Hugh Grant plays a Hollywood scriptwriter who speaks in flawlessly timed quips in The Rewrite but Downey deserves better than the dire collection of clichés in The Judge
The Rewrite (12A)
Director: Marc Lawrence
Running time: 106 minutes
Rating: * * *
THERE’S a touch of wish-fulfilment in writer-director Marc Lawrence’s new film, where Hugh Grant plays a Hollywood scriptwriter. Not only is Keith raffish and funny, with women coming out of his ears, but everyone tells him that Paradise Misplaced was their favourite film and lauds him for writing it, instead of asking him whether he met the stars of Paradise Misplaced, and what they were really like.
Paradise Misplaced was Keith’s first film, and also his last hit. Fifteen years later, he is divorced, estranged from his teenage son, broke and running out of options when his agent throws him a final bone – teaching screenwriting to students at Binghamton, New York, a place so out of the way that it inspired Rod Serling to create The Twilight Zone.
Lawrence has some experience of hits and misses. He wrote the commercially viable Two Weeks Notice for Grant and Sandra Bullock, then the mildly amusing Music And Lyrics for Grant and Drew Barrymore. Unfortunately he was also behind Did You Hear About The Morgans? for Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker, a dismal romcom apparently designed to let you hear tumbleweed at the end of its punchlines.
Still, Grant evidently responds to Lawrence, and to the character of Keith; a blithe, loosely moral but not conscience-free fellow who speaks in flawlessly timed quips. As is traditional in latter-day Grant romcoms, he’s also a bit of a mess, with hints of functioning alcoholism that the film soft-pedals. Initially, Keith doesn’t take his teaching duties terribly seriously, stacking his class with students picked from their photographs, rather than their scripts, to create a study group of eight beauty queens, plus two nerdy men and a single mother (Marisa Tomei, doing her best to fill in an underwritten role) who managed to claim her desk through persistence and subtle blackmail.
The Rewrite has a large cast of characters but, Grant aside, they are each allocated precisely one character trait. In Keith’s class there’s a Star Wars fan, a gothic nut, a gifted geek and a Dirty Dancing fan. In Keith’s faculty there’s a head of department (JK Simmons) and former military man, whose all-female household means he’s so in touch with his feelings that he joins them on the sofa to watch Eat, Pray, Love on DVD, while Chris Elliott’s Shakespeare lecturer strives to produce a quote from the Bard for every occasion. Rather wasted is Allison Janney as a surly Jane Austen academic who is, of course, also on the ethics committee.
Thanks to some heavy lifting from the cast, there are enough laughs to make you forget that it’s only Grant you care about, and that Keith’s classes and Lawrence’s film display a rather mechanical understanding of romantic comedy. The two leads are sent out to spar a bit in the first act, there’s a decoy love interest who is completely wrong for the hero (a spoilt, sexy student played by Bella Heathcote), and a handsome and public declaration of respectful love is made at the end.
Really, if you are fashioning a meta-romantic comedy, repeating all the clichés is not the way to go about it. The fact that the onlookers are irritated by the inconvenient hold-up caused by The Big Romantic Speech is just about the freshest idea in the whole film.
The Judge (15)
There are three different films fighting for top billing in David Dobkin’s The Judge, and all of them are terrible. Sometimes it is a family melodrama with the multi-generational dysfunctionalism dialled up to such a tempestuous level that when the film chucks in a heavily symbolic tornado it feels like a refreshing breeze. At other times The Judge patterns as a courtroom drama, with Robert Downey Jr as a fast-talking, corner-cutting lawyer reluctantly drawn back to his small town when the judge of the title, his irascible stick of a father (Robert Duvall, above with Downey), is accused of a murder he can’t remember.
Oddest of all, The Judge also detours into quirk, padding out its 140 minutes by introducing Billy Bob Thornton as a lawyer who carries an expandable steel cup that sounds like a sword unsheathing, lingering on a disabled brother (Jeremy Strong) who films everyone with a vintage movie camera, and playing up an incest subplot.
This is Downey’s first drama since The Soloist in 2009, and it is baffling that he chose a script that plays out like a game of Mad Libs between John Grisham and Tennessee Williams, then decided that the best person to steer the preposterous project would be the director of Fred Claus and The Wedding Crashers.
Verdict: a combination of courtroom clichés, family feuds and oddball jokes that is a criminal misuse of star talent.
General release from Friday
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Edinburgh Filmhouse, Friday until 23 October
Iboga Nights (U)
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Glasgow Film Theatre, today
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Glasgow Film Theatre, tomorrow until Thursday
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Glasgow Film Theatre, Friday and Saturday
Dracula Untold (15)
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The demonic doll from The Conjuring gets her own unsubtle, repetitive horror flick.
Palo Alto (15)
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Glasgow Film Theatre, Thursday until 23 October