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LAST HOLIDAY
U.S. Release Date: January 13, 2006
Distributor: Paramount
Director: Wayne Wang
Producer: Laurence Mark, Richard Vane (executive)
Composer: George Fenton
Cast: Queen Latifah
Running Time: 1 hour and 52 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (some sexual references)

Latifah Can't Cure Formulaic Hotel Comedy
by Scott Holleran

Queen Latifah pushes her appealing personality in director Wayne Wang's star vehicle, Last Holiday, which is so laughably bad at times it's almost campy. Saved from disaster by a few laughs with easygoing Latifah, with more wardrobe changes than Cher, this zany affair chucks in not only the sink but also the whole kitchen.

The movie blends terminal illness, eastern Europe, Motown, cable cooking shows and everyone from LL Cool J to Gerard Depardieu. Alternately painful to watch and as cute as a puppy, the final days of Latifah's choir-singing department store clerk, who is told she has weeks to live, are like an exaggerated episode of Benson.

Churchy spinster Latifah silently pines for a nerdy LL Cool J, whose character also works at the store, and she gets the idea she's going to die after a test shows a rare disease, giving Last Holiday a chance to crack overplayed jokes about Indian doctors and HMOs. At least Latifah's character retains her affability, taking responsibility for her own health and—rejected by the useless HMO for treatment reimbursement—deciding to cash in her savings for a stay at a posh Czech hotel.

Leaving Cool J behind without letting anyone know about her condition, which she takes as seriously as yesterday's horoscope, Latifah's character arrives in style—that must have been some 401(k) balance—and Last Holiday plods the well-traveled path of Cinderella and Working Girl mixed with standard hotel caper comforts.

Hotel guests include the stereotypical unethical white businessman (Timothy Hutton), who happens to own the department store, and various guests joined by Mr. Depardieu as the hotel chef and Susan Kellerman copying Inga Swenson as Benson's European housekeeper Kraus (with comic results). Among the wasted actors: Alicia Witt as a hussy and Michael Nouri and Giancarlo Esposito as dealmakers with Hutton's high stakes heavy.

The predictable comedy is a series of barely believable scenes—Latifah doing daredevil acts, cooking (and eating) gourmet meals and inspiring everyone to live life to the fullest—that implausibly thrusts her meek, God-fearing believer into a hip wisecracker who demands a life of pleasure. Because she treats dying like she has an ingrown toenail, the foundation doesn't hold. An occasional rubdown is funny and her chemistry with Chef Depardieu is the movie's best asset.

Most of the guests mistake her for rich and famous and think she's in on the deal being baked by Hutton, Nouri and Esposito. By the time Cool J reenters the picture, the hotel shenanigans have been played out by the numbers, with an upbeat ending that neatly puts possibilities to reality and closes the book. Still, a few laughs, a welcome appearance from Mr. Depardieu and Latifah's costumed charms do not put this Last Holiday on the map.


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