Serving Sara

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, August 22, 2002


Come August every year, the movie business shoots its wounded, releasing doomed movies that don't deserve a more desirable date earlier in the summer. A standard example is "Serving Sara," a comedy you would quickly forget except for one scene that you wouldn't want to remember involving "Friends" star Matthew Perry (who at one point is forced to impersonate a ranch veterinarian), an impotent bull, and a shoulder-length rubber glove.

Hollywood dumps its duds now because nobody goes to movies in late August. At least that's the industry wisdom. On the other hand, maybe nobody goes to movies in late August because Hollywood dumps its duds now.

After all, it's not objectively obvious why May, when kids are in school and the weather outside is delightful, should have recently become the box office's biggest month, while muggy August should be a dog. The main difference appears to be the attractiveness of the movies. In May, we get "Spider-Man," in August, "Serving Sara."

Once, the prospects for August releases seemed hopeless because there are so few weeks left before the post-Labor Day doldrums. But with the recent increase in theatre capacity, a film can make so much its first weekend that the calendar is now less of a limitation.

"Serving Sara's" two stars are more famous for their not terribly private lives than for anything they've done on the big screen. The movie began filming a year and a half ago, back before leading lady Elizabeth Hurley's much-debated pregnancy.

Part way through production, Perry checked into rehab. He later explained, "I didn't get sober because I felt like it. I got sober because I was worried I was going to die the next day."

Eventually, "Serving Sara" was finished, but apparently there wasn't any particular reason to release it at that point. Letting it molder on the shelf, though, wasn't making it any funnier, and the national average IQ wasn't dropping enough to make it a hit, so, well …here it is!

In "Serving Sara," Perry plays a bitterer version of his sarcastic Chandler Bing. Perhaps he's just resentful of the lines he has to read here, such as, "It seemed like a good idea at the time." A standard movie critic insult is to compare a film's script to that of a sit-com, but if you like sharp one-liners, you're better off staying home and watching "Friends."

Perry portrays a hard charging process server who delivers divorce papers to a Texas zillionaire's Manhattan-based wife (Elizabeth Hurley of the first "Austin Powers" movie).

She offers him a million dollars to forget that he served her and to serve her cheating husband instead. That way the property division will take place under the more generous laws of New York rather than of Texas.

This wouldn't be a bad starting point for a "Double Indemnity"-style film noir, but not for a romantic comedy. It's hard to care all that deeply whether Hurley wins only $10 million in Texas or $100 million in New York. Moreover, despite her looks and celebrity, Hurley has yet to show that she has the essential capability of a lead movie star -- that of making you want to identify with her.

So, Perry and Hurley go to Texas together and various nominally comic things happen, although I can't exactly remember what they were, even though I saw the movie at 7:30 PM and it's now 3:30 AM as I type this. I'm forced to stay up all night to meet my deadline because Paramount Pictures delayed the screening until the last moment precisely to discourage critics from reviewing "Serving Sara." As you may have noticed, this ploy has not endeared it to me.

There are some fights, chases, and slapstick, but the puffy-looking Perry makes one of the worst action-heroes since 73-year-old Charles Bronson in "Death Wish V."

We all know that when a movie star gets, say, thrown over a table, the film actually cuts to a stunt double sailing through the air. But a good action star then dives right back in to fake a hard landing.

In "Serving Sara," however, after a stuntman takes a fall, the camera cuts to Perry rooted inertly to the ground like a tree stump. Director Reginald Hudlin seems concerned that his star might bruise himself. This tender loving care may have been prudent, considering Perry's 1997 addiction to painkillers.

Black directors like Hudlin ("House Party" and "Boomerang") seldom get chosen to direct films like this with white stars. Poor Hudlin must feel like one of those pioneering black baseball managers who were handed bad teams, such as Larry Doby and the 1978 Chicago White Sox, with the implicit understanding that they'd better somehow bring home a winner or it might be a while before any black gets another chance.


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