Publicists in search of a usable break-out quote for this film are welcome to this: My Boss’s Daughter doesn’t suck nearly as much as I thought it would. Alas, judging by the fact that the film appears to be doing the same kind of non-business as last week’s Grind (a movie jealous of the box-office figures for Gigli), it seems unlikely they’ll get the chance to use my recommendation.
Yet saying that My Boss’s Daughter was better than I expected isn’t saying much at all, since I fully anticipated it to be about on a par with cranial surgery. No, this latest Ashton Kutcher laff-fest isn’t very good, but — largely thanks to Terence Stamp and a frequently hokey mechanical owl — the film is head and shoulders above the Kutcher-Murphy bomb Just Married, Murphy’s Uptown Girls and this week’s other comic disaster, Marci X.
It’s hard to cite all the things wrong with this movie, though they can all pretty much be encapsulated in one word — desperation. And no, it isn’t Kutcher who sinks the film this time. Whether by accident or design, the screenplay by David Dorfman (Anger Management) makes the clever move of turning Kutcher into a much-put-upon schmuck to whom bizarre misfortunes just happen.
This tactic works better than the usual aggressive approach of trying to make Kutcher himself funny. He can’t act all that well, but he does manage to react with a modicum of success. At least he’s a lot more palatable as a good-natured, mouth-breather boob (this boy graduated with honors from the Corey Haim School of Slack-Jawed Dramatic Arts) than he is as someone who thinks he’s funny. Then too, pairing Kutcher with Tara Reid makes him look better by comparison, since she’s clearly a candidate for the Jennifer Love Hewitt Excellence in Acting award.
Most of the trouble with My Boss’s Daughter is that it tries too hard and is too obvious about it. The movie opens and closes with the Barenaked Ladies’ “If I Had a Million Dollars,” a clever, jaunty little song that it doesn’t have a whole lot to do with the film — other than trying to bamboozle the viewer into thinking he or she is watching a clever, jaunty little movie by association.
The plot is wholly situational: Love-struck Tom Stansfield (Kutcher) thinks Lisa Taylor (Reid), the daughter of his boss, Jack (Terence Stamp), is asking him to accompany her to a party when in reality she’s asking him to housesit while she goes to a party with her fiancee (Kenan Thompson). Tom is so smitten with Lisa and so desirous of climbing the ladder at daddy’s company that he goes along with the plan, even though the job involves baby-sitting a mopey owl in need of special attention, and comes with Jack’s threat: “If anything happens to this house, I’ll kill you.”
Naturally, all sorts of disasters are going to befall the house and the owl; but being a comedy, you can be sure it will all work out in the end. It’s not exactly inspired, but it’s passably workable — and some of it does work. The business with the owl is fairly funny — after the bird drinks from a toilet bowl full of cocaine-laced water (don’t ask) — though this stems in part from the animatronic version of the beast being so laughably unreal.
Most of the scenes with Stamp score points only because the actor manages to wring every possible bit of good out of each insulting thrust the script hands him (“Are you retarded? This is not a rhetorical question,” or “I’ve burped up better tasting stuff than this”). Unfortunately, screenwriter Dorfman is laboring under the bad-taste specter of There’s Something About Mary (not surprisingly, the Farrelly brothers are thanked in the film’s credits), so he ups the attempts at gross-out comedy whenever the chance arises. And when the opportunity doesn’t surface — as in a truly strange sequence involving Ever Carradine as a tangential character with an oozing head injury — Dorfman manufactures one.
As with nearly every Mary clone, My Boss’s Daughter continually mistakes the peculiar and the distasteful for outrageous comedy. The Farrellys themselves seem with Shallow Hal to have grown up, and it’s way past time that their imitators did likewise.
I didn’t hate this movie — I’d rather sit through it four more times than suffer through Uptown Girls even once. But neither would I recommend My Boss’s Daughter to anyone who wasn’t simply in dire need of killing 90 minutes.
– reviewed by Ken Hanke