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God Save the Queen

A talented rapper narrowly survives another lousy movie.

When a movie promises that a character played by Queen Latifah may well die during the course of the action, one might hope that the movie in question is Hostel, so that she could be beaten a few times and then dismembered, ideally by someone who sat through The Cookout, Taxi, Bringing Down the House or Beauty Shop. Latifah herself is probably a nice woman, and she was once a talented rapper. But as an actress, her only decent role was one in which she mostly sang and danced (Chicago); the rest have been an endless string of obnoxious comedies, most of which feature her as the sassy black woman in a universe of uptight whiteys who learn important lessons about speaking their mind. Same deal here.

Last Holiday is a remake of a 1950 Alec Guinness movie, which shows you how some standards have just utterly deteriorated in the last half-century. Latifah is Georgia Byrd, a woman who works in the cookwares section of a department store and aspires to be a gourmet chef, though she can't eat any of her own food because of her diet. She secretly lusts after fellow employee Sean (LL Cool J, another formerly good rapper who should go back to it) but is afraid to tell him. The feeling is mutual, but he's equally shy around her.

Then one day she hits her head. Sean carries her to a clinic that appears to be located within the store itself, where she gets a CAT scan, and the offensively stereotypical Indian doctor tells her she has three brain tumors -- and less than a month to live. (Don't worry: This is a Hollywood-style remake with all the sarcastic British edge removed. You don't really think they'll have her die, do you?) After a brief period of depression, Georgia goes into carpe diem mode, quitting her job, cashing in all her savings and flying to the Czech Republic, where she stays at a fancy hotel called Pupp, which is pronounced "Poop." The jokes don't get any better than that, folks.

Being a conspicuous big spender, she is mistaken for someone much more powerful and influential than she is by wealthy egomaniac Kragen (Timothy Hutton), who just happens to be CEO of the store where Georgia worked. Small world. So Kragen tries to figure out who she really is, and that's pretty much the whole plot. Much like Brett Ratner's After the Sunset, this appears to be a movie whose sole reason for existing was to give cast and crew an excuse to stay at a great vacation resort. The hotel is a real one, and being in Eastern Europe, it's probably a good deal.

Director Wayne Wang is a strange case to analyze. How does a guy go from making something as insightful and explicit as the low-budget DV feature Center of the Worldto hack-tacular efforts like Maid in Manhattan and this? Does he just have a masochistic thing for working with diva figures that somehow disables his story sense and understanding of believable characters? Whatever the case, Last Holiday features some of the most painfully contrived comedic set pieces seen in a long time, from a sequence in which Georgia accidentally takes off down a mountain on a snowboard and somehow retains her balance the whole way (even though she's never done it before), to a bit in a gospel choir where she tearfully prays to God and everyone else assumes she's singing a hymn and joins in.

Oh, yeah, there's also a montage of Latifah trying on different outfits. Seriously, does anyone find such sequences enjoyable anymore, if ever? Perhaps the punchline is that after she tries everything, she ends up in an outfit that looks like a red circus tent.

The script, by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (Wild Wild West), occasionally tries to make some good points about how treating customer-service types with respect goes a long way, and about the unfairness of people being allowed to die because they can't afford surgery. But a good message does not a good story make, though the fact that Georgia is a church-goer who prays frequently should score approval from cultural conservatives.

It's unfortunate timing that a comedy about living to the fullest happens to have been set in New Orleans, of all places, where very real life-and-death issues make these fake ones feel extra stupid. If you really want to live life to the fullest, step one is to avoid wasting an hour and a half of your life in a theater showing Last Holiday.

 
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