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Eugene Weekly : Movies : 12.24.08





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Spontaneous Combustion

Jim Carrey abandons the world of no

by Molly Templeton

YES MAN: Directed by Peyton Reed. Written by Nicholas Stoller, Jarrad Paul and Andrew Mogel, based on the book by Danny Wallace. Cinematography, Robert D. Yeoman. Music, Mark Everett and Lyle Workman. Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Danny Masterson and Terence Stamp. Warner Bros., 2008. PG-13. 104 minutes.

Jim Carrey and Zooey Deschanel in Yes Man

Just say no. No, man. A million times no. Like another less than stellar film this year, What Just Happened?, Yes Man practically writes its own headlines. It could have worked the other way, too: Imagine all those “Yes, yes!” jokes had this one-note comedy been delightfully funny or surprisingly good. Or, you know, don’t bother. For that matter, don’t bother with anything about Yes Man, a one-trick pony of a comedy about living in the happy middle ground of maybe.

Jim Carrey is Carl Allen, master of no. Carl doesn’t just say no to things; Carl means no even when he says yes. He’d rather stay home and watch one of the Saw flicks than show up at his friend’s engagement party. His job as a loan officer is particularly handy for saying no a lot. But one day, an old buddy turns up, pushes Carl’s buttons and stuffs a brochure for a Yes Man seminar into Carl’s hands before running off. And for some reason, Carl goes. Carl, who says no to everything, goes to the seminar about saying yes. We’re already in dubious territory, no? But at the seminar, Terrence Bundley (a well-cast Terence Stamp) convinces Carl that he’s got to say yes. To everything.

And there’s your movie. Carl says yes to things which leads to other things. The best of those things is Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a scooter-riding, running/photography class-teaching musician in a band called Munchausen By Proxy. (The worst is a noxious scene with Carl’s elderly neighbor, who has a special way of rewarding Carl for helping her put up some shelves.) Allison wouldn’t have had much in common with the old Carl, but the new Carl is all open to life and stuff; he’s willing to join her class for a morning and learn to drive her scooter. He’s so spontaneous, he even jets off on a random vacation to Nebraska with her — a vacation that exists mostly to set up an absurd (but not absurdly funny) moment in which Carl is under suspicion of being a terrorist. This, in turn, only happens so that Carl’s lawyer buddy can explain about the yes thing, and Allison can get rightfully pissed at Carl.

Yes Man is entirely like this: The scenes feed into each other, but they don’t give the audience anything. The movie’s slender point — that saying yes constantly is probably not any better than saying no constantly; life requires more thought than that, or at least a dose of moderation — can’t carry an entire film, at least not one written in such a slapdash manner (it’s a disappointment to find Nicholas Stoller, who directed the far funnier Forgetting Sarah Marshall, among Yes Man’s writers). It doesn’t help that at times, Yes Man feels like an overly long commercial for other Warner Bros. properties: Carl’s goofy coworker Norman (Rhys Darby from The Flight of the Conchords) throws two costume parties, one essentially an ad for Harry Potter (which would have been downright timely had the sixth film not been postponed), the other for 300. If you get really bored, you can count the other product placement moments and ask yourself whether Yes Man’s message is really to say yes to life — then have a Rolling Rock and buy a Ducati. You wouldn’t want to turn down these opportunities, right?

Yes Man is now playing at Cinemark and VRC Stadium 15.