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Queen Latifah’s charm drives ‘Holiday’

Cassie Belek | Wednesday, January 25, 2006

At the time of year when everyone is rushing to see potential Oscar nominees, “Last Holiday” is not to be overlooked.

It may be filled with a predictable plot and far too many coincidences, but the film offers laughs and warmth that only Queen Latifah can deliver. It is not the most original plot – in fact, it is a remake of the 1950 Alec Guinness film. But the movie doesn’t try to break new ground in vacation comedies. It simply tries to give us more of what audiences want – Queen Latifah in a role that fits her like a glove.

In the beginning of the film, viewers see a shy and lonely Georgia Byrd (Latifah) working in the cookware department of a major department store, secretly harboring a crush on co-worker Sean Matthews (LL Cool J). It is a crush so large, she even cuts their heads out of pictures, pastes them on the bodies of a bride and groom and places them in her “Book of Possibilities.”

Also in her book are pictures of her favorite chefs and delectable dishes she has prepared (although she only eats Lean Cuisine), along with brochures of her dream vacations.

After she hits her head at work, a trip to the doctor reveals that Georgia has a terminal disease and only has three weeks to live. She regrets that she has wasted her life waiting for something to happen instead of doing the things she has always desired, like opening her own restaurant or meeting Emeril.

After accepting her fate, she cashes in all her investments, flies to the Czech Republic and checks into the Grand Hotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, a luxurious spa and ski destination. There, she meets one of her cooking heroes, Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu), and a series of far-fetched coincidences has her meeting the greedy retail giant who owns the department store for which she worked, his mistress, the senator who cancelled his appearance at her church (apparently to go on vacation) and a congressman who serves no purpose except to utter some of the most humorous lines in the movie as several characters are stranded on a ledge of the hotel toward the end of the film.

Upon her arrival to the resort, Georgia sheds her former shy self, and Latifah effortlessly guides her character through a transformation that includes a stylish new wardrobe, daily spa treatments, snowboarding lessons gone awry and eating every dish Chef Didier has to offer. Georgia’s appetite for life inspires not only the hotel staff, but also the influential people she helps to reform. Back home, Sean has discovered the real reason Georgia skipped town and chases after her to grant her last dying wish – love.

LL Cool J portrays the nerdy but sexy Sean brilliantly. In this role, he shows that he can do more than just “be cool” and act in a comedic role that is anything but suave. His on-screen chemistry with Latifah makes us wish Georgia’s diagnosis was wrong, and perhaps it is.

Latifah shines as the transformed Miss Byrd. Just as the hotel staff and guests can’t take their eyes off of Georgia, we can’t take our eyes off of Latifah. Her charisma and energy make us feel like we’re on a life-changing vacation with Georgia and having a blast. After showing her acting chops in “Chicago,” Latifah proves that she can do comedy without stereotypes or overacting.

“Last Holiday” is a refreshing and fun break from the critically-acclaimed dramas of the season and shows Latifah as the warm and hilarious woman she is.