January 19, 2006

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FILM: Last Holiday (PG)

by Amy Diaz

Queen Latifah and LL Cool J keep you from hating the insubstantial ball of wish fulfillment fluff that is Last Holiday.

And, hey, hiring likeable people to prop up your mediocre project is not a bad strategy. You know you’ve got sort of a loser of a script going in — snoozy dialogue, sparkless jokes, a plot that the audience could predict without breaking a sweat. So why not insulate yourself from inciting the hatred that this kind of lazy filmmaking can cause by bringing in the easily loved Latifah and sweet-tempered LL? There’s a sort of “I know you know this isn’t that good but sit back and relax and flip through the pages of this People magazine” feel about Latifah’s performance.

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) is a young-middle-aged woman who has constructed for herself a life of joyless good behavior. She saves her money, she doesn’t sleep around like her trampy sister. She confines her desires to a scrapbook labeled “possibilities” where she includes everything from Sean (LL Cool J), a fellow retail clerk on whom she has a monster crush, to the fancy hotel where she dreams of vacationing. For all this restraint, she is repayed by God with a fatal illness (so she thinks). After some crying, she decides to live her last days by really living her last days. She liquidates the savings and heads to the Grand Pupp in Czechoslovakia where she luxuriates in the spa, decks herself out in some curve-showing-off haute couture and befriends the butter-loving head chef (Gerard Depardieu). She also befriends (or beacquaintances) some power brokers from her part of the world — a senator, a congressman and the owner of the department store for which she worked. They find her candor and open-heartedness predictably refreshing and become ardent admirers even as the more unscrupulous among them try to figure out what her angle is.

Last Holiday is so airy and utterly devoid of substance that it is less a fairy tale and more a day dream, something you pass the time with during some particularly brainless part of your job. Bippity boppity bling — you and your credit cards fairy-godmother you everything you ever wanted for your last two or three weeks on earth.

What keeps Last Holiday from being satisfying on even the snack-food level is that this live-action version of that day dream is no better than the clichéd images that would flit through my own head. Like movies about winning the lottery, magically losing 80 pounds overnight or finding out that you’re actually an heir to royalty, the fun of a Last Holiday is in seeing the excess you’ve always fantasized about. By giving us only the mildest version of these adventures, the movie fails to really capture the essence of what could make such a film a gooey girly guilty pleasure.

C-

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