"A Life Less Ordinary" is two-thirds fun, one-third mess, and certainly no better than ordinary.
An admittedly calculated attempt to tap into the mother lode that is the American box office, "A Life Less Ordinary" fails because director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald and writer John Hodge didn't have enough faith in their chosen genre -- screwball comedy -- to stick with it. Instead, they've tried grafting onto it some of the cutting-edge sensibility of their two earlier films, "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting."
Unfortunately, the graft doesn't take, and the result is not the screwball comedy they hoped would charm American audiences out of their dollars, but rather a sort of second-rate Coen Brothers picture (reminiscent, in tone at least, of "Raising Arizona"). What's left is a hybrid of a film that's unlikely to take the American box office by storm.
"A Life Less Ordinary" opens in heaven, where things are not going well. The angel Gabriel (Dan Hedaya) is under pressure from on high to do something about the rash of failed marriages afflicting Earth. He summons two of his best operatives, Jackson and O'Reilly -- played by Delroy Lindo, in full menacing-but-endearing mode, and Holly Hunter, done up like Nancy Sinatra(!?) -- and orders them to make an unlikely couple fall in love.
Their subjects are Robert (Ewan McGregor, who also starred in "Shallow Grave" and "Trainspotting"), a would-be writer and full-time janitor, and Celine (Cameron Diaz), his boss' pampered and eccentric daughter.
Robert is a simple soul, not exactly the most original thinker -- everyone can guess his novel's plot after just one sentence. Despite being more than a bit loopy (she uses a revolver to shoot apples off the butler's head), Celine is beautiful and way too highfalutin' for someone like Robert (in one scene, she even appears to walk on water).
Fall in love? Why not -- it worked for Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert in "It Happened One Night," a film the Boyle-Macdonald-Hodge team watched for inspiration.
Better they had watched it for some lessons in narrative.
To what extent the angels control events is never made clear, but here's what happens:
Robert loses his job to a robot; he ends up "kidnapping" Celine (it's more her idea than his); and the two start falling for each
other, although they resist forming the sort of bond that would allow their two manipulators back into heaven.
For about half of "A Life Less Ordinary," the Boyle-Macdonald-Hodge team seems to be onto something. Diaz has a lot of fun with her role, especially when she tries to toughen up softhearted Robert. It's nice to see her displaying a harder edge than she's been allowed in such films as "Mask" and "My Best Friend's Wedding." McGregor is self-consciously playing against type, but he does endearing well -- particularly in a bar scene where he and Diaz are forced into a karaoke version of "Beyond the Sea."
Less successful are Lindo and Hunter, who spend the picture acting more like Keystone cops than angels. Hunter, especially, is too anarchic for her own good; by the time her character falls off a cliff, viewers can be forgiven for hoping she's gone for good.
The picture loses it, however, around the time Celine decides to rob a bank. No screwball comedy ever won points for logic, but it's here that "A Life Less Ordinary" does away with any pretense of making sense.
To leave viewers feeling even more disconnected, there are also unnecessary moments of gore thrown in -- do we really need to see a knife cut into a guy's gut? Do we really need to watch the blood flow?
Maybe the filmmakers thought they could sell out to American tastes while remaining true to their off-center sensibilities. Whatever the case, the end result is a movie that takes viewers down one road before veering off onto another and then abandoning the highway altogether. How can they help but feel lost?
'A Life Less Ordinary'
Directed by Danny Boyle
Starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo
Released by 20th Century Fox
Rated R (violence, language)
Pub Date: 10/24/97