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Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2008 01:19 am

Say Yes to Carrey’s latest

No to Reeves’ Earth reboot

Yes Man, Running time 1:44, Rated PG-13, Parkway Pointe, ShowPlace East

In the tradition of Groundhog Day and Stranger than Fiction, Jim Carrey’s Yes Man finds poor Carl Allen stuck in a mundane existence he’s unwilling to change. Still smarting from his failed marriage, there isn’t an opportunity this sad sack won’t turn down. His fear of commitment, no matter how small, allows him to stay in his protective cocoon until a friend forces him to attend a self-help seminar led by the charismatic (insane?!?) motivator, Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp). Though reluctant at first, Carl soon beings to follow his simple, life-altering philosophy, which is to say, “yes” to everything.

Of course, this way of life has as many ups as it does downs. While Carl’s actions lead him to a better job, a penchant for charity work and perhaps new love with the cute-as-a-button Allison (Zooey Deschanel), he ends up working a lot of weekends, getting beat up and having sex with a septuagenarian along the way. It’s all part of the package as he comes to realize that even through missteps, great opportunities can emerge, as long as you’re willing to accept all that life has to offer, whether it’s good or bad.

This is a timely theme and harkens back to the classic Frank Capra films of the ’30s (You Can’t Take it With You, Mr. Deeds goes to Town, etc.), which offered up cinematic homilies based on the Golden Rule that the country was desperate to hear during the Great Depression.

Carrey keeps things lighthearted enough that we don’t scoff at the film’s cock-eyed optimism as he delivers a muted performance, at least for him. The star does mug for the camera at times, but he’s far less manic than usual and is perfectly countered by Deschanel, who matches his energy. They are a couple for these times, as is this film which reminds us that only by taking risks in life and love, especially when times are bleakest, will we be saved. This is a philosophy that I think audiences will be eager to say, “yes” to.

The Day the Earth Stood Still, Running time 1:50, Rated PG-13, ShowPlace West, ShowPlace East

Sometimes, it’s better to leave well enough alone. Unfortunately, this is a lesson that the suits in Hollywood never learn and the latest blunder to result from ignoring this advice is the remake of the Robert Wise classic, The Day the Earth Stood Still. Keanu Reeves stars as the mysterious alien Klaatu who comes to our planet to issue a dire warning. For his trouble, he’s immediately shot by a frightened military, which upsets his robot protector Gort, getting a serious upgrade here from the 1951 original. Klaatu’s message is a simple one: start treating the earth with respect or the races he represents will wipe us out in order to save it. This gets scientist Helen Benson (Jennifer Connolly) and her stepson Jacob (Jayden Smith) to not only seriously increase their recycling efforts but help the extraterrestrial escape from the government to deliver this warning.

The message is a timely one and the script update by David Scarpa has some intriguing ideas in it, including the purpose of the various alien ships that land around the world. However, it stumbles where providing realistic character development is concerned. By film’s end, Klaatu claims to have witnessed us as a species capable of evolving but I was left wondering what movie he was in because it certainly wasn’t the one I had been watching. The changes in character and emotion for all involved are sudden and inexplicable, leaving us scratching our heads as to why Klaatu would spare us.

All efforts to convey that we’re capable of love or change are hollow, not only because of the flawed script but the efforts of the cast as well. While Reeves’ wooden persona is perfect for Klaatu, Connolly is given very little to do but look worried throughout while Smith delivers a one-note performance, namely as “the whiney kid.” There’s very little chemistry between anyone, leaving Klaatu’s change of heart a mystery. Director Scott Derrickson delivers a visually arresting film, providing the sort of visual spectacle a film like this requires. Unfortunately, heart and logic are missing, making this a movie that far too often stands still.

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