I can tell you in two words why to see this movie, which is otherwise an unspecial Cinderella farce about a plain, shy New Orleans retail clerk’s whirlwind European winter holiday after she’s diagnosed with some improbable terminal ailment called Lampington’s Disease, and those two words are: Queen Latifah. Loosely based on J. B. Priestley’s 1950 screenplay for Last Holiday
starring Alec Guinness, the film is shameless – shameless, I tell you – with its fantasy shopping sequences and sports slapstick and grand-hotel hijinks (although I was delighted by Petr Vanek, who has a Richard E. Grant quality but is blessedly taciturn, as a bellhop). Director Wang, who specializes in chick flicks (yes, we can call them that) while not helming more venturesome fare (2001’s The Center of the World
), gorges the viewer on wish-fulfillment, with a palpable assist from executive producer Robert Zemeckis: Prague sprinkled in storybook snow; severe couture shopgirls who dissolve into giddy collusion as our heroine waltzes in; Depardieu as an imperious executive chef who plies Latifah with fine cuisine, appreciates her appetites, and dispenses garbled bons mots about embracing life to its fullest. ("The secret of life is butter." As if that’s news.) LL Cool J orbits the story as the good man who adores Latifah from afar and treks through an avalanche to win her love. Critics aren’t supposed to like this kind of thing. But you know what? Latifah deserves it. She’s such a relaxed and radiant presence that she sells it completely, even when her character snowboards down a black-diamond slope, mangling the soulless CEO of her department store (a somnolent Hutton) and landing in the middle of somebody’s picnic lunch. She’s a welcome change from the neurotic romantic-comedy heroines of Hollywood’s yore, not only because she makes yuppies suffer and, if I may speak frankly, isn’t a single-digit size, but also because she is luminous and confident rather than self-doubting and hysterical. She’s far better than the movie is. If we are to live in a world of movies in which women are comically diagnosed with brain diseases and discover their moxie through base jumping in the Czech Republic, let us at least have Queen Latifah’s brass to add a bass note to the treacle.