For so major a movie star — at least, once upon a time — Jim Carrey seems to make a lot of awfully minor films, several of them over and over again. Isn't Yes Man, in which Carrey's self-absorbed Debbie Downer green-lights every bad decision in an effort to reinvent his sorry life, just a variation on 2003's Bruce Almighty, in which Carrey played a me-me-me TV talking head forced to re-evaluate his sorry, selfish life after a run-in with God? Yes Man's guru is no less authoritative: Terence Stamp, who once bested Superman and, for a brief moment this holiday season, overthrows Hitler — that's a mighty, mighty powerful fellow.
And didn't Bruce Almighty already feel a bit like 1997's Liar, Liar, in which Carrey played a duplicitous attorney forced to tell the truth for 24 hours in order to become a better man? In Yes Man, Carrey likewise has to stop lying — only, to himself, dig? And to his friends, as well, whom he repeatedly offers pitiful fibs in order to stay home alone and watch 300 and Saw. But when "no, not tonight" turns into "yes, yes, yes," watch out, because somewhere within lurks The Better Man.
Yes Man is based on former BBC radio producer Danny Wallace's 2005 book of the same name, in which Wallace wrote about some stranger's random advice to say yes more often and how that changed his life. Turned out, there was more to life than watching television. (There is?) For the movie, the details of the book have been blown wildly out of proportion — there was no guru on the page, with Stamp here more or less re-enacting his MindHead sequences from Bowfinger — but the message is the same: Saying yes, even (especially) to things to which you ought to say no, will change your life.
Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, and Terence Stamp. Rated PG-13. 104 minutes.
Early on, Carrey's Carl Allen resembles Joel Barish, the character he played in 2004's Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — perhaps the least romantic romantic-comedy ever made and, thus, the most successful in recent memory. Carl is a small, lonely man, curled up on the couch, still grieving over the six-month marriage that ended three years ago. His friends, played by Bradley Cooper and Danny Masterson, think him a "dick and a douche." Why they tolerate his misanthropy remains one of the film's central mysteries.
Nowhere man Carl is so disconnected that he even shrugs it off when he gets passed over for a long-deserved promotion at the small bank where he works as a junior loan officer under boss man Norman (Rhys Darby, essentially reprising his role as Flight of the Concords manager Murray). He is content to be miserable, to the point where he celebrates his loneliness.
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Carl finally stirs from his funk when a chance encounter with an old friend convinces him to attend a "Yes Is the New No" seminar, where Stamp stamps out the negative with some of his patented "mind grenades," among them: Positive people "gobble up all of life's energies and create the waste." By the very next scene, Carl agrees to take a homeless man to a park, where he skedaddles into the bushes with all of Carl's money, which he willingly hands over because, well, he has to say yes to everything, right?
That terrible decision turns out to be a stroke of good fortune, for Carl is rescued by perky, spontaneous Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a singer in an avant-rock band called Munchausen by Proxy and the instructor of a jogging-photography class. How quirky! Theirs quickly blossoms into a romance defined by its random acts of wackiness, including a flight to Lincoln, Nebraska ... just because it's there. Inevitably, Carl winds up in the stands of a Nebraska-Oklahoma football game, his body covered in red and white paint. See what saying yes to anything will get you? Turns a 46-year-old man into a frat boy. (See also: Will Ferrell.)
Everything about Yes Man, written by three people and directed by The Break-Up's Peyton Reed, seems a little off: the timing of the jokes (one of which involves Carrey receiving a blowjob from Fionnula Flanagan, who is 21 years his senior), the length of the scenes (every one lasts a beat too long), the chemistry between the leads (Carrey and Deschanel are separated by 18 years, to the day). But, mostly, Carrey seems like the wrong man for the movie: He is too wound up — too voluble, too hyper — even when he is supposed to be playing dead inside; even his dark is way too light. Carrey's days of wrapping his face in Scotch tape for a cheap, creepy laugh should be long past him.
After Eternal Sunshine and even 2005's Fun with Dick and Jane remake — perhaps the sole film thus far to wring laughs from the Enron downfall — Carrey seemed destined for far more grown-up roles. He had transitioned from the slapshticky surreal to the unexpectedly real, perhaps spurred on by the abject failure of his Grinch in Ron Howard's lamentable 2000 Dr. Seuss adaptation. Yes Man, though, is nothing more than warmed-over holiday seconds, a repackaged best-of for those who already own the hits.