There’s nothing like a good death comedy to raise the spirits.
Queen Latifah’s latest airy vehicle “Last Holiday” capitalizes on a classic “What if?” plot to create a sense of jubilance in the face of an otherwise-grim situation. Though Latifah has trouble selling her usually buoyant and impulsive persona as the reserved play-it-safer, what really makes the film work is the secondary cast. The movie is brimming with charming, nuanced characters who all play small but important roles. Latifah also doesn’t convincingly sell her romance with Sean (LL Cool J, “S.W.A.T.”), despite his purported ability to “crack a walnut with that ass.”
Sean’s hind parts first catch Georgia’s (Latifah, “Beauty Shop”) eye from across the floor of the department store where they both work. Unfortunately, despite mutual attraction, neither party can summon the guts to say anything until one day, as they’re finally talking, Georgia knocks her head on an open cupboard. A subsequent CAT scan leads to the discovery of a terminal disease in Georgia’s brain, and the diagnosis? She has three weeks to live.
Georgia does what any good lead character in a formulaic Hollywood comedy would do: She decides to start Living with a capital “L.” Withdrawing her entire life savings, she embarks on a “last holiday” to the dreamy Hotel Pupp in the Czech Republic. There, her newfound carefree antics inspire everyone from bellboy to congressman. The drama begins when her charisma threatens the political agenda of retail mogul Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton, “Kinsey”).
This whimsical pattern of winning over all (save the Man) at a large establishment recalls 2004’s “The Terminal.” The two movies share the same essential feel, and perhaps more importantly, both feature a profoundly amusing old Indian man named Gupta.
Other delightful small characters include a boisterous, warm-hearted chef, a sneaky old concierge, a wide-eyed masseuse and the aforementioned bellboy, whose head of tumultuous hair that recalls Rod Stewart after a night of rough sex with a puma.
OK, so maybe that’s an exaggeration. Some of its events are much too far-fetched for any sincere enjoyment. After two minutes on a snowboard, Georgia is able to plummet down a black-diamond slope, landing some sweet jumps on the way. Unless you’re James Bond, that’s probably not going to happen.
Small complaints aside, “Last Holiday” has a joyfulness that just makes the audience feel good. Yes, it’s a bit corny in spots. Yes, it suffers from chronic predictability. But its cast and story are as inspiring as “The Terminal,” not to mention previous movies utilizing Latifah’s affable comic talents like “Bringing Down the House,” with the same message. Live. Dance. Have a good time.
Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
At the Showcase and Quality 16