What Queen Latifah has going for her is an outsized, likable personality. Beware of any movie that wants her to pretend to be something else.
For example, beware of “Last Holiday.” Here she plays a quiet, timid Louisiana woman who lives a solitary life of little importance. When this woman, Georgia Byrd, learns she has three weeks to live, she moves to a luxury hotel in Europe to spend her final days doing all the fun things she only dreamed about before. There she touches the hearts of the hotel staff and wins over all who encounter her with her down-home wisdom and aw-shucks humility.
Ugh. Ugh, I say. Latifah simply is not believable as a shy, mousy creature. It’s too fundamentally opposite of who she is. It’s like asking Yao Ming to play a dwarf. And the hotel staff falling in love with her? I can buy that if it’s Queen Latifah they adore, but not Georgia Byrd. Georgia is drab and ordinary. (It was Alec Guinness in the 1950 film on which this one is based; he was certainly better suited to such a role.)
The Grandhotel Pupp in Prague is Georgia’s destination, and it turns out to be a “Fantasy Island” retreat for her. Guess who runs the kitchen? Her favorite celebrity chef (played by Gerard Depardieu). Guess who’s staying at the hotel at the same time? Her Louisiana congressman (Giancarlo Esposito) and the heartless businessman, Kragen (Timothy Hutton), who owns the department store Georgia works at.
Because she’s at the Pupp, everyone assumes Georgia is a millionaire. (Indeed, one does wonder how a New Orleans salesclerk managed to save the $100,000 or so necessary to pull off this multi-week vacation.) So they cater to her every whim, while being charmed by her down-to-earth sensibilities. “She’s the most amazing person who ever came to this hotel!” gushes one employee in some of the straight-faced hyperbole at which the film excels.
One employee, a prickly German valet named Gunther (Susan Kellerman), is not impressed, however. She searches Georgia’s room for clues about her identity, and when she discovers who she really is, she says — out loud, though there is no one else in the room — “I wonder if your new friends would be so impressed if they knew the truth!” That’s the dialogue, folks. Read it and weep.
The screenplay, by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman (the duo behind “Who Framed Roger Rabbit” and “Wild Wild West”), is simple-minded and amateurish, reducing the story to one easy-to-remember maxim: Everything Georgia does is right; everyone who opposes her is evil. Following this thesis to its logical conclusion leads the film to some surprisingly stupid scenarios, as when Georgia, a novice skier, makes it down a mountain unscathed while Kragen, an expert, falls down constantly. Why does he fall? Because he doesn’t like Georgia, and therefore must be punished. The movie wants you to applaud wildly to see Georgia’s oppressor so humiliated.
By the end, when Georgia is winning at roulette — (Why does she always win? Because everything Georgia does is right, remember?) — and her secret crush (LL Cool J) is flying to Prague to profess his love for her, and Georgia is talking a suicide jumper down off a ledge — that’s when the movie completely falls apart. It doesn’t make any sense, you see, any of it. Director Wayne Wang is powerless to stop it, although given his recent track record of treacly, senseless comedies like “Maid in Manhattan” and “Because of Winn-Dixie,” I’m not even sure he wants to.
D+ (1 hr., 52 min.; )