Itís late August Ė the worst time of year for new movies. The last two weeks of this month are when studios dump their most problematic (or just plain bad) films into the marketplace with little or no fanfare. It can be a dispiriting time for critics and audiences alike. So, appropriately, here comes My Bossís Daughter, which has been sitting on a shelf for about a year now. Originally titled The Guest, the picture got a decent amount of on-set coverage from entertainment magazines and TV shows because of its well-known ensemble cast. Then it promptly disappeared from radar before turning up with the new title. I always give every movie I see a fair shot, and I was initially encouraged when the movie opened up with a song from my very favorite rock group, Barenaked Ladies. Then the great actor Terence Stamp appeared on screen, giving a rare comic performance; he made me laugh. I thought that perhaps My Bossís Daughter might turn out to be okay. But as the rest of it played out, I came to fully understand why it ended up in the dumping grounds of August.
Ashton Kutcher plays Tom Stanfield, a nebbish who works for a Chicago publishing company. His boss, Mr. Taylor (Stamp), is a notorious hard-nose who even goes so far as to fire secretary Audrey (Molly Shannon) for making a bad cup of coffee. Tom dreams of advancing to an editor position but heís too incompetent at butt-kissing to ever really get a shot. In addition to a promotion, he also dreams about Taylorís daughter Lisa (Tara Reid), who admits being controlled by her father. Tom, in an attempt to win her favor, encourages Lisa to attend a party she really wants to go to, thereby blowing off a promise she made to housesit for her father while heís out of town on business. Through the kind of mix-up that only occurs in movies and TV, Tom thinks Lisa asks him to accompany her to the party; only when he arrives to pick her up does he realize that heís going to be doing the housesitting for her.
Taylor Ė who has reluctantly agreed to the switch Ė gives Tom instructions on caring for O.J., his rare owl. He also issues explicit instructions that nothing in the house is to be damaged, or else. The rest of My Bossís Daughter reminded me of those old Tom and Jerry cartoons where Tom is left home alone and Jerry does things to ruin the house so the cat will get in trouble. The owl escapes, and a variety of people show up to create chaos of one sort or another. Audrey arrives to beg for her job, bringing with her a biker boyfriend and several other stragglers. Lisaís brother Red (Andy Richter) comes despite a restraining order. He appears to be doing some sort of drug deal. Concurrent to this is the arrival of T.J. (Michael Madsen), a lowlife who urinates all over the living room when the bag of cocaine turns out to be holding flour. Tom tries to keep it all together despite these intusions. Then Lisa comes back, heartbroken over a fight with her boyfriend. She thinks Tom is gay, and promptly demonstrates a striptease act for him. (Why? Who knows? It seems like Tara Reid has a clause in her contract requiring her to remove clothing in every movie sheís in.) When Lisa finds out that heís not only straight but also in love with her, it sets off even more trouble.
As you can tell, My Bossís Daughter is a farce. Of all the types of comedy, farces are the most difficult to successfully pull off. They use coincidence, misunderstanding, and miscommunication as their building blocks. The problem is that if those things arenít used believably, the characters come off stupid and itís impossible to care about them. Thatís exactly what happens here. Because all those things are not used believably, Tom seems like the biggest idiot in the Windy City. Anything that happens to him could be explained and cleared up very simply, if only he had half a brain in his head. However, to keep the farce going, Tom merely stumbles and stutters every time he could be explaining. At some level, I felt like he truly deserved all the misfortunes thrown upon him, simply because he is such a dolt.
Farces additionally require a rapid pace. The speed at which complications arise is crucial to the comedy value. You laugh because things happen too fast for the characters to stop them. Here again, My Bossís Daughter comes up short. The pace lags too much. We see jokes coming a mile away, which is deadly for this type of humor. We also have too much time to stop and think about logic. If we in the audience are thinking about what Tom should do, then we have too much time on our hands. Stuff has to be happening so fast that itís as overwhelming for us as it is for him. Because that doesnít happen, the comedy falls flat.
Watching this movie, I thought about the extended bachelor party sequence in American Wedding. That sequence is a farce as well, but itís a great one. The three horny friends of a soon-to-be groom bring strippers over to his house, one dressed as a maid, the other as a cop. An extremely wild time is set up Ė so wild, in fact, that one of the guys has slathered himself with chocolate syrup for the strippers to lick off. Another one is duct taped to a chair in preparation for a lap dance. No one expects the groom to show up with his future in-laws in tow. They then must scramble to keep the in-laws from seeing any of this. Naturally, that doesnít happen. As the scene progresses, poor Jason Biggs has to spontaneously devise explanations for every other characterís state of being. The scene is hilarious because: a.) what the characters do is totally fitting to their personalities; and b.) it all happens so fast that we are left wondering what we would do in a similar situation. Things build to more and more absurd levels, and it happens so fast that it leaves us breathless with laughter.
My Bossís Daughter is mostly the opposite of that scene. Instead of being inspired, it is forced and labored. There are a few moments that work, including a weird, out-of-nowhere sequence showing one of the uninvited houseguests inexplicably eating normally inedible substances like plant soil. Those moments are too few and too far between though. Not even the reappearance of Terence Stamp can enliven things. In the beginning heís funny, but the ending calls for him to embarrass himself with a sloppy comeuppance for his character. How sad to see such a great actor reduced to such drivel.
Farces, as I said, are hit or miss. This one had the cast and the director (David Zucker, who once co-directed Airplane!) to make it work. Unfortunately, it strains for laughs, which makes it miss the target by a wide margin. Some of the jokes also have a nasty streak, suggesting misogyny, homophobia, and racism. And that obviously is not funny at all. My Bossís Daughter is crude, dumb, and completely unmemorable; in other words, itís a perfect example of the late summer movie doldrums.
( 1/2 out of four)
My Boss's Daughter is rated PG-13 for crude and sex-related humor, drug content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.
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