There is one wildly funny sequence in FAILURE TO LAUNCH, an otherwise pallid and predictable slog. That it features the supporting players and a bird rather than stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey is emblematic of where this film went so very, very wrong.
Parker plays Paula, a professional interventionist hired by concerned parents Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw to get their 35-year-old son, Tripp (McConaughey), to finally move out of the house. It’s not going to be easy. Tripp has a good job brokering luxury boats, but he also has home-cooked meals, maid and laundry service, and, best of all, when it’s time to break up with another in a series of girlfriends, all Tripp has to do is bring the lovely to the home he shares with his parents. She runs screaming from the domicile and Tripp is ready to move on to fresh meat with no ties and clean laundry. Besides, his two best pals also live at home with their parents. Peer pressure and herd mentality are a hard to combat combination.
Paula’s time-tested theory is simple. Have Tripp fall in love with her and he will want to move out all on his own. And she’s got it down to such an exact science that it’s just a matter of following the recipe. Like everything else in this film, with the possible exception of a naked Terry Bradshaw, what follows next is anything but a surprise, including Paula actually falling for Tripp.
It’s not quite slapstick, it’s anything but witty, and there’s certainly nothing really funny going on here with the exception of Zooey Deschanel as Kit, Paula’s rain cloud of a roommate who is bitter, cynical, and given to wearing bold earrings that barely compete with the heavy eye-makeup she sports. The sheer force of the ebulliently abrasive personality Deschanel channels for her makes the subplot involving Kit’s murderous plans for a boisterous mockingbird just about the only relief in this otherwise tedious exercise. The other relief involves brief snippets of a killer chipmunk and a wayward dolphin who have it in for Tripp, but that could be because of where my sympathies lay by that time.
Parker plays the same character, albeit with more pancake makeup, that she did in “Sex and the City” including the high-pitched squeals, the spike heels, and the relentless overanalyzing of relationships. McConaughey plays the same good ol’ boy, aw shucks, character he has played in pretty much every film he’s ever been in with the exception of FRAILTY. It’s fitting, somehow, that these two should be paired up on the heels of several filmic bombs to enjoy their last few crumbs of cinematic credibility together. Bradshaw plays himself, but with a charming, unaffected élan, and Bates soldiers on bravely in a part that is not only underwritten, but also can’t decide what it wants to be. Yet it’s still more complex than either Parker’s or McConaughey’s, whose characters can’t quite attain even a one-dimensional quality.
FAILURE TO LAUNCH wants to be a breezy romantic comedy with a heart but is instead a cloying mess crying for another rewrite, or maybe just the quick mercy of being plunked into the nearest trash can.