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film criticism by maryann johanson | since 1997

On the Line (review)


Used to be, anyone who wanted to be Someone in Hollywood opened a restaurant, but since Planet Hollywood went Chapter 11, it seems, the preferred way to ensure that everyone knows what a big, powerful celebrity you are is to start your own film production company. It doesn’t matter if you have no experience in producing films. Are you a 22- year- old “pop sensation” with questionable musical ability and no track record in the movie biz? No problem.

Just ask Lance Bass of ‘N Sync. He has his own production company.

Don’t ask: no, you cannot have your own production company. You do not have a built-in audience of every 8- to 12-year-old girl on the planet, who will spend all their overgenerous allowances on tickets to your movie, its soundtrack, its poster, and on all the products blatantly advertised in your movie, regardless of any talent you fail to emanate from the screen.

(A word of warning right now: All letters from irate 8- to 12-year-old ‘N Sync fans will be hooted over and then posted on this site for the amusement of my readers.)
Now, Lance is a busy guy, so he’s not in this alone. His partners in A Happy Place (that’s the name of his production company, which I imagine describes the carefree, removed- from- reality realm in which Bass frolics) are Wendy Thorlakson, whose movie experience, according to the IMDB, is confined to two acting roles, one of which is “Toy Store Cashier” in Miami Blues, 11 years ago; and Rich Hull, a producer who actually lets it be publicly known that he is one of the people responsible for the Freddie Prinze Jr. atrocity, She’s All That.

You’re weeping now, I know. But it’s not my job to make you feel better about the prospect of an ‘N Sync movie.

Oops. Lance would prefer that On the Line not be considered an “‘N Sync movie.” Just because it stars two members of the group (Joey Fatone is here, too) and features two ‘N Sync songs and relies purely on those two facts to entrance audiences doesn’t mean this is an ‘N Sync movie. Not at all.

Think of this as The Lonely Guy, for female tweens, but not funny. Or romantic. Who are “tweens,” you ask? They are the aforementioned 8- to 12- year- olds, who constitute a huge demographic with more disposable income than you or me, a demo that advertisers court furiously because of that. (Wanna see something frightening? Look here.) Only Lance’s alter ego doesn’t know that. His Kevin Gibbons is a Chicago ad man who has apparently never heard the term before, which is supposed to throw us off the money-grubbing stench of this film, perhaps. (A tedious subplot shoots off the tedious main plot, about a coworker stealing Kevin’s work for a Reebok campaign aimed at the tween girls he inexplicably knows nothing about. Buy Reebok sneakers, girls! They’re Lance’s favorite! Look at the hip campaign he develops to sell them to you!)

Kevin is shy, can’t connect with the ladies, and he lets the girl of his dreams (Emmanuelle Chriqui), whom he meets excruciatingly cute on the L (elevated) train, slip away without even asking her name. So, like Steve Martin in The Lonely Guy, he shouts for her from rooftops… metaphorically speaking, anyway: He puts his skills as Advertising Boy to work, posting flyers he designed his very own self all over the city, which plead for her to call him. Which leads his former high school nemesis, Brady (Dan Montgomery), now conveniently a columnist at a big Chicago newspaper, to carry that adolescent grudge over into the supposedly adult world by writing what is supposed to be an unflattering column about what a loser Kevin is. But that backfires — or the screenwriters just couldn’t be bothered to develop Brady much as a character, or to develop his evil subplot — and the whole city falls in love with the ohmigod, isn’t- he- just- super- romantic Lance. Er, Kevin.

Kevin’s buddies — including heavy-metal doofus Rod (Fatone) — rag on him for being such a dork around women, but it ain’t like they’ve got babes hanging all over them, either. All they do is hang around with one another and, yes, share underwear and phallic-looking hot dogs. I’m not kidding. On the Line could have had a future as a gay camp favorite if only it had tried a bit harder. But On the Line isn’t even so bad it’s funny, like Glitter. It’s just bad.

How bad? Dave Foley — poor, poor Dave, who had such promise — is here as Kevin’s boss, wearing a bad wig and mostly laughing inappropriately, apparently remembering his Kids in the Hall days. Jerry Stiller, as the copier-room guy at Kevin’s agency, cracks jokes about his bowel movements. Joey, with his black-painted nails and horrible heavy-metal ‘do, sings Def Leppard’s “Pour Some Sugar on Me” while, yes, he pours some sugar on himself. There’s even something very strained and metaphorical going on with the ever-losing Chicago Cubs. It’s enough to make you run screaming from the theater. Though why you’d be there in the first place, unless you’re an 8- to 12-year-old girl, is beyond me.

Meanwhile, Abby, the girl from the L, sighs and moons over the mysterious boy from the train to her girlfriend, amazed at how they “connected more in 5 minutes” than she has with her boyfriend of three years. The boyfriend is a drip, of course, which utterly fails to explain why she’s been with him for so long, but never mind. We see right off the bat what a girl of poor judgment she is, since she was so drawn to the completely asexual Lance– er, Kevin.

“You’re totally gonna think I’m lame,” Lance says to Abby during that first fateful meeting, practically daring us to respond. This adolescent love story, about a boy who appears not to realize that he is not attracted to women and a girl with the “charming” paper airplane fetish, is simply too, too insufferably adorable. But I guess nonthreateningly unmasculine boys and demurely unaggressive girls who have their own apartments are what little tween girls find romantic.

I’m not so sure about the fart jokes, the guys-hit-in-the-crotch jokes, or the bowel-movement jokes, though. I guess Lance must know what he’s doing, though — they’re his fans, after all.

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MPAA: rated PG for language and some crude humor

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
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