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Movie review: 'Yes Man'

December 26, 2008|By BOB GARVER

Fans of Jim Carrey will be happy to know that the star has finally returned to straight-up comedy.

One of the biggest (heck, the biggest) comedic stars of the 90s, Carrey has spent the last several years trying to expand the range of his filmography. He's done a franchise piece ("The Grinch"), a biopic ("Man on the Moon"), a weirdo indie film ("Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind") and one very ill-advised thriller ("The Number 23").

But now he's back to what brought him to the dance: acting like he's out of his mind for our entertainment.

The premise of the film is that Carl (Carrey) lives a content but unhappy life of boredom. He spends every night in his apartment, never jumping at the chance to do anything. His days aren't much better, he works in a dead-end job as a loan officer at a bank. He says "No" to all the loan applicants, just as he says "No" to everything else in life.

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One of Carl's friends drags him to a seminar where a self-help guru (Terrence Stamp) forces him to make a covenant with himself: He has to say "Yes" to everything. Bum wants a ride? Carl drives him to the park and gives him cash. Invitation to a "Harry Potter" theme party? Carl's there, wearing a toddler's Harry costume. Ad for guitar lessons? Carl jumps at the opportunity. Someone wants a loan for something unnecessary? Carl approves 451 loans in a month.

As this is a comedy, most of the "Yeses" turn out to have surprisingly good results. The guitar lessons, for example, pay off when Carl needs to talk a music lover off a ledge. All the loan approvals make a profit for the bank, and Carl gets a promotion. Dropping the bum off in the park leads to Carl finding his dream girl (Zooey Deschanel). All good things, and just from saying "Yes" a few (hundred) times.

The problem with the story is that we only see Carl say "yes" a few times. Any more and the premise would collapse on itself. For example, we see Carl give positive responses to two spam e-mails. Doesn't he have more than two? He gets three fliers off a bulletin board. They have those boards everywhere. Does he have to respond to all of them? Even with his promotion, won't he go broke paying for all these things? And speaking of money, why don't more people just ask him to give them cash? The bum does it at first, but then the issue isn't touched again.

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see how easily this premise can fall flat on its face. Therefore, any time something good happens, it's disheartening to know that there was about a one-in-a-million chance that it could happen, and a one-in-a-billion chance that it could happen again. But the plot manages to move along at a brisk pace so Carl can go from one surprise to another and Jim Carrey can go from one gag to another.

Carrey is by no means bad in the movie. He really is back to the way he was in his 90s heyday. It's just that the plot is so unforgivably hole-filled. If Carrey's performance is like a fun roller coaster (like the kind at Hersheypark), the plot is like a rickety, unsafe track (unlike at Hersheypark) that threatens to ruin everybody's fun. Ride "Yes Man" at your own risk.

Note: I couldn't think of many Popcorn Games for "Yes Man", but I can think of one. In lieu of human interaction, Carl sits on his couch and watches movies. Eat pieces of popcorn according to which movies are represented. For "Saw," eat one piece. For the "Harry Potter" movies, eat two pieces each. For "300," eat three (one for each hundred). For Don Knott's "The Ghost and Mr. Chicken", eat ten pieces. That one's a favorite in my family. Merry Christmas, Mom and Dad.

Contact Bob Garver at rrg251@nyu.edu.

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