A too often unsung joy to watch in front of the camera, Alyson Hannigan radiates such a warm, kind, easily identifiable presence that you immediately wish her well. That was true of her scene-stealing role as Willow on TV's "Buffy the Vampire Slayer," it was true of her standout performance as band geek Michelle in the first three "American Pie
" movies, and it is true of her current work on the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother." As good as Hannigan has always been, spanning as far back as playing Dan Aykroyd's tomboyish daughter in 1988's "My Stepmother Is an Alien," leading roles in feature films have alluded her. "Date Movie," a rapid-fire spoof that wants to do for romantic comedies what "Scary Movie
" did for the horror genre, changes all that, placing the irresistible Hannigan front and center in nearly every scene. The tragedy is that there is nothing to recommend surrounding her. As far as entries in the "Airplane!"/"The Naked Gun"/"Hot Shots!"-like sweepstakes go, "Date Movie" is one of the most uninspired in recent memory.
The amount of movie send-ups in "Date Movie" might break a record; indeed, just about every cinematic love story in the last decade gets its moment in the spotlight (including "Bridget Jones's Diary
," "Pretty Woman
," "My Best Friend's Wedding," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin
," "Sweet Home Alabama
," "Mr. and Mrs. Smith
," "Say Anything," "The Wedding Planner
," "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days
," "When Harry Met Sally..." and "Hitch
"), not to mention further references to everything from "Meet the Parents
" to "Meet the Fockers
" to "Napoleon Dynamite
" to "King Kong
" to "The Lord of the Rings
" to "Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith
." The problem is not the targets, but the execution. Instead of using these films as fodder for clever satire and lampooning, first-time directors Jason Friedberg and Andy Seltzer (writers of 2000's superior "Scary Movie
") tend to lazily just repeat the famed scenes without either putting the appropriate twist on the material or understanding the value of a punchline. Thus, "Date Movie" becomes a series of emotionally disconnected starts and stops with a distressing lack of innovation or inspiration. It's not very funny, either, which is akin to a death sentence in the world of spoof pics.
Julia Jones (Alyson Hannigan) is an unlucky-in-love 389-lb. behemoth whose multicultural parents (Eddie Griffin, Meera Simhan) want nothing more than for her to marry a man of Greek-Indian-Chinese-Jewish ethnicity. Following a visit to pint-sized love doctor Hitch (Tony Cox) and a full-body, liposuctioned makeover at a seedy chop-shop, Julia emerges as a drop dead gorgeous beauty. She finally meets the man of her dreams, Grant Fonckyerdoder (Adam Campbell), after becoming a contestant on "Extreme Bachelor: Desperate Edition," and they are engaged six days later (they bond by beating up and mugging a homeless man). As Julia and Grant go about introducing their parents to each other and making the wedding arrangements, a little unwanted competition for Julia arrives in the form of Grant's best man and ex-fiancée Andy (Sophie Monk).
"Date Movie" is derivative of every mainstream romantic comedy one could imagine, and that's exactly the point. Plot-wise, the film goes down a road of clichés toward a predictable happily-ever-after ending, which is fine except it doesn't come close to equaling the charm of the very movies it spoofs. Even in such a purposefully silly genre, it is imperative that there be a spark between the love interests that makes the viewer want to root for their relationship (think Robert Hays and Julie Hagerty in "Airplane!" or Leslie Nielsen and Priscilla Presley in "The Naked Gun" trilogy), and that never arrives. There is no sense of connection between Julia and Grant (some scenes actually seemed as if the actors were bribed into appearing onscreen together), and any chance of sweetness goes out the window with a siege of gross-out jokes that are ickily mean-spirited and test the limits of the PG-13 rating. The nadir comes during a spoof of the urn scene in "Meet the Parents
;" when Grant accidentally knocks it over, Julia's grandmother's rotting corpse (rather than her expected ashes) spills onto the floor and is promptly sexually desecrated by the family cat. This is humorous for a moment in an "I-can't-believe-what-I'm-seeing" sort of way, but then crosses a boundary that makes the viewer feel unclean.
With any motion picture that fires out multiple jokes per minute, some are bound to stick, and "Date Movie" is no exception. The funny-to-unfunny ratio, however, is exponentially wider than the norm, and most gags hit the ground with a crashing thud that could bust eardrums. The biggest problem is the slacker attitudes of writing-directing duo Jason Friedberg and Andy Seltzer, who time and time again go to great pains to set up a spoof and then do zilch with it, cutting sloppily to the next scene before the viewer has been shown what they are supposed to be laughing about. The few exceptions to their failure come as welcome respites to the missed opportunities on displaythe opening musical number, with a fat-suit-wearing Alyson Hannigan dancing on the street to Kelis' "Milkshake," boasts energy and originality, while a "Meet the Fockers
" joke involving a profane, sign language-using toddler hints at just how savvy and sidesplitting the whole film could have been with more effort put into its script.
Alyson Hannigan is that rare actressshe is somewhat reminiscent of Cameron Diaz in this waywho manages to be lovely, likable and uninhibited all at once. As heroine Julia Jones, Hannigan is game for anything, but no one around her ever shows up to play ball. Portraying love interest Grant Fonckyerdoder, newcomer Adam Campbell is wretchedly uncharismatic and can never sell the central love story. Furthermore, his comedic instincts are about as in tune as a passed-out turtle's. The rest of the cast are wasted beyond belief and understandably emit a scent of embarrassment, especially Fred Willard (2003's "A Mighty Wind
") and Jennifer Coolidge (2004's "A Cinderella Story
") as Dustin Hoffman-Barbra Streisand dopplegangers Mr. and Mrs. Fonckyerdoder. Carmen Electra (2004's "Starsky and Hutch
") very briefly shows up at the end for a lame "King Kong
" skewering and should fire her agent accordingly. Porn would have been a step up over this shameful cameo; at least she would have had more to do.
Is "Date Movie" an early runner-up for worst film of the year, as many critics are so far attesting? Certainly not. When the laughs come, they are sporadic but induce giggles, and the tone is too breezy to be painful to sit through. And, even when the movie is terrible, which is the case for the majority of the short 80-minute running time, it is bad in a fatal car crash sort of way where you can't help but look with sick fascination at the carnage. In the middle of it all is poor, poor Alyson Hannigan, who deserves more leading roles, preferably with higher prestige than the pedestrian, amateurishly filmed "Date Movie" has to offer. She somehow retains her dignity throughout, even in the face of ridicule and material that couldn't have seemed good on the page, let alone during shooting. Looking ahead to the actress' future, this achieved acting feat could prove to either be a blessing or a curse.