Waking Up In Reno

Movie Information

Genre: Comedy
Director: Jordan Brady
Starring: Billy Bob Thornton, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Swayze, Charlize Theron
Rated: R

First off, I have to say that this movie is unregenerately bad, while still being occasionally pretty funny — and very occasionally very funny.

The screenplay is by a couple of fellows calling themselves Brent Briscoe and Mark Fauser (hopefully they were wise enough not to give their right names), previously the authors of something called Hillbilly Heist, in which, it appears, they also starred. From the looks of the entry on the Internet Movie Database, I’m guessing that the tantalizing Hillbilly Heist is languishing in the vaults at Miramax, the same fate of Waking Up in Reno until just recently. Languishing in vaults seems to be the favorite pastime of movies directed by Jordan Brady, who, despite his status as a standup comedian, would appear to know bugger-all about comedy timing.

But let’s go back to this … uh … screenplay. It would appear that Hillbillydom is the main theme of Messrs. Briscoe and Fauser, since that’s certainly the key element in Waking Up in Reno. The main characters are from Arkansas (this is apparently funny in itself). They also appear to have been cobbled together out of the members of the Clampett family whom Jed never talks about. Their idea of a dream vacation is to go to a Monster Truck Rally in Reno. This also appears to be the dream of the entire city of Little Rock, since everyone they mention the event to wishes they wuz a-goin’, too. It is everyone else’s good fortune that they get left behind, while our intrepid foursome loads down an SUV with a dozen or so cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon and proceed west. Just to make things interesting, the self-appointed leader of the quartet, Lonnie Earl (Billy Bob Thornton), is having a fling with Candy (Charlize Theron), unbeknownst to his own wife, Darlene (Natasha Richadson), or to Candy’s husband, Roy (Patrick Swayze). In the meantime, Roy and Candy are feverishly trying to reproduce to please her father, who just so happens to be Roy’s boss at the Happy Tabby cat-food company. All the while, Roy is waiting for some mysterious test results from his doctor.

While in Reno, Candy discovers she’s pregnant and Roy gets the results of his tests. I bet you’ll never guess what kind of tests these are, nor what the results are. Right. As they say in the press releases, hilarity follows. Actually, nothing you don’t expect follows, but some of it is made passably palatable by the four leads, especially Billy Bob Thornton, whose used-car dealer is sleaze personified, and who boasts the happy knack for saying amazingly crude and insensitive things at precisely the wrong moments. It’s pure caricature, but that doesn’t keep it from being funny. The highpoint of his tactlessness is when he climbs into bed with Candy after their secret has been discovered, whereupon he claims that he just doesn’t want to be alone, reassuring her, “I swear to God, I won’t try to go for the monkey.” The casting of Patrick Swayze as the cuckolded husband was particularly shrewd, since the role perfectly suits his deer-in-the-headlights expression. The ladies generally fare less well, but Natasha Richardson has a couple scenes where she truly shines.

It’s all relatively painless, but largely uninspired. I have yet to figure out just why and how Penelope Cruz got into this movie in the bit role of a hooker. But then, I’m still trying to figure out just who the movie was meant to appeal to in the first place. It won’t harm anyone, but neither can I think of a very good reason to rush right out and see it. After all, it’ll probably be in video stores by Christmas, and it might just be better suited to a night in the living room than a night at the movies.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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