Whimsical 'Yes Man' is agreeable enough

The Baltimore Sun

Should you see Yes Man? Well, maybe.

Let's be clear: If ever a movie mistook a premise for a plot, it's this one. Some films suffer from a surfeit of one-liners. This picture evaporates midway through because the story itself is a one-liner. Yet it also has a cast that gets into the silliness. This film's lead actors can turn odd curves into dynamite goofballs.

It's all about the grooviness that descends on a negative guy, Carl Allen (Jim Carrey), a bank loan officer in Los Angeles, when he makes a covenant with self-help guru Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp) to say "Yes!" to everything in life.

Most of Carl's (and the movie's) ensuing good vibrations come from Zooey Deschanel as Allison, a free-spirited club singer with a group called Munchausen By Proxy. She also teaches photography literally on the run to people who want to combine exercise with creativity.

The movie is excessively whimsical, but it's never fey, partly because Deschanel is the rare performer who can bring verve and body to eccentricity. Open-ended behavior completes her on-screen personality. A generous goofiness floats right out of her big, blue eyes, whether she's singing lyrics about not being a late-night booty call ("you can call me at 10:59 but not 11 p.m." she vamps as the number drifts to a close) or racing around L.A. on a motorbike with a helmet sporting a decal of cartoon duck eyes.

The movie also gives Carrey a chance to bring some feeling to his comic virtuosity. In terrible movies like the thriller The Number 23, it appeared as if Carrey had reached the point that Jack Lemmon did in the mid-1960s, when the natural comic euphoria went out of him and he had to reignite his talent as an actor.

Carrey is almost too believably woebegone at the beginning: You fear it's lemon (or Lemmon) time. Happily, when Carl attends the Bundley seminar-cum-pep rally, the star regains his get-up-and-go. The seminar itself is everything it needs to be. Stamp proves he can be hilarious and unsettling as Bundley. (The celluloid energy spikes whenever he's in the movie.) Carrey's specialty of bringing hyper-speed and ultra-precision to slapstick and verbal gags sparks the scenes of Carl displaying mastery of Korean or overdosing on Red Bull. Carrey conjures a current of throttled yearning that unifies his riffs and keeps you hoping the film will take off. Instead, it crashes as badly as Carl does when the Red Bull gallops out of his system.

To be fair, Peyton Reed, the director, does everything he can to sustain the ride. One of his typical smart choices includes casting New Zealand comic actor Rhys Darby, of HBO's Flight of the Conchords, as Carl's immediate superior, a maladroit fellow who thinks he's invented common slang and gives theme parties based on Harry Potter and 300. An American crazy comic might have destroyed the film's balance; Darby's way-out humor is just different enough from Carrey's to click with it.

But all this talent can't disguise the barrenness of the screenplay. There's no place for it to go except into Carl's realization that saying nothing but "Yes" is as pointless as constantly saying "No." Instead of tracing that progression in low-elegant comic curlicues, the film keeps plopping its stars in untenable situations, reaching a nadir of non sequitur when they stroll down a country road in Lincoln, Neb. The movie stays at that level far too long.

The key mistake was probably conceptual: thinking you could create a whole movie about a character reaching the point that John Updike once said was the starting-point of his fiction - "Yes, but."

Yes Man

(Warner Bros.) Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, Terence Stamp. Directed by Peyton Reed. Rated PG-13 for crude sexual humor, language and brief nudity. Time 104 minutes.

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