifer Love Hewitt as Samantha Andrews, an American musician living in London with British boyfriend Ian Wyndham (Paul Nicholls). The two seem happy enough, though as a seemingly typical day passes, we discover that there are several problems within their relationship - most revolving around Ian's inability to be completely honest with Samantha. After tragedy strikes later that night, Ian wakes up the following morning and discovers that it's actually the previous day all over again. Ian becomes determined to take advantage of this second chance and begins correcting all his mistakes, Groundhog Day style. If Only's opening half hour has the feel of a typical romantic comedy, as screenwriter Christina Welsh emphasizes the sappier aspects of Samantha and Ian's relationship. The inherently predictable nature of the story results in a pace that's best described as deliberate, though there's no denying that things start to pick up once Ian learns of his unusual predicament. His efforts to give Samantha a perfect day are touching and genuinely romantic, something that's particularly true of a sequence late in the film in which Ian cajoles Samantha into performing one of her songs for a packed house. And while the film's conclusion is a little more downbeat than one might like, If Only is worth a look solely for the endlessly engaging lead performances (Hewitt is especially effective here, and it seems unfortunate that her film career never quite took off).

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Puff, Puff, Pass (May 14/06)

It's hard to imagine even the most hardcore fan of Half-Baked finding much to embrace here, though the two films do share a similarly off-the-wall sensibility and an emphasis on drug-related humor. The story revolves around Larry (Danny Masterson) and Rico (Ronnie Warner), a couple of incorrigible potheads who unwittingly find themselves caught up in a scheme to rip-off a shady figure known as Big Daddy (Mekhi Phifer). Along the way, the pair encounter a whole host of off-the-wall characters - including Larry's peculiar brother (Darrell Hammond), a would-be rapper (Terry Crews), and a sleazy television pitchman (John C. McGinley). Puff, Puff, Pass generally remains watchable, albeit in a mindless, sitcomesque sort of way (throw in a laugh track and you've got the latest Fox comedy). Masterson and Warner are convincing as drug-addicted morons, while the supporting cast (which also includes Married... with Children's David Faustino) provides sporadic instances of entertainment throughout the film. But the bottom line is that the movie just isn't funny, despite the best efforts of screenwriters Kent George and Warner (the only exception to this are the repeated references to The Shawshank Redemption, dubbed The Shank by Larry and Rico). Phifer, making his directorial debut here, infuses Puff, Puff, Pass with all the style of a movie-of-the-week; consequently, one can't help but wonder why he chose this as his initial foray into the world of filmmaking.

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About the DVD: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment presents all three of these titles with crisp, widescreen transfers, and although If Only and Puff, Puff, Pass are free of supplemental materials, When a Stranger Calls comes with deleted scenes, two commentary tracks, and a making-of featurette.
© David Nusair