'Launch' is a failure, all right

"Failure to Launch" is the latest in a lineup of comedies about men as big babies. The pedigree includes "Meet the Parents" and "Meet the Fockers," "Hitch," "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Wedding Crashers." This new entry in the sweepstakes is easily the lamest. The title of the movie could also serve as its review.

Matthew McConaughey plays Tripp, a 35-year-old goodtime guy who sells yachts and hangs out with two male friends who all have one thing in common: They live at home with their parents. Since all the men are presentable and more or less employed, the big question is: Why?

In Tripp's case, for a long time we are led to believe that he just likes the comforts of home - i.e., having his mother (Kathy Bates) pick up after him and cook his meals. When he brings women inside, they are aghast at his living arrangements, which is exactly how he wants it. He takes them home when he's ready to dump them.

Tripp is not presented as a cad, though. He's just, well, a big baby, albeit a baby encased in the physiognomy of People's latest "Sexiest Man Alive." The plot twist comes when his loving but exasperated parents, in a last-ditch attempt to get their boy out of the house, hire a professional "consultant" to lure him away. Sarah Jessica Parker's Paula makes a career out of pretending to be a doting dreamgirl to all the male layabouts still living with their parents. Talk about thankless jobs.

You don't have to be Aristotle to figure out where this story is going: Tripp will fall for Paula, who will fall for Tripp, who will find out about Paula and break things off, followed by the inevitable reconciliation.

The rising phenomenon of grown-up children living with their parents is a real one, and certainly ripe for comedy. Director Tom Dey ("Shanghai Noon" and "Showtime," perhaps the worst Robert De Niro movie ever made) is not remotely the right candidate for the job. The jokey script by Tom Astle and Matt Ember is subpar even by network-sitcom standards. Typical example: On his frequent nature outings, the running gag is that Tripp is constantly being bitten - by a chipmunk, a lizard, a dolphin. The idea is that he's not at one with the natural order of things and the critters know it. That's why they bite him. Someone should have taken a bite out of this script.

All too soon, of course, it develops that Tripp's frolicking is really covering up his need to be loved. He's afraid of love. So is Paula. They're made for each other (if not for us).

The film's good-time rambunctiousness can't entirely disguise some of its queasiest implications. In the very first scene, for example, Tripp takes a woman to bed while his parents, in an adjoining room, prepare for the worst. This scenario was kidded in "Meet the Parents," but here the comic tone is so off that you want to avert your eyes from the screen.

Parker is bland throughout. Maybe all those episodes of "Sex and the City" have soured her on this sort of thing, although there isn't much sex here, and the action takes places in an oceanside dreamland that is anything but citified. As her grumpy roommate, Zooey Deschanel has a one-note role that reaches its high/low point when she shoots a noisy mockingbird with a BB gun. Her boyfriend then gives the bird artificial respiration. I can't remember if it survives or not.

McConaughey is enjoyably loosey-goosey even if the movie isn't. At times, however, he seems a bit unsure of what kind of movie he's supposed to be starring in, which is entirely understandable. Maybe he thought he was still acting in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." He should be grateful his career has already launched. Grade: D+

Rated PG-13 for sexual content, partial nudity, and language.

Sex/Nudity: 14 scenes, mostly innuendo and implied sex. Violence: 7 mild instances. Profanity: 32 instances, about half harsh. Drugs/Alcohol/Tobacco: 14 scenes of drinking, 1 of drug use.

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