Friday, September 27, 2013

Baggage Claim

Review by Pamela Zoslov

It's not uncommon for a popular novel to be badly adapted for the screen, but it is unusual when the writer and director of the bad adaptation is also the book's author. That's the case with BAGGAGE CLAIM, a romantic comedy based on David E. Talbert's “chick lit” novel about an airline flight attendant looking for a husband. Talbert, an accomplished playwright, wrote the screenplay and directed the film, which stars Paula Patton and, for some reason, elides much of the book's wit and charm. It's as if the two Talberts are at odds: Author Talbert was betrayed by Director-Screenwriter Talbert. It's not a terrible film, just terribly uneven. Given its appealing source material, it should have been so much better.

Patton plays Montana Moore, a beautiful, single thirtysomething woman whose burden it is to be the oldest daughter of a mother so marriage-obsessed that she's had five husbands. Montana's mother, Catherine (Jennifer Lewis) preaches that a woman is not “a lady” until she's married or “a woman” until she's given birth. (In the novel, Catherine claims to have derived these ideas from the Bible; the film omits the book's amusing religious content, probably in order to appeal to a wider audience.) When Montana's youngest sister, Sheree (Lauren London), announces her engagement, Montana panics. She can't face the humiliation of being maid of honor at another wedding without being engaged or married, so she sets a goal of meeting a husband in thirty days.

Montana first pins her hopes on her burgeoning romance with handsome traveling businessman Graham (Boris Kodjoe). When that relationship implodes, Montana schemes with her airline colleagues — oversexed Gail (Jill Scott) and bitchy gay white dude Sam (Adam Brody) — to “accidentally” run into several of her ex-boyfriends aboard planes as they travel to various cities. The plan requires frantic and often very funny scrambling by Montana and a cooperating ticket agent, baggage handler and TSA agent, making it possible for Montana to casually appear on the planes alongside her possible Mr. Right.

The list of ex-beaux, somewhat abridged from the novel's, includes Langston (Taye Diggs), a councilman who's running for Congress and wants Montana to be his obedient arm candy; successful hip-hop producer Damon Diesel (Trey Songz), who's less independent than he appears; and Quinton (Djimon Hounsou), a wealthy entrepreneur who wants Montana to travel the world with him. Her disastrous date with politician Langston has the biggest comic payoff. Langston, trying to impress wealthy donor Mr. Donaldson (Ned Beatty), is offended when Donaldson tells him he will, once elected, be able to help “your people.” Langston, irritated, retorts, “If you mean the American people, then yes.” Montana defuses the tension with a funny quip about Tiger Woods, which doubles Mr. Donaldson's donation but angers Langston, who thinks a woman should know her place.

In the background there is also William (the very winning Derek Luke), Montana's friend since childhood, who lives across the hall and can be called upon frequently to rescue trouble-prone Montana in his vintage pickup truck. William, who has a contracting business, is reliable but unexciting. He's a good friend, but not boyfriend material for Montana, who prefers wealthy, exciting and unreliable men.

The screenplay omits the background stories of Montana's past relationships, making her quest for matrimony shallow and uninvolving. More interesting are the situations and personalities surrounding her. The few scenes that involve the zany trio of Sam, Gail and Montana are funny and leave us wanting more; the same is true of those featuring Jennifer Lewis' strong, stern Catherine. The movie is a bit jumbled, trying to be several things at once: a wacky rom-com and a swooning romance (Montana aboard a private yacht nuzzling gorgeous Graham in the moonlight); a plea for female independence (Montana's speech asserting her right to stay single) and a happy-ever-after fairytale.

Except for the pretty Patton, whose diffuse acting style is an acquired taste, the movie is filled with superlative African-American talent, and has a modicum of laughs. For some viewers, that may be reason enough to accept the movie's unevenness and savor its enjoyable qualities. 2 1/2 out of 4 stars.

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