Temptation is the great leveler in Hollywood. It strikes even those filmmakers you'd think were immunethe artistes, the visionaries, the auteurs. You know, the ones who seem to really know what they're doing. They start out by making promising little films that get them all sorts of attention, and then they get an offer. And they do not refuse.
Lord knows I'm not against anyone cashing in, but why succumb to such dreck? For instance, who remembers Michael Lehmann? In 1989, he directed a snappy teen comedy called Heathers that you'll find in your "cult movie" section at the video store. His much-awaited follow-up? Hudson Hawk, starring Bruce Willis. Or how about Robert Rodriguez? In '93 he came out with this fun little action pic he did for Mexican TV called El Mariachi. Made a big splash, and he went straight to the big leagues. His big studio debut? Desperado, a bloated remake of El Mariachi with Antonio Banderas that was more slick than enjoyable, entirely lacking the heart of the original. And then there's Neil Jordan, the accomplished English filmmaker who got everybody talking with The Crying Game. What did Jordanthe man who vowed to "never make a Hollywood picture" after the success of his low-budget mysterycome up with for his next project? The pointless, turgid, unending blob of mass-marketing that was Interview With the Vampire, complete with Tom Cruise.
What's ironic here is that in most caseseven as they settled for pure mediocritythese filmmakers actually thought they weren't just feeding the machine like everybody else. Time after time, they would say in interviews: "This may be a big-budget Hollywood film, but it's really not." Yes, even though they've got big stars, big egos, big marketing, and big execs watching their every move, somehow their movie is going to be different from all the restthey've got it all figured out. But it never is and they never do.
And that's exactly what's happened with the poor sods who made Trainspotting and Shallow Grave. After creating such brilliant low-budget British films, they got their reward with a 20th Century Fox contract. The result is that their first big American studio production is just another big American studio production. No matter what they fooled themselves into believing, A Life Less Ordinary is little more than a slightly quirkier Alicia Silverstone movie. Literally.
Alicia, you'll recall, produced a mindless bit of fluff last summer called Excess Baggage, about a spoiled rich girl who hates her father and accidentally gets kidnapped by a handsome oaf whom she then conspires with to get ransom money. Same thing happens in A Life Less Ordinary. But in the hands of writer John Hodge, producer Andrew Macdonald, and director Danny Boyle, you'd think something could be made of it. Alas, tackling such a mundane romantic comedy plot is too much of a challenge for the boys, and what we get is mostly a disappointment.
Macdonald cites the work of Preston Sturges and Billy Wilder as inspiration, which is all well and fine, but what made him and his partners think that emulating such filmmakers would be a good ideaespecially when they've got their own style that's fine to begin with? What results is a weird hodgepodge that stutters around trying to find its feet. Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter play angels sent to unite rich girl Celine (Cameron Diaz) with loser janitor Robert (Ewan McGregor), no matter what it takes. After Robert loses his job, his apartment, and his girlfriend, he storms up to his boss' office with a gun, kidnapping his daughter, Celine. While on the lam, it becomes clear that Robert has no idea what he's doing, so Celine takes over. Meanwhile, the angels pose as bounty hunters to scare the two youngsters into falling in love. (Huh? I'm not sure how that works, either.)
This kind of zaniness might be rescued through sharp writing that's conscious of its own implausibilities, but it's just not there. That's not to say there aren't amusing scenes in A Life Less Ordinary, but they don't exactly add up to something. Even a fanciful comedy needs a sense of logic when it comes to how characters relate, but the relationships here never seem to follow a clear paththey just are. Thankfully, the cast is endowed with enough charisma to make the disjointed storytelling palatable. McGregor is, as ever, extremely likable despite himselfeven as a complete failure, he has an endearing glint in his eye; he's bad, but redeemable in a hopeful way. Diaz makes for a decent counterpoint, all shiny and sleek and perfect, though at times the inner mannequin shows through instead of her personality. Will she ever become more than a hot babe actress, as the movie magazines keep telling us? Finally, Lindo and Hunter are entertainingly over the topbut puzzlingly so; at times they seem as if they're in a different movie.
While A Life Less Ordinary is not the complete disaster some reviewers have dubbed it, it's certainly not the invigorating homage to Sturges and Wilder that Hodge, Macdonald, and Boyle hoped it would be. In the context of American romantic comedy, it's better than most; compared to the trio's previous films, it sucks. But there's still hopeKevin Smith managed to pull himself out the rut that was his major studio debut (Mallrats) by going back to the indies with Chasing Amy. Maybe Macdonald and the boys will do the same.