"A Life Less Ordinary"
Opened: October 24, 1997 | Rated: R
I just don't know how to describe "A Life Less Ordinary" without it sounding stupid and silly, so here goes:
A laid-off janitor, who just wants his job back, kidnaps a pretty, tenacious heiress. They bicker, fall in love and end up on the run together in a mismatched romance engineered by the clumsy celestial interloping of two inept guardian angels.
I can only think of one reason the suits at 20th Century Fox didn't throw screenwriter John Hodge and director Danny Boyle out on their butts after hearing this pitch -- they were the creative team behind "Trainspotting", last year's uber-hip independent film success story.
"A Life Less Ordinary" is the polar opposite of "Trainspotting" -- big budget, name stars, mass appeal, studio friendly and void of moral quandaries -- yet Hodge and Boyle's signatures are all over this thing, toying with the trite staples of romantic comedy but forever opting for the sardonic instead.
Ewan McGregor, who starred in "Trainspotting," plays Robert, a janitor with a bad shag haircut who loses his job to automation and storms the office of his company's CEO in desperation.
By the time he walks out a few minutes later, he's kidnapped the boss' daughter and spends the rest of the movie in a constant state of bewilderment, being dragged around, beaten up and cornered by circumstances.
The daughter, Celine (Cameron Diaz), is your stock rich girl rebelling against daddy, and she is a handful. She runs hot and cold with poor, confused Robert, constantly criticizing his kidnapping etiquette while she viciously flirts with him at the same time.
If you think this sounds a lot like, "Excess Baggage" a junker Alicia Silverstone vehicle that choked at the box office a couple months back, well, you have a point. This is not a very original story, and at times it has the texture of community theater gone wrong.
But this movie is blessed with the demented vision of Danny Boyle.
Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo ("Get Shorty") co-star as fallen angles assigned to matchmaking duty to get back in God's good graces. Bordering on psychotic, they operate under the theory that danger will bring Robert and Celine together, so they disguise themselves as bounty hunters and try to kill them.
Suddenly "A Life Less Ordinary" takes on a Terry Gilliam tint and from here on out, weirdness prevails.
The injury-prone angels attempt to corral Robert and Celine through unnecessarily complex schemes that mostly end with Hunter and Lindo being shot or sent over cliffs on top of speeding cars. Meanwhile, while their caper careens out of control, our heroes are falling for each other without celestial intervention.
They make a ransom call to the wrong number together, rob a bank together, pretend to be newlywed rock stars, get shot, have the bullets removed by a dentist, and perform in a song-and-dance number in a redneck karaoke bar (OK, that's is a dream sequence).
Considerably more cheerful than "Trainspotting," this film treats the romantic comedy genre as an opponent in a cinematic cage match. Many of the trappings of, say, a Meg Ryan movie are here, but Hodge and Boyle keep throwing them to the mat.
Because of Boyle's twisted directorial hand, this story that threatens to falter at every turn stays just sly and cagey enough to overcome its recycled ideas and its vaguely-drawn characters.
Even with the considerable talents of Lindo and Hunter to contend with, only McGregor gives his character any real definition. The movie trades on Robert's harmless, polite charm.
As with Boyle's other pictures, "A Life Less Ordinary" is loaded with homages to Hollywood classics. Watch for nods to "It Happened One Night," "Bonnie and Clyde," and "Grease," among others.
Strangely, the final credits run over a Claymation sequence that takes place in Scotland. It feels like an afterthought, and leaves the audience wondering if the producer was just too cheap to fly there to shoot one scene.