November 28, 2009

At Least 'Ruins' Had Some Nice Scenery

When a good movie tells me the world is flat, I believe it.

When a bad movie tells me the world is round, I don't.

Such was the case with My Life in Ruins, director Donald Petrie's dreadful Nia Vardalos vehicle from earlier this year--perhaps the most disingenuous film I've seen in 2009. Certainly, it had all the ingredients for an enjoyable flick: a breezy cast (including the effervescent Vardalos, who was so terrific in 2002's My Big Fat Greek Wedding, as well as Richard Dreyfuss and a host of other character actors), a glorious setting (the lovely streets and architecture, old and new, of Athens) and a potentially charming little plot (wannabe college professor Vardalos works as tour guide for crummy company and finds love in a surprising place).

Unfortunately, nothing worked. And I think I figured out why.

Vardalos didn't write it.

Perhaps that would've made all the difference, as it did in the cute MBFGW. Because the biggest problem with Ruins is its flat, cardboard script, generated by someone named Mike Reiss. The laughs are minimal; the bathos is apparent. Worst of all, the flick descends into what I call the "friends syndrome," an ailment that usually affects bad romantic comedies by providing the protagonists with supposedly empathetic friends who do little but support their buddies during their amorous adventures. In the case of Ruins, this job falls to Dreyfuss, playing a crude, obnoxious widower tourist with a big heart and a lot of cheesy advice on love that trickles out of him like butter oozing from chicken Kiev.

As Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Neuman would say, "Ecch!"

Sadly, Reiss and director Petrie paint Dreyfuss' character, as well as the others, in two dimensions rather than three. I just didn't care, and the purported development--in which Vardalos discovers the wisecracking Duddy, I mean Dreyfuss, to be suffering owing to his wife's recent demise--rings fake. This becomes especially appalling when the film enters The Bathetic Zone, after Dreyfuss' alter kocker is hospitalized (presumably for overacting) and then is visited by his entire tour group.

Come on, folks. Does every lousy romcom have to descend to this purportedly "dramatic" madness?

Oddly enough, the film Ruins most reminded me of was the dismal With Honors, another disingenuous flick that encouraged us to care about its tiresome, unpleasant characters while providing a Doomed Wise Man (in WH's case, played in the most over-the-top manner by Joe Pesci) as a dramatic crutch. Same treatment, different setting.

And I guess that was the element that elevated Ruins to a height just above the usual dreck. Trudi and I enjoyed watching the shots of Greece and figured if the movie comprised solely that, it would be a much greater film.

Maybe we should've just watched the Travel Channel. Eh bien.

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