After a string of misfires and strange choices, Jim Carrey has returned to familiar territory with “Yes Man,” a genial comedy that seeks to duplicate the normal-guy-turns-nutty formula of “Liar Liar” and “Bruce Almighty.” The film’s structure is unsound, as we will see, but the laughs are there. As much as I try to convince myself I’m tired of Jim Carrey, darn it, he almost always amuses me.
He plays Carl Allen, a boring Los Angeles loan officer who tends to say no to everything. He never wants to go out, doesn’t like parties, and avoids his friends. The film spends four or five seconds implying Carl’s negative attitude stems from his wife dumping him a few years ago, but then other dialogue suggests his boringness is WHY she left him. At any rate, this is how he is now. Just go with it.
He gets dragged to a positive-thinking seminar by his buddy Nick (John Michael Higgins), where the charismatic Terrence Bundley (Terence Stamp, in a sharp spoof of platitude-spouting seminar-givers) rants about the power of “YES.” Say yes to everything! Never say no! Even if the thing being suggested is dangerous, irresponsible, or illegal, do it anyway! This way lies happiness!
For reasons just as unclear as why he was a naysayer in the first place, Carl becomes a yeasayer. And it works — giving a homeless guy a ride (which he never would have done before) goes poorly at first, but it leads to Carl meeting Allison (Zooey Deschanel), a free-spirited woman who kisses him on their first encounter and soon thereafter becomes his girlfriend, their 18-year age difference notwithstanding. As he continues to say yes to every opportunity that presents itself — joining his pals for a late-night party, going bungee-jumping, learning Korean, etc. — Carl finds his life happier and more fulfilled. When he chickens out and says no, bad things happen. Hooray for yes!
The film is loosely based on a memoir by Danny Wallace, who really did spend six months saying yes to everything; it’s been fictionalized by Nicholas Stoller (director of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall”), Jarrad Paul, and Andrew Mogel, and directed by Peyton Reed (“Bring It On,” “The Break-Up”). For about 75 minutes, it’s an affable and funny story, buoyed by Carrey and Deschanel’s likability and by the various oddball supporting characters, including Rhys Darby as Carl’s eager-to-please boss, and Bradley Cooper and Danny Masterson as Carl’s friends.
But then something happens. The film remembers that it’s technically a romantic comedy, and that as such it is required by California statute to include a scene where the girl finds out the guy has been lying about something, feels betrayed, and breaks up with him. But Carl hasn’t been lying about anything, so the movie has to stretch. It decides that when Allison learns Carl has been forcing himself to say yes to everything, even things he doesn’t want to do, she’ll be crushed. Maybe he never wanted to spend ANY time with her! Maybe he was only doing it because that stupid ol’ seminar told him to!
Yep, that’s the “conflict” in the story, and it’s a serious detriment to what is otherwise a perfectly suitable comedy. While it’s not as solid as “Liar Liar” and “Bruce Almighty” (both of which used supernatural forces, not weakly explained willpower, to change the protagonist), it does use Carrey’s gift for physical comedy without overdoing it. The rubber-faced old ham might have some life in him yet.
B- (1 hr., 45 min.; )