Two new farcical comedies opened Friday — "The Pallbearer," in which David Schwimmer (of TV's "Friends") makes the leap from the small screen to the big screen in a low-energy, low-laughs reworking of "The Graduate," and "The Great White Hype," yet another entry in that tired genre, the boxing comedy.
— "THE PALLBEARER" opens on a somber note, as Ruth Abernathy (Barbara Hershey) opens her garage door to discover that her college-graduate son is dead in his car, having asphyxiated himself.
This death kicks off the film's plot, which gets into gear after we meet Tom Thompson (Schwimmer), a Brooklyn slacker who has been out of college for a year, lives with his mother (Carol Kane) and can't seem to land a job.
Living in a state of perpetual arrested development, Tom's room is probably the same as it was when he was 14 — he still sleeps in a bunkbed, trips over comic books and toys that are strewn about and has installed a chain lock so his mother won't surprise him.
The plot revolves around Tom's being asked to be a pallbearer at the funeral of the suicide victim, described to him as an old high school friend. But Tom has an excellent memory and he can't place the guy — even after he sees the body. Worse, just before the funeral, Tom is asked by Mrs. Abernathy to say the eulogy.
The result is a hilarious, albeit very dark funeral sequence, which serves as the film's high point (though it occurs only 15 minutes into the picture), capped by a stunner that comes after the funeral, as Mrs. Abernathy tells Tom, "You're in the will."
From this point on, however, everything heads rapidly downhill, as the film focuses on Tom's romantic dilemmas when he meets and awkwardly begins to romance a girl (Gwyneth Paltrow) he loved from afar in high school, and then as he begins seeing Mrs. Abernathy, first as a consoling friend and then as a seduced lover.
Co-written and directed by first-timer Matt Reeves, "The Pallbearer" is fraught with problems, from its storyline — which rips off quite a few specifics from "The Graduate" — to its pseudo-Woody Allen tone to its slow pacing. And the latter isn't helped by Schwimmer's annoying habit of pausing for what seems like days before responding to other actors' dialogue. (The latter is not entirely Schwimmer's fault, of course — editing could have helped.)
Most of the characters here are poorly developed — and audiences may have a hard time with the way Tom treats his mother. She is played by Kane in a sweetly loopy manner, and you can't help feeling that she deserves better than his curt disrespect (which is, of course, supposed to be funny).
"The Pallbearer" is rated PG-13 for violence, sex and profanity.
— "THE GREAT WHITE HYPE" is a farce that takes potshots at the "Rocky" movies and myriad other boxing pictures, as well as taking aim at real-life travails in the sport. But aside from an arresting central performance by Samuel L. Jackson as a flamboyant promoter, there is nothing to recommend here.
The ever-reliable Jackson plays the nasty Rev. Sultan, who needs more money than pay-per-view cable sales are offering for bouts with his boxer, world heavyweight champ James "The Grim Reaper" Roper (Damon Wayans). It seems the world doesn't much care anymore about a black fighter defending his belt against another black fighter.
So, to increase profits, Sultan decides to play "the race card" by finding a "great white hope," reasoning that a white heavyweight taking on the champ will boost interest with weary sports-viewers.
To do so, he tracks down a former amateur fighter, the only man to ever knock out Roper — one "Irish" Terry Conklin (Peter Berg, who keeps saying, "I'm not Irish"), now a grunge rock star.
But, for some unexplained reason, as the match approaches, Roper slacks off his training and begins a steady diet of ice cream and candy, which results in sagging form, a big belly . . . and a lot of fat jokes.
Meanwhile, a freelance documentarian (Jeff Goldblum) is trying to film an expose about Sultan, though he quickly sells out when Sultan offers him a public relations job.
Also in the cast are comics Cheech Marin, Jon Lovitz and Jamie Foxx, though none of them has anything remotely funny to do (and Foxx, for some reason, is allowed to mug ridiculously, quickly wearing out his welcome).
Scenes are cut short, characters come and go and the gags continually fall flat in what should have been a sharp-eyed sports satire.
As it is, this is merely another bleary-eyed sports flick doomed for the video scrapheap.
"The Great White Hype" is rated R for violence, sex, partial nudity and constant profanity and vulgarity.