Audiences know the drill all too well: One person woos the other under false pretenses, usually a wager or a dare, only to wind up really falling in love just as the deceived party discovers the ruse and calls off the courtship. Then, after a period of intense soul-searching, the two make amends and live happily ever after. "Failure to Launch" follows the recipe with tiresome exactitude, but with a moderately interesting new twist -- the guy, Tripp (Matthew McConaughey), is a 35-year-old playboy who refuses to leave his parents' home, forcing them to hire a professional named Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) to charm the boy out of the nest and into the real world.
One can't really fault first-time feature writers Tom Astle and Matt Ember for the effort -- there's no question that it sounds good in concept. But in execution it amounts to little more than putting lipstick on a very old pig. Both writers are veterans of sitcoms, and it shows. It's a television mentality that fosters the film's almost neurotic need to maintain a constant comedic rhythm with forced slapstick interludes that have no purpose other than to break up the monotony of an insufficiently conceptualized story. McConaughey and Parker are, as always, undeniably charming, but it's a charm that seems forever to be swimming against the tide, with the actors putting far too much effort into what should appear effortless. Even the very talented Zooey Deschanel, in a supporting turn as Parker's insomniac roommate, finds her normally impeccable sense of deadpan timing taxed by the consistent obviousness of ham-fisted dialogue and formulaic twists and turns.
It's not yet a third strike situation for director Tom Dey, who started his career promisingly with "Shanghai Noon" only to stumble badly with the Robert DeNiro/Eddie Murphy effort "Showtime," but it clearly puts his career on probationary status. Fumbling two consecutive all-star pairings is likely to make other stars think twice before placing themselves in his hands. There's some residual enjoyment to be had, however, from the casting of Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw as the parents; the is latter surprisingly natural as a comedic actor and, in one of the film's few genuine chuckles, amusingly immodest. Starring Matthew McConaughey, Sarah Jessica Parker, Zooey Deschanel, Justin Bartha, Bradley Cooper, Terry Bradshaw and Kathy Bates. Directed by Tom Dey. Written by Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember. Produced by Scott Rudin and Scott Aversano. A Paramount release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language. Running time: 97 min