Take the most successful male star of TV's "Friends," a ridiculously attractive British actress, a sitcom-style premise that brings them together so that they can inevitably fall in love, and a script with a zippy pace but some really featherbrained jokes, mix well, and the outcome may look a whole lot like "Serving Sara."
Joe Tyler (Matthew Perry) is a disgruntled process server whose rival co-worker, Tony (Vincent Pastore), always seems to get all the breaks from boss Ray (Cedric the Entertainer). Joe's job basically requires to him to track down and serve usually dire papers to the unlucky. When Ray offers Joe the task of serving the thought-to-be-happily-married Sara Moore (Elizabeth Hurley) with divorce papers, he jumps at the chance to pull in a big commission. After initially failing to catch her, Ray reassigns the job to Tony. Once meeting Sara, though, she makes Joe a proposition he can't refuse: if they can track down her rich and philandering Texas husband, Gordon (Bruce Campbell), and serve him divorce papers before Tony finds her, she stands to pull in $10-million, ten percent of which she will award Joe.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin (2000's "The Ladies Man
"), "Serving Sara" is a harmlessly fluffy romantic comedy with a needlessly mean-spirited undercurrent. It also makes a half-hearted attempt to follow the recent formula of incorporating crude sexual humor into the mix (at one point, Joe and Sara pose as veterinarians and are asked to get a cow off by finding his prostate), all the while remaining in PG-13 territory. The screenplay, credited to Jay Scherick and David Ronn, is an insignificant confection that offers a few funny bits ("It's casual Friday" is Sara's excuse during their veterinarian facade for why she is wearing a fur coat, a tank top that reads "Trailer Trash," and a red cowboy hat) in the midst of too many jokes to count that fall flat. Credit director Hudlin for, at the very least, keeping the movie entertaining even when all of the evidence onscreen points to failure.
A sizable reason why "Serving Sara" never grows downright tedious is the energized punch Matthew Perry (1999's "Three to Tango
") and Elizabeth Hurley (2000's "Bedazzled
") bring to the proceedings. Despite surefire signs that filming was put on hold for several months after Perry checked into a rehab center (the appearance of a double chin in some scenes and not others gives this away), he has never been so charismatic on film before. As for the radiant Hurley, she is a class act whose sharp comic timing and acting talent is evident even in second-rate material like this.
Every other actor onscreen plays second-banana to the leads, which is unfortunate in some cases. The underrated Bruce Campbell (probably best-known for playing Ash in the "Evil Dead" franchise) is thoroughly wasted as Sara's smarmy husband, while Cedric the Entertainer (2000's "Big Momma's House
") has fun with his sporadic scenes as Joe's gruff boss.
Maybe it's just that seeing the Eddie Murphy debacle "The Adventures of Pluto Nash
" only a week ago has raised my tolerance level, or maybe the film just caught me on a good day, but "Serving Sara" is charming when it wants to be, and not nearly as bad as early word has suggested. To be sure, the writing is too mucky and uneven to signify an out-and-out winner, but for a boring night when you have nothing better to do, one could do a lot worse than "Serving Sara." If such a statement is a compliment or a criticism is yet to be determined.
©2002 by Dustin Putman