The events focus around a crisis hotline business on one crazy night during the Christmas holidays.
The loudest laughs from this very poor screwball comedy come thanks to the sight of Juliette Lewis with a few cushions up her jumper and Steve Martin falling headlong over his own jokes. Nora Ephron (the woman who brought When Harry Met Sally to the page and Sleepless in Seattle to the screen) has had a breakdown, a humour bypass, a very bad day. The result, a retarded Christmas caper set around a smalltown suicide help-line, went skimming past the cinema straight to video in this country — something of a shock in the Steven Martin department. But in case you were thinking of paying for the privilege because you sobbed at Sleepless, was jollied along by The Jerk and cringed at Cape Fear, here’s one word of advice: don’t.
Martin is caring-sharing counsellor Philip, responsible for a telephone hotline for the terminally depressed and desperate. It’s countdown to Christmastime, and Martin and his colleagues are battling to keep body and soul together under threat of eviction from a nasty landlord. In the only stroke of irony that Ephron can muster — and presumably that an American audience will understand — Philip and his colleagues, while handing out parcels of advice to others, have no luck in their own lives. Philip has been dumped by his fiancee and before the night is out will confront a cross-dresser and a gun wielding Santa. A tenuous workplace romance is fuddled by terrible jokes and a lacklustre zany subplot with Lewis as a hugely pregnant harping shop-owner married to a psychopathic would-be wall-painter.
Philip cheerily informs us in the film’s early stages that a lorryload of mixed nuts was responsible for the death of his father. The discovery is a happy one for us, simply because we can afford to wonder for a few moments just how many packets of noisette nibbles it would take to dispatch this bunch of damp squibbers to the realms of kingdom come. The words “What possessed them?” “Have they no shame?” vie with one another for top of the pile of immediate reactions.
The beginning of Steve Martin's non-funny comedies. Ephron should know better as well.
Reviewed by Louise Brealy