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'A Life Less Ordinary': A Diaz-zling Failure

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
October 24, 1997

Here's the good news about "A Life Less Ordinary": Cameron Diaz.

And here's the bad news about "A Life Less Ordinary": "A Life Less Ordinary."

The new film by the phenomenally talented Scots-English trio of director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew MacDonald and screenwriter John Hodge -- they did both "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting" -- is a failure so absolute and witless it deserves some kind of mention in the Hall of Lame.

Wow. Well, on to the good news. Cameron Diaz. Cameron in the morning, Cameron in the evening, Cameron in the summertime. Cameron! Diaz! Cameron Diaz! CAMERON DIAZ! Light of my life. Cam. Er. On. Di. Az. Do I make my point?

Freed from a series of numbing supporting roles -- Jim Carrey's foil in "The Mask," the nice girl in Julia Roberts's last film, "My Best Friend's Wedding" -- Diaz blows the movie apart and makes you hate it for trying to confine her. She plays a selfish father-hating rich girl who, when accidentally kidnapped by an aphasic lummox (wan Ewan McGregor, who was far more robust in both "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting"), actually takes over and masterminds her own kidnapping, while falling in love with him. She's loony, leggy, delicious, willful, lovable. She snaps, crackles and pops. She sings (badly), she dances (poorly), and that only makes you love her more. If she had been matched with a real star, fireworks might have happened. Poor little McGregor seems like the grocery boy who wandered in, or an electrician's apprentice. The two have almost zero chemistry and the Ringo Starr haircut just doesn't work at all. Could he change his T-shirt once in a while? Why, he even wears a plaid dress at the end. What's that all about? And, the movie's a comedy, I forgot to tell you.

Wait, it's more and worse: It's a comedy with angels. With a celestial fantasy frame-story beginning in a heaven that looks like the third floor of the D.C. Municipal Building spray-painted white, it follows as two angels (Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter) are dispatched to Earth to mastermind the lasting union of two disparate but made-for-each-other souls, janitor Robert (McGregor) and poor little rich girl Celine (Diaz). Note to God: think B-O-S-N-I-A, Sir; you're needed there. Let Robert and Celine make do as best they can.

But what kind of angels are these? They have no powers whatsoever. They can't fly or change the world, turn back time or even make love bloom. They have to disguise themselves as skip-tracers to even get on the case, they have to use guns to get their jobs done. Their theory of love has nothing to do with romance, only forced proximity. In heaven as on Earth, I suppose it's equally true, you just can't get good help anymore.

Meanwhile, somewhere in the featureless American West, Robert and Celine go through a number of pratfalls equally inspired by other on-the-road couples, notably Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in "It Happened One Night" (the famous hitchhiking scene is re-created, without a whisper of charm), and the zany comedy stylings of Hunter and Nicolas Cage in Joel and Ethan Coen's "Raising Arizona." But except for a fantasy dance number in a Utah saloon, the movie just bogs down. The rule of zany is, the harder you try for zany, the less zany you get. Zany has to come from within. No writer or director can say, "Okay, kids, get real zany here!" Doesn't work. The movie is hopelessly zaneless.

This suggests the movie was a lost cause from the beginning. In fact, the wacky postmodern rhythms of the Coen canon appear to be the true inspiration for the film, a genuinely bad idea. We already have some Coen brothers. We don't need more Coen brothers, particularly if it costs us Boyle, MacDonald and Hodge, natural nasty pranksters whose original vision is already pretty amusing in an icky sort of way. In this case, imitation is the most sincere form of self-destruction. Let's hope it's only temporary.

A Life Less Ordinary is R-rated for sexual situations, profanity and violence.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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