A film review by Craig J. Koban

MADE OF HONOR jj

2008, PG-13, 101 mins.

Patrick Dempsey: Tom / Michelle Monaghan: Hannah / Colin: Kevin McKidd / Kathleen Quinlan: Joan / Sydney Pollack: Thomas Sr.

Directed by Paul Weiland / Written by Adam Sztykiel, Deborah Kaplan and Harry Elfont

Patrick Dempsey is a really interesting actor, especially when one considers the manner he somewhat radically redefined his career.  

He became momentarily popular and prominent in the late 1980’s playing geeky teen roles in romantic comedies like CAN’T BUY ME LOVE and LOVERBOY.  Then he all but vanished, making odd appearances on TV shows (he even auditioned for the lead role of HOUSE, which he thankfully never won).  Then, a few years back, he established himself as a rugged, forty-something sex symbol that has left girls young and old alike swooning over his role in TV’s GREY’S ANATOMY, where he continues to play neurosurgeon Dr. Derek Shepherd, otherwise ubiquitously referred to as Dr. McDreamy because of his…extracurricular sextivities. 

Dempsey is kind of hard to hate.  He’s decent leading man material that no female audience member will have difficulty investing in.  For the rest of us not that terribly infatuated with Dr. McDreamy, he is kind of a loose, affable, and pleasant on-screen presence that has a good sense for light comedy.  This, of course, leads me to his problematic starring role in the new romantic comedy, MADE OF HONOR, where he plays a man that has been a best, platonic friend to a woman for years.  When the woman goes overseas for months he reaches a life-altering epiphany:  He really loves this girl and desperately wants to leave the “friend zone” and become something more to her.  Disaster strikes not only when this girl returns with news of her engagement, but also with news that she wants him to be her…ahem…maid of honor. 

If you think the basic plot of this film bares striking, unequivocal comparisons to 1997’s MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING, then you are surely not alone.  That film - one of the truly best romantic comedies of the 90’s - starred Julia Roberts (whom was never more funny, delectable, and sexy in a film) that also had a best opposite sex friend that she wanted to reveal her true feelings to, but her would-be soul mate also decided to break the news to her that he was getting married.  The rest of the film showcased Roberts’ efforts to sabotage the nuptials and to reveal her friend’s fiancé as flawed and uninviting.  The miracle of that film was that Roberts played, at face value, a conceited, selfish, manipulating, and conveying b-i-t-c-h, but she played the part with such vulnerability, adorability, and likeable charm that it was hard not to root for her efforts.   

This is the problem with MADE OF HONOR.  In MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING I had a certain rooting interest for Roberts and kind of wanted her to succeed in her scheme of getting her man all to herself.  Yet, in that film, she slowly grows to learn the errors of her ways and very unselfishly discovers that perhaps the key to her friend’s happiness is to simply let go of him.  That’s a bold way to end a genre film like that.  Comparatively, MADE OF HONOR seemingly looks at everything that Roberts’ film did so well and does the exact opposite.  Instead of going for a somewhat polarizing conclusion and end, it plays things safe and wraps up things predictably.  Not only that, but there is very rarely a moment when you truly want Dempsey and his “friend” to ever hook up.  I have stated it often, but the key to any good romantic comedy is emotional investment:  Simply put, you yearn for the lovers to get together and live happily ever after.  MADE OF HONOR drops the ball here because you rarely like nor respect the leading man, which subsequently makes it hard to give a damn. 

Consider the male character, Tom (Dempsey).  He possesses many traits that instantly turn us off to him.  First of all, he’s stinking rich.  While in college he had the brilliant and inventive idea of creating the coffee collar, that belt-like piece of cardboard that wraps around those piping hot coffee cups so that the drinker does not burn their hand (he makes ten cents for every coffee sold, which should make him…like…I dunno…the richest man in the world).  He lives an affluent lifestyle, has a gorgeous downtown condo, and lives his existence to it’s fullest.   

What’s even more damning is that he is essentially a man whore.  Strike number two.  He sleeps around an awful lot and even has rules of conduct about his sexcapades (i.e. – no sex at his place, no sex with the same woman within two nights, etc).  Now, how this guy that lives a hedonistic existence to the hilt ever manages to have a platonic friendship with a woman is beyond me, but he does in the form of Hannah (the always delightful Michelle Monaghan), whom has been his BFF since their college "meet cute."  I am not sure altogether what she sees in this guy.  He’s a wealthy snob, has an ego the size of the Empire States Building, has lots of promiscuous intercourse with countless women without much of a care in the world towards their feelings, and – ever worse – he dishes out all of the sordid details of his checkered sex life to her when they frequently get together.  I mean, what’s there to like about this dude?  What’s kind of distasteful is how Tom brags to his friends how (a) he can bang whatever woman he wants on the side and then (b) he has Hannah to be his close female friend to help simulate a psuedo-relationship without serious baggage.  

Oh yeah…this guy’s a real catch. 

Well, through a series of events that only a routine and stock Hollywood formula could muster, Tom does develop a radical change of heart.  Hannah reveals that she is to take a six-week business trip to Scotland and, while she is gone, Tom conveniently begins to realize that, gosh darn it, he really loves her and wants her to be his monogamous girlfriend.  He plans an evening when she returns to break this news to her, but he is impeded by shocking news from her:  She met someone, a big, manly hunk of Scottish man named Colin (played by Kevin McKidd of TV’s ROME) and the two are planning to get married very quickly in his native Scotland.  What really stinks is the fact that Hannah wants her best friend to be her...hee-hee...male maid of honor.   

Tepidness is a descriptor that aptly describes MADE OF HONOR through and through.  Instead of being bold and daring with its love triangle, it instead hits every perfunctory note to its preordained happily ever after ending.  The film wants us to cheer for Tom, who engages in scheme after scheme to discredit Colin and make Hannah change her mind about marrying him, but the problem with his character is that it’s truly hard to like him.  Maybe if the script made him more of a downtrodden, underdog figure then perhaps there would have been more urgency to his plight.  Yet, Tom is just a conceited, amoral misogynist that screws multiple girls for pleasure and is so wealthy that he is anything but downtrodden.  It's also so disrespectful how he uses his friendship with Hannah to help excuse his questionable and annoyingly cavalier behavior with the woman he beds.  The film hits a major roadblock when you want Hannah to end up with Colin and not with a loser like Tom.  But, in screenplays like this, we are expected to see Tom and Hannah through to the very end, regardless of Tom’s dubious personality. 

Then there is the character of Collin, who at first comes across as...well…a perfect gentleman and very worthy husband for the cute, bubbly, and congenial Hannah.  During several moments in the film where Tom conspires to make him look like a horse’s ass you actually feel more pity for Collin.  The man is tall, rugged, handsome, has nearly flawless manners and an intelligent wit…and he’s a duke, for Pete’s sake!  Now, the script initially makes him an interesting challenge for Tom’s pursuit of Hannah, seeing as he seems like a very decent man of honor.  Unfortunately, the story gets really, really lazy in the latter sections where we get small scenes that sanctimoniously transforms Collin from a worthy groom to a self-important, self-righteous, and snooty Scotsman.  It’s almost as if the script had notes scribbled in its margins “Insert moments to make Collin a jerk so we can hanker for Tom and Hannah to hook up.”  Seriously, wouldn’t there have been a more interesting comedy to be had here if – Saint’s preserve – Tom became the villain and Collin emerged as the hero?  Imagine - a romantic comedy where the main heartthrob transformed from the hero to the villain!  Nah...that's too ambitious for a film like this.

Alas, MADE OF HONOR frantically adheres to every play in the rom-com playbook.  The movie has a few laughs (Sydney Pollack generates some good chuckles as Tom's frequently divorced father, and there is some good gags involving Tom and his buddies trying to plan for Hannah's bridal shower), and Dempsey and the always spirited and likeable Monaghan have palpable chemistry, but the film and story they’re stuck in is derivative, banal, and very tired.  If anything, MADE OF HONOR can best be described as a gender swapping MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING minus the nail-biting laughs, wit, likeable characters all around, and a boldness and willingness to go against the curve.  MADE OF HONOR is of the pure cookie-cutter school of predicable and mundane romantic comedies, but perhaps its biggest fault is that it takes appealing actors and forces them to languish in a sea of dry material.  Worst of all (note to all women out there), it transforms McDreamy into McDreary.

Trust me: you will want to be off the guest list for this one. 

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