City Paper is not for tourists
How many more of those Friends kids are there, and when can we stop typing “makes the jump to the big screen”? In a season of drab-to-middling romantic comedies, television star Jennifer Aniston gets one on the low end. Dull to look at and sluggishly paced, Picture Perfect bears marked similarities to the disappointing My Best Friend’s Wedding, except, unlike its higher-budgeted sister, Perfect doesn’t piss away everything it has been setting up and rob the audience of a satisfying romantic denouement. In spite of missteps and poor choices along the way, it’s a heavy-message lip-biter with a tidy right guy/wrong reasons premise that ends with the happy couple in a church where a wedding’90s twist: not theirsis being performed.
Aniston plays Kate Mosley, an advertising director who is passed over at work because she hasn’t taken on enough adult responsibilities outside of work; as her boss (Kevin Dunn) puts it, she’s “still living like a college student.” Snapped sitting on the lap of Nick, an attractive wedding photographer (Jay Mohr), Kate finds herself keeping up the fiction that this man is her fiancé. Suddenly, everything in her life falls into place: She’s accepted among the grown-ups at work, and the predatory office fox (Kevin Bacon; chacun à son goût, sister) pricks up his pointed ears once he finds out that sleeping with Kate wouldn’t mean dating but cheating.
But nice guy Nick suddenly finds himself semifamous, and everyone wants to meet Kate’s heroic guy, including the folks who control that all-important new account, tackily and frequently mentioned by name. (Everyone on the big screen who’s not an alien or a rogue cop or both seems to be in advertising; Bewitched casts a long shadow.) Everything goes screwy when Nick, at first bemused but soon more steely and smitten, refuses to play the ruse her way.
Picture Perfect has a classic screwball plot but picks up none of the potential threads offered by such romantic mismeasures and turnarounds. Aniston, plucky, cute, and reeking with gumption, tries valiantly not to indulge in her small-screen quirks, and except for the artful hanks of hair hanging directly over each eyesuch a pretty girl; pin it back or you’ll get cross-eyed, honeyshe manages to avoid Rachelness. But she disappears on the big screen; she isn’t vivid or even particularly compelling. It’s more fun to look at Olympia Dukakis, playing Aniston’s acerbic and totally possessive mother, or Bacon, acting the prowling roué even though he must know that we can see right up his nostrils.
If anyone does jump off the screen, it’s Mohr, who had a role in Jerry Maguire and who, as Jeff’s ne’er-do-well brother, electrified a few episodes in the second season of The Jeff Foxworthy Show (no, of course, you never watched it). Here, he’s hardly handsome, but he’s a great romantic lead, especially as a contrast to Bacontender and stolid. When Kate’s antics spiral into the unbelievable or the insulting, Nick’s eyes turn inward and he wears a slight disappointed moue. Even if it’s too downscale for Kate to reveal, Nick’s work videotaping weddings and other life-changing experiences seems to be the perfect vocation for himhe looks like a man who has spent too long observing other people’s happiness.
“Welcome to Good Burger, home of the Good Burger: Can I take your order?” As chanted by Ed (Kel Mitchell) in his cracked surfer’s cadence, this phrase will buzz through your head like a song when you leave this amiable comedy. Kenan and Kel from Nickelodeon’s All That team up for their first movie, and it’s just right for the pair. They’ve got crackling chemistry and an easygoing comedic style that never pretends to be wildly ambitious or terribly deep; they ought to be starring in a movie about rival hamburger chains.
Kenan Thompson plays Dexter, a chubby would-be smoothie who is planning to spend his summer vacation in a state of luxurious torpor an odalisque would envy. Forced by his stuck-in-the-’70s teacher (Sinbad) to get a job, he ends up at Good Burger, a neighborhood institution that is staffed and run by an eccentric crew that is supportive like family and loyal like good employees.
At the center of the Good Burger weirdness is Ed, who has cornrows cut in a neat pageboy, a good heart, and a very tenuous grip on reality. He’s the kind of Valley naif who, when told that someone will see him in hell, grins and nods, “OK! See you there!” He frolics in the shop’s shake machine, cooing, “Ooh, strawberry Jacuzzi!” Ed, certainly, isn’t all there, but he has won the trust and friendship of his Good Burger pals, who include Abe Vigoda as the world’s oldest fry-cook, Dan Schneider as the decent boss, and Shar Jackson as pretty Monique.
Dexter always has a scheme and almost never a success. He doesn’t have much use for loyalty, but the basic decency on tap at Good Burger convinces him to fight for it when the rival chain Mondo Burger begins to build a restaurant across the street. Mondo Burger is huge, slick, automated, and futuristic; it looks like the set of a Janet Jackson video. Run by the sadistic Kurt (Jan Schwieterman), who is something like a cross between David Spade and Sting with a really good job in the Third Reich, Mondo hopes to take over not just the neighborhood but the world.
The dopey antics that ensue are always good-natured and sometimes surprisingly clever, as when Ed introduces Dexter to “Debbie, she’s a veterinarian.” “Vegetarian,” says Debbie. “Yeah, that means she won’t eat fur.” In addition to the indelible song that tracks an arpeggio of “I’m a dude, he’s a dude, she’s a dude, we’re all dudes” (Mitchell wrote it), the soundtrack features songs like “Opposable Thumb.” The humor is never nasty or mean-spirited, and the sexual content is limited to Dexter and Monique’s sweet dates and Ed finding a kindred spirit at an insane asylum forthrightly called Demented Hills.
Good Burger is running with a short, an episode of Action League Now! from Nickelodeon’s Kablam! that is worth the price of admission alone. If you don’t know the Action League, they’re discarded toys rescued from the trash to fight crime wherever they find it, even at the lip of a dangerous whirlpool (a toilet bowl). Here, they must save a Kiss concert (performed by the official Kiss dolls before an audience of blank-eyed toys, all different sizes and breeds) from a giant marauding baby (a big, ravaged baby doll). Watch as Thunder Girl, Meltman, Stinky Diver, and the Flesh rescue Ace Frehley from drool-drenched doom! It’s as scary as you feared toys would be when left alone, and twice as funny.CP