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'Serving Sara'

Even a laugh track wouldn't help 'Sara'

Friday, August 23, 2002

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Film Critic

Joe's occupation is one step beneath bill collector: He's a process server, the guy who lays nasty court documents on artful dodgers trying to avoid them. He specializes in tough cases, and Sara is his toughest. She and Gordon, her Texas cattle-baron honey, are about to dissolve their big-bucks business and domestic partnership. One of them is going to be royally screwed -- depending on whether Gordon serves Sara or Sara serves Gordon with the legal papers first.

'Serving Sara'

RATING: PG-13 for crude humor and sexual content

PLAYERS: Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley

DIRECTOR: Reginald Hudlin

WEB SITE: www.servingsara.com


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Such, in "Serving Sara," is the germ of a comedy that rivals the West Nile virus in hilarity. Its hapless carrier and nominal star is Matthew Perry of the television show "Friends" -- a sort of latter-day Charles Grodin. People consider him likable.

Why don't I like him? Let me count the ways: Deprived of a laugh track and the close-up mugging that prop up his shtick on the small screen, he has nothing to substitute for the big one. Lumpy and charmless, without the faintest idea of movement or character, he relies on sitcom delivery for an occasional lift from abysmal to dismal. But there's not a true comic bone in the man's body.

Or in the script, for which co-writers Jay Scherick and David Ronn ("Spin City") should be beaten severely about the head and shoulders with a cow's bladder. Between them, they manage to come up with one chuckle, two chortles and three snorts but not a single belly laugh. Unless you consider Perry sticking his hand up a bull's rectum to be a belly laugh, as opposed to merely a rectum laugh.

Let us pursue this no further.

Let us pursue, instead, Elizabeth Hurley in the title role. She appeared beautifully enough in the original "Austin Powers," a sexy cross between Jacqueline Bisset of yore and Capucine of even more yore. Chief among her credentials is the fact that she's primarily a model, now in her eighth year representing Estee Lauder, which helps explain why she smells to high heaven as an actress. Any chemistry between Hurley and Perry is strictly inert.

Then there's Vincent Pastore from "The Sopranos," distinctly unfunny as Joe's rival server. Oy. The sole and soul humorous contributor to "Serving Sara" is Cedric the Entertainer ("The Original Kings of Comedy," "Big Mama's House," "Kingdom Come") as Joe's jive-turkey boss.

Director Reginald Hudlin, whose good debut with "House Party" (1990) was followed by the dull Eddie Murphy vehicle "Boomerang" (1992), wants it all to be ever so delightfully wacky. Alas, he and Paramount are defeated from the outset by the fallacy that TV performers can carry a film and that TV gag writers can script one.

Barry Paris can be reached at 412-263-3859.

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