Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Whoopi Plays God, Obama Plays Matchmaker: Review Double-Bill

Unfortunately, Whoopi Goldberg playing God, the setting of New Orleans (still in recovery mode, but vibrant), and the addition of Gael Garica Bernal do not quite add up to 'A Little Bit of Heaven'.

The Kate Hudson vehicle is a pleasant enough diversion, but neither the comedy nor the romance have sufficient intensity or zing to really pull the viewer in until almost at the end. Kate plays a successful ad exec and commitment-phobe who is suddenly diagnosed with colon cancer (yes, we'll strive to avoid the cliche). The bearer of this bad news is a "terminally" (okay, we're weak) stiff but ambitious oncologist (Bernal) who's torn between his decidedly unprofessional stirrings for his new patient and his desire to progress in a special advance programme run by an even stiffer senior doctor.

In fairness, Bernal's performance becomes more appreciable once he and Hudson's character become "invovled"  as does that of Kathy Bates, who plays the mom with the victim mentality. And of course, we could not help but mention a few of the other support players: Lucy Punch as the pixieish, "down for whatever co-worker, Romany Malco doing both the token Black (sorry, Whoopi) and token gay male friend roles, and Peter Dinklage (no role is too small for him to blow up) as the "blind date/pick-me-up" recommended by said gay male friend (that encounter is a genuine hoot).

That said, its not a crowning achievement for writer/co-producer Gren Wells or director Nicole Kassell and - most disappointingly - this is a contemporary film set in New Orleans, and there are only two minute scenes involving live music/performance.

They may have been trying to escape formula, but sometimes knowing what you'll get beforehand increases the enjoyment.

Not so the case with the "aspiring" political romantic comedy "The Politics of Love". While the multiple conflicts engendered by the impending election of Barack Obama in 2008 seems fertile ground for the genre, The Politics of Love has all the flavour of an English sausage (apologies to our British friends). Jock-turned-actor Brian White (son of former NFL great Jo Jo White) reps for the Republicans, while straight-from-Bollywood hottie Mallika Sherawat is his bit of "Obama Massala".

The problem? Well, let's let's start with the acting gap. White is competent, and has presence, while the undoubtedly gorgeous Sherawat has all the effective range of my high-school spitballs. Watching them together is almost painful. Thankfully leaven comes in several forms: Anil Raman as the Dem's pothead, ne'er do well younger brother, and Loretta Devine (what hasn't she done?) Trinidad-born Gerry Bednob as her parents who, when they're not fighting, and splitting, and making up, run a restaurant.

The rest is an all-too predictable mish-mash (we're aware of our previous rubric) of movie cliches: bikini car wash, would-be Hooters girls, an obsessed TV news reporter smelling a big story, a manufactured scandal(guess which side is behind it) and so on and so forth.

Its already history of course - Barack wins. And love overcomes all hurts, the "bad guy" gets decked and even Indian and Soul Food learn to live together in harmony. All in one neat little 90-minute package. Yeah, riiiight. Republican Vice-Presidential running mate (and now occasional media gadfly) Sarah Palin inspired some far less insipid and testosterone-raising films than this - they just won't be filed under "family entertainment."

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