Serving Sara
Late-Summer Leftover Goes Down Easy
By Patrick Reed

Trailer trash doesn't look this good. We know.

With the release of XXX a couple of weeks ago, the last of the summer super-hypes have saturated American theaters, and for the next several weeks a number of smaller studio pictures will have an opportunity to fight over audience attention before the mid-autumn, pre-Oscar free-for-all kicks in with Red Dragon, Harry Potter II, The Two Towers, and so on. Now's the time for so-called leftovers: smaller-budgeted genre pictures with modest expectations (although sometimes one breaks through big-remember that The Sixth Sense was released around this time three years ago). Serving Sara has some of the trademarks of an "August" picture. There's a recognizable cast that lacks a big star, i.e. one that draws talent from television (Matthew Perry), stand-up comedy (Cedric the Entertainer) and the fashion world (Elizabeth Hurley) instead of from Hollywood royalty. In addition, Serving Sara is a so-called "adult" comedy; there are absolutely no teenagers or early twentysomethings present, practically guaranteeing an average-at-best opening weekend.

Even so, in mid-August, a humdrum premiere can pass for something more against weak competition, so perhaps Serving Sara can generate enough word-of-mouth to last for a month or so. Taken at face value, as a PG-13 crowd-pleaser, it's a decent-enough diversion, with a scattering of comedic highlights and an altogether forgettable romance. Serving Sara is the kind of movie, much like Matthew Perry's previous vehicles with Salma Hayek (Fools Rush In) and Bruce Willis (The Whole Nine Yards), that will invariably end up on a perpetual movie-channel replay loop a year from now. Still, if nothing else, Serving Sara makes "Chandler" Perry the neck-and-neck favorite, along with The Good Girl's Jennifer Aniston, in the "Friends-to-a-lengthy-film-career" transition sweepstakes.

Perry is Joe Tyler, a jaded process server working out of New York who is sloughing through life and in danger of losing his best assignments to a corner-cutting competitor named Tony (Vincent Pastore, a.k.a. "Big Pussy" from The Sopranos). Their boss Ray (Cedric the Entertainer) has a primo case on his docket; a millionaire Texas rancher (Bruce Campbell, Ash from the Evil Dead series, is mostly wasted) wants to serve divorce papers on his unsuspecting British wife Sara (Liz Hurley) while she's in Manhattan. Joe convinces Ray to give him first crack at the $5,000 payoff, and with Tony waiting in the wings for the first sign of a slip-up, Joe goes after the trophy wife. After Joe serves Sara the court papers, he lets rip with a couple of wiseass comments about how she should have seen it coming, in the process needling her that if she had only served the divorce papers to her husband first, she'd be entitled to half of his twenty million. Of course, this immediately leads to the following predictable idea: what if the two unlikely cohorts were to rip up the original papers and, indeed, serve Sara's husband first? Among other things, it would gain a financial windfall for the revenge-minded Sara, as well as secure a cool million bucks for Joe's early retirement.

As Joe and Sara head toward the Lone Star State in search of the 10-gallon hat wearin', adulterizin' hubby, Serving Sara takes on a fast-paced, yet episodic feel reminiscent of the late-80s Robert DeNiro-Charles Grodin road movie Midnight Run. The film also owes a debt to Get Shorty and some of Andrew Bergman's mid-90s films such as Honeymoon In Vegas and Striptease; in all of these movies, America comes across as a lovably eccentric place, where dreamers, rogues, and innocent bystanders clash against one another, day in and day out. This feel-good conceit wears thin after a while, and Serving Sara has plenty of dead spots (the characters of Ray and Tony stagnate from their initial appearances onward, as director Reginald Hudlin returns to Cedric the Entertainer ranting and Pastore bullying, over and over again). On the other hand, a couple of scenes are crude-comedy gems, especially one involving modern cultural genius Mike Judge (of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill fame) as a dive hotel check-in clerk. Overall, Serving Sara offers competence and intermittent excitement: there's enough droll, sitcom-ish repartee between Perry and Hurley to hold one's interest, although they fall flat as a romantic couple, and Hudlin (best known for 1990's hip-hop hit House Party) keeps the story moving fast enough to partially mask the fact that there's really very little of substance to be found, anywhere. Serving Sara may not amount to much, but even average adult comedies are in scarce quantity these days, and, held up against this depressing standard, this late-summer afterthought goes down easy.