A very real modern-day dilemma forms the core of Failure to Launch: the reluctance of grown men to move out of the family house. Thirty-something Tripp (Matthew McConaughey) is all too content living off Mom and Dad (Kathy Bates, Terry Bradshaw) and purposely sabotages any relationship which threatens to take him down the aisle into a home of his own. Enter all-too-independent career girl Paula (Sarah Jessica Parker), a specialist in dealing with these types, who is hired by the parents to ease him out of the nest. Guess what happens?

This is a decent enough premise for romantic comedy, and the producers have populated it with a large cast of ingratiating performers. You just wish the screenwriters had stuck more closely to the parameters of the genre, and invested more energy and gray matter into witty lines and situations rather than violent slap-shtick antics involving some cartoonish, supposedly harmless, cuddly animals like dolphins, who suddenly go into attack mode on the hapless hero. Once is more than enough for this gambit, yet the scripters repeat it ad nauseam. Factor in a very noisy paintball-fight scene, and you can positively smell the filmmakers' misguidedly intent resolution to turn this flick into something that will appeal to 12-year-old boys as well as its targeted chicks.

After her uptight, bigoted character in The Family Stone, it will be a relief to Sarah Jessica Parker fans to see her lighten up again, in every sense, from hair color to comic presence. She brings her spunky energy and intelligence to this role, and has a nice, easygoing chemistry with McConaughey, although no truly devastating romantic sparks are set off between them. One feels the problem lies with McConaughey, who always seems a bit too self-satisfied and glib in his by now slightly stale Everyguy persona, chiseled abs aside. Far more real, down-to-earth charm is provided by Justin Bartha, who plays his slightly nerdy buddy; he and the disarming Zooey Deschanel, as Parker's quirky, earthy girlfriend, make a winsomely appealing Beatrice-and-Benedick counterpart relationship to that of the stars. Bates gets off some wry funniness, as well as a rare moment of real pathos when she expresses her fear at being finally left alone in a house with her husband after so many years. The fact that she is married to Bradshaw, who basically enlarges upon his patented Big Clueless Boor TV talk-show appearances (complete with a gross-us-out extended nude scene), makes her terror rather justified.

-David Noh