The commercial ambition of You, Me and Dupree (Universal) is right there front and center in one of the movie’s promotional taglines: “Last summer he crashed weddings. This summer, he’s crashing with the newlyweds.” This tepid romantic comedy wants to expand the Owen Wilson brand without making any big imaginative leaps from last year’s charming box-office hit Wedding Crashers. Presumably next summer Wilson will be crashing Jennifer Aniston’s labor and delivery, or maybe Ben Stiller’s baby’s bris.
Joe and Anthony Russo, the directing team behind several classic episodes of Arrested Development, have correctly calculated that Owen Wilson’s particular brand of goofy sincerity can take the flimsiest comic material further than it really ought to go. Something about Wilson is just so comfortable, so loose, that he can make the most pointless movie seem, by moments, as if it deserves to exist. But even the presence of the Butterscotch Stallion can’t sweeten this bland compendium of rom-com clichés. You, Me and Dupree could just as easily be plotted on a flow-chart in the theater lobby, saving its audience a 10-spot and 108 minutes they’ll never get back.
Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson) are a sticky-sweet newlywed couple who’ve been parachuted in from some gender-retro universe where pretty blond wives teach elementary school and natter on about their grandmother’s china while their uptight husbands land accounts (wasn’t Darrin on Bewitched forever “landing the such-and-such account”?) and watch football with their bar buddies. Everything looks just peachy for Molly and Carl’s new life together, especially when her zillionaire father, Mr. Thompson (Michael Douglas), starts handing Carl (who, in another throwback to ‘60s sitcoms, works for his father-in-law’s faceless corporation) some of his biggest land-development projects. But wait—it seems that Carl’s college buddy, the eternal partier Randolph Dupree (Wilson), has lost his job and his apartment at the same time. He’ll need to crash on Carl and Molly’s couch for a while—not long, just till he backs up the toilet, orders premium cable, and nearly burns down the house while seducing the school librarian.
Wilson and Dillon are not without chemistry (though poor Dillon is given nary a funny or insightful line to speak all the way through), while Dupree straddles the line between winningly boyish and pathologically obnoxious. A fantasy sequence, in which Carl imagines Dupree sailing on his father-in-law’s yacht while his wife performs a striptease, points toward the movie this might have been: an exploration of the toxic rivalry between a nice guy who can’t win and a golden boy who can’t lose. One of Wilson’s funniest performances was in Meet the Parents, as Kevin, the infuriatingly perfect ex-boyfriend of Greg Focker’s (Ben Stiller) bride-to-be. Kevin was so angelic, it was impossible to know whether or not he was a mere projection of Greg’s imagination. If You, Me and Dupree could free its mind to explore that kind of fantasy space, maybe its ass and the audience would follow.
As it stands, one minute Dupree’s an insensitive frat boy sleeping bare-naked on his hosts’ couch, the next he’s weeping over Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday. His final apotheosis (which will go undescribed here, to preserve this predictable film’s one real element of surprise) makes for a funny coda, but it seems to undercut the movie’s moral lesson about taking responsibility and growing up. Or is that the moral lesson? It might be just the reverse—that starchy guys like Carl need to take a lesson from the loopy Duprees of the world and listen to their own inner weirdness. If so, it’s a tip the movie would do well to heed for itself.