By Nate Buchik
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday, October 6, 2005
RATING: 6 out of 10
It sounded hilarious.
From the same minds that infused the brilliant summer-camp parody "Wet Hot American Summer" with so many distinct laughs, comes the romantic comedy "The Baxter."
Alumni of "The State" and current members of comedy group "Stella" provide most of the firepower, with Michael Showalter serving as writer, director and star.
The way "Wet Hot American Summer" took on the clichéd camp movie looked like what was going to happen to romantic comedies with "The Baxter."
As the trailers alluded to, this is not the case. While it's certainly a comedy, and has the flavor of much of Showalter's other work, it's more of a sweet little romance than an all out laugh-fest.
Tax attorney Elliot Sherman (Showalter) is a Baxter - the socially inept guy who gets left at the altar, not the guy stealing the girl away. He's lost girlfriend after girlfriend over the years, never taking the risks that would have assured him a permanent partner.
This happens at the outset of the movie, as ex-boyfriend Bradley (Justin Theroux) enters a church to steal Elliot's fiancee Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks) at the altar.
Then we go back to see how this happened yet again, as Elliot meets both Caroline and his temporary secretary Cecil (Michelle Williams) on the same day. He goes for Caroline, and their boring love blossoms until Bradley shows up out of the blue. As his marriage looks less and less likely to happen, Cecil becomes more a part of Elliot's life.
This all leads up to the inevitable conclusion that we saw at the beginning of the film, but this time we know Elliot still has options, namely the cute-as-a-button Cecil.
While there are original, quirky moments in the film and great support/cameos from Paul Rudd, Michael Ian Black and David Wain, this is not a home run like "Wet Hot American Summer." It's more like a single, but Showalter got thrown out trying to stretch it to a triple.
Showalter has trouble finding a consistent tone, as at times "The Baxter" seems to play for the ultra-sarcastic flavor of Comedy Central's "Stella" and at other times tries to play the sincerity card as Showalter tries to turn his film into your average romantic comedy.
The only question is, why try to make an average romantic comedy?
Showalter's acting is tough to judge, but he can certainly play the simple, naïve caricature that he has drawn up for Elliot and almost all of his previous parts. Williams, Theroux and Banks all show good comedic timing, and are nice complements to Showalter.
Brooklyn also plays a role in the film, as scenery from around the more upper-class areas of the borough is a key backdrop in many scenes.
While it still makes for an enjoyable film and a pleasant hour and a half, "The Baxter" doesn't have a true identity. Showalter is a funny guy, but doesn't risk much as he seems to want to find a mainstream audience, or at least one that's family friendly.
"The Baxter" is certainly a likable film, but don't expect it to stand up to repeat viewings like "Wet Hot American Summer" did.