Sunday, May 4, 2014


Elizabeth Banks has thrown her hat in the ring. She wants to be one of this era's funny ladies, and if her performance in Walk of Shame is any indication, she's ready to meet all comers.

Granted, Banks has been funny for a while now, but usually in secondary roles, like the time she played Steve Carell's slightly crazy girlfriend in The 40-Year-Old Virgin. She also played Miri in Zack and Miri Make a Porno, but she wasn't particularly funny in that one, and neither was the movie. As far as I know, this is the first time she's carried a movie on her back. At age 40, with over 60 roles to her credit, she's more than earned the right. Looking like a less salacious Pam Anderson, Banks shows in Walk of Shame that she can be both sexy and funny, and can absolutely carry a movie. That's good news. Anna Faris, Leslie Mann, Cameron Diaz, Tina Fey,  and the rest had better watch their backs. (I didn't mention Melissa McCarthy, because Melissa is the comedy queen right now, and the rest of the ladies, to paraphrase something Larry Bird used to say, are all fighting for second place.) 

Banks plays Meghan Miles,  an LA news anchor up for a promotion. When she learns the job went to someone else (on the same day her boyfriend walked out on her), she decides to drop her good-girl image for a night and join her friends at a local dance club. She ends up drinking too much and going home with a handsome bartender (James Marsden). Later that night, she learns that the job is still available, but the producers need another look at her. She has eight hours to find her way back to her news station, but she's stranded in her new boyfriend's neighborhood with no car, no ID, no phone, and no way back. Add to this the mother of all hangovers, and you have a pretty good starting point for a comedy.

In the tradition of movies like The Out of Towners and After Hours, Meghan journeys into the dark, scary night, facing one obstacle and then another.  It doesn't help that she's crammed into a dangerously tight yellow dress, which makes everyone think she's a prostitute. We get a lot of hooker jokes, and she soon finds herself in a crack den full of surprisingly good-hearted crack dealers. She's also harassed by various cops, bus drivers, and taxi drivers. Some of it is amusing, some of it is not. This is the sort of movie where all the straight men are foul-mouthed perverts (except, of course, Marsden),  homosexuals are all flaming, African-Americans are all angry, and women, the movie's target audience, like to wear short dresses and drink too much (but are all well-meaning and loyal, ya know).  Banks is a trooper, though, as if she knows a star vehicle is a rare thing and should be handled with gusto. I admired her pluck, both as Meghan Miles, and as an actress determined to make something of this opportunity. 

Stephen Brill wrote and directed, and while he's been at the helm of some Adam Sandler movies as well as the Mighty Ducks franchise, this might be his best work in terms of pure cinema. I liked the way he used Banks' yellow dress to kick off a lot of scenes - we see her running through dark alleys, while a splash of light thrown from a street lamp seems to compliment her, as if the LA night is working as part of her ensemble. Brill's version of LA is a place where people, even drug addicts, don't break into song, but into commercial jingles, and everyone seems to have auditioned for a commercial at some point.

Unfortunately, Brill lets too many points go undeveloped, such as Meghan's problem with cats. We learn about it at the beginning, which whets our appetite for more cat encounters, but they never come. Meghan also shows an occasional crankiness - I like the way she grows impatient with the weird kid who demands to see her breasts in exchange for borrowing his bike - but not enough is done with it.

What the film really lacks is that single memorable moment, the sort of showstopping scene that Lucille Ball or Ginger Rogers would have knocked out of the park. Instead, we see Meghan plodding forward, not hysterically funny, just doggedly determined. To Banks' credit, she's the most watchable thing in the movie, and not just because of the tight dress. Banks has a quality that most actresses lack: likability.

Some of the side characters are excellent, particularly Alphonso McAuley as Pookie, a crackhead with a heart of gold who assists Meghan in her getaway. There are also some good turns from Ethan Suplee as one of the cops who thinks Meghan is part of a neighborhood drug war, Sarah Wright as one of Meghan's airhead friends, and the always reliable Kevin Nealon as a TV traffic reporter. 

The movie ends on a fairly predictable note, as Meghan scrambles her way back in time for her audition, and then  spins some mundane speech about being true to herself. It feels tacked on, as if Brill was desperate to tie things up and fit the movie with a message. It wasn't necessary.  I would rather have seen Meghan get the job and hire the crackheads as her entourage. 

Overall, though, Banks is worth watching. She didn't overdo the pitiful stuff, and didn't take her character over the top. On the other hand, such an evenhanded approach may have prevented Banks from finding that one star-making scene that could have changed this movie from being a middling comedy to a very good one.  

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