REVIEW: A Life Less Ordinary [1997]

Score: 8/10 | ★ ★ ★

Rating: R | Runtime: 103 minutes | Release Date: October 24th, 1997 (UK)
Studio: PolyGram Filmed Entertainment / Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation
Director(s): Danny Boyle
Writer(s): John Hodge

“I thought we agreed there’d be no cliches”

I had always heard good things about this film, but never had the chance to check it out despite being a fan of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting and 28 Days Later. A Life Less Ordinary has a lot of aspects that Boyle later used in his child fairy-tale Millions from inventive camera tricks to a melding of fantasy sequences with reality. The main thing taken from this viewing however is the tragedy that Ewan McGregor and Boyle may never work together again. Ewan again proves to have done some of his best work here—the type of work that got him noticed—with his old friend and producing partner. It is a real shame that after their differences stemming from Boyle’s casting of Leonardo DiCaprio in The Beach caused their creativity to never join again. At least we have some great films to show for it while it lasted.

McGregor’s and Cameron Diaz’s characters are fated to fall in love. God has deemed it so and the chief of police in Heaven has his best team on the job to make sure it happens. Those enlisted are the hysterical Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter. And if they fail to get these two humans together, they’ll have to stay on Earth forever too. Let’s just say they think out of the box and do everything in their powers to make love strike. After a botched power-trip turns into a kidnapping, McGregor soon finds that his victim (Diaz) is starting to call the shots in order to make the crime successful. Comedy ensues as the two leads go on their journey to get back at her rich father and make some money in the process. Whether their time together results in a Cupid’s arrow sort of love remains to be seen, but as the two orchestrate the crime while Heaven’s police conduct the circumstances, the audience goes along for the ride.

Boyle uses a sprawling cast of great actors that come and go through the proceedings. Stanley Tucci is fantastic, Tony Shalhoub is great in a role that at first seemed unbelievably wasted before coming through with a poignant and funny anecdote necessary to continue the plot a la Silent Bob in Chasing Amy, and Timothy Olyphant proves a welcome, humorous face in a very bit part. The sheer number of cameos are too many to mention, but Maury Chaykin deserves singling out as the hick country man who’s simple mind adds many laughs, including a song and dance number he introduces with McGregor and Diaz singing Beyond the Sea.

While filled with clichés and homage galore, the film moves along at a fast pace utilizing each aspect to full effect to create a satire on both the kidnap and romantic comedy genres. We even get treated to a reenactment of the memorable Tim Roth/Harvey Keitel getaway scene from Reservoir Dogs. The film gets everything right with pitch-perfect timing and tongue-in-cheek acting mixed with some real emotional performances when called upon. Every song enhances the visuals on screen, especially a nicely placed REM tune while our characters are in peril. Even the claymation ending credit sequence is a joy to watch.

Boyle proves that he can do it all: the gritty drug lifestyle drama, romantic comedy, socially conscious zombie killing spree, and family-friendly morality tale. Those are just the ones I’ve seen from his filmography, so it will be a pleasure to watch how he continues on this string of successes without yet returning to the same well. We’ll see how his first foray into the science fiction genre turns out when Sunshine is released in the coming months. While he and old friend McGregor had a great run, we can always hope that one day they will reconcile and bring us the sequel to Trainspotting that has been bandied about the rumor mill.

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