Rated PG - Running Time: 1:37 - Released 12/21/01

If there were ever a perfect example of a lightweight, feelgood holiday movie, Joe Somebody is it. Written by newcomer John Scott Shepherd and directed by John Pasquin, this film is like a cup of hot cocoa with extra marshmallows. Light, fluffy, and insubstantial, it goes down smoothly, is a little too sugary near the end, and is comforting but quickly forgotten. The plot makes a mountain out of a mole hill (something at which Hollywood movies excel), and the acting by leading players Tim Allen and Julie Bowen is standard and workmanlike. The one marginally notable performance is given by Jim Belushi, but his time on screen is limited.

The story involves a scuffle in a company parking lot between geeky doormat Joe Scheffer (Allen) and bullyish junior employee Mark McKinney (Patrick Warburton). When Joe speaks up to Mark about parking in his spot, Mark punches him out in front of his 12-year-old daughter Natalie (Hayden Panettiere), humiliating Joe and causing him to spiral into a depression and miss several days of work. Fearing a lawsuit against the company, oily middle manager Jeremy Callahan (Greg Germann) sends the company's wellness coordinator, Meg Harper (Bowen), to bring him back. Finally, Joe decides the only way to save face is to fight Mark again. He works out, takes martial arts lessons (from a former action movie star played amusingly by Belushi), and schedules a re-match, which suddenly makes him the most popular guy at work. See what I mean about insubstantial? Despite the protestations of his old-for-her-years daughter and Meg, for whom he begins to develop romantic feelings, he relishes his newfound fame and happily sucks up all the extra attention. As fight day approaches, he must choose between furthering his new "cool guy" image and maintaining his two most important relationships.

At the risk of mixing metaphors, I'm tempted to make another food analogy for this movie: it's like the sorbet between the more substantial courses. Released right in the middle of Oscar season, with the big guns showing in theatres all around it, Joe Somebody is as much a comparative lightweight as its title character, but it might be considered a relief by some moviegoers. Unlike the heavy dramas and big-budget adventure/fantasy films, it doesn't require you to think too hard or get emotionally involved. Bearing clear marks of a film made strictly to pay the bills, its performances are phoned in and its direction is eminently average. Very little chemistry arises between Allen and Bowen, who do only what is absolutely necessary to make us think they like each other, and most of the supporting roles are cardboard cutouts, particularly the film's two villains. Warburton, a talented and funny performer, is criminally underused, reduced to playing a monosyllabic, thick-necked bad guy. While Joe Somebody is reasonably engaging for an afternoon's entertainment without serious mental or emotional exercise, it seems to function in its own little world, oblivious to the fact that there are much better things out there to see right now. ***

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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