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By Pete Vonder Haar | July 14, 2006

Plenty of people, yours truly among them, have made snotty remarks about how actors like Jack Nicholson and Al Pacino rarely do any real acting anymore. Every one of their recent movie roles seems to be a variation of their own personality, with subtle shading here and there as required. The same thing could be said of Owen Wilson, with the caveat that Nicholson and Pacino did actually act at one point. Wilson, as far as I can tell, has never played anything other than himself. And while the affable slack-a*s he’s so comfortable portraying might be amusing the first few times, by the 20th movie or so, it wears mighty thin.

A more ambitious critic than me would try and tie that real-life assessment into the situation Wilson creates in his latest movie, “You, Me and Dupree.” Certainly one could make the connection between the expiration of Wilson’s freshness date and the way his character (Dupree…try and follow along here) rapidly wears out his welcome when his best friend Carl (Film Threat “favorite” Matt Dillon) offers him a place to crash at the home he shares with his new wife Molly (Kate Hudson). Except there’d be no point. Making that kind of effort would require you to pretend there’s any coherence to his narrative mess of a film. Is it a romantic comedy? A darker look at modern-day relationships? Or an occasionally absurdist bit of fluff? That no one will be able to answer this question is one of many reasons “Dupree” fails to satisfy.

Dupree is one of those characters that can only exist in the realm of bad fiction, because anyone as sensitive and sweetly oblivious in the real world would’ve been murdered and left at the bottom of a stairwell long before he reached his late 30s. He means well, of course, but still can’t keep from doing things like clogging up happy couple’s toilet – a “gag” that meanders through a good fifteen minutes of screen time (don’t worry, there’s a shot to the groin later on as well) – and accidentally setting fire to their living room. An initial attempt to forcibly evict him backfires when Molly takes pity on the shmuck and they end up hitting it off, much to the overworked Carl’s consternation.

Carl, who’s also getting dumped on at work (his boss just happens to be his father-in-law, and has no affection for his new son), becomes increasingly paranoid and resentful. This apparently means our sympathies are supposed to shift from the newlyweds to Dupree. The transition is believable, I guess, even if it’s hard to swallow Carl’s transformation from the guy massaging his fiancée’s feet to the insane person calling Dupree a homo for writing poetry and trying to throttle him. He’s insecure, petty, and – given how easy a time Dupree has in coaxing him to behave badly – doesn’t really want to be married in the first place. Every problem in his life would be solved if he’d just tell Molly about his shitty treatment at her father’s hands, but he doesn’t do it.

Dillon is also miscast. As a friend who saw the movie with me remarked, Carl seems like a role written for Ben Stiller. If so, it would’ve made the character’s bizarre tirade set off by Molly’s copy of The Star/i> with Nick Lachey on the cover a little more understandable. Hectoring his wife for liking pretty boys sounds hollow coming from the guy who launched a thousand Tiger Beats in the late ‘70s and earl ‘80s. In any event, the character as written is still an a*****e and deserves to be annoyed.

And make no mistake, Dupree is annoying. It’s not so much his behavior, which is pretty mild on the bad cinematic roommate scale, it’s Wilson’s voice. In supporting roles, his nasal Southern twang adds some welcome idiosyncrasy, as a leading man…the only thing I can compare it to is watching three our four episodes of “Clerks: The Animated Series” in a row and having to listen to Randal drone on for two hours: it’s too much.

It isn’t all bad. There’s a dream sequence in the third act that comes out of left field and elicits a few laughs, and Seth Rogen (“Freaks and Geeks,” “The 40-Year Old Virgin”) absolutely owns every scene he’s in as Carl’s friend Neil. The majority of “You, Me and Dupree” plays like a series of poorly connected sitcom scripts, but Neil perfectly captures the married guy who so loathes his wife he rifles through a dumpster to obtain Carl’s discarded porn collection. Too bad the movie wasn’t about him.

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