Directed by Peyton Reed. Starring Jim Carrey, Zooey Deschanel, Bradley Cooper, John Michael Higgins, Rhys Darby, Danny Masterson, Terence Stamp. (2008, PG-13, 104 min.)
REVIEWED By Theresa Everline, Fri., Dec. 19, 2008
Yes Man opens with Carl (Carrey), a bank loan officer, in a funk, avoiding his friends, brooding at his job, and spending every evening slumped on his sofa watching DVDs. Not exactly depressed, Carl just greets the world with either a sigh or a wince. Then an old acquaintance, Nick (Higgins), the embodiment of the word “gusto,” pushes Carl to attend a self-help seminar led by motivational guru Terrence Bundley (Stamp). Terrence's message, much like his beige yet shiny leisure suit, is banal yet will glint through the consciousness of every “I’d prefer not to” Bartelby sitting in the audience. The life-changing mantra? Say “yes” to every opportunity that presents itself. This plot gimmick veers suspiciously close to the 1997 Carrey vehicle Liar Liar, in which his character compulsively tells the truth, even though supernatural intervention is the cause. In contrast, Yes Man believes in free will, with Carl at first struggling to agree to requests small and large, whether it be friends getting him to pick up the bar tab or a homeless person asking for a ride. But soon he’s showered with rewards, including a pretty new girlfriend played by actor/singer Deschanel, who’s wide-eyed and good-hearted but without a lot of range – a fair description of the film itself. A repeated motif has Carl learning a random skill (Korean lessons? Sure!), which a few scenes later turns out to be precisely what he needs to solve a problem (a surly Korean saleswoman) and make everyone happy. As the good results roll in and Carl starts uttering “yes” without hesitation, Yes Man becomes less a story and more a collection of set-pieces. True, the scenes are often amusing, and a good dose of ad-libbing keeps the tone appealingly wobbly. Although Deschanel proves to be generally engaging – her art-rock band performance is a hoot – she sometimes seems to just go blank, while Stamp, voice booming and eyes narrowing, wrings what he can out of his two scenes. Carrey does his usual job here, but it’s not enough. The New Zealander Darby, from The Flight of the Conchords, whisks the film out from underneath Carrey’s nose with his consistently funny turn as Carl’s nerdy, needy boss, Norman. Nevertheless, Yes Man proves utterly formulaic. Is there a feel-good gathering of everyone Carl has helped? Is there a trumped-up romantic crisis? Is there a mad crosstown dash? You guess the answers.