THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan


Sometimes I see a comedy so bad that I wonder how it ever got made. Serving Sara is one of those comedies. This movie is so painfully unfunny that I can only wonder who thought it was a good idea. There are lots of talented people on board here. Surely at least one of them looked around at some point and knew they were in trouble. Then again - judging from the final result - maybe not. And that's a scary proposition. Could this much talent possibly be deluded into believing this script was humorous? Could the people involved be losing their touch?

Matthew Perry stars as Joe Tyler, a process server with an attitude. His job is to serve subpoenas to people who don't want to receive them, including shady types who run underground gambling establishments. Joe's boss is Ray (Cedric the Entertainer), who is always on his back to do his job better and faster. Co-worker Tony (Vincent Pastore of "The Sopranos") is Joe's competitor for Ray's approval. Tony tries to sabotage all of Joe's assignments, but Joe somehow manages to get the upper hand anyway.

Their rivalry boils to a head when Ray gives Joe a plum assignment: deliver divorce papers to the unsuspecting wife of a wealthy cattle rancher. The wife is Sara (Elizabeth Hurley); she has no idea her husband Gordon (Bruce Campbell) is running around on her. When Joe eventually serves her the papers, she is shocked. Then she plans revenge, immediately offering Joe one million dollars to tear them up and serve Gordon first. Doing this - according to state law - allows her to sue for half of his earnings. Easily tempted by the money, Joe accepts the offer. Gordon proves difficult to track down once he gets wind of what's going on. Joe and Sara thus begin a wacky cross country trip to find him.

Elizabeth Hurley and Matthew Perry form an unlikely alliance in the comedy Serving Sara
How wacky is it? Well, at one point, Joe has to impersonate a veterinarian and massage a cow's prostate. Why? Don't ask. There's no real reason for the scene, except that somebody thought it would be funny to see Matthew Perry stick his arm up a cow's backside. In fact, most of Serving Sara eschews logic in favor of forced wackiness. Take, for example, a scene in which an angry Tony chases them through an airport terminal. What should they do? Run outside? Jump in a cab? Hide in a bathroom? No, they hop on the luggage belt and wind their way through a maze of machinery that conveniently rips Sara's pants off. You know, if the filmmakers wanted to include a scene featuring Elizabeth Hurley in her underpants, they could have found a less awkward way of doing it.

In a similar vein, there is a scene in which she flashes her breasts in order to get a free motel room. I have not yet mentioned other moments of idiocy, such as the one in which Joe sends Tony on a wild goose chase to Miami. The big gag here is showing Vincent Pastore in a floral shirt. Ha, ha. The grand finale is set at a monster truck rally where Joe scares the crowd by telling them that Gordon (who is hiding there) is carrying the Ebola virus.

Are you laughing at any of this? Me neither.

Serving Sara flops on so many levels. Matthew Perry is a funny guy; I happen to think he achieves brilliance playing Chandler on "Friends." He's badly miscast here, though, as an "edgy" guy with an attitude problem. I understand that he probably doesn't want to get typecast, but if that's the case then why does Joe seem to be nothing more than Chandler Bing with five o'clock shadow? Elizabeth Hurley comes off even worse. I thought she displayed some solid comedic ability in the first Austin Powers film. Here, she is merely screechy, as though someone instructed her to imitate Fran Drescher. Cedric the Entertainer has only a small role, but he doesn't emerge unscathed either. His scenes mostly consist of him shouting into a telephone headset. He tries to inject the urban style of humor for which he is well known, apparently not realizing that it's wildly out of place this time. The pacing is off too. Director Reginald Hudlin (House Party, Boomerang) belabors the jokes to no end. Things that aren't funny to begin with go on and on and on.

All in all, this is a somewhat dispiriting experience. It's not pretty watching this likable cast floundering in search of something funny to do. Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that Serving Sara doesn't appear to be set in the real world. The characters don't act like real people; they act like bad characters in unfunny movies. Without at least a passing human element, how can we be expected to care when - surprise, surprise - they ultimately fall in love? This movie needs something genuine for the audience to relate to. The best comedy springs from truth; the worst from desperation. Any movie in which someone has to shove their arm up a cow's butt can only be called desperate.

( 1/2 out of four)

Serving Sara is rated PG-13 for crude humor, sexual content and language. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes.

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