Friday, September 30, 2011

What's Your Number: Close to zero

What's Your Number? (2011) • View trailer for What's Your Number?
1.5 stars. Rating: R, for profanity, vulgar humor, sexual candor and fleeting nudity
By Derrick Bang

The one bright spot in last year’s otherwise atrocious Dinner for Schmucks was the main character’s hobby of creating adorable little “mouseterpiece” dioramas.

The one bright spot in this week’s otherwise atrocious What’s Your Number is the main character’s hobby of creating adorable little “clay people” dioramas.
Ally (Anna Faris) can't believe how easily Colin (Chris Evans)
is able to track down some of her ex-boyfriends. You won't
believe how little is made of this story premise, or how badly
this 106-minute misfire needs to be shorteneed. To perhaps
25 minutes.

I’ve no idea what this proves, except that perhaps the producers of vulgar, numbnuts comedies might consider basing an entire movie on the figures in little dioramas. I’m pretty sure they’d wind up with better films.

What’s Your Number is the most recent example of what will, lamentably, become a trend for the next few years: sex comedies featuring potty-mouthed women. In the wake of the $281 million scooped up by Bridesmaids — on an initial budget of only $32.5 million — we’re simply doomed. Hollywood doesn’t ignore returns like that.

Meanwhile, we have What’s Your Number as a wincing example of star Anna Faris’ misuse of her 15 minutes of fame. She rose through the ranks as a supporting player in the Scary Movie franchise — fitful spoofs of the already spoof-laden Scream series — and delivered some acceptable television work in Friends and Entourage before breaking out in 2007’s rather deplorable The House Bunny.

Despite being a stinker, that flick pulled in $70 million. These days, careers are based on much less.

Since then, Faris has lent her voice to a pair of animated hits — Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs and Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel — and starred in three flicks that came and went so quickly, you can be forgiven for wondering if they ever saw release: Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Observe and Report and Take Me Home Tonight. All were bombs, and she contributed her fair share of the carnage.

The plain, hard truth is that Faris isn’t very talented. Her “acting” is forced, stiff and clumsy, her body language sub-par summer stock, her voice somewhere between shrill and braying. She has no comedic timing whatsoever: rather ironic, given her work thus far. Her one asset is a rockin’ little bod that was made for sex, which she shrewdly refuses to bare completely; she does, at least, recognize the allure of the provocative tease.

If only director Mark Mylod and the writers of this mess understood such restraint.

What’s Your Number is scripted by Gabrielle Allan and Jennifer Crittenden, both veterans of TV sitcoms such as Jesse, Scrubs, Everybody Loves Raymond and Arrested Development. Apparently not content with the constrained environment of network TV, they’ve teamed here to adapted Karyn Bosnak’s novel, 20 Times a Lady, a sharp-edged chick-lit entry from the Candace Bushnell Sex and the City school.

The premise is simple: Party-hearty Ally (Faris), dismayed to discover that her track record of 20 former lovers is far above the female national average of 10.5, resolves to discontinue her alcohol-fueled one-night stands. Further, in order to hold her tally at 20, she embarks on a campaign to re-visit her exes, in case any has blossomed into marriage material.

She tracks them down with the assistance of Colin (Chris Evans, quite a descent from “Captain America”), the hunky babe-hound in an adjacent apartment, who clearly is destined to become her Mr. Right. Eventually.

All this unfolds against the build-up to Ally’s sister’s wedding — that would be Daisy, played by Ari Graynor — which allows for intermittent spurts of, you guessed it, crass bridesmaids chatter.

But mimicry is the least of this flick’s troubles. Mylod, also a small-screen veteran with delusions of big-screen grandeur, is an impressively sloppy director. His “style” is all over the map, from vertigo-inducing shots of Ally’s big-city surroundings, to stiff two-shots and excessive close-ups that do his cast no favors.

That’s a typical sitcom shortcut, by the way: Punch up a potentially funny line with a smash-cut tight shot on the speaker. This only works, however, when the performer in question has a delivery that’s cute or otherwise worthy of the close-up.

Faris ain’t that individual. And this script doesn’t deliver much truly amusing dialogue.

The result, instead: an endless stream of profanity-laced, cringe-worthy lines that plumb the depths of bodily functions, bad taste and bad timing. We are, for example, supposed to find it amusing when Ally admits to being a “whore” to her mother (Blythe Danner), and insists that Mom love her anyway. Yep: that's a conversation you’ll hear between mother and daughter.

The usually reliable Danner can’t work up a credible reaction in that scene. No surprise.

Alternatively, Daisy calls her sister one morning, while in the neighborhood, and asks to stop by so she can “poo.” Uh-huh.

This flick’s dialogue simply doesn’t play. The gags sputter and die, each sounding more desperate than the one before ... and “desperate” also describes Faris’ maladroit line delivery.

It doesn’t help that Graynor, well remembered as the inebriated Caroline in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, is a far superior actress. For that matter, Daisy seems to be a much more interesting character. Faris can’t even hold focus in her own film, and that’s the kiss of death.

Other issues crop up, such as basic continuity; watch for the scene where Ally magically changes outfits from one camera shot to the next. And while movie characters often live way beyond their means, the apartments occupied by Ally and Colin probably rent out in the mid-four-figure range, yet both our protagonists are unemployed. C’mon, writers; can’t you even try to justify a little detail like that?

Most disappointing, though, is the failure to bring closure to Ally’s aforementioned hobby: the little dioramas that Colin keeps insisting could be her ticket to financial security. Somehow, inexplicably, the script never fulfills this oft-repeated promise; Ally’s dioramas just, well, disappear in the final act.

Seriously, people? Are you really that inept?

On the other hand, production designer Jon Billington and costume designer Amy Westcott do excellent work. All the sets look fabulous, from the aforementioned apartments to the incidental offices, bistros and palatial estates. The clothes are similarly well-designed, from Ally’s scruffy shorts-and-shirts combos to Daisy’s wedding gown, with several hot party dresses along the way.

So: We have ideal settings and sparkling wardrobes, but nobody worth inhabiting either. Clearly, Billington and Westcott should have employed their talents elsewhere.

With the promise of more junk like this on the horizon, it’s obviously gonna be a long, discouraging couple of years.

By which time — if this bomb is any indication — I fully expect Faris to have vanished from the landscape.

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