3.5 Stars (PG-13)
I went into Last Holiday fully expecting not to like it very much. The endlessly replayed previews presented it as a heartwarming, life-affirming story with a Very Important Message: "Paramount Pictures proudly invites you to live life to the fullest," that sort of thing. In short, it seemed to suffer an excess of sincerity and self-importance, and it's been my experience that overly sincere comedies tend to bring plenty of message but not much haha. Plus, you can practically connect all the plot dots from the previews alone, right down to the final twists.
I'm pleased to report that I was wrong. You've all seen the previews, but hell, let's give a quick recap anyway: Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), retail clerk with big dreams and a small life, learns that she's got three weeks to live, and proceeds to throw all her savings away in the posh resort vacation of her dreams. Meanwhile she romances her distant love (LL Cool J) and learns to be fearless and tell it like it is to people like errant senators or the scheming owner of her company (Timothy Hutton).
Last Holiday is essentially an old-fashioned British drawing room farce updated with helicopters and base-jumping. (The fact this film is descended from a 1950 Alec Guinness comedy might have something to do with it.) All the essentials are there: mistaken identity, even more mistaken assumptions, people walking into and out of rooms at just the right time, class conflict played out in microcosm, snobbish waitstaff, helpful sidekicks and everyone squeezing into a conveniently tight spot (a ledge this time around) to resolve it all.
Queen Latifah does quite well in a role that could have gone completely awry. Everyone else in this movie has it easy; their roles are painted in broad brush strokes that lets them mug to their heart's content (Gerard Depardieu, I'm lookin' at you), but she has to balance sassy attitude, dying desperation and a newfound appreciation for life - without appearing TOO saintly.
But you know, all the life-affirming stuff isn't as bad as it could be. It's mostly kept to a minimum and with the exception of a couple of scenes, the writers handle it with a deft touch. (There are a couple of moments between Depardieu and Latifah, just before the climax, that really cut to the heart of it. I could happily watch a buddy movie about the two of them.) Latifah's Georgia Byrd is a person who doesn't intend to let impending death get in the way of her life, and it doesn't get in the way of this movie either.