Yes Man opens Friday throughout the Triangle
In the opening scene of director Peyton Reed's Yes Man, Carl (Jim Carrey) is perusing the shelves at a video store when his friend Peter corners him and pressures him into coming out for drinks. In the puzzling world of this film, we are meant to understand that there is something wrong with a man who would rather watch movies than hang out at a terrible, faux-wooden cabin tavern.
Nonetheless, Yes Man turns out to be watchable, and it's certainly better than hanging out at the Lumberjack Lounge with Peter (played by Bradley Cooper, a seedy jock of a supporting player who seems regrettably on the verge of minor stardom). At the tavern, we learn that Carl, a weak-willed bank lender, has been backing away from his life and friends since his divorce three years ago, and a rickety montage shows us how much he loves to turn people down. Shortly thereafter, at a cultish self-help seminar, he's convinced (unconvincingly) to start replying in the affirmative to every question he's asked. As a result, he meets a girl, gets a promotion, and—in another montage—starts having a hell of a good time saying yes.
While formulaic and shticky, Yes Man is occasionally touching and has a handful of hearty yuks, including a cameo from the wonderful Luis Guzman that gives the movie its funniest scene. Zooey Deschanel has been making cute in performances in silly movies like this (Elf, Failure to Launch) for years, and she keeps up the ingratiating act here. She's adorable, but adorable only goes so far, and she has more to offer movies than simply striking sweet marzipan mannerisms. Jim Carrey delivers a familiar, sometimes grating, performance that's not too distracting.
This is the fourth film directed by Raleigh's own Reed, who—since his debut teen charmer Bring It On—has been making films about manipulative, immature adults. Down With Love got most of its energy from the unbankable conceit of tossing off a Doris Day-Rock Hudson trifle. Reed's last movie, The Break-Up, concerning the disintegration of a relationship between two unlikable bores, derived a weird kind of zeal from the fact that Reed's serious direction was out of proportion with the film's ineffective content. This led a friend to accuse The Break-Up of "thinking it was [Woody Allen's] Husbands and Wives." Unfortunately, Yes Man's cinematic approach is not at risk of being mentioned in the same breath as that of Husbands and Wives. It's doubtful anyone would even mention it in the same breath as that of When Harry Met Sally.
Even though The Break-Up didn't work, Yes Man would benefit from its attempted artistry. Reed has abandoned the stylistic ambition displayed in his earlier efforts. Scenes in Yes Man are adequately lit, the camera relays the appropriate superficial information, and the anonymous extras are all in place, but there are no traces of visual expression, and no feeling that anything unexpected could happen.
It's too bad, because it's clear from his other work that Reed could eventually get good at making sharp-looking comedies. But if he's interested in doing this, he's got to think outside of the system that gives him Jim Carrey and Bradley Cooper. Reed, whose movies I've been trying to say yes to since his since his sophomore effort, has taken an unfortunate misstep. But there is every reason to believe—that by scaling back instead of up—he could make comedies that find their footing outside the current crop of generic giggle-getters.