Outside Providence

Those who believed the ads trying to convince the American Public that Outside Providence is another There’s Something About Mary are in for a shock. It bears no resemblance to the horrifyingly popular 1998 gross-out laugh-fest; unfortunately it’s not anywhere near as good, either. It’s meant to be an outrageous coming-of-age comedy, but the laughs are few and far between. As for the coming-of-age part, let’s just say it is beaten out in that department by The Thirteenth Warrior.

The reason behind all of the comparisons is that Outside Providence was scripted by Peter Farrelly, one of the men responsible for Mary. However the film is directed by Michael Corrente (American Buffalo) and doesn’t have Mary‘s take-no-prisoners attitude. That’s the problem: it is more interested in lackluster drama rather than comedy.

The concept itself isn’t particularly tantalizing: the film is about Timothy Dunphy a.k.a. “Dildo”, a deadbeat, troublemaking high-schooler who is sent to a fancy prep school by his father (Alec Baldwin). He doesn’t seem to fit in: he is surrounded by smart kids while he himself isn’t particularly bright; he likes getting stoned but though some of his schoolmates do as well, they, unlike him, know that studying is important. It gets worse when he meets opposition from the typically evil schoolmaster (Timothy Crowe); an authority figure intent on catching Timothy breaking a rule.

Of course Tim meets a girl. Of course Tim likes the girl. And, of course, he gets the girl in trouble and has to figure out whether to save her ass and put his on the line or whether to walk away happy and leave his dear Jane (Amy Smart) in the hole. That’s the coming-of-age portion of the film… will Tim take responsibility for his own actions or will he remain a freeloader, potentially for the rest of his life?

This is the kind of movie where I leave the theater in a bad mood — not because I hated what I just saw, but because it was sheer mediocrity from beginning to end. Outside Providence didn’t fill me with dislike, as a matter of fact, it failed to evoke any sort of cognizable emotional reaction from me. I laughed a couple of times. Smiled a few. Nothing more. The movie built up a little dramatic momentum at a few points. Nothing more. I didn’t hate the film. Part of me wishes I did.

The only way to fix this mess would be to go to the core of the problem: the script. It tries to balance comedy and drama and fails; as a result we get a movie that isn’t very funny or very, um, dramatic. There are a few moments in Outside Providence when I was wishing for the script to take a particular gag or concept farther. The subplot about the schoolmaster demonstrates this perfectly: the man is almost the villain in the story; almost a funny caricature. If the film was going to go in this direction, I thought to myself, why not go all the way?. Why not go a step further and make it genuinely funny? Instead, it stopped short; chickened out, if you will.

Shawn Hatosy (The Faculty) is as unexceptional as everything else in Outside Providence. He looks so stoned throughout the first two-thirds of the movie that when we get to the point where we are supposed to believe that his Tim is a changed man, we can’t. Amy Smart’s (Starship Troopers) whole performance is the good-girl-with-a-wild-side cliche; a shame since her character is so central to the plot.

I suppose this isn’t such a bad film. I’ve seen worse. Outside Providence is a movie where everything that is tried fails to rise above the merely adequate. To have made the film better it would have to have been completely revamped, something big-shot Peter Farrelly would probably never have permitted: this has been his pet project. I don’t know why. As I said, there’s nothing remotely tantalizing about the idea or the final result. It isn’t horrible, either. It’s just… there. And that sucks.

-- Eugene Novikov

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