Jersey Girl

(2004) ** Pg-13
103 min. Miramax Films. Director: Kevin Smith. Cast: Ben Affleck, Liv Tyler, George Carlin, Stephen Root, Mike Starr.

Kevin Smith's Jersey Girl is only half as adorable as it is bad. Beladen with pop rock designed to goose emotions and blandly predictable in the extreme, this View Askew Film doesn't live up to Smith's brand name. As cute as his Jersey girls are, Smith lobs plenty more groaners than zippy one-liners. At least Jersey Girl is sincere, but I'm still waiting for a Kevin Smith movie which marries sincerity of material, sound production value, and the endearing wit and raconteur-ism of the man himself.

Ben Affleck, the movie star who won't die, plays Jerry Magui--I mean, Ollie Trinke, a New York PR man who loses his wife Gertie (Jennifer Lopez) in the birth of his daughter, Gertie, Jr. (Raquel Castro). Quickly sabotaging his job--in a silly press conference scene which bears no resemblance to reality--Ollie returns home to his father's New Jersey home, tail between his legs and babe in arms. Affleck's father is played by a fiercely mugging George Carlin, whose performance might best be viewed from the lobby. Affleck's performance is probably best not viewed at all, to avoid the mawkish monologue delivered crib-side in Act One.

Jersey Girl is partly a cute date-movie romance (with the surprisingly loveable Liv Tyler, who easily shakes off her elvish drag from Lord of the Rings). Mostly, though, Jersey Girl is another movie about a workaholic yuppie male choosing love (of child, woman, and life) over prideful big business. Ollie's dimwitted enough to stretch this lesson to 103 minutes, which allows for a big-star cameo you'll see coming all the way up Broadway, and a pop-up appearance by Smith stalwarts Jason Lee and Matt Damon. Smith ups his visual ante with award-winning cinematographer Vilmos Zsigmond, musters a few funny toss-offs ("The subway's full of junkies and mole-men!"), and gambles on turning Stephen Sondheim's Grand Guignol Sweeney Todd into a feel-good celebration of daddy-daughter love (points for that one), but it's too little, too grating for Jersey Girl.

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