Movie review: Are You Here is forgettable with no laughs

Owen Wilson (left) fails to charm in Are You Here as a Lothario with a mentally unsound friend Ben (Zach Galifianakis, right). -- PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS
Owen Wilson (left) fails to charm in Are You Here as a Lothario with a mentally unsound friend Ben (Zach Galifianakis, right). -- PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Review Comedy

ARE YOU HERE (NC16)

114 minutes/Opens tomorrow/**

The story: Everthing falls into the lap of weatherman and Lothario Steve Dallas (Owen Wilson) because of his charm and good looks. He also has a crippling lack of ambition. His friend and drug dealer Ben Baker (Zach Galifianakis) suffers an emotional crisis after his father's death, so Dallas accompanies him to the funeral and reading of the will. There, he meets Ben's bitter sister Terry (Amy Poehler) and the young widow Angela (Laura Ramsey).

This work has all the trappings of typical "mainstream festival indie" - it stars a few recognisable names, has a story that stays on the tasteful, restrained side of comedy and has a slower pace, with an alternative rock soundtrack to push the emotions along. True to "major indie" form, it has a protagonist in Steve that is almost, but not quite, unlikeable and a weirdo supporting character, Ben (Galifianakis).

The safe, staidly formulaic story almost entirely rides on how it is impossible to dislike Wilson the actor, no matter how sleazy and entitled his character is.

Here, he is Wedding Crashers' (2005) John Beckwith all over again. Wilson's charisma can be a gift to a film-maker (in the hands of someone like Wes Anderson) or it can be used as a crutch, as it has been by the maker of this film, writer-director Matthew Weiner.

Weiner, who helped create prestige television works Mad Men and before that, The Sopranos, badly overestimates Wilson's surfer-dude stoner charm. There is rarely a scene in which Steve is not repetitively having sex or consuming drugs, or trying to find the resources to get more of the same. This is all nothing more than a set-up, of course, to his redemption at the altar of true love, after which he gets everything he wants again, naturally.

Steve does have one redeeming quality, and that is his loyalty to his mentally unsound pal, Ben. The dependency that Ben has on Steve feels genuine.

Too bad that Ben's grasping harpy of a sister Terry (Poehler), never feels as fully realised. The part is non-comedic, but presents no problem for gifted comedienne Poehler. To her credit, she fills out that female stereotype without shrillness.

Other than that, there is nothing in this laughter-free comedy that will help you to remember any of it 10 minutes after you leave the cinema.