By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The question mark that’s not in the title isn’t the only thing missing from Are You Here.
Are You Here (its title changed from You Are Here), is a hybrid, a comedy-drama that squanders its natural resources and comes up a bit short both as comedy and as drama.
The cast is led by Owen Wilson, Zach Galifianakis, and Amy Poehler — none of them quite at the top of their game. And while the premise holds promise, it ends up promising much more than it delivers.
Wilson plays Steve Dallas, an uninspired television weatherman in Annapolis, Md., a relentless ladies’ man and druggie who often goes on the air stoned.
His best bud is Ben (played by Galifianakis), a burnout, stoner, philosopher, and slacker who would appear to be battling mental illness. So we’re in brom-com territory, as the platonic bromance between these two man-children –- one a hedonist, the other hoping to change the world — is our ticket through the door.
When news arrives that Ben’s estranged father has suddenly passed away, Steve and Ben travel to the funeral in Amish country in Pennsylvania, after which they find out that most of Ben’s father’s estimable estate, including a farm worth millions, is being left to Ben rather than to the deceased’s much-younger wife, Angela (Laura Ramsey).
All of this angers Ben’s no-nonsense sister, Terri, played by Poehler, who questions whether Steve even belongs here and why he has bothered to make the trip.
What Ben wants to do with his newfound wealth is use the house to help create the proverbial utopian society, while what Terry wants to do is challenge Ben’s mental fitness in the hopes of having him declared legally incompetent.
So a legal battle for the estate ensues. Meanwhile, while the siblings maneuver, Steve, inappropriately or not, falls hard for Angela.
One of the film’s biggest problems is our realization that we’re watching likable actors playing unlikable, alienating characters who are not inherently compelling enough to have us not mind the company we’re keeping.
None of the three leads is well served by the script: Wilson and Galifianakis have played their signature types too many times already, and Poehler is stuck in a particularly thankless role.
The debuting big-screen writer-director is Matthew Weiner (pronounced, you should pardon the expression, whiner), the mastermind behind television’s “Mad Men,” whose script is loaded with what seem like underdeveloped ideas coming out of the mouths of similarly underdeveloped characters.
The three stars have enough presence to gain our initial interest in their plight, but the screenplay, with its muddy themes, lacks the depth or polish to compel, please, or satisfy us.
So we’ll inherit 2 stars out of 4. Are You Here is neither here nor there.