Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Elizabeth Hurley makes a hotter Devil anyway

I remember watching an episode of Family Guy back in its first go-round and Jennifer Love Hewitt was the guest voice, playing herself. There was a scene where she listed off a bunch of films she's starred in. I recognized all of them except for one called The Devil and Daniel Webster; it was a movie that was in production at the time but hadn't been released yet. That was around 2001 or 2002, and every once in a while I would look it up online to check on its progress. It finally came out in the summer of 2007, under the name Shortcut to Happiness. It only played a handful of theaters and I don't think it's even on DVD yet but I caught it on the tee-vee and here you go with a spoiler rundown.

Shortcut to Happiness is about a struggling writer in New York City named Jabez Stone. To show us what a kind sensitive soul Stone is, we see that he'll go as far as to use his employee discount at a upscale men's clothing store just to help an old man afford to pay for a tie to wear at his 50th high school reunion. The problem here is that Stone is played by notorious hothead Alec Baldwin, and while I think Mr. Baldwin is a fucking awesome motherfucker, I have as much trouble buying him as an innocent soul as I did buying old worn out Social-Security Pacino & De Niro as active duty chick-magnet police detectives in Righteous Kill.

Stone has never had anything published but he keeps on keepin' on, sending manuscripts to the top publishers, including one headed by a man named Daniel Webster. Webster is played by Anthony Hopkins, and he and Baldwin worked together before on The Edge. In retrospect I was better off spending my time on a second viewing of that movie instead of wasting my time on this one. Anyway, Stone sneaks his way to Webster and begs him to read his manuscript. Surprisingly, Webster gives him two minutes in his office to chat with him. Inside, Stone notices a tail framed up on Webster's wall. Remember that tail, people.

Afterwards, Stone goes to hang out with his fellow struggling writers at a restaurant, and you can tell they probably hang out here all the time to drink and bitch about how they're not famous writers while motherfuckers like Carrot Top are. Stone's friends are played by Dan Aykroyd, Amy Poehler, and some other fuckin' guy. Aykroyd breaks the news that his book is getting published and he's gonna make some serious fuckin' bank on it too. It's pretty awesome to watch Poehler and the other dude's reaction to this, it's total "That should be ME getting that, not you!". Aykroyd's publisher is played by Kim Cattrall and that immediately reminded me of that Sex and the City movie that came out last year, and I wondered how many men were dragged to see that shit by women who knew damn well they could've seen that shit with their girls. That's some fucked up Torture=Commitment shit right there.

On his way home, Stone gets his laptop stolen by your basic garden-variety street hoodlums and since that laptop also happened to have his latest magnum opus on it, he doesn't react well to it. He rushes back to his apartment, and starts typing like mad on an old IBM Selectric until it breaks. This causes Stone to get all Alec Baldwin by grabbing the typer and throwing it out the window. Well, tough fucking luck there, because that shit ends up landing on an old lady and killing her geriatric ass. Stone realizes he's fucked and that's when Jennifer Love Hewitt comes in as The Devil. She shows him that she's for real by saving him from the cops and bringing the old lady back to life, and then offers to make him a famous writer in exchange for his immortal soul.

I never understood the idea of that; let's say that my life is shit (and it is rather fecal at the moment) but then the Devil shows up at my doorstep with an offer to make it all better as long as I give up my soul. You know what, I'd say no. I mean, as terrible as shit may be right now, spending eternity in Hell has got to be worse, right? That's what I would tell the Devil, that anyone who would still make that deal even though they know they're damming themselves to Hades is a dumb motherfucker and I'd also say "You know what else, Devil? You've just proven to me that you exist, and if you exist, then God exists and that means there's a Heaven. You've just let me know that there is in fact a better place after life, and we can go to it if we act right. So take off and go fuck yourself, I'm off to the nearest church to start my life as a newly-converted Jesus Freak." Then I'd drive to my local Blockbuster to rent Fireproof while listening to Christian pop on my car radio and laughing at the gays because they can't get married.

But in this movie, the way one finalizes a deal with the Devil isn't with a handshake or by signing your name in blood on a contract. Nope, here you literally get into bed with the Devil and knock boots. Since the Devil happens to look like Jennifer Love Hewitt, I can see why Stone was a little quicker than most in making that deal. The next morning, Stone wakes up and starts running his hands across the Devil's bare back, and on his way down towards her booty he notices a big circular scar. Hmm, I wonder what used to be there? Whatever it was, the Devil doesn't like Stone touching her there, so she rushes off in a huff.

The following day he's already signed on with Cattrall's publisher-lady and from that point on his life is nothing but success after success. His books sell like hotcakes, Tom Cruise's production company buy up all the film rights to his work, and trucks of money start rolling in. He also moves to an expensive apartment, starts banging hot chicks, and becomes a big celebrity in the process. Of course, there is a downside to this (aside from the whole burn-in-hell-for-all-eternity thing) and it's that Stone doesn't even get to write the books he really wants to write. He's shitting out brainless fluff that gets him no respect from either the critics or his famous peers, which I guess makes him Dan Brown.

We also watch him also turn into more of a heartless dick in the face of tragedy. Aykroyd's character gets hit by a car and killed, and that other friend whose name I don't know ends up getting Cancer. The poor dude visits Stone to break the news of his terminal illness to him and the motherfucker can barely make time for him because he's busy with a photoshoot for some magazine. Suddenly the guy vomits all over a table and Stone's response is to get all annoyed and ask him if he came for money. Now THIS part of the Stone character arc I completely bought Baldwin in.

Of course, Stone realizes what an asshole he's becoming and doesn't want any part of this anymore, he wants it all to go away. The Devil isn't at all sympathetic; a deal is a motherfuckin' deal and this is what he wanted right? Stone tells her no, he just wanted to be a respected writer, not famous for writing garbage. Well, tough titty, responds Lucifer. I have to say, I agree with Satan on this one. The motherfucker should've known what he was getting himself into. But I guess we're supposed to feel sorry for him like we should feel sorry for those people who bought houses they could barely afford and now they're getting foreclosed and CHOO CHOO here comes the Bailout Express! All aboard! Ouch...sorry, I just fell off of my soapbox and hurt my knee. I hurt my knee, man. Hold my hand, man.

So Stone goes to bitch about this to Daniel Webster, because he put two and two together with that whole tail-on-the-wall deal; it turns out Mr. Webster has had previous dealings with the Devil before and is the only person to come out of it a winner several times over. Shit, the motherfucker even chopped the bitch's tail off once. Webster agrees to defend Stone for some reason that was never clear in this fuckin' mess of a movie. So Stone, Webster and the Devil all go to a barn in a small town in the country where a trial is held for Stone's immortal soul. Aykroyd's ghost is the judge and the ghosts of famous dead writers like Ernest Hemingway, Truman Capote, Jacqueline Susann, and Mario Puzo serve as jurors. The stakes are made even higher when it's found out that not only will Stone's soul be up for grabs, but Webster's as well. The Devil, you see, has a hard-on for Mr. Webster. I can understand that completely, as I too have a hard-on for Welsh men in their sixties.

In the end, Webster wins over the jury with one of those Oscar-moment courtroom speeches you see in movies all the time and the contract is considered null-and-void. Stone's soul is saved, the Devil leaves pissed off and then we cut to the very first scene of the movie, which I assume means that Stone has been given a chance to start over again. Roll credits.

What a piece of shit. I know it's based on an old story which in itself was based on an old story and they've made at least one movie and a Simpsons episode from it, but goddamn this version fucking sucks. And you know what? Alec Baldwin would agree with me.

You see, this movie was produced and directed by none other than Mr. Alec Baldwin himself. This was his directorial debut and it was shot in 2001, which would explain why Baldwin looks a lot thinner in this movie than he does now. But a lot of shit behind the scenes kept this movie on the shelf; production was slowed down by financial and legal troubles with the financiers. Then Baldwin walked away from the project and took his name off due to creative difficulties, having had his unfinished cut of the movie taken away and re-edited. Then the re-edited version was re-edited.

Not having Baldwin's support or involvement and having very little money to complete the movie with makes for some interesting moments and choices in this version. In addition to that sudden non-ending I mentioned earlier, there's a long sequence in the middle that consists of what's supposed to be an Entertainment Tonight-style report on Stone's character. It's a bunch of shitty photoshopped stills of Baldwin placed on magazine covers, and the whole time a voiceover is explaining how Stone has been hitting photographers and other shit like that. You can tell this was done to bridge some narrative gaps and they chose to do it in the cheesiest way possible. It reminded me of the lame-ass news report in Death Drug with Philip Michael Thomas. Now you probably haven't ever seen Death Drug, and yet you probably have an idea of just how fucking bad it must be, because it's a fucking movie called Death Drug and fucking Philip Michael Thomas starred in it.

Another interesting choice here would have to be some of the voiceover scenes involving Stone; a couple of times in the movie, Stone's character narrates passages from his book or we hear him have conversations with other characters off-screen, but the voice is obviously not Alec Baldwin's. That's right, they went straight-to-DVD Steven Seagal on us and got someone else to do it. I don't have proof, but you can just fuckin' tell, bro. It sounds like they got his brother Daniel Baldwin to do it.

Eventually, over 30 minutes of the movie were cut out and the whole fuckin' thing was reshaped and restructured into an entirely different beast. What started as The Devil and Daniel Webster became Shortcut to Happiness. What was supposed to be Alec Baldwin's first film as a director is now credited as having been directed by "Harry Kirkpatrick". I miss Alan Smithee. According to the IMDB, Jason Patric and John Savage are supposed to be in this movie but I sure as fuck didn't see them in it, so I guess they were cut out. The movie plays like it's supposed to be a comedy, but from what I understand that wasn't the original mood or tone of the movie in Baldwin's version.

But I'm not sure how much better Baldwin's version could be. As it is now, the movie plays like a complete mess of very serious scenes smashed into very goofy scenes, but this is all from shit that he shot, right? Sure, the original longer version with the original structure might have made those scenes flow much better as a whole, but it still doesn't seem to change the fact that some scenes are played as broad comedy and the other scenes are played as incredibly solemn drama. Maybe a motherfucker like Alexander Payne could handle that kind of material better, he could straddle that shit like a stripper on a nerd with a fat wad of cash in his pocket. So I can't let Alec Baldwin or "Harry Kirkpatrick" off the hook completely with this shit. It just doesn't work.

It also doesn't help that Baldwin is seriously miscast in this mutha, I couldn't buy him in this part. I'm not saying that there aren't struggling writers in the same age bracket as Baldwin was when he made this movie, because there are struggling types of all ages out there. But like that other piece of shit Righteous Kill, you get the sense that the role was written for someone a little younger, which is kinda weird because I think this was Baldwin's baby from its inception and he was always gonna be the guy. Besides, let's be honest here -- if you're as big a fan of Baldwin as I am, it's probably because you think he makes a good asshole, or at least someone with asshole-ish qualities. He's got an edge to him and that makes him totally fucking wrong for this kind of innocent character. We're supposed to be shocked by his eventual change in behavior as he gradually loses his soul. But you don't feel any of that because ALEC BALDWIN is playing him. If anything, I was more shocked to see him play a nice guy in the first half of the movie.

I was more surprised with Hewitt; she does a pretty decent job here. This is probably her best performance yet, which I guess is an easy statement to make when you've got Can't Hardly Wait and I Know What You Did Last Summer to compare with. She's not ready for the fuckin' Oscar yet, but she's got some chops and I think given the right material and director, she can probably display them. I haven't seen that Ghost Whisperer show of hers so who knows, maybe she's kicking ass there for all I know. All I'm saying is that she definitely has it in her, and I'd definitely like to have it in her. HIGH-FIVE!