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"A Life Less Ordinary"

By Devin D. O'Leary

NOVEMBER 3, 1997:  Director Danny Boyle, producer Andrew Macdonald, writer John Hodge and actor Ewan McGregor shocked audiences last year with their audacious Scottish import Train- spotting. I have every confidence that their newest collaboration, A Life Less Ordinary, will shock people as well. Perhaps the most shocked of all will be fans of Trainspotting.

In A Life Less Ordinary, the suddenly ubiquitous McGregor plays Robert, a schmendrick of a janitor slaving away at titanic Naville Industries. Robert may be a terminal hard-luck case, but he does have a dream. He's only pushing a broom until he can finish writing "the Great American Trash Novel" (in which J.F.K. and Marilyn Monroe's illegitimate daughter grows up in an orphanage, gets appointed ambassador to Great Britain, moves to England and discovers both her parentage and a cache of Nazi gold hidden under the embassy--a plot which, everyone is quick to point out, is "so obvious"). One day, though, poor day-dreaming Robert is summarily fired and replaced with a robot. Our scatterbrained hero immediately bursts into the big boss man's office and demands his job back. Unable to obtain the proper satisfaction, Robert kidnaps Mr. Naville's lovely daughter Celine (the delectable Cameron Diaz) at gunpoint. The kidnapping, though, is mostly at Celine's behest (daddy has just cut off her line of credit and ordered her to get a job). Before he knows what's hit him, Robert finds himself hiding out in a cabin in Utah with a "hostage" and no clue what to do with her. "Kidnapping lesson number one: Have you even asked for a ransom?" shouts the not-so-helpless victim.

So far, it sounds like a fairly typical story from the lads who brought us an irreverently grotty comedy like Trainspotting (and the earlier Shallow Grave). But hold on a minute. This entire "kidnapping" has actually been organized by a couple angels (Delroy Lindo and Holly Hunter) from Heaven's own police department. Jackson and O'Reilly, our Heaven-sent coppers, have been ordered to crack a particularly tough case--make this dim-bulb dreamer and this stuck-up rich bitch fall in love. And since they have been told that their failure will result in eternal banishment from Heaven, our celestial detectives will stop at nothing to get our hero and heroine together--including high speed chases, bank robbery and frequent deadly gunplay.

Boyle and his compatriots have taken both the "romantic comedy" genre and the "crime thriller" genre and turned them inside-out and upside-down here. I suspect most viewers and nearly all critics will be utterly dumbfounded by this crazy quilt of silliness. Sure, Trainspotting had its moments of outrageous humor (who could forget the surreal "toilet diving" sequence), but A Life Less Ordinary Life severs all ties with reality--tossing in Heavenly police stations, an extended musical number and a claymation finale (no, I'm not kidding). Screenwriter Danny Boyle has said that the intention was to create a "mainstream" romantic comedy. Many have worried that this would signal the Trainspotting team's big sell-out to Hollywood. Holy Toledo! If this is really their idea of "mainstream," somebody better keep paddling. Life seems more like a giant raspberry in the face of Hollywood. The idea of a lithesome hostage falling in love with her hunky kidnapper is a pretty hoary one, and the boys from Scotland treat it without the slightest iota of respect. Randy love poems, prophetic dreams about TV game shows and a miraculous bullet through the heart all play a part in the film's "romantic" climax.

If you put aside all predispositions and accept the surreality of it all, though, A Life Less Ordinary is actually very damn funny. Robert's pathetic attempt to phone in a ransom demand (with plenty of coaching from his "victim") is a riot. A visit from a rifle-toting survivalist neighbor in Utah is a creepy hoot. The cast is certainly game for all this straight-faced lampooning of genre conventions. McGregor shows even more talent for comedy than he has for drama, while co-starlet Cameron Diaz proves, yet again, that she's more interested in the offbeat challenge than the blockbuster paycheck. I'd be surprised if this gamble pays off for anyone involved, but--man--it's different.

--Devin D. O'Leary

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