Some movies are not great but manage to coast by amiably on the appeal of their stars. Other movies fail in spite of enormously appealing stars. Good Luck Chuck is one of those. I was primed to enjoy this picture. Dane Cook is one of the funniest people around; I was in the minority of critics who actually enjoyed his previous vehicle, Employee of the Month. (It was one of those movies that coasted by amiably because of star appeal.) Jessica Alba has perhaps not yet established herself as a stellar actress, but she’s certainly charismatic, appealing, and, oh yeah, easy on the eyes. The on-screen pairing of these two was enough to make me eager to see Good Luck Chuck. I walked in ready for some mindless laughs that, unfortunately, never materialized. This movie particularly frustrated me because the material is beneath the actors and I don’t understand how they could possibly fail to realize it.
Cook plays Charlie Logan, a dentist who had a curse placed on him as an adolescent. The curse dictated that any woman who dated him would then go on to find true love with the next guy. As an adult, Charlie proves to be a good luck charm to many women, all of whom meet Mr. Right shortly after sleeping with him. Initially, he denies the curse, then decides to embrace it by giving himself to any woman who wants him. After all, if women are going to use him to find love, then he might as well use them for some cheap, casual sex. It’s astonishing that none of the characters in this movie seem to have heard of AIDS. Watching Charlie indiscriminately bed women left and right made me feel more horrified than amused.
Into Charlie’s life comes Cam Wexler (Alba), a perpetually klutzy-but-endearing penguin trainer at an aquarium. Charlie falls head over heels for her – and she for him – but if the curse is correct, then sleeping with Cam will send her into another man’s arms. Since he is convinced she’s the love of his life, this notion is unacceptable, so he tries to stall physical intimacy. And that, in turn, makes Cam think that he’s lost interest or is perhaps just crazy. (A movie about a guy who doesn’t want to sleep with Jessica Alba? Surely my best friend – a hardcore Alba-maniac – would scoff at this notion.)
The premise is corny, but potentially serviceable given the inherent likeability of Cook and Alba. They have good chemistry together, which keeps Good Luck Chuck from being even worse than it already is. With a better script, they could be an awesome romantic comedy team.
However, Good Luck Chuck is not content to be just a romantic comedy. It also wants to be a raunch-fest. Many movies these days feel like they’re censoring themselves; some of them practically beg to be R-rated but have clearly had their edges toned down to get a PG-13, which is more lucrative since teenagers can get in. Good Luck Chuck is the opposite of that. It feels like a lightweight PG-13 romantic comedy that has been needlessly pumped into an R with loads of dirty jokes.
Let me list a few examples of what I’m talking about. Charlie’s lecherous best friend Stu (Dan Fogler) is a plastic surgeon who specializes in breast implants, thereby giving the filmmakers multiple excuses to show naked women and make jokes about their bust sizes. (Incidentally, Fogler’s character is so annoying that you just want to reach into the screen and slap him silly.) One female character has three breasts. A montage of Charlie fornicating with multiple women is even more graphic than a similar sequence in the superior Wedding Crashers. Consider, too, a tasteless subplot about Charlie’s attempt to prove the curse doesn’t exist by bedding a morbidly obese woman. The camera repeatedly goes in for close-ups of the overweight actress’s body, and it’s clear that we are to be grossed out by her. I just found it cruel.
If we have learned anything from the Farrelly Brothers and Judd Apatow, it’s that raunchy humor and sweetness are not mutually exclusive. You can mix them – the sweet and the sour – to great comic effect. The trick is to play it real, to put relatable characters in authentic situations that illicit real emotions. Good Luck Chuck completely fails to do this. It is naïve enough to think that tossing in an occasional dirty joke is sufficient. All this adds up to nothing, other than bawdiness for its own sake. No greater storytelling purpose is served. In this sense, Good Luck Chuck is the anti-Superbad.
Cook and Alba do what they can, but they are limited. Without a solid screenplay to work from, Cook resorts to playing a more hyper version of himself. Alba has recently been doing the chat show circuit talking about how much she loved doing all the movie’s physical comedy. She may have had fun, but unfortunately, she’s not particularly good at it. Still, I like both of them and, more importantly, they seem to like each other. If anything positive comes out of Good Luck Chuck, it’s the knowledge that Dane Cook and Jessica Alba can generate chemistry even in the midst of a mean-spirited, offensive, unfunny comedy. I’d love to see them together again, in a film that is worthy of their charms.
( 1/2 out of four)
Good Luck Chuck is rated R for sequences of strong sexual content including crude dialogue, nudity, language and some drug use. The running time is 1 hour and 36 minutes.
To learn more about this film, check out AskMen.com: Good Luck Chuck
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