The Last Holiday (2006)


Gerard Depardieu missed lunch but Queen Latifah lets him eat a finger or two.

Gerard Depardieu missed lunch but Queen Latifah lets him eat a finger or two.

(2006) Comedy (Paramount) Queen Latifah, Gerard Depardieu, Timothy Hutton, LL Cool J, Alicia Witt, Giancarlo Esposito, Jane Adams, Mike Estime, Susan Kellermann, Jascha Washington, Matt Rose, Ranjit Chowdhry, Michael Nouri, Jaqueline Fleming, Emeril Lagasse, Lana Likic. Directed by Wayne Wang

We are most of us so busy making a living that we forget to actually live. Our noses are so far down to the grindstone that we fail to notice the blue sky and sunshine above our heads. We certainly are prone to forgetting that our lives are short and can end without warning; so many of us leave it with so many of our dreams unfulfilled.

Georgia Byrd (Latifah) works at a New Orleans department store giving cooking demonstrations and selling cookware. She is crazy about co-worker Sean Matthews (LL Cool J) but is far too shy to make a move. She goes home at night and watches cooking shows, making gourmet recipes that she serves to a neighborhood kid (Washington) while she consumes Lean Cuisine frozen meals because she’s dieting.

One day at work she hits her head and loses consciousness. She is taken to the store infirmary (do any department stores really have those? Outside of Harrods in London I mean) where Dr. Gupta (Chowdhry) takes a CAT scan on the used machine he has just received and to his horror discovers several brain tumors – products of the rare condition Lampington’s Disease. The size and location of the tumors indicate that Georgia is in the final stages of the Disease and has only a few weeks. The operation that might save her may well do no good at all and the prohibitive cost of the potentially life-saving surgery is something her HMO won’t cover. Georgia hasn’t the time to contest it.

She decides to spend her final Christmas season at the Grandhotel Pupp in Kylovy Vary, Czechoslovakia. It’s an exclusive resort but Georgia has been frugal and has accumulated a pretty good amount in her 401k so she cashes it out and flies out to Czechoslovakia. Why there? Why, her favorite chef – Didier (Depardieu) is the executive chef there.

Once there she intends to indulge herself and pamper herself with spa treatments, skiing lessons and of course sampling one of everything from the Chef’s menu. He is so grateful that she is not another diet-conscious American requiring substitutions of “healthy” ingredients that he comes out to meet her himself. This draws the curiosity of a neighboring table where Senator Dillings (Esposito), Congressman Stewart (Nouri) are sitting, as well as the man who is wining and dining them – Matthew Kragen (Hutton) who happens to own the department store chain where Georgia was formerly employed. He sics his assistant Ms. Burns (Witt) with whom he is also having an affair with on Georgia to find out just who she is. The paranoid Kragen is concerned she’s out to ruin his deal that the support of the politicians is crucial for.

Her can-do attitude and positive outlook are inspiring to the lot of them and the more enchanted they become with Georgia, the more suspicious Kragen gets. He gets the officious Gunther (Kellermann), a hotel concierge, to go through Georgia’s things. Gunther discovers that Georgia, whom all the others (as well as the hotel staff whom Georgia treats with kindness and respect – something they aren’t used to) assumes is extremely wealthy, is a store clerk in one of Kragen’s stores. But her triumph quickly turns to shame when she discovers a letter that Georgia has written instructing hotel staff what to do should she pass away while she’s at their hotel.

Sean, in the meantime, decides that he needs to tell Georgia how he feels about her (it turns out the feelings were mutual) and decides to fly to the hotel to do just that. However a blizzard has made getting there precarious and Georgia herself has decided she’d rather spend her last days at home. Will the two be able to get together before the end?

This is a remake of a 1950 comedy starring Alec Guinness in the role Queen Latifah plays here. It’s a very different movie, somewhat more witty and a good bit darker (there’s an astonishing twist that you WILL not see coming near the end of that picture that is absent here). This is much more heart-warming, a kind of a warm hug on a winter day by a beloved friend. Latifah shows her chops as a leading lady; she’s done a lot of comedies both before and since but this is really in many ways the best of the lot.

Georgia starts out kind of mousy (which is really playing against type for Latifah) but good-hearted and as she finally comes out of her shell and allows herself to live we get a sense of the joyfulness she has inside her. She simply learns to enjoy the things that are good in life; good food, good friends, taking risks and trying new things. It’s a lesson not all of us learn in many more years of life than Georgia has lived.

The supporting cast is particularly solid, with kudos going to Depardieu as the chef who feels underappreciated (although with the foodie revival of the last few years he may be feeling better these days) and Hutton who’s Keegan is a greedy paranoid bastard but not altogether without saving graces. LL Cool J, who has become quite accomplished as an actor since on L.A. NCIS shows some good chemistry with fellow rapper Latifah.

This isn’t a particularly remarkable story – even in 1950 when Guinness did it this was pretty tried and true stuff. It’s simply done very well here, largely due to the screen presence of Latifah who makes the audience feel like old friends. Much of why the movie works is due to Latifah who simply makes this movie a vehicle for her personality. While some of the dialogue is clumsy and has the characters saying things that human beings don’t say in reality, it can be overlooked if for no other reason for the warm fuzziness coursing through your veins when the end credits roll.

WHY RENT THIS: Really heart-warming. Latifah shows that she can carry a film on her own here. Depardieu is a whole lot of fun here.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The dialogue can be awkward. A bit too rote in places.

FAMILY VALUES:  There are a few sexual references but nothing too overt.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: During the scene where Georgia is serving Sean duck hash on toasted baguette, the Food Network chefs who were advisors and on-site chefs had to substitute for the duck in Sean’s portion because actor LL Cool J doesn’t eat duck.

NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: There are a couple of Wolfgang Puck recipes that you can make at home, as well as an interesting featurette as to how this remake nearly hit the screen in the mid-80s…starring the late John Candy, which was shelved at the comedian’s death until Latifah’s agent read it and thought it would make a great starring vehicle for his client.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $43.3M on a $45M production budget; the movie failed to recoup its production budget.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Holiday

FINAL RATING: 7/10

NEXT: John Dies at the End

Deep Blue Sea


Deep Blue Sea
Thomas Jane is slightly overmatched.

(1999) Action Thriller (Warner Brothers) Thomas Jane, Saffron Burrows, Samuel L. Jackson, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michael Rapaport, Stellan Skarsgard, LL Cool J, Aida Turturro, Cristos, Daniel Bahimo Rey, Valente Rodriguez, Brent Roam, Eyal Podell, Erinn Bartlett. Directed by Renny Harlin

Several years ago, Hollywood churned out three movies in a row – Deep Star Six, Leviathan and The Abyss – that all featured a claustrophobic monster hunt in a cramped undersea station environment. Of those only the latter had any merit as James Cameron, pre-Titanic, got to work out his aquatic fixation.

You’d think Hollywood would have learned. This is a movie that crams in as many clichés as the producers thought they could fit into a single movie; mad scientists messing with Mother Nature, Mother Nature turning bitchy on the mad scientist, taciturn brooding hero with a checkered past, a group of researchers trapped on an underwater research facility by a big ol’ storm, a Terrible Secret, killer sharks ripping people into bite-sized hunks o’ gore and monsters WAY smarter than the trapped station personnel. Yes, all this and comic relief too.

Doctors McAlister (Burrows) and Whitlock (Skarsgard) are doing research into eradicating Alzheimer’s by testing their drugs on sharks, but all they wind up with is really smart sharks.  Diver Carter Blake (Jane) is thrown into the equation to save the day after a combination of a really bad storm and some pissed off super-smart sharks wreck the station and cut off the survivors only hope of escape.

Now, I’ll watch Samuel L. Jackson in a bad movie any day of the week, and his presence here earns the movie the stars it gets. Jackson is a wealthy man with compassion and a conscience; in short, the kind of guy who doesn’t really exist in real life. He has the best moments in the movie, including a pep talk that ends up unexpectedly and to great effect. Most of the other actors here really, um, tank.

LL Cool J, who plays a devout chef, utters the best line of the movie when things look bleak and it looks like the sharks are about to break into the humans’ temporary sanctuary: “I’m (doomed). Brothers always get eaten in situations like this.” The rapper-turned-actor is actually pretty likable despite a poorly-written character.

This isn’t one of the movies that director Renny Harlin will proudly display in his list of accomplishments. Some of the shark effects are nifty, but for the most part, LOOK fake. Too much CGI ruins the soup, folks. A little less cliché and a little more inventiveness might have saved this movie, but after Jaws let’s face it; no other shark movie is ever going to come close.

WHY RENT THIS: Samuel L. Jackson and LL Cool J are worth watching. Or you really like sharks.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Cliché soup. Poorly written characters give the actors very little to work with. CGI is unbearable in places.

FAMILY MATTERS: There’s quite a bit of shark gore here and a few choice bad words.

NOTABLE DVD FEATURES: There’s a featurette on the usage of real sharks and mechanical sharks in the movie, and the drawbacks of both.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $164.7M on a $60M production budget; the theatrical run was quite profitable.

FINAL RATING: 4/10

TOMORROW: The Six Days of Darkness continue!