"Knight Thoughts" -- exclusive web content
All Hail the Queen:
1-13-06 "Knight Thoughts" web exclusive
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Queen Latfiah once again towers above her material in a formulaic comedy
Someday I’m going to get over Queen Latifah’s not having won a nomination or Oscar for her work in 1998’s little seen but glorious
Living Out Loud in which she played a sassy jazz singer (and belted out an amazing version of “Lush Life”). Latifah also was a
wonderful Matron Mama Morton in Chicago (that one did get her a well deserved Oscar nod). She’s fared well with her supporting
parts and someday she will find a well written starring role to match her enormous gifts and unparalleled audience rapport. Last
Holiday, a genial comedy remake of a 1950 British B-film does not offer her that part but it's a pleasure watching her stroll through
Latifah steps into a part originally created by Alec Guinness (!) but that’s not as outrageous as it seems. As an actor, Latifah has
that rare gift of being able to humanize even the junkiest of scripts. This one, strictly by the numbers, is no worse than some of the
other starring vehicles Latifah has been called upon to save. She did what she could with the dreadful Taxi (saddled with the
smirking Jimmy Fallon and flat as a pancake dialogue), held her own with Steve Martin in Bringing Down the House – though it was
also a by the numbers, stereotypical “race” comedy of one stripe, while Beauty Shop was another – in the other direction. Last
Holiday, at least, offers Latifah a chance to bring vitality and charm – not to mention her undeniable sex appeal – to her role as a
department store employee who thinks she has three weeks to live.
Latifah plays Georgia Byrd, a shy, reclusive type with a crush on another employee (LL Cool J), closet gourmet chef, and big time
dreamer complete with a photo album labeled “Possibilities” who decides to cash in her life savings and head – for reasons not
explained – to Prague once she thinks she's about to check out permanently. On arrival, she helicopters to a fancy, mountaintop
resort, opts for the Presidential Suite, and a series of “comedic” mistaken identity plot devices start to kick in. The French chef
(Gerard Depardieu) falls in love with her love of food and common sense, the big shot senator, the big, bad department store owner
(a badly miscast Timothy Hutton) and his hookerish but regretful girlfriend all get the benefit of Georgia’s common sense as well.
As do the stock cast of hotel employees that, because this is one of those broad comedies, must include an older actress displaying
a marbles in the mouth “hilarious” accent (think Dana Ivey Home Alone 2, Elizabeth Wilson in Addams Family, etc.).
None of this holds back Latifah for a second. She gamely goes through the Pretty Woman outfit montage (to a hip hop version of “If
I Were a Rich Man” – now redubbed “If I Were a Rich Girl”), tackles the slopes for a snowboarding sequence, cooks up a storm with
Chef Didier (Depardieu), luxuriates in her posh surroundings, and does her best with the stillborn dialogue. This is pitched at a
much lighter level than other lady on vacation in Europe movies like Under the Tuscan Sun, Shirley Valentine and Summertime but like
the leads in those three films, it’s the star that ultimately makes them work.
Without Queen Latifah, Last Holiday would mainly have interest as a refreshing travelogue (due to the gorgeous Prague locations).
With her, it’s an amiable trifle – and refreshing travelogue – that will please less demanding moviegoers.