Here’s the pitch: Thirty-five-year-old Trip (Matthew McConaughey) is still living at home with his parents (Kathy Bates and former pro-football player Terry Bradshaw), who are supposedly good and tired of his presence (presumably this is why they wait on him hand and foot). So when they hear about a professional motivator, Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), who specializes in these cases, they hire her to shove Trip out of the nest. How does she do this? By pretending to fall in love with her subject, thereby making him want to strike out on his own and have a house with an attic and a cookie jar, a wife, and 2.3 children with real eyes that open and shut.
Being that this story forms the basis for a romantic comedy, it follows as the night follows the day that Paula and Trip are going to actually fall in love. This is convenient, since it removes the necessity of dealing with the thorny dilemma of what happens to most of Paula’s subjects after she upends their lives and leaves them with a presumably broken heart alone in their new homes, wondering what happened and possibly practicing tying nooses.
Of course, the basic genre here asks us not to question things too closely. And that’s fair up to a point. After all, if we look at them dispassionately, such classic screwball romantic comedies as Gregory La Cava’s My Man Godfrey, Howard Hawks’ Bringing Up Baby and Peter Bogdanovich’s What’s Up, Doc? feature heroines who, when all is said and done, qualify as stalkers. Of course, these ladies aren’t in it for gain but because they want to end up with the leading men in the final reel, which offers a degree of cushion. Here, the attachment is the accidental by-product of a business enterprise, and how it comes about is more than a little sketchy.
The question arises, of course, as to whether Failure to Launch would seem quite so … well, sleazy, if it was either funnier or more romantic. I can’t answer that, because it generally fails on both counts. However, such a hypothesis at least suggests that you might spend less time wondering about the morality of it all if you were enjoying the proceedings.
The movie assumes that it can get by on the personalities of its stars. And within a certain demographic it will, even though it doesn’t deserve to — for reasons that go beyond its dubious premise. Setting that premise aside, Failure to Launch isn’t even a one-trick pony. It’s a no-trick pony.
There’s virtually no story here, just a setup destined to lead to an obligatory happy ending. Thus the movie becomes an exercise in largely pointless digressions and wheel-spinning tangents to get from A to Z: It takes us sailing, stages a paintball fight, goes rock climbing, introduces no less than three subplots (some of which have their own subplots) and fixates on people (mostly McConaughey) getting bitten by an array of animals. In other words, it will do anything to distract the viewer from realizing that there’s really nowhere to go — other than the exit. Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity and language.
— reviewed by Ken Hanke