Serving Sara

About halfway through the misbegotten late-summer special Serving Sara, Matthew Perry gets himself into a situation where he's called upon to massage the prostate of a flatulent, prize-winning bull named Tornado. Gross-out gags like that one have become de rigueur in American comedies, even in movies without "National Lampoon" preceding the title; in fact, the same cattle-fisting bit appeared in the Farrelly Brothers knock-off Say It Isn't So. But what is it doing in the middle of an otherwise innocuous, PG-13 romantic comedy? Falling back on lowbrow hijinks may be epidemic in Hollywood, but the need for such a desperate ploy sets in quickly, as might be expected from a zany farce about process serving. Fletch lives again in Perry, who adopts a half-hearted array of silly accents and disguises in order to put subpoenas in the hands of would-be defendants. After months of suspiciously elusive marks put Perry's job in jeopardy, his boss (Cedric The Entertainer) assigns him the seemingly easy task of serving divorce papers to Elizabeth Hurley, the trophy wife of philandering Texas cattle magnate Bruce Campbell. Despite the efforts of a rival process server (Vincent Pastore) to divert him, Perry tracks her down, but rather than hand her the subpoena, the two work out a questionable scheme to serve Campbell first. With divorce courts more favorable to women in New York City than Texas, Hurley stands to receive a larger cut of the estate, assuring Perry a $1 million chunk of the settlement for his cooperation. A third-rate conflation of Midnight Run and It Happened One Night, Serving Sara relies heavily on Perry's perpetually exasperated shtick, which fits more comfortably among the democratic ensemble of TV's Friends. His insincerity and ironic detachment works well within half-hour blocks of coffeehouse and apartment banter, but as a leading man, Perry works up a serious case of flop-sweat while trying to squeeze laughs out of thin air and feign romantic chemistry with Hurley, who looks anxious as ever to accommodate him. To be fair, the most seasoned screen comic could do nothing with a non-starter like Serving Sara, especially under the leaden hand of director Reginald Hudlin, whose last film, 2000's The Ladies' Man, was a non-starter even by Saturday Night Live standards. When all else fails, Hudlin cuts away to Cedric The Entertainer flailing around in his office or Pastore getting a wig shop shaved off his back. Under the circumstances, Serving Sara can almost be forgiven for taking refuge in a bull's rectum. Where else could it go?

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