A Life Less Ordinary

life_less_ordinary_poster“Kidnapping For Beginners, Chapter One. Have you even asked for a ransom yet?”

The Scoop: 1997 R, directed by Danny Boyle and starring Ewan McGregor, Cameron Diaz, Holly Hunter, and Delroy Lindo

Tagline: A comedy for anyone who’s ever been in danger…of falling in love.

Summary Capsule: A kidnapper and kidnappee must fall in love or two angels will be sacked

Justin’s Rating: Guns and Chicks, there’s just something about that!

Justin’s Review: I just want to take a second to applaud filmmakers that are still willing to take risks and dares with their big-budget, big star pictures and do something, well, less ordinary. So what if the public will scratch their heads and spend time throwing a tantrum if a Hudson Hawk or A Life Less Ordinary is made? We still get to enjoy some damn fine films.

At the start, we tour a heavenly impressive police station (white is the thematic color here) where we meet two angels (Holly Hunter and Delroy Lindo) being called in to their supervisor. It seems that God is not happy with the divorce rate down here on Planet Non-Committal, and if these two can’t get their next assignments to fall in love, well, they’re canned. Their targets? A down-on-his-luck janitor and a spoiled rich brat.

When day-dreamer Robert (Ewan McGregor) is replaced by a janitorial robot, he storms into his boss’ office and ends up taking the boss’ daughter Celine (Cameron Diaz) hostage. This is served up with a twist (as is most of the film), since Celine actually helps Robert kidnap her. There follows a series of escapades with Robert and Celine that include atypical kidnapper/nappee talk, a karaoke bar (Diaz’ contract specifies that one must be in every film she makes), and a Bonny and Clyde-type bank robbery. During all of this the angels decide the best way to get them together is to kill them. Confused?

It’s kind of useless to expound further on the plot. McGregor and Diaz are not just two souls finding each other, but also finding out who the heck they are. They experiment with various personalities and extremes, which always manage to clash. The utter highlight of the film, however, is the angels themselves. Holly Hunter is sassy and brassy, and her cohort plays like something out of a Tarantino movie. It’s kind of bewitching to figure out how their actions (which largely revolve around homicide) are actually helping them fall in love.

To say A Life Less Ordinary has quirky humor is an understatement; at times you have light-hearted romping comedy (such as the karaoke scene), but then there are several bits of dark comedy involving some nice amounts of blood. Definitely a developed taste.

This film is also shot to challenge and please the eye. The title sequence, which has Diaz swimming through the title, is a nice touch. Camera angles and sweeps are constantly on the move and rarely redundant, which makes the last part of the movie just as fun to watch as the start.

Perhaps you won’t be wailing into a kleenex by the end, but this film’s brash charm will utterly win your heart. Or put an Angel .45 bullet through it.

Sue’s Rating: At least it wasn’t lifeless and ordinary.

Sue’s Review: He’s a janitor made redundant by a more efficient, and better dressed, robot. His girlfriend ditched him for an aerobics instructor. All of his worldly possessions (save a seriously ugly shirt) have been repossessed and he’s been evicted from his apartment by a company that offers him a complimentary “with or without violence” option. Oh yes, and worst of all, he’s writing a trash novel that’s proven to be both predictable and clichéd. My personal worst nightmare right there.

So our hero, Robert (Ewan “bad hair day” McGregor) dredges himself up from his personal Pit of Despair™ and decides to get his job back in the time honored tradition of threatening the corporate head honcho. No, not with his union representative. Robert opts for a handgun — which somehow wasn’t repossessed with everything else, but let’s not nit-pick.

In a stroke of apparently amazing coincidence, the ensuing showdown’s outcome is skewed in his favor (though he shockingly doesn’t get his job back) by the honcho’s daughter — a spoiled creature named Celine (Cameron Diaz) who has found herself at loose ends because her dentist boyfriend is currently recuperating from being shot in the head. By her. (All his fault though. He shouldn’t have flinched.) Anyway, she’s sort of bored, the inept janitor-who-would-be-employed piques her interest and so, just for giggles, she becomes his hostage. And suddenly we’re swept into a montage of events ranging from driver’s ed during getaway chases to possibly the last full-service gas station on the planet, from an endorsement of free-range poultry to karaoke.

I’ll grant you, this all seems a little far-fetched, even for a movie. But hold onto your hats folks, because we’re not talking about coincidence, serendipity or even luck (or lack thereof). We’re talking about the age-old religious debate between free will and predestination.

Yup, the entire scenario is apparently being orchestrated by two representatives of the Big Alpha and Omega Himself.

So taking Divine intervention into account, why is this situation still so excrementally screwed up? Well, it seems that these two Heaven-sent reps, Jackson and O’Reilly, are the slackers and incompetents of the Cherubim and Seraphim set. And their only chance to avoid downsizing from the penthouse view to the horrors of life on Earth is to get Robert and Celine (with their annoyingly clueless free will) hooked up in the approved Matrimonial fashion (as predestined). And as it turns out, their chosen method of creating a loving and nurturing environment between Robert and Celine is to continuously put them in life-threatening peril. Sort of the Stockholm Syndrome Matchmaking Service, if you will.

How it ends, I’m not tellin’, but I can disclose that Holly Hunter’s pantyhose get shredded somewhere along the line.

I confess, the first time I saw this movie, I thought it was tremendously cute. Of course, this was back when my utter obsession and absorption with everything Ewan McGregor was just getting rolling. So I have to objectively say that my initial endorsement of A Life Less Ordinary was somewhat hormonally subjective, in the same way that triple fudge brownies can be considered somewhat chocolate. On tenth viewing, which is about where I’m at now, I don’t like the movie nearly as much.

Now let me clarify that I still have a major thing for Ewan, but (and I think he might agree with me,) this was not one of his better performances. In fact, even in my most blindly besotted phase, I couldn’t quite avoid the urge to squirm in embarrassment for the man. It wasn’t McGregor’s biggest cinematic faux pas — I reserve that honor for Eye of the Beholder — but even if A Life Less Ordinary is more of a zit on his career than a hemorrhoid, it’s still a zit.

Everything about this movie conspired to make McGregor look like the rank amateur he certainly wasn’t. Considering that it came from Danny Boyle and John Hodge — the force behind Trainspotting and Shallow Grave — I find this inexplicable and honestly unforgivable. It’s common knowledge that McGregor had a falling out with them after they declined to cast him in their next movie (The Beach with Leo “King of the World” DiCaprio) but personally I think he should have been whimpering with gratitude to have gotten out when he did.

I think I can also say without fear of contradiction, that when McGregor and Diaz performed their karaoke duet, they did not at any point sing in the same key. They weren’t even in the same suburb of any recognizable key that I know of. After I watched this for the first time, if you’d told me that Ewan was going to go on to star in a very successful musical, I’d have laughed myself into a coma.

Diaz’s performance in this picture is a little hard for me to gauge. As a stuck up out for kicks rich girl… yeah, she was on target. But there were lines of obviously British dialogue that were so oddly formal in an American accent, (“You’re keen to learn”), that they seemed really bizarre coming out of her mouth. Once again I blame Hodge and Doyle for not doing their homework.

Still, for a nice surrealistic kicked back afternoon, this isn’t a bad choice. It’s definitely a rent before you buy movie though. And definitely hang out for the claymation credits. Who doesn’t love claymation?

I love a competitive game of Twister.

I love a competitive game of Twister.

Intermission!

  • A Life Less Ordinary makes Sue’s personal top five for most ridiculously contrived script ever.
  • So THAT’S the incentive for victims being forced to dig their own graves.
  • Robot tossing could become a new fad.
  • The progression of Holly Hunter’s wounds
  • Angels use eavesdropping equipment
  • Gabriel has a desk job
  • “Beyond The Sea” is the song played at the karaoke bar
  • Is It Worth Staying Through End Credits? Oh HECK yes. Not only does it continue the story, but it does so in… CLAYMATION! Woo!

Groovy Quotes

Tod: You think I’d talk to a dog? Do you think I’d ask a dog whether you are good or evil? Do you think I’m some sort of backwoods weirdo with a barn full of skulls and knives I sharpen every day in anticipation for Armageddon?
Robert: No, I’m sure you’re just a regular guy.
Tod: Yeah. I am a regular guy. I am regular. But that’s not the point! Who are YOU?

Celine: I’d like to make a withdrawal.
Robert: I thought we agreed there’d be no cliches.

Celine: “Kidnapping For Beginners,” Chapter One. Have you even asked for a ransom yet?

O’Reilly: Five thousand in advance. The rest is cash on delivery – no daughter, no dough.
Jackson: And naturally we’d operate a sliding scale, whereby if we only bring back part of your daughter, we only get part of the money.

Gabriel: [on the phone with God] With all due respect, Sir, how could anything be beyond Your control?

Celine: You have the demeanor of a man whose partner has left him for an aerobics instructor.

Elliot Zweikel: I wish you hadn’t done that. Now I have to have to hurt you, which is inconvenient and undignified.

Celine: I’m not interested in you, or your novel, or any other pathetic ambition you have to change your miserable, mundane existence.

Celine: If word got around that I had been liberated for half a million dollars, I could never show my face in polite society again. Diamonds have no value except that which is placed upon them.

Gabriel: [reading Jackson and O’Reilly’s case files] Divorce. Miserable marriage. Wedding canceled. Remarried, divorced again. Divorce. Ahh, irreconcilable sexual disharmony. Divorce, Divorce, Divorce, Divorce, Divorce, Divorce!

If you liked this movie, try these:

  • Trainspotting
  • Moulin Rouge
  • There’s Something About Mary
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