Ten minutes into Yes Man, and you have every right to fear a tepid Liar Liar retread. The film spends its opening efficiently putting into place a succession of things that Carl Allen (played by Jim Carrey) can easily so no to. A night out with his friends? Spending time with his elderly neighbour? Heading off to a concert? It’s a big fat no to the lot of them, and when you then discover that his job is as a loan officer in a bank, you can almost visualise the dominoes being lined up to topple over later.
After all, this is the template we’ve seen before in Carrey movies. Both Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty were structured around setting up a premise, winding Carrey up, letting him loose for ten minutes or so, and then chucking in some schmaltz to finish the job off. And for the early part of the movie, you’ve every reason to expect that here.
Surprisingly though, that’s not the path that Yes Man takes. And while it does feature an amount of the trademark Carrey gurning that, it’s fair to say, has a habit of dividing audiences, it’s more tempered than you may be expecting.
The plot pushes Carl, after letting his friend down for the umpteenth time, into heading off to a self-help seminar run by a man called Terrance (played in a cameo, fittingly, by Terence Stamp), and this then opens him up to the idea of saying yes to things. This being a high concept movie, it goes further than that, ultimately translating into Carrey saying yes to everything. If he doesn’t, bad things tend to happen. It’s a simple set-up, and one that’s mined at times really quite well (not least when Carl spends time with the aforementioned neighbour).
However, as the film tries to cram in many little story elements, two characters manage to stand forward and lift the movie. Firstly, there’s Zooey Deschanel as Allison, and the film really works in the moments she shares with Carrey. There’s some snappy dialogue between the two as the inevitable romance develops, and while inevitably one or two contrivances kick in, it’s quite a quirky little romance at the heart of such a mainstream movie.
And then there’s Norm, Carrey’s boss, played by Flight Of The Conchord’s Rhys Darby. He’s quite a creation, going from the guy who Carrey studiously says no to, to being the host of the likes of a quite hilarious Harry Potter party, and Darby happily steals each scene from under the nose of whoever happens to be in it at the time.
Still, there are, inevitably, some problems with Yes Man. It tries to cram in too much into its running time, which inevitably means it has to spend a little more time than you’d like wrapping everything up. It’s also not as consistently funny as some of Carrey’s earlier films, although it does have its fair share of laugh out loud moments. It’s quite uneven in places, too, as demonstrated by the two different takes on Jim Carrey we effectively get in the film. Is he the physical comedian of old, or the more tempered performer of Eternal Sunshine? You feel like he’s trying to give you both.
Yes Man, though, is still a nice surprise. Based on the book by Danny Wallace, it’s not the most obvious inspiration for a big screen comedy, but it works well, and survives its bumps to deliver a solid, three-star outing with some four-star moments. It’s unlikely to fully satiate those expecting either side of Jim Carrey, but as an entertaining night out at the movies, it certainly ticks enough boxes to get by.
Yes Man is out in the UK on 26th December 2008.