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`You, Me' and an annoying plot line

The comedy takes a predictable ride to a sappy turnaround, but -- gosh -- Owen Wilson's still cute.

July 14, 2006|Carina Chocano | Times Staff Writer

In the movies, letting someone crash on the couch is usually step one on the ruinous road to loss of privacy, destruction of personal property, family strife and at least one fire. And the studiously by-the-book houseguest comedy "You, Me and Dupree" leaves nothing out. When Dupree (Owen Wilson) loses his job, his apartment and his car after flying to Hawaii to be the best man at his friend Carl's wedding (he forgot to tell his boss), Carl (Matt Dillon) and his schoolteacher bride, Molly (Kate Hudson), soon find themselves sharing their love nest.

Having been down this road before, plot-wise, we've come to expect something more from the interloper than just crazy antics and slovenly personal habits. We expect that he be a certifiable nut-job or at least a non-ejectable member of the family. Dupree, though, is neither -- he's just a watered-down amalgam of past Owen Wilson roles (played by Wilson) who spends his aimless days mechanically spouting homilies and pep talks; a mop-haired, pop-psyched man-child apparently raised by some wild development executives: Follow-your-heart-and-just-be-yourself guy.

Carl, an ambitious real estate developer married to his boss' daughter, seems to have outgrown Dupree even before the movie begins. He indulges Dupree and tries to honor their past friendship -- but you can tell the guy makes him uncomfortable. The thing is, we're with Carl. There's not much that's charming about Dupree, despite the movie's dogged insistence that he's a lovable guy. He's a creepy, occasionally tragic, loser (in one scene, he unintentionally talks a manager at Levitz out of hiring him, realizes what he's done and quietly wraps up the interview), and there's something manipulative and narcissistic about his compulsive, self-induced failure.

It used to be Chris Elliott played characters like him, only we didn't root for him. These days, what with the emergent "rejuveniles" and all, we're supposed to admire Dupree for his childlike sense of wonder and his magical ability to charm neighborhood children, promiscuous librarians and mean executives wherever he goes. He's the sucker whisperer. Dillon, meanwhile, looks pained -- for some people, relating to the developmentally challenged can be an uncomfortable thing.

Directed by Joe and Anthony Russo from a script by Mike LeSieur, "You, Me and Dupree" doesn't aspire to be much more than a serviceable summer comedy, and the script displays the engineered precision of a theme park ride.

After dutifully crossing every item on the couch-surfer's not-to-do list-- inviting the guys over for a game, ordering cable, etc. -- Dupree learns a valuable life lesson the hard way, turns heel and begins his ascent to redemption as the world's greatest houseguest.

Suddenly, the guy who was clogging the downstairs toilet is a poet, chef, handyman and sage. He wins Molly's indulgence, then her affection, then the affection of her intractable father (Michael Douglas), who has unaccountably dedicated his life to making Carl miserable. Carl, naturally, isn't happy about any of it. So Dupree makes it his job to re-wrought what he has torn asunder.

Not that the movie knows it, but in a way Dupree is like the worst-case scenario version of what might have become of "Bottle Rocket's" Dignan had he dropped his 50-year plan and starting smoking lots of pot. The bad news isn't that this Wilson character has failed to flower into a productive member of society but that he seems to have been coddled into remaining an ossified parody of the lunatic dreamer he was.

The tone of "You, Me and Dupree" is smarmy in that institutional way that doesn't seem to know what the tongue is doing in the cheek, exactly, but keeps it there just in case. This tone would suggest there's some irony at work here -- especially at the end when Dupree puts his dubious skills to work. Maybe his unlikely turnaround is some kind of a sarcastic retort to the idea that this sort of thing ever happens. But it's hard to pinpoint who the joke is on, exactly. Judging from the final scene, you'd have to be a sucker to listen to the guy in the first place.


`You, Me and Dupree'

MPAA rating: PG-13 for sexual content, brief nudity, crude humor, language and a drug reference.

A Universal Pictures release. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo. Producers Owen Wilson, Scott Stuber, Mary Parent. Screenplay Michael LeSieur. Director of photography Charles Minsky. Editors Peter B. Ellis, Debra Neil-Fisher. Music by Rolfe Kent. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes.

In general release.

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