Friday, May 2, 2014

Lost in Yellow: Bank on Banks, but "Walk of Shame" can be forgotten

Walk of Shame (2014) 
95 min., rated R.

Elizabeth Banks has always been an invaluably sparkling presence, really proving her charisma, likability and comic chops since playing a sexually adventurous book store employee in 2005's "The 40-Year-Old Virgin." She's never not a hoot and should be headlining more comedic vehicles, but it would be nice to see her working from a less middling script than "Walk of Shame," a movie whose title basically rolls out the red carpet for insults. For a madcap up-all-night comedy, there's nothing wrong with the premise or the assembled cast, but for an R-rated one, it either holds back or tries too hard. Writer-director Steven Brill (2000's "Little Nicky" and 2002's "Mr. Deeds") can probably take the brunt of the blame, or take his own walk of shame, for not making full use of Banks' talent and timing. There's more dopiness than funny business going on here, and then comes the "I am woman! Hear me roar!" message.

In one day, strait-laced Los Angeles news reporter Meghan Miles (Banks)she's just a good girl from Texasis dumped by her fiancée (Oliver Hudson) and then finds out she lost out on the network anchor promotion. To forget about her problems for one night, Meghan's girlfriends put her in a clingy, Marc Jacobs-designed yellow dress and go out clubbing. She ends up getting a little drunk and locked out on the fire escape, but hunky bartender Gordon (James Marsden) comes to her rescue and offers to drive her car home. Instead, they go back to his apartment and hook up. When she wakes up while it's still dark out, Meghan can't find her cell phone but uses Gordon's to check her voicemails, one of which is from her producer (Willie Garson) about Megham still being up for the promotion. Sneaking out of her one-night-stand's apartment with her car keys, she watches her vehicle get towed away to a lot somewhere over yonder. Stranded without her phone or any money, Meghan will have to traverse all over L.A. to get to the studio on time, fleeing from a cab, getting chased by the police, and making acquaintances at a crack house in the hood. And in that less-than-subtle dress, she'll never, ever be able to catch a break. 

Directed with technical competence by Brill, "Walk of Shame" gets its laughs early and most frequently in the film's opening credits' viral-video montage of fictional broadcast journalists making Freudian slips on the air. Besides that, this is a one-joke movie that goes about its flimsy premise, milking every possible opportunity it can to humiliate Meghan without stooping to fecal humor. Stuck in her friend's skin-tight, sunshine-colored dress and heels, an outfit that makes her look like a prostitute, Meghan is shamed for "soliciting sex" when she's just asking a passing car for a ride. This "I am not a stripper/hooker/crack whore/witch!" shtick only goes so far. Nearly every alley Brill's script heads down is not as humorous as it wants to be. That the situations Meghan finds herself in are purely contrived and plucked right out of a sitcom is barely a problem; you either go all in, believing a smart career woman could get lost in her own city, or you do not. It's that they aren't very funny and mostly a strained, frustrating series of misunderstandings in which Meghan isn't allowed much time to eloquently explain herself to police officers, cab drivers, and Hasidic Jews. None of the ethnic stereotype humor works, although her time spent with three helpful African American crackheads, who give "that bitch from the news" tips on how to warm up to her audience, could be considered the film's high note.

As the chief reason to check out this film (if you're so inclined), Elizabeth Banks is naturally likable and always game to sell a joke. Throwaway moments involving one of those pizza-box tables and Meghan's fear of cats earn chuckles in her hands, but one starts to feel bad for Banks, even as she manages to still look great in that skimpy dress. It's hard to tell if Brill even likes his Meghan character, consistently humiliating her and never letting her catch a break. As love interest Gordon, James Marsden is affable without fail but very much wasted in the barely written role of a day-time "post-modern romantic fiction" novelist and nightly bartender. He's appealing next to his equally photogenic co-star, but there isn't much to cling to or care about in their unformed relationship. Gillian Jacobs (TV's "Community") and Sarah Wright ("21 & Over") have their moments as Meghan's best gal pals, the high-strung Rose and the dim Denise. Other supporting contributions aren't bad; Kevin Nealon, who has never been terribly funny on screen, is less abrasive here as helicopter-monitoring traffic reporter Chopper Steve, and Alphonso McAuley's turn as a news-watching crackhead named Pookie is more endearing than it sounds.

If "Walk of Shame" offers any nugget of insight, it's that no one saves phone numbers to their actual memory anymore. Oh, and that Los Angelenos are easily shocked by a pretty woman in a bandage dress. When a movie comedy isn't made with the crème de la crème of wit, the viewer can usually count on its actors to deliver a barrel of laughs and ignore the limitations and oversights of a crummy script. This time, the entire cast almost feels like it is just doing writer-director Brill a big favor, but Banks surely has our attention, even here, and because of her, "Walk of Shame" scrapes by as a tolerable, quickly paced time-waster. Without ever being actively bad, this is an infrequently amusing 95 minutes stretched thin. It's nothing to be ashamed of, as its intentions are so harmless, but you can forget about it. Have no worries, though: Banks still comes out shining like the sun.


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