Owen Wilson has gone from crashing weddings to crashing entire marriages. In Anthony and Joe Russo’s farce You, Me and Dupree, his eponymous ne’er-do-well shows up on the doorstep of his childhood friend Carl (Matt Dillon), having lost his job and been evicted from his apartment after taking time off to be the best man at Carl’s Hawaiian nuptials. And because neither Carl nor his wife, Molly (Kate Hudson), has ever seen Down and Out in Beverly Hills or Houseguest or any of those other comedies about the dangers of room-letting, they offer Dupree their sofa, and he sets about making himself at home. Cue a series of comic payoffs so obvious only the most nearsighted of audience members risk being surprised: Dupree walks around in the nude, backs up the toilet, barges in on Carl and Molly having sex and, for an encore, nearly burns the whole house down — all the while a barrage of five-minutes-ago alt-rock hits plays on the soundtrack. Somewhere on the cutting-room floor, no doubt, there’s a montage sequence where Dupree runs afoul of a household pet, soon to become one of those DVD extras you wish you could return to sender.
Played by Wilson (who also produced) at the end of his stoner-doofus tether, Dupree is the latest in a rapidly expanding gallery of cinematic man-children, from the over-the-hill frat boys of Old School to just about every role Adam Sandler has ever played, who find themselves marooned on the wrong side of 30 with the emotional maturity of horny 18-year-olds. It’s hardly surprising that we’re getting such movies at a moment when one can scarcely pick up a copy of Time or Newsweek without reading about how people are getting married ever later in life — if at all — and how it’s ever more acceptable for college graduates to still be living at home with Mom and Dad. But whereas Old School, or last summer’s excellent The 40 Year-Old Virgin, touched on this very predicament through engagingly flawed, human characters, Dupree feels like the most opportunistic of Hollywood “packages” — a trio of appealing stars with proven track records in this sort of fare (Dillon in There’s Something About Mary, Wilson in Wedding Crashers) paired with a script (by first-timer Michael Le Sieur) that’s been cobbled together out of odds and ends of those other, better movies.
There’s a moment at which You, Me and Dupree goes from being just another mildly depressing, if unremarkable, lump of unrealized comic potential to being an actively unpleasant experience: It’s when the movie, having tired of its houseguest-from-hell clichés, stops regarding Dupree as a force of comic destructiveness and starts building him up as some kind of enlightened mystic, a slacker Sufi. Dupree, it seems, is freer and more in touch with his inner self than all us stiffs with our buttoned-down 9-to-5s — especially Carl, who labors sheepishly as a land developer under his stereotypically disapproving boss/father-in-law (a shrill Michael Douglas) and has been altogether emasculated by marriage and grown-up responsibility. (And just in case we don’t get the point, there’s a scene in which Douglas suggests that Carl have a vasectomy.) Before long, wouldn’t you just know, even the reluctant Molly starts warming up — maybe a bit too much — to her unkempt housemate, while Carl starts to look downright crazy for having so much as one recriminating word for his old buddy.
Front and center the entire time, Dupree is clearly meant to be an endearing menace, like a dog that shits all over the furniture and then stares at you with baleful eyes, and the filmmakers seem certain that we’ll delight in every one of Wilson’s bucktoothed smiles and aw-shucks shrugs. But in fact the character is off-putting, not because he’s a loser (which he is), but because he feels like a comic ?conceit — lovable when the film wants him to be and detestable whenever ?that is more convenient — and the harder Wilson works his laconic ?Texas drawl and furrows that shaggy blond brow, the more repulsive he becomes. He’s arguably less likable than the last itinerant lodger Wilson played, in Hampton Fancher’s overlooked 1999 thriller The Minus Man — and that guy was a cold-blooded serial killer.
There’s probably a great comedy (or two) yet to be made about the dilemma of being torn between family life and shooting the shit down at the bar with the guys. But if You, Me and Dupree is tremendous encouragement to the failure-to-launch set, as a movie it’s a sham, and a good deal less knowing about the conditions and compromises of married life than the average episode of The Flintstones or The Honeymooners. Would that the Russos had just stuck to the houseguest-from-hell routine, they might have been better off: By the end of You, Me and Dupree, you may find yourself pining for the simple pleasures of Richard Dreyfuss and Nick Nolte. Or Phil Hartman and Sinbad.
YOU, ME AND DUPREE | Directed by ANTHONY and JOE RUSSO | Written by MICHAEL LE SIEUR | Produced by OWEN WILSON, SCOTT STUBER and MARY PARENT | Released by Universal Pictures | Citywide