A highly derivative fusion of the British "Office," Neil Simon's The Out-of-Towners, National Lampoon's Vacation and the stammering, sexually angsty oeuvre of Woody Allen, writer/director Mike Binder's The Search for John Gissing struggles mightily to offer up some laughs, but can't quite ever close the deal. It will come, after 90 minutes, as little surprise that this film has been sitting on a shelf since 2001 and is only now being more or less dumped directly onto DVD.
Binder pulls triple duty, starring as the hapless Matthew Barnes, a corporate drone from Chicago who has been selected to relocate to the London offices of Compu-Corp and help oversee a merger with an important German client. His wife Linda (Janeane Garofalo) in tow, Barnes discovers that John Gissing (Alan Rickman), his contact at Compu-Corp, is not quite as reliable as previously thought; husband and wife are sent on a number of wild goose chases before Matthew and John finally meet.
Once the exact nature of Matthew's new job is revealed, the stakes are upped between the Brit and the American, which pushes the film from dry-witted comedy into screwball territory. Part of Gissing's problem is that Binder, despite his occasionally insightful writing style, has always come across -- to me, anyway -- as a terribly flat leading man. The part of Matthew Barnes seems to call for a bit of goggle-eyed consternation and perpetual exasperation, the latter of which Binder has down pat. The rest of it -- the cheeky sexual shenanigans, the coolly manipulative gamesmanship -- eludes him.
That said, most of Gissing's cast, aside from Binder, acquits themselves well without any significant damage to their careers: Rickman shines as the conniving Gissing, while Garofalo, Sonya Walger, Juliet Stevenson and Allan Corduner as the snooty French boss Francois all have memorable moments.
Which brings us to another hiccup (and slight spoilers) -- The Search for John Gissing hinges upon a dramatic reversal of intelligence for Matthew that more or less cancels out the first 45-odd minutes of the film. Once he hits upon Gissing's motives, Matthew suddenly shifts into a cock-sure trickster mode heretofore unseen. It's expedient for him to do so, certainly, but absolutely nothing in his previous bumblings indicated he had the gumption to get past his "ugly American" side. It's an odd choice, but a necessary one for the last half of the film to work.
The Search for John Gissing is not a totally laugh-free zone -- the hijinks surrounding the meeting with the Germans are amusing -- but too much of Gissing feels forced and cobbled together from other, funnier films. (And let's not get started on the look-at-me editing choice to employ jump cuts within scenes.) Binder's long-languishing project is finally seeing the light of day but only those with precious few entertainment options should give it a spin.
Presented in a 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen transfer, The Search For John Gissing is marred by "cigarette burns" (of all things) and a bit of grain here and there, but a full assessment of the image quality is impossible, owing to supplying a screener disc rather than final product. Plenty of smearing, pixelation and motion blur are evident throughout the entire film, as well as an Entertainment Studios watermark obscuring portions of the image. Should final product be provided to DVD Talk, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the image.
The film's Dolby 2.0 stereo track doesn't have many opportunities to sparkle, as Gissing is primarily driven by dialogue, but an accurate review cannot be made, owing to the fact that Entertainment Studios supplied a screener, rather than final product. There are no optional subtitles. Should a retail version be provided for consideration, this rating will be revised to reflect the quality of the soundtrack.
There are no bonus features.
The Search for John Gissing is not a totally laugh-free zone but too much of Gissing feels forced and cobbled together from other, funnier films. Writer/director Mike Binder's long-languishing project is finally seeing the light of day but only those with precious few entertainment options should give it a spin. Skip it.