Take the most successful male star of TV's "Friends," a ridiculously
attractive British actress, a sitcom-style premise that brings them
together so that they can inevitably fall in love, and a script with
a zippy pace but some really featherbrained jokes, mix well, and the
outcome may look a whole lot like "Serving Sara."
Joe Tyler (Matthew Perry) is a disgruntled process server whose rival
co-worker, Tony (Vincent Pastore), always seems to get all the breaks
from boss Ray (Cedric the Entertainer). Joe's job basically requires
to him to track down and serve usually dire papers to the unlucky.
When Ray offers Joe the task of serving the thought-to-be-happily-married
Sara Moore (Elizabeth Hurley) with divorce papers, he jumps at the
chance to pull in a big commission. After initially failing to catch
her, Ray reassigns the job to Tony. Once meeting Sara, though, she
makes Joe a proposition he can't refuse: if they can track down her
rich and philandering Texas husband, Gordon (Bruce Campbell), and
serve him divorce papers before Tony finds her, she stands to pull
in $10-million, ten percent of which she will award Joe.
Directed by Reginald Hudlin (2000's "The Ladies Man"), "Serving Sara"
is a harmlessly fluffy romantic comedy with a needlessly mean-spirited
undercurrent. It also makes a half-hearted attempt to follow the recent
formula of incorporating crude sexual humor into the mix (at one point,
Joe and Sara pose as veterinarians and are asked to get a cow off
by finding his prostate), all the while remaining in PG-13 territory.
The screenplay, credited to Jay Scherick and David Ronn, is an insignificant
confection that offers a few funny bits ("It's casual Friday" is Sara's
excuse during their veterinarian facade for why she is wearing a fur
coat, a tank top that reads "Trailer Trash," and a red cowboy hat)
in the midst of too many jokes to count that fall flat. Credit director
Hudlin for, at the very least, keeping the movie entertaining even
when all of the evidence onscreen points to failure.
A sizable reason why "Serving Sara" never grows downright tedious
is the energized punch Matthew Perry (1999's "Three to Tango") and
Elizabeth Hurley (2000's "Bedazzled") bring to the proceedings. Despite
surefire signs that filming was put on hold for several months after
Perry checked into a rehab center (the appearance of a double chin
in some scenes and not others gives this away), he has never been
so charismatic on film before. As for the radiant Hurley, she is a
class act whose sharp comic timing and acting talent is evident even
in second-rate material like this.
Every other actor onscreen plays second-banana to the leads, which
is unfortunate in some cases. The underrated Bruce Campbell (probably
best-known for playing Ash in the "Evil Dead" franchise) is thoroughly
wasted as Sara's smarmy husband, while Cedric the Entertainer (2000's
"Big Momma's House") has fun with his sporadic scenes as Joe's gruff boss.
Maybe it's just that seeing the Eddie Murphy debacle "The Adventures
of Pluto Nash" only a week ago has raised my tolerance level, or maybe
the film just caught me on a good day, but "Serving Sara" is charming
when it wants to be, and not nearly as bad as early word has suggested.
To be sure, the writing is too mucky and uneven to signify an out-and-out
winner, but for a boring night when you have nothing better to do,
one could do a lot worse than "Serving Sara." If such a statement
is a compliment or a criticism is yet to be determined.
Copyright © 2002 Dustin Putman