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You, Me and Dupree July 15, 2006

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July 15, 2006

Entertainment gossip trackers shamelessly debate an actor’s chosen sexuality in much the same way that baseball fans discuss a player’s stats. Is he gay? Is she bisexual? Some even make broad assumptions that everyone in Hollywood bats for the proverbial “other team.”

Such a proclamation borders on absurd, and yet it’s becoming more difficult to entirely refute the claim. This year, Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain earned sweeping critical praise and a handful of Oscar nominations, losing a tight Best Picture race to Crash. Even during the summer, when audiences typically are lured to theaters by testosterone-soaked summer blockbusters, it’s Johnny Depp’s fey, ambiguous, and decidedly swishy Capt. Jack Sparrow who has sailed to the front of the box-office pack.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that, to quote Jerry Seinfeld’s popular defensive stance. Still, even the healthiest attitude toward same-sex relationships will not prepare an audience for You, Me and Dupree, a mainstream comedy which clings to a love triangle constructed between one woman and two men, and owes as much to Brokeback as it does to There’s Something About Mary.

The bonds of brotherly love are forged early and often. On the eve of his wedding, Carl (Matt Dillon) walks a moonlit Hawaiian beach and fondly reminisces – not with his fiancee, Molly (Kate Hudson), but with best friend Dupree (Owen Wilson). This could be the end of their 25-year relationship. Carl’s about to run off and play house – going so far as to work for Molly’s demanding dad (Michael Douglas) – while Dupree will drift like a parasite until he finds another worthy suitor for his undying affection.

Or will he? Fate’s cruel twist (and the screenplay’s lazy plotting) strips Dupree of his possessions. He loses his job, his company car, and the cot he sleeps in at his favorite watering hole. He tumbles into Carl’s open embrace, much to Molly’s chagrin. But the supportive wife forces a brave smile (recall Michelle Williams of Brokeback), ignores the obvious, and stands by her man. Once embedded in their suburban abode, Dupree proceeds to gnaw at the foundation of the couple’s marriage the way a termite would chew on a wet 2 by 4.

Remove the suggestive elements, and Dupree ends up being as contrived as comedies come. The film stumbles from one predictable catastrophe to the next, and we tick away long minutes waiting for tired punch lines milked from flat situations. Carl has problems at work, all of which are bogus. He’s angry at receiving a promotion that chains him to his desk. He’s upset that his primary project got a green light after some major tweaks. And he balks when his father-in-law suggests he hyphenate his last name.

At home, the shoulder Carl chooses to cry on is Dupree’s. In one odd scene, Carl and Dupree invite the guys over to watch football, and half the men end up sitting around in their undershirts. Later, when Molly needs advice on how to break through Carl’s emotional barriers, she too turns to the helpful, bleach-blonde slacker for personal advice. Finally, when Carl needs helping saving the job he flushed away, it’s Dupree who rides to his rescue.

Moviemaking remains a fickle field. Something that sounds good on paper can lose all fizz during execution. Wilson’s shaggy charms infuse the intentionally annoying Dupree with the same harmless tenderness he brings to every character, but screenwriter Mike LeSieur stopped creating tangible jokes beyond his easy premise. Dupree goes on one job interview before that subplot fades away. He agrees to one blind date, though the lady remains off camera and the joke goes nowhere.

Dillon is an odd choice for Wilson’s foil. Wherefore art thou, Ben Stiller? At least we know those two would have some chemistry together. Both leading men are routinely upstaged by an underused Seth Rogen (The 40 Year-Old Virgin), the film’s only bright spot.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center

Dia de los muertos July 7, 2006

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July 06, 2006

Tim Burton on the Appeal of the Dead: Burton’s been dealing with the subject of dead people (and animals) since his 1984 short, “Frankenweenie.” Why is the subject so fascinating to the filmmaker? Burton says, “Well, I think dealing with the undead comes from growing up in Burbank, sort of a suburban kind of feeling of like ‘Night of the Living Dead’ during the day with the bright sunlight. No, I don’t know. I just always liked monster movies. I was always sort of fascinated by [them].

Growing up in a culture where death is looked upon as a dark subject and then, you know, living so close to Mexico where you see the Day of the Dead, where the skeletons and it’s all humor and, you know, music and dancing and a celebration of life in a way. And that just sort of always felt more [like a] positive approach to things, you know? So I think I always responded much more to that than this dark unspoken cloud in the kind of environment I grew up in.”

Tim Burton Shares His Views on the Afterlife: “You know, I have no idea what happens. But like I said, I do respond to other cultures that treat life with a much more positive approach. I think this other form teaches, especially when you are a child, it teaches you almost to be afraid of everything and feel like something bad is always going to happen. Whereas that other way seems like a much more spiritual and positive approach. That’s as far as I go because I really have no idea what will happen.”

Tim Burton and the ‘Outcast’ Qualities of His Actors: Burton says that’s something he specifically looks for. “Yeah, of course. Like Johnny, I think that’s one of the reasons I responded to him when I first met him on ‘Edward Scissorhands.’ He is sort of looked upon as this handsome leading man but I don’t think in his heart he felt that way. That’s why he wanted to do ‘Edward Scissorhands’ was because he understood that story of being perceived as one thing and being something else. Does that same thing hold true when it comes to Helena Bonham Carter? “Same thing. If you read the London papers she’s one of the worst dressed people in the history of Britain or some sort of posh aristocrat, you know? She is completely misperceived. It maybe bothers her a little bit but once you get labeled, there’s really not much you can do about it. But there’s something about it I’m sure she feels.”

Tim Burton’s future projects: “Well, I’m currently working on Sweeney Todd, which will be released in mid-2007. After that, I’m gonna start working on a new script that was sent to me recently: Grim Fandango. It sort of follows the style of The nightmare before Christmas and Corpse Bride. It’s about a surreal land of the dead, some sort of purgatory where everyone goes when they die. In that place, dead people have to make a four-year transition before they can rest in peace for all the eternity. I still don’t know when we’re going to start filming this, though.

Kevin Carlson – The Movie Center