It's official: Joe and Anthony Russo will not be the next Farrelly brothers. In the history of filmmaking, few creative teams have fallen ass-backward into good fortune and celebrity connections the way this pair has. Despite all the lucky breaks and lofty dreams, though, they've emerged as dime-a-dozen hacks.
It all started in the late '90s. The brothers attended film school, dreamed of making movies that broke all the rules, and scraped together enough money to produce a small, independent film. They took their little project, Pieces -- which they've described in interviews as "riotous and experimental" -- to New York City to put on a screening. The audience at that showing miraculously included Slamdance director John Fitzgerald, who miraculously agreed to book the picture. Days after it played at the festival, the Russos received a phone call from someone claiming to be Steven Soderbergh. At first they thought the call was a prank, but the person on the line did indeed turn out to be the famous director.
Soderbergh had caught their movie and detected tremendous promise in the brothers' work. And here's where things really got fairy-tale freaky: He not only offered the young filmmakers his personal patronage but introduced them to George Clooney and helped to hook them up with Section 8, the star's newly formed production company.
With that as its opening chapter, you might think the Russo brothers' story couldn't possibly have anything but the happiest of endings. Think again. Here's what happened: The fraternal filmmakers had a vision. They would collaborate with Soderbergh and Clooney on a series of edgy films unified by a common setting: the neighborhoods of Cleveland. From that vision came the 2002 heist caper Welcome to Collinwood, which most critics and audiences found neither riotous nor experimental. Many reviews described it as a blue-collar version of the heist caper Oceans Eleven. Coincidentally, Soderbergh and Clooney had released their remake of that picture in 2001. Clooney appeared in both. Which one do you remember?
So much for indie glory. Accustomed to instant success, the brothers became disheartened, abandoned their grand vision, and took jobs directing in television, where their credits include work on "Lucky" and "LAX," among other shows.
Nearly half a decade later, here they are with their second feature film. It's not too much of a stretch to say that the Russos' artistic vision has evolved. "Breaking all the rules," for example, has been replaced with the credo: "Just take any cretinous piece of fluff Hollywood will pay you to make." You, Me and Dupree satisfies the standards of their revised mission in spades.
Remember the classic SNL sketch in which John Belushi played a houseguest from hell, obliviously helping himself to snacks and monopolizing the TV remote late into the night as the couple whose couch he occupied slowly lost their minds? Substitute Owen Wilson for Belushi and update the host couple to Matt Dillon and Kate Hudson, and you've pretty much got the set-up for this lightweight, third-wheel comedy.
The story opens as Dillon and Hudson have just been united in a lavish island ceremony. Her father, played by Michael Douglas, is a cartoon of a soulless land developer with misgivings about his new son-in-law, who also happens to be a mid-level employee in his company. Just as the newlyweds return home and settle into life in their suburban love nest, Dillon's best friend (Wilson) loses his job, car and apartment due to a chronic case of arrested development. Like a character in a poorly written sitcom, Dillon invites him to move in temporarily without bothering to consult his wife.
The story's arc is not entirely unforeseeable. For the first half of the film, Hudson gradually becomes fed up with Owen's lovable, screw-up antics. He records a message on their answering machine, unilaterally orders HBO, and almost burns down the house in the course of a candlelit date.
For the second half, it's Dillon who does a slow burn. Once Hudson develops a soft spot for the doe-eyed manchild, the overworked husband becomes seized by the paranoid fantasy that his best friend is attempting to put the moves on her. There is little or no basis for this suspicion, so as the film grinds on, Dillon's character becomes increasingly unsympathetic. A subplot in which Douglas tries to sabotage his daughter's marriage rings equally fake, like a half-baked Meet the Parents rip-off.
Wilson infuses the occasional scene with his patented slacker-savant charm, but the screenplay by Michael Le Sieur offers him precious little to work with. The dialogue and physical comedy are, for the most part, woefully beneath the actor. It's a long way down from Wedding Crashers to crashing a 10-speed into an oncoming car.
It's an obvious judgment to pass, perhaps, but You, Me and Dupree is a picture that is obvious in almost every respect, so I'll pass it anyway: Long before its closing credits roll, this comedy will have worn out its welcome.
Gabriel Winebrenner: Vermont so white
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