Nail Girl Goes to Washington: "Accidental Love" puts a nail through itself

Accidental Love (2015)
100 min., rated PG-13.

The lamely re-titled "Accidental Love" comes with one unfortunate production history. Starting in 2008 under the title "Nailed," shooting fell upon financing issues, leading to actors and crew members not being paid and director David O. Russell  (2013's "American Hustle") leaving the project in 2010. The film was shelved and then finished without Russell's involvement, floated into limbo, and since then, he has disowned it and "Stephen Greene" took over. Who is "Stephen Greene," you ask? Why, that's a pseudonym, like Alan Smithee. Sure, none of this would matter if what ended up on the screen was of some quality or watchability, but it does and it isn't. Adapted from Kristin Gore's (Al's daughter) novel "Sammy's Hill" by Gore & Matthew Silverstein & Dave Jeser, "Accidental Love" has so much talent behind and in front of the camera that bewildered viewers will just have to pause and wonder how it all went so disastrously wrong. It's that dreadful.

Small Indiana town waitress-on-roller-skates Alice Eckle (Jessica Biel) is just about to say "yes" to her sheriff husband Scott's (James Marsden) marriage proposal at a fancy restaurant before a nail gun lodges a nail three inches into her brain. She's rushed to surgery, but the doctors shut down the operation once the receptionist tells them Alice has no health insurance. The aftereffects are endless: Alice has erratic behavior and panic attacks, starts angrily spewing Portuguese, and gets fired from her job. Living like a depressed, drooling empty shell with her understanding parents (Beverly D'Angelo, Steve Boles) after Scott took back her engagement ring, Alice comes alive when she catches charismatic freshman congressman Howard Birdwell (Jake Gyllenhaal) on TV. Against the wishes of her family and Scott, who has moved on but was hoping to see a change in Alice, she goes to Washington, D.C., with her motley crew of hometown friends, Reverend Norm (Kurt Fuller) and Keyshawn (Tracy Morgan). Upon meeting the clueless Howard in Capitol Hill, she gets conked on the head, turns into a nymphomaniac, and she has her first orgasm with him. With the congressman's help, she hopes to make her nail-in-the-head situation a manageable cause to fight for and have a new healthcare bill passed.

More irritating than a mosquito and unflattering for everyone whose face can be seen, "Accidental Love" is a confused, artificial, idiotic, tone-deaf, hopelessly misguided train wreck. The film begins lightheartedly with the '50s pop ditty "Mr. Sandman" chirping on the soundtrack, as Alice rolls around on her roller skates, delivering fast food to vintage cars. Is this a farce trapped in a time warp? From there, it feels like being trapped in a room full of obnoxious, over-caffeinated pod people posing as cartoons, but really, it's just a bunch of talented actors floundering about without any detectable sign of direction. If the love-at-first-sight romance between Alice and Howard weren't already strained beyond belief, so many inscrutable plot detours clog the film. Howard ditching Alice for a Shaman ritual exercise? The uninsured Keyshawn's random romance with Capitol Hill security guard Rakeesha (Malinda Williams)? Pam spreading a rumor of child lesbianism among the politically driven girl scouts? By now, it's a moot point, but there's actually a scene that begins where a bed seems to be a-rockin' before it turns out to be two characters jumping on it. Does that still amuse anyone?

Everyone seems to be acting in a different movie here, and they're all trying—too hard, in fact. Jessica Biel has always been a fetching actress who has rarely been given roles equal to her talent, save for her memorable turns in 2002's "The Rules of Attraction," 2003's "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre," 2006's "The Illusionist," and 2012's underseen "The Tall Man." As protagonist Alice, Biel nearly retains her likability, but despite playing a woman with a nail in her noggin, she looks woozy in her aim for a tone and just dials it up to a thousand. Directed to smile like an imbecile, Jake Gyllenhaal is mannered and acting way beneath his God-given range as the wide-eyed Howard. Catherine Keener is one-dimensional and shrill as the scheming, for-herself Rep. Pam Hendrickson. James Brolin, as the Speaker of the House, stops by to choke on a girl scout cookie. Amidst the strangest, most eclectic ensemble since 2006's "Southland Tales," other bit roles are occupied by Paul Reubens, Tracy Morgan, Beverly D'Angelo, Kirstie Alley, and Bill Hader. They all should have known better.

With bad idea piled upon bad idea in the rubble, this embarrassingly atonal laughing stock practically refuses to work. It never nails a comfortable tone, pitched all over the place from wacky, broadly played screwball farce to a numbskulled romantic comedy to a political message about the little people and the unfair health care system. The satirical elements are there in sketch form, but the slapsticky humor, where Alice loses control and has fits of craziness, constantly works against them. Anything remotely competent about the production, like being in focus, is just negligible. A cringe-inducing creative fiasco if there ever was one, "Accidental Love" is so lost and mind-boggling beyond comprehension that it makes no sense it would be deemed finished to ever see the light of day. If David O. Russell was able to disown this brain-dead disaster, it will be much easier for the audience to boycott enduring a single minute of it. Other than that, it's a beautiful motion picture.