Jim Carrey became the world’s most famous comic actor thanks to his stamina for self-torture. Liar Liar, a blockbuster from Hollywood’s golden age of Carrey exploitation films, plays like a kid-friendly Hostel. Carrey falls, he gets up. He punches himself in the face, he gets up. He smashes himself over the head with a toilet seat, he gets up. A decade later, the once impossibly nimble comedian is moving more like Mrs. Fletcher, the fall-prone spokes-codger for the LifeCall medical bracelet. In the first minutes of Yes Man (Warner Bros.), 46-year-old Carrey smacks into a tray-bearing barmaid and falls creakily to the floor. There’s no spryness in this tumble, no hint of the actor’s customary Gumby-as-overactor persona. Physical comedians age in dog years, and Jim Carrey is panting heavily.
It’s not always fair to compare an actor with his younger self, but Yes Man’s photocopied plot makes it hard to avoid. Carrey’s latest is essentially a remake of Liar Liar—rather than a shyster lawyer cursed to tell the truth, we have a zonked-out loan officer named Carl Allen who decides to spice up his life by saying yes to everything. Carl becomes a “yes man” under the tutelage of a life coach/cult leader (Terence Stamp, who gives the guru the necessary trust-me-I-have-a-British-accent quality) named Terrence Bundley, who tells his acolytes to “gobble up all of life’s energies and … excrete the waste.” At once, Carl is a changed man: He says yes to a homeless guy who needs a lift, to a genial elderly neighbor who offers him fellatio, and to a lovely young lady (Zooey Deschanel) who offers him a ride on her scooter.
While Carrey does the doldrums just fine in the movie’s morose opening act, he doesn’t have quite enough oomph to rev up the happy-go-lucky Carl. There is one scene, when Carl downs a case of Red Bull during an all-night bender, that evokes Jim Carrey: The Rubbery Years—the fast talking, the manic twitching, the insistent mugging. But Jim Carrey gulping Red Bull (even fake Red Bull) is like Barry Bonds taking steroids. It’s cheating by someone who used to be the best in the business, no enhancements required.
If you find Carrey’s latter-day mien too depressing to bear, perhaps it’s best to think of Yes Man as a Zooey Deschanel vehicle. Despite being forced to inhabit a character infused with Garden State levels of quirkiness—she teaches a jogging photography class and plays “The Star-Spangled Banner” on the keytar—Deschanel keeps things light and frothy as Carrey flails away. The singer-actress also gets a chance to show off her pipes, belting out a synth-pop ballad with the refrain “I’m not your late-night booty call.” It’s my early favorite for Oscar’s song of the year—suck it, Bruce Springsteen.
If you want to see Zooey Deschanel sing and act, though, you should probably just listen to She & Him and rent All the Real Girls. Despite the charming presence of Deschanel, Yes Man can’t overcome its pervasive drowsiness or its failure to care about its own high concept. Yes, the guy who says yes to everything doesn’t always say yes to everything. When a suicidal fellow, played by Luis Guzmán, asks Carl not to talk him down from the ledge, he ignores the plea and leads a crowd of onlookers in a rendition of Third Eye Blind’s “Jumper.” How does a one-joke movie forget its only joke? Perhaps Yes Man’s writers got confused by the film’s tag line, “Yes Is the New No.” In honor of that convoluted axiom, here’s my one-word review. Should you go see Yes Man?: Yes.