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Dustin Putman

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Yes Man  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Peyton Reed.
Cast: Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Rhys Darby, Sasha Alexander, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp, Molly Sims, John Michael Higgins, Patrick Labyorteau, Graham Shiels, Fionnula Flanagan, Sean O'Bryan, John Cothran, Anna Khaja, Vivian Bang, Brent Briscoe, Luis Guzman.
2008 – 104 minutes
Rated: Rated PG-13 (for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, December 11, 2008.
"Yes Man" is a high-concept comedy that you can practically set your watch to. It's pleasant enough, yes, but it's also exceedingly predictable and the screenplay forces conflict upon the plot at the sacrifice of the characters' IQs. This is one of those movies where a genre conventions checklist would come in handy, particularly in dealing with a romance that is so winning at the onset it's a shame misunderstandings, falling-outs, immature behavior, sappy montages, and the ultimate reconciliation have to rear their ugly heads. Director Peyton Reed (2006's "The Break-Up") has shown a flair for both humor and human observation in the past; he captures some of that here, but this time the overly calculated narrative suffocates many of its would-be charms.

Carl Allen (Jim Carrey) is a savings and loans banker who avoids casual face-to-face interaction like the plague and is unable to commit to anything. That's when an acquaintance, Nick (John Michael Higgins), pops up to tell him about how his world has changed since attending a "Say Yes!" seminar hosted by motivational speaker Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp). Nick drags a sulky Carl along with him to the next meeting and, won over by Terrence's claim that good luck will come his way as long as he says yes to everything, Carl goes about completely reorganizing his priorities and lifestyle. Getting drunk with pals Peter (Bradley Cooper) and Rooney (Danny Masterson), going to all-night raves, taking flying lessons, bungee jumping off a bridge, going to movie-themed costume parties at nerdy coworker Norman's (Rhys Darby) house, accepting oral favors from a horny elderly neighbor (Fionnula Flanagan)—you name it, Carl does it. He also finds himself falling for the free-spirited, motor-scooter-driving Allison (Zooey Deschanel). Their relationship is put to the test when she discovers the truth about Carl's new "yes" mentality—a fact that leaves her questioning whether or not his feelings have been genuine.

"Yes Man" is best when the focus is on Carl and Allison. The main hook of the plot does what it sets out to do, but doesn't hold many surprises. The exceptions would be the way he connects with a disgruntled wedding shop employee (Vivian Bang) by speaking to her in Korean—he has just finished taking a Korean language class, you see—and the way he talks down a suicidal man (Luis Guzman) from a ledge by prompting a sing-along to Third Eye Blind's "Jumper." The getting-to-know-you stuff between Carl and Allison, though, is where the film really takes off, and they share a number of swoon-worthy set-pieces, one set after-hours at the Hollywood Bowl (echoes of 1987's "Some Kind of Wonderful" are unavoidable) and another where they decide to fly somewhere on the spur of the moment and end up in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Played with effervescence and a sparkling smile by Zooey Deschanel (2008's "The Happening"), Allison is instantly engaging as a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type of person who busies her life with a smorgasbord of interests while not taking anything too seriously. One minute she's performing self-deprecating songs with her band Munchausen by Proxy (love the title!), the next she's meeting up with her photography-while-jogging class (this could be the picture's most humorous and clever joke), and all the while she still does charity work. Truth be told, there's not much to dislike about Allison until she becomes the biggest victim of the script's dumbed-down demeanor. Her reaction to learning about details from Carl's life that he has kept from her is childish and out of character for her, there for the single reason of creating flimsy conflict. The viewer loses a little respect for her at this point because of her rash stubbornness and it only calls attention to the creaky mechanics of the plot.

Jim Carrey (2005's "Fun with Dick and Jane") could play this kind of role in his sleep, not that he doesn't give it his all. Zany one minute, then serious, then romantic, Carrey does a nice job of melding the physical brand of humor he is known for with a character facing more serious issues. Carl Allen is going through a midlife crisis and trying to do what he can to not let life pass him by. Along the way, he makes mistakes—the first is his decision to oblige whatever comes his way, no matter what—but also learns from them. "Yes Man" gets this aspect right in that the message is a valiant one and Carl never comes off looking like a jerk due to his actions. Well, not after the opening fifteen minutes, where Carl is so antisocial that it is bewildering how Carl still has friends who clearly aren't liked in return. Bradley Cooper (2008's "The Rocker") and Danny Masterson (TV's "That '70s Show"), as buddies in question Peter and Rooney, bring nothing to the table in thankless parts that don't even make sense. Why have they put up with Carl all these years when, in the movie's very first scene, he is actively attempting to avoid them?

"Yes Man" adds up to a handful of funny moments, a few smiles, and an intelligence level that lets everything down. When the characters look over their e-mail, for example, they read each one out loud, including the spam. Who does that? People in sloppy Hollywood movies, that's who. This may be a small criticism, but it speaks loudly of how things progress from there, and how disappointing one becomes watching these same people fumble their way through crises that could be solved in a minute if they were written like actual human beings. "Yes Man" is far from a total wash, but its pure enjoyment level isn't quite high enough to overcome the script's many leaps in smarts and logic.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman