Take a ridiculous premise, marry it to a situation that is bound to resolve itself in the most obvious way, and keep the whole thing rolling with juvenile gags. What do you have?
Television. Or "If Lucy Fell," whose writer-director, Eric Schaeffer, certainly knows television. Or knew it. He and partner Donal Lardner Ward were responsible for the ill-fated Fox series "Too Something," an opportunity they won (if that's the word) on the basis of "My Life's in Turnaround," their smart independent comedy about the making of a smart independent comedy.
Where his new film positions Schaeffer is somewhere betwixt media, awkwardly straddling the gap between early Woody Allen and "Friends." He can certainly be funny, but he's not absurdist enough to get away with being vacuous as well.
The Lucy of the title (Sarah Jessica Parker) is an almost-30 psychotherapist with an unsatisfying love life; her roommate of many years is Joe (Schaeffer), a painter (is any major character in movie Manhattan not an artist?) who also teaches children--who we are to presume have emotional problems but who, empirically speaking, are delightful, if stage-bred, cherubs. Lucy's unhappiness reaches a point where she decides to hold Joe--who himself has spent five years pining for the unapproachable Jane (Elle Macpherson)--to the pact they'd made in college: Find true love by 30, or jump off the Brooklyn Bridge.
So: Lucy has a deadline. She also has a father (James Rebhorn), who's unaware of--but who she assumes will be unresponsive to--her dream of starting a school for kids. But these devices don't really help. The only time "Lucy" isn't falling on her face is when Schaeffer is being a comedian.
Assuming that such sophisticated characters would consider themselves bound by a sophomoric promise they'd made 10 years earlier, or that you, the audience, can't see what's coming between Joe and Lucy, one still must contend with the preposterous romantic matchups of Jane and Joe and Lucy and Bwick (Ben Stiller), an artist-currently-impersonating-Prince whom the deadline-racing Lucy seizes upon as her last-ditch hope.
Stiller is quite funny as the enfant idiot Bwick, and Macpherson, when she isn't monopolizing the screen with her looks, is quite a capable actress. But the whole thing is so cute and predictable that, even when Schaeffer cuts loose with an off-center bit of comedic whimsy (several of which are gross-out routines), the whole thing still lies a long way from wit.
Schaeffer does know how to move his movie along, and he gets considerable assistance creating a dramatic mood by the songs of the band Marry Me Jane, whose music provides much of the soundtrack. But he can't get out from under his own flimsy construct, which is ready for the river long before love arrives.
* MPAA rating: R, for language and some sexuality. Times guidelines: no nudity, but the humor and situations are aimed strictly at adults.
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'If Lucy Fell'
Sarah Jessica Parker: Lucy Ackerman
Eric Schaeffer: Joe MacGonaughgill
Ben Stiller: Bwick Elias
Elle Macpherson: Jane Lindquist
James Rebhorn: Simon Ackerman
A Motion Picture Corp. of American production, released by TriStar Pictures. Director Eric Schaeffer. Producers Brad Krevoy, Steve Stabler, Brad Jenkel. Screenplay by Eric Schaeffer, based on a story by Eric Schaeffer & Tony Spiridakis. Cinematographer Ron Fortunato. Editor Susan Graef. Costumes Ane Crabtree. Music Charlton Pettus and Amanda Kravat. Production design Ginger Tougas. Set designer Betsy Alton. Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.