“My job sucks,” Matthew Perry tells us in the very first line of his narration in Reginald Hudlin’s new caper flick. One might add that his movie does, too. The title may be “Serving Sara,” but from the viewer’s perspective “Suffering ‘Sara'” or “Surviving ‘Sara'” might be more apt. This is one of those awful farces that confuse crassness with comedy and crudity with wit. The fact that a few stray funny lines pop up from time to time is no consolation; they’re systematically submerged in an ocean of really nasty humor, cheap smarminess, inappropriate violence and vile stereotyping. There’s even one scene that descends to “Freddy Got Fingered” territory, and there’s nothing lower than that. This was a troubled production–shooting had to be halted when Perry checked himself into a substance-abuse clinic for a time (the difference between his before and after appearance is quite striking, though the plot offers no explanation for it). But it’s unwary viewers who will really be in trouble if they stumble into theatres showing it.
The intent of Hudlin and scripters Jay Scherick and David Ronn was obviously to fashion a modern screwball comedy set on the road, a twenty-first century variant of classics like “It Happened One Night.” But they’re even less successful than others who have tried going that route in recent years. The unlikely pair thrown together in this case are snide, cynical Joe Tyler (Perry), a New York process-server who for some reason makes bad wine in his apartment, and Sara Moore (Elizabeth Hurley), the curvaceous wife of a wealthy Texas rancher named Gordon (Bill Campbell). Gordon has a new squeeze, and hires Joe’s boss Ray (Cedric the Entertainer) to deliver divorce papers to Sara while she’s in NYC so that the case can be processed in Texas, where he’ll enjoy a distinct advantage. Sara, however, makes delivery-man Joe a counter- proposal: if he’ll return to Texas with her and serve Gordon with papers first, the case will be heard in New York, she’ll get a much better settlement, and she’ll give Joe a million bucks for his trouble. Meanwhile Joe’s dumb-as-a-post office rival Tony (Vincent Pastore) is sent to serve Sara before Joe can serve Gordon. What follows are lots of frantic chases and near-misses, leavened with tons of bad slapstick, a heavy dose of brutally unfunny violence, some excruciatingly cute romantic interludes, and a couple of sequences (one involving servicing a bull) so gruesomely gross that a viewer will get battle points for being able to sit through them without averting his eyes from the screen. At several points the plot comes to a false stop–an apparently insurmountable problem that indicates Gordon and Tony have won–but in every case some implausible switch occurs (usually involving a mistaken date or a failure to allow for differing time zones) that jump-starts the action again. Persuading the audience that the whole wretched business is over and then resuming it is a particularly cruel device in this instance.
Then there are the caricatures. The New Yorkers are pretty much spared, if you set aside Pastore’s customary broadness, but Texans are hit hard: judging from what goes on here, even well-to-do Dallasites speak in the broadest accents and sport either Breck hair (if women) or Stetson hats (if men). They all carry concealed handguns and go in droves to Monster Truck Rallys. And, of course, what most distinguishes the state is its enthusiastic support of the death penalty (an establishing shot shows a billboard advertising the local electric chair). It isn’t that these observations don’t have a bit of truth to them; it’s merely that Hudlin plays everything too heavy-handedly. A bit of subtlety would make a world of difference.
The same hamfistedness is evident in the performances. Perry showed himself an adept physical comedian in “The Whole Nine Yards,” but he’s much less nimble this time around; a good deal of the slapstick is very poorly choreographed, and much of it is far too cruel to be funny. (Perry doesn’t look all that well in any event, and his character is so waspish that he’s hard to love.) Hurley, by contrast, seems game but stiff, and Campbell, Pastore and Cedric are so far over the top that they come across as positively desperate–an understandable condition given the circumstances, perhaps, but not one that’s amusing to see. Technically the picture is reasonably well appointed, though the editing often seems ragged and the cinematography harsh.
The end result is a serving of “Sara” that you’d do well to decline.