Star power and a light touch make this a likable if unremarkable romantic comedy.
Not all date movies are aimed at teenagers, a point amusingly made by "Failure to Launch."
This romantic comedy embraces the genre's typical ingredients; but its theme is directed at middle-aged married people and the cultural phenomenon of adult children still living at home -- and, more to the point, what can be done to dislodge them.
Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is 35 and firmly ensconced in the family nest. His parents (Kathy Bates and Terry Bradshaw) have tried everything they can think of to get him to leave. It's time to call in a hired gun.
Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a "professional motivator." She has had a perfect record of pushing adult offspring out from under their parents' roofs. But she has never run into someone with Tripp's mindset.
He's not some slacker who's just too lazy to find his own place. He's got it good, and he knows it: The refrigerator is always stocked, and his clothes are always clean. "It will take a stick of dynamite to get me out of my parents' house," he tells his two best friends. They nod understandingly; they live at home, too.
Paula's technique is to strike up a romance with her subjects. When the relationship starts to turn serious, the men start looking for their own place to live. It's the shame factor, she explains. Thirty-something men are embarrassed that someone they are trying to impress might discover they're still living with their parents.
Not Tripp. His embarrassment tolerance is off the charts. But she refuses to give up, and as she throws herself into the job, she crosses the clichéd line (see "Pretty Woman") and falls for Tripp for real.
The actors are playing familiar characters. McConaughey could have come straight from the set of "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," and as in her TV series "Sex in the City," Parker is playing a woman who thinks she's in control of her love life when it's really the other way around. Bradshaw, the former football star turned TV commentator, is a lighthearted goofball who does a lot of mugging -- in other words, he's playing himself.
All of which turns Zooey Deschanel ("All the Real Girls") into a scene-stealer. She plays Paula's cynical but not-too-bright roommate. Tormented by a noisy bird that sits outside her window, she mistakes "To Kill a Mockingbird" for a how-to manual.
Even though the plot is based on a real-life issue, director Tom Dey ("Showtime") entertains no pretense that this is a topical film. As with most romantic comedies, "Failure to Launch" takes off thanks to its upbeat tone and the charisma of its stars.
Failure To Launch
*** out of four stars
The setup: Matthew McConaughey's parents hire Sarah Jessica Parker to motivate him to move out of the house, but the plan goes awry.
What works: The characters are likeable.
What doesn't: The outcome is predictable.
Great line: Told that many 30-year-olds still live at home because they lack self-esteem, Terry Bradshaw replies: "That's ridiculous! When we were growing up, no one had any self-esteem."
Jeff Strickler 612-673-7392