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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » Failure to Launch (HD DVD)
Failure to Launch (HD DVD)
Paramount // PG-13 // April 24, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted April 14, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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Okay, we're talking about a romantic comedy with Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker that was not only near-universally panned by critics, but it already has the word "failure" in the title. The review pretty much writes itself.

As a D-list online movie reviewer, I'm supposed to be smarmy and pretentious, and a movie like Failure to Launch is open season for all the formula bashing and faux-witty barbs I have squirreled away. But see, the thing is...I kinda liked it.

Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) has a secret weapon stowed away when his girlfriends get that glint in their eyes that it's time to get serious: he takes 'em home. Tripp may be 35, but he's still staying in the same bedroom he's been in since he was a toddler, and he wakes up to his mother cooking an IHOP-grade breakfast for him every morning. Yup, Tripp lives with his folks (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw), something he doesn't mind so much but is able put to good use when he's had his fun and wants to shake off the latest of his never-ending parade of girlfriends. When his parents decide it's time to shove Tripp out of the nest, they turn to a professional.

Apparently there are enough thirtysomethings out there still snoozing away in their childhood bedrooms for Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) to make a career out of giving them the boot. The trick...? Engineer a meet-cute, feign interest in the same things, have the guy help her through a carefully-selected emotional crisis, win over his friends, have him teach her something, and before you know it -- he has enough self-confidence to make the move to his own apartment, and Paula's turned her sights onto the next target. Tripp is a little different than her usual dweeby, basement-dwelling clientele: good-lookin', charismatic, pretty successful...and you see where this is going. Paula may have turned Nora Ephrom's bag of tricks into a profitable gig, but she succumbs to 'em herself. She breaks her rules about not falling for a client, he stumbles upon her deception, there's an inevitable overblown falling out, and their pals' scheming brings 'em back together, culminating in a kiss that gets a room full of a couple dozen people cheering.

So, what sets Failure to Launch apart from every other romantic comedy churned out over the past twenty years? As far as the meat of the story goes...nothing. Nothing at all. Still, some sharp dialogue and a surprisingly great cast keep the standard issue storytelling bobbing above water.

I'm not the biggest fan of McConaughey's choice of movies, but he's a consistently charismatic lead, and he and Parker have a kinda-believable spark of chemistry between them. The fact that the movie makes Sarah Jessica Parker seem remotely appealing is a hell of an accomplishment, considering the shrill squeals she uses to punctuate the slapstick and her, um, mannish, weathered looks. The scenes between Paula and Tripp are passable but are almost always the least interesting in the movie.

I was really won over by the supporting cast, which includes turns by Zooey Deschanel, Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw, Rob Corddry, Patton Oswalt, and Stephen Tobolowsky. Several of those are bit parts, and Failure to Launch doesn't always take full advantage of their talents -- Oswalt, one of the most brilliant comedians walking the earth, is wasted with a thankless "nerds like Star Wars!" gag-role, and Bates just kind of stands there and smiles -- but the rest of 'em are really what make the movie. Terry Bradshaw hadn't acted on the big screen since Cannonball Run all the way back in 1981 -- and even then, it was...y'know, Cannonball Run -- but he looks completely at ease in front of the camera. Bradshaw doesn't fuss with method acting or anything; he looks like he just stepped onto the set hoping to have a good time and just goes for it, and his enthusiasm is infectious. And that "partial nudity" that helped land the movie its PG-13 rating...? It's Terry's bare ass.

Zooey Deschanel is responsible for landing nearly all of the movie's laughs as Paula's dryly sarcastic, Bud Light-swilling roommate. Her subplot about wanting to gun down a mockingbird whose relentless, atonal skwawking has left her dangerously R.E.M.-deprived made me wish that that was the movie. Point and mock in my general direction if you want, but there's a bit with some avian CPR that made me laugh hysterically for almost every frame of the entire scene, and a lengthy exchange between her and The Daily Show's Rob Corddry as a gun salesman sparkles with wit. The rest of comedy is hit-or-miss, most glaringly with one running gag with Tripp getting bitten by an increasingly bizarre set of animals. It's sarcastic-finger-quotes-wackiness that feels awkwardly shoehorned into the movie, and when some moderately exotic lizard snickers after taking a chomp, I felt like I was watching a Caddyshack sequel or something.

Failure to Launch makes quite a few missteps -- Paula isn't particularly funny or charismatic, the movie makes only marginal changes to the same basic story that every romantic comedy from the past couple decades has leaned on as a crutch, and juggling the comedy, sugary-sweet romance, and melodrama can be kind of clunky -- but it dishes out just enough laughs for me to be able to tolerate its shortcomings. Not one for the ages, no, but as a light, breezy rental for Date Night with the missus, you could do a lot worse.

Video: Served up in high-definition at an aspect ratio of 2.39:1, Failure to Launch is a bit on the uneven side but generally looks great. The slightly exaggerated palette is bright and colorful, and there are quite a few shots that are dazzlingly detailed. Other stretches of the movie looked softer and flatter by comparison, and Failure to Launch as a whole doesn't have that 'pop' -- that depth and dimensionality that leaps off the screen. That's probably owed more to the way the movie was shot than anything specific to this HD DVD. I didn't spot any issues with flaws in the source material or authoring hiccups, with one exception: there's a shot of Tripp and his pals rock climbing around 68 minutes in, and as the camera pans down, the image gets jittery and almost seems to split apart. It only lasts for a second or two but looks fairly nasty. Otherwise, Failure to Launch looks pretty solid, even if it's not the most eye-popping high-def release out there.

Audio: Failure to Launch's Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 audio is more lively than most romantic comedies, sporting some excellent directionality across the front channels as well as using the surrounds to flesh out a fairly strong sense of ambiance. There's more going on in Failure to Launch than a couple of pretty people gabbing about their feelings, giving the track an excuse to toss in some nice pans and discrete effects, and the standout sequence in the movie is a paintball brawl that outclasses an awful lot of action flicks as pellets whiz past every speaker. The mix is understandably more subdued in the dialogue-driven scenes that make up most of the movie, but there are frequently subtle flourishes that help set this apart from the conventional sound design of romantic comedies. A couple notches above average.

Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 dubs are also offered in Spanish and French along with the usual assortment of subtitles.

Extras: The only high-definition extra on this HD DVD is a theatrical trailer. A few short featurettes fill out the rest of the disc, focusing more on the concept and the personalities than the movie itself. These additional bells and whistles aren't HDTV-friendly, either presented at 4x3 or letterboxed in non-anamorphic widescreen.

First up is a fairly typical making-of clip that runs just under twelve minutes, mixing in the usual "hey, go see our movie!" promotional interviews with lengthy snippets from the flick. It's a puff piece, but there are a couple of interesting notes, such as how the familiar romantic comedy cliches were part of Paula's business plan and how many of the gags were lifted directly from the writers' own lives.

Matthew McConaughey and Terry Bradshaw interview each other in a thirteen and a half minute piece for moviefone.com. It's still available through their site, if you'd rather watch it instead of suffering through my description, but it's laid-back and quippy: just two pals kidding around and not so much a deep, insightful glimpse into the craft of something-or-another. It's the most fun of the extras on this disc.

The other three featurettes use the movie as a springboard. "The Failure to Launch Phenomenon" (11 min.) isn't about the flick taking the world by storm or anything; it's a look at a few real-life twenty-to-thirty-somethings who chat about why they've chosen to continue living at home with their parents, and a couple of authors chime in with their thoughts about these sorts of 'twixters'. "Dating in the New Millenium" (7 min.) is...well, exactly what it sounds like, running through the different ways people try to make a connection these days, including online dating, arranged meetings through services like Table for Six, and speed dating. Finally, there's a six minute piece where two of the movie's stars pick the winner of a contest sponsored by Paramount and MySpace, offering one of three finalists who still live at home with their folks a shot at six months' free rent in their own pad.

It's a fairly light set of extras for a release billing itself as a "Special Collector's Edition", and none of them are essential viewing.

Conclusion: Failure to Launch doesn't veer far from the usual stale formulas but still manages to be more tolerable than the overwhelming majority of romantic comedies, thanks mostly to accenting the "comedy" rather than the "romantic". Snip out Zooey Deschanel's supporting role and I'd probably be writing a much snottier review right now, but if your girlfriend/wife/whatever is pestering you to watch something cute and harmless with her, Failure to Launch is worth a rental.
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