In the new romantic comedy, “Failure to Launch,” Matthew McConaughey plays Tripp, a selfish loser who is bitten by a chipmunk, a dolphin and a vegetarian lizard during the course of the movie. A mockingbird attacks one of his best friends, Ace (Justin Bartha).
Another pal, Demo (Bradley Cooper), suggests that perhaps the natural world is rebelling against them. It’s a thought, and certainly a more interesting thought than anything else the filmmakers have to offer.
Tripp, Ace and Demo are thirtysomething adults, but they’re living at home with their parents. All three have failed to launch into the outside world, and they’re rather proud of that. Such “adultescents” have become a 21st century social phenomenon, and it’s not difficult to imagine that they could provide material for an engaging farce. Alas, a surprise-deficient storyline quickly squashes all hopes for originality and suspense.
The screenplay, by television veterans Matt Ember (“The Drew Carrey Show”) and Tom J. Astle (“Coach”), gives away its only major twist during the first reel. Tripp’s frustrated parents, Sue (Kathy Bates) and Albert (Terry Bradshaw), have decided to seek professional help to get their overgrown child to leave.
Apparently their problem is so common that a “professional consultant” named Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker) has been able to make a career out of manipulating deadbeat sons into taking a hike. She forces them to fall for her and commit to setting up house on their own; then she's off to the next conquest.
To tie her victims to her emotionally, she’s not above faking the premature death of a pet or pretending to approve of their best friends. She’s a shameless tease, but she does have rules. She never falls for her victims, and she never has sex with them. Guess who’s going to change all that.
Trouble is, once you understand the premise, you know exactly where the filmmakers are headed, and there aren’t a lot of good reasons to follow them for 97 minutes. Even if you’re a fan of the stars, there are no challenges for them here, nothing that would encourage Parker to dig beyond her “Sex and the City” image, and nothing that would prompt McConaughey to rely on more than sex appeal.
Part of the problem is that the characters they’re playing are so heartless. There’s not much to like about a 35-year-old man who lets his mother do his laundry and fix his meals. There’s not much more to like about a slightly younger woman who makes such cold-blooded use of her seductive techniques.
Director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon”) leaves it to the supporting cast to sustain interest. Zooey Deschanel brings a Debra Winger-like goofiness to the role of Paula’s pal Kit; her flirtation with Bartha’s Ace suggests a romantic spark that’s missing from the two leads. Rob Corddry (from Jon Stewart’s “The Daily Show”) has a memorable bit as a choosy gun salesman. And Bates triumphs with a scene in which she admits to her son that she fears living alone with her truly odd husband.