Held Up

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“Held Up” begins with Michael (Jamie Foxx) and his fiancee, Rachel (Nia Long), driving through Arizona on their way across the country. Rachel has to go to the bathroom, so they stop off at a Little League game in a tiny desert town, and Rachel gets out of the car and scurries toward the port-a-potty, desperately clutching her butt.

If the thought of Nia Long clutching her own butt in an attempt to prevent a bathroom-related accident does not appeal to you, rest assured that most of this movie is not that crass. In fact, despite the presence of Jamie Foxx, who helped make “In Living Color” the crass (and occasionally funny) TV show it was, “Held Up” is surprisingly tame.

It’s also surprisingly non-entertaining. This is a dim-witted, simple little movie based on the premise that Jamie Foxx is funny. But even if you agree with that premise, there’s still very little to laugh at in this film, whose loftiest goal seems to be not annoying its audience — no more, no less.

While in Arizona, Rachel finds out how much Michael paid for the vintage automobile they’re driving, and she leaves him via hitchhiking to the Las Vegas airport to fly back to Chicago. Then, Michael’s car gets stolen from a podunk convenience store. Then, inept Mexicans show up to rob the place and the whole thing turns into a hostage situation, which is ultimately resolved pretty peacefully and everyone goes home happy.

It’s a good-natured film, and not unlikable. Part of its problem, though, is that it takes place over such a short period of time — just one afternoon. That’s usually not enough for a comedy. In a drama, intense, dramatic action can take place that fast. But in a comedy, where the focus is on laughs and not characters who learn and grow, you usually need more time to build things, to set up comedic situations and then let them bear fruit. Forcing the film into such a short time frame just makes it seem slight and small, like one episode in a TV series.

There’s also the problem of Jamie Foxx, who is remarkably restrained here. Where some moments could use his energy and wit, he seems unwilling to go out on any comedic limbs, preferring to mumble his lines half-heartedly instead.

The only thing that actually made me laugh out loud in the entire movie was a statement by the poker-faced old store clerk (John Cullum), who tells a man pretending to buy a douche so that nothing will look suspicious to the cops outside, “You sure you want the spring-scented douche? They say the ‘fresh and natural’ beats it all to hell.” That’s a great line, but it drowns in the sea of lameness that permeates the movie.

Like so many bland, mediocre films lately, seeing this one and not seeing it will have approximately the same effect on you, except that if you see it, you’ll wind up with 100 fewer minutes left in your life.

C- (1 hr., 40 min.; PG-13, scattered profanities, gun fire, some vulgarity.)

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