Incongruous Double Feature: The Spirit and Yes Man

by |
01/06/2009 3:15 PM |

Your editor was idly wondering when he’d first hear of a living breathing human going to see Yes Man when Jesse Hassenger filed this little ditty.

Per tradition, I went out to the movies with my sister on Christmas Day. Breaking from tradition, we actually went to see something sort of geeky that I would’ve seen either way: The Spirit, Frank Miller’s lovingly pulpy tribute to his problems with women, er, I mean, some comic book I haven’t read. As I understand it, Miller’s version of The Spirit resembles Will Eisner’s creation about as closely as his bonkers current version of Batman hews to anyone else who has ever written a Batman comic before.

Beyond any nerdly honor, though, Miller’s movie doesn’t really work because Miller seems to have taken subtle clues from the film version of his comic book 300, beyond the obvious visual style (adapted from Robert Rodriguez’s faithful rendering of Miller’s Sin City — and no, it’s not quite the same thing as Miller just imitating himself): the characters are so busy cutting a striking figure that they forever forget to, you know, do stuff. The movie is all heartless affectation, which makes it fun to watch for five or ten minutes at a time, but limited as a feature.

Its best hook is the variety of vivid ladies surrounding our undead hero (Gabriel Macht) and his undead nemesis (Samuel L. Jackson): there’s the good girl nurse (Studio 60′s Sarah Paulson), the girl next door turned badass (Eva Mendes), and femme fatale (Scarlett Johansson), among others. Watching Miller play with dolls is amusing, and his actresses are game, but he doesn’t do much with the motif beyond characters exclaiming aloud that this city sure is full of crazy dames. Turns out, it’s not full enough.

After we stumbled out of The Spirit, we snuck into Yes Man as a sacrifice to the holiday gods about on par with us seeing Fat Albert a bunch of years ago (really) (she wanted to) (really). Maybe lumping it in with a TV cartoon remake is unfair: Yes Man isn’t really actively terrible so much as hazy and forgettable — it’s the kind of movie where characters chuckle at each other’s one-liners to show how real and relatable they are. Carrey’s comedies are often slapdash, but the director, Peyton Reed, usually has a more distinctive touch; he gave Bring It On and Down with Love cheery snap, and even if The Break-Up wasn’t the screwball fun promised by those movies or its trailers, it certainly gets points for luring Aniston-watchers into something uncomfortable and a little dark.

In Yes Man, though, Reed goes through the Jim Carrey motions, which have begun to seem more mechanical than the Ben Stiller motions, or even the comparably low-impact Adam Sandler motions. Now that Carrey has established himself as a worthwhile actor in movies like The Truman Show, Man in the Moon, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, his movie-star projects feel like contractual obligations, awash in the rickety noise of trying to give an audience what it’s supposed to like: his makeup-heavy cavorting in the Lemony Snicket movie came off as a de facto Grinch sequel, and his upcoming motion-capture Christmas Carol remake will doubtless attempt to further extend goodwill via more Christmassy shapeshifting.

Yes Man, meanwhile, is basically a gentler, more grounded reiteration of Liar Liar, but in losing the supernatural hokum it also jettisons Carrey’s demonic energy. He mugs and springs around a little, but he doesn’t, you know, get into any fistfights with himself or throw himself out of a moving car. It’s not that Carrey’s biggest hits have been all that funny; they’re often more interesting as pure physical performance, eliciting open-mouthed laughs of disbelief, not punchline fodder. His character in Yes Man only really comes alive when he’s flirting with zealotry — treating the idea of saying yes to everything as a deranged DIY religion. Otherwise, it’s just trading adorability with the endlessly watchable Zooey Deschanel, a choice of love interest that might’ve been a good, offbeat match ten years ago, except ten years ago Deschanel was just eighteen and Carrey was in his mid-thirties, which maybe tells you why it feels weird even now. Hey, it turns out that Carrey and Miller both have kinda creepy comfort zones.

One Comment

  • 1. Excuse me Sir, can I check your ticket?

    2. What, are you dense? Are you retarded or something? Who the hell do you think I am? I’m the goddamn batman!