I have no doubt that Queen Latifah is a wonderful person. All of her performances have exuded likability and charisma – this even includes the Pizza Hut commercials. Her project choices, however, have made it difficult for me to fully appreciate her talents. With dreck ranging from shameful knockoffs (Beauty Shop, Scary Movie 3) to the outright horrid (Bringing Down the House) on her resume of late, one cannot help but think that she’s possibly the most misused talents in Hollywood. Last Holiday offers her a shot at a starring role once again, but a slipshod script and poor direction again plague her sunny disposition.
Georgia Byrd (Latifah) works the cookware section of the large and powerful Kragen department store in pre-Katrina New Orleans, Louisiana. She is a frugal woman who loves to cook, but never eats her own food because of her diet of Lean Cuisines. Her secret crush at work is in the form of Sean (Cool J), and her inevitable clumsiness around him leads to a trip to the ER after she bangs her head on a cabinet door. In an abrupt turn of events, Georgia learns that she has much more than a bump on the head. She has Lampington’s Disease, a rare and fatal affliction that has no symptoms. She is given three weeks to live.
Instead of spending the time with family and a friends, she decides to liquidate her savings and bonds to take a first-class trip to Europe and stay at the luxurious Grandhotel Pupp (pronounced “poop” – ho, ho). While there she involuntarily convinces everyone she is a loaded entrepreneur. In what has to be an impossible coincidence, magnate Matthew Kragen (Hutton), his mistress (Witt), Louisiana Senator Dillings (Esposito), and fellow Congressman Stewart (Nouri) are also spending time there and are fascinated with Georgia’s presence. Contrivances abound.
Unbeknownst to many, Last Holiday is actually a remake of the 1950 Alec Guinness film of the same name. Lost in translation is any hint of edgy humor. The film plods along at a snail’s pace as it tries way too hard to establish the circumstances surrounding Georgia’s impending adventure. Once the movie finally arrives at its destination, it resorts to tired and clichéd bits of slapstick humor and the token unintelligible foreigner (Depardieu). The conclusion is handled in just about the worst way possible, but seeing as though it’s a foregone conclusion eases the pain a little.
Wayne Wang directs the film as if he gets an extra commission for each Latifah reaction shot. The pacing is off-the-mark and muddy, mainly due to the sub-par script by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, making for long bouts of dead silence and eye-rolling as the film treads the same familiar waters as countless other, better films.
Latifah still manages to give a comforting performance and brings life to scenes that would otherwise be dead-on-arrival. Timothy Hutton is your dime-a-dozen snarling prick of a businessman, only worried about his quarterly profits. LL Cool J’s character only exists for plot convenience, which probably explains why he looks so confused all the time. The rest of the supporting cast is acceptable in their cardboard caricature roles.
Last Holiday will certainly appeal to audiences in search of five-star accommodations for their cinematic escapism. The surroundings are plush, but the film as whole is another disappointment in Latifah’s body of work. She deserves better material and one of these days someone will deliver it. Until then, stay home and watch her hawk Wal-Mart and Pizza Hut for free on the tube.
Studio: Paramount Pictures
Length: 112 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for some sexual references.
Theatrical Release: January 13, 2006
Directed by: Wayne Wang
Written by: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman. 1950 screenplay by J.B. Priestley.
Cast: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Giancarlo Esposito, Alicia Witt, Gerard Depardieu