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Failure to Launch’ doesn’t get off the ground

Observer Scene | Tuesday, March 21, 2006

“Failure to Launch,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Matthew McConaughey, is an over-publicized attempt at a fun and flirty romantic comedy that hopes to win audience approval with Parker’s fashion sense and McConaughey’s charm. That’s about all the film can offer, however, as it fails to evoke any romantic sympathy and even less laughter.

The premise has potential with Tripp (McConaughey), a 30-something son who refuses to move out of his parents’ (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) house, but that potential soon vanishes. Tripp’s parents desperately wish to have their son move out, and they get the name of Paula (Parker) at a party. They hire Paula to become Tripp’s girlfriend to give him the self-esteem and motivation to leave home once and for all. This is confusing, though, because Tripp seems to have all the self-esteem in the world and he certainly doesn’t seem like a son completely dependent on the continued assistance of his parents.

Warning bells of prostitution sound with a close look at Paula’s profession, but she is a respectable businesswoman and never sleeps with a client. But when Tripp is about to break up with her because he feels that it’s becoming too serious, she breaks her rule in an act of desperation, leaving one to ask, “Did his parents just pay for that?”

Naturally, Paula falls for this client because he’s just so different from the others. Apparently Tripp isn’t a loser like he should be, and she just can’t understand why he still lives at home. That answer almost comes, but not quite, leaving us without a full understanding of the character. However, when we realize the deception Paula is putting him through, we at least sympathize with him.

Essentially, Parker is playing a version of Carrie Bradshaw from HBO’s “Sex in the City”. The difference is that people love Carrie, and there’s little to love about Paula. All that we know about her is that she’s being paid by a man’s parents to deceive him and do whatever it takes to get him out of the house so that the parents don’t have to do it themselves. It’s hard to root for her when Tripp initially rejects her. Their relationship is a lie and if the world was just, it would take a miracle to reunite them, but in this case it simply takes the intervention of friends.

The movie attempts to save itself. Paula and Tripp go on trendy dates that range from sailboating to paintballing. There’s even a reference to “A Philadelphia Story” in there, although a romantic comedy like this doesn’t even deserve to utter the film’s name.

Kathy Bates is in an unspectacular role as Tripp’s mother. The actress never gets to show her comedic chops or why she won an Academy Award. Meanwhile, Terry Bradshaw depicts a father that seems to care little for his son, and seeing his butt that much isn’t particularly pleasant.

It’s another strike-out for Parker after “The Family Stone.” The actress is trying to find her niche in Hollywood after “Sex and the City.” If she keeps this up, her success at HBO will mark the peak of her career, and then there’s no place to go but down.

“Failure to Launch” lives up to its title. It never quite makes us care and it never quite makes us laugh. Parker and McConaughey fans will see it anyway, but it isn’t any better than another McConaughey romance, “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.” Romantic comedy fans will only be disappointed and should rent a classic instead of wasting money on a bad movie with an even worse title.