It loses its sardonic humor in favor of near slapstick in the final half.


There seems to be something in the water when it comes to big screen comedies. While the first half is replete with organic humor, the second half tends to peter out, throwing characters into absurd situations because someone behind the scenes feels that's where the film needs to go. The problem with the approach is a tonal disconnect the audience can sense, almost as if the writer realizes 45 minutes into the production the actual plot hasn't been serviced and lurches it into gear.

Wiley Roth (Colin Hanks) has no ambition to work anywhere other than a local bookstore. It comes as a shock, then, when he steps on a severed finger in his kitchen one night. This finger captivates his attention. Who did it belong to? How did it come to reside on his floor? Perhaps coincidentally, he meets beautiful Cheryl (Rachel Blanchard) at a party…a stunning blonde missing a finger. This sets Wiley off on a quest to figure out if the finger is Cheryl's and, if so, what happened.

It's easy to see what attracted Hanks and Tony Shalhoub to the first time writer/director tandem of Eric Laster and Peter Spears. In many ways, "Careless" is quirky, a concept off the beaten path, one almost too absurd to even believe. What each bring to the production is a seriousness, a certain exasperation over the predicament they're in. The problem isn't in their performances or in that of the neurotic Mitch (Fran Kranz). The script turns on them all, eventually taking itself entirely too seriously for its own good.

Whatever the story-level problems, the sole reason to give "Careless" a spin is Hanks. He captivates the screen, drawing us into both the character and plot with his offbeat warmth and sensibility. There's an every man feeling to him, a quality shared by his father (Tom Hanks, if the name wasn't a dead giveaway). Wiley is a nerd and geek rolled into one, someone the guys steer clear from because of his personality and someone the girls avoid because he's not Brad Pitt. But he has a wit about him which comes from more than the script. It's in the way he raises his eyebrow a la Mr. Spock with the black moppy hair, half formed beard and thick black glasses. It's his deadpan delivery of every single line, joke or not.

Hank's other half, played by Blanchard, is more restrained in the film, as if she knows there is no possible way she can compete with him. So she takes a different approach, one that allows her to be Amy Poehler-esque, a smart dumb blonde, if you will. Somehow the character never comes off as 100% "with it." In other words, Blanchard has the role of stereotypical movie blonde down pat. Cheryl turns into a good foil for Wiley because of it, even tough they never seem made for one another. There's an infatuation between them, based solely on the finger.

Sometimes, as in real life, "reel" people just don't know when to stop looking a gift horse in the mouth. It's not enough Wiley develops a relationship with Cheryl, a woman clearly out of his league. He has to pursue the finger, spy on Cheryl and, ultimately, finds things out he really doesn't want to know. What is it about human beings that makes us destroy what we have in the search for another truth? To its credit, the script tries to answer the question in the waning moment of the film, but it seems forced and tacked on, as if it was realized "Careless" doesn't say anything deep or meaningful. Does it really need to, though? Honestly, no. It can be enough just to entertain the audience for 90 minutes without trying to change the world.

In this case, does it really, truly matter in the grand scheme of things where the finger comes from? Or what happened to Cheryl's? Not incredibly. Had their relationship gone to the next level, there are a dozen ways to broach the question with more tact than stalking her. Wiley had to know this, as offbeat and kooky as he is. And therein lies the problem with trying to match real world logic to movie logic: events simply don't transpire in the same way. Someone, I would hope, would have voiced concern over Wiley's plans at some point, had the film been real. If not his useless father (Shalhoub) then Mitch. Not to mention his own conscience. At some point, we shout at Wiley to leave it all well enough alone. Not because we're necessarily smarter than he is, but because we've seen this story play out before. We know how its going to end and, if someone like him can't figure it out, we wonder if he even deserves the girl.

There are a few nascent plotlines Laster either didn't know what to do with or simply decided weren't worth any more screen time. Aside from name recognition, what point in having Wiley's father as a character in the film? He adds nothing to the proceedings. And what about the stillborn subplot of Wiley kissing Ann (Tori White), coworker and Mitch's girlfriend? Where does his bookstore boss come into play, aside from busting his balls? None of it makes a bit of sense and, when coupled with the rest of the film, makes for a disjoined narrative.

Even as a romantic comedy, "Careless" fails. While we watch the relationship between Cheryl and Wiley develop through one montage, it never feels like nearly enough for us to become invested in their storyline. Without more breathing room given to the time after they become a couple, we're left with a compilation of scenes which force us to fill in the missing pieces on our own. I'm sure the three major scenes viewed in the montage-string art, finger puppets and foreplay-are designed to be funny and amusing, yet there is a current of cruelty beneath them, as if Wiley doesn't understand the things he does could be hurtful to Cheryl. This isn't a mean film by any stretch of the imagination, but it is symptomatic of the rest of the film: not totally thought through.

I've gotta admit I'm disappointed in the video aspect of the disc. While it is true "Careless" is a low budget film (under $2 million, reportedly), it is also a current production. By all rights, the problems which plague the presentation should not exist here. Paramount of those concerns is a very noticeable layer of grain from start to finish. It is most noticeable during the outdoor, or light, scenes. The other major issue is a general lack of detail, definition and refinement. Everything looks just a bit fuzzy and out of focus, almost as if the effect was created on purpose. In order for this to be true, Spears would have needed a good story reason to reduce the visual quality of the film. There isn't one. On the plus side, Image Entertainment does retain the original 1.78:1 anamorphic aspect ratio.

There isn't much to the film so it stands to reason there's relatively little for the speakers to do, too. With two options (English 5.1 and 2.0), we get okay and okay results, respectively. The biggest workout this side of the disc gets comes in the form of John Frizzell's score, a strange sort of simple production which fit's the production. Dialogue isn't obstructed, though the tracks don't do anything to distinguish themselves from anything else on the DVD shelf…or from each other. English and Spanish subtitles are included.

A collection of trailers begin when the disc is inserted: "Organizm" (1:55), "Taxi to the Dark Side" (2:26), "Love and Other Disasters" (1:48) and "Banshee" (1:51). This film's trailer is included on the main menu (2:10).

Hanks demonstrates the same qualities his father possesses: affability, sincerity, charm. He is the major reason to recommend "Careless." Everytime he turns his eyebrow up or gets thrown into a preposterous situation, we empathize with him instead of dismissing him based on the material. And it is the material which lets down the entire cast here. It loses its sardonic humor in favor of near slapstick in the final half, not to mention becoming bogging down in an outlandish story.


Film Value