Serving Sara

If you liked Battlefield Earth, you should most definitely see Serving Sara–but only if.

Serving Sara has many low points but reaches its nadir in a scene where Mathew Perry (The Whole Nine Yards, Three to Tango) explains why his character, Joe Tyler, became a process server. It seems Tyler was a hot shot lawyer, but, tired of the fame and the money, he decided to chuck it all and become…ahem…a sleazy process server. Perry tells the story with an earnest face straining to show emotion. If this was meant to be slapstick, both the actor and director Reginald Hudlin (The Ladies Man) made a hash of it; Perry does not even smirk while revealing his epiphany. If this was a serious statement meant to show Perry emotionally unloading himself, the situation is far worse: the movie gets its first funny moment and it is embarrassingly unintentional.

The plot is as exciting as a dead horse. Tyler takes flack from his annoying boss (annoying both to Tyler and to the audience) over his insipid process serving. When an opportunity comes along to serve divorce papers, Tyler senses a break at last and starts chasing the lady, Sara (Elizabeth Hurley). She is being divorced by her adulterous husband, Gordon Moore (Bruce Campbell). After meeting the curvaceous Sara, Tyler has a change of heart and devises a scheme to serve divorce papers on her husband instead. Tyler’s boss hears about this, turns apoplectic and sends another agent, Tony (Vincent Pastore) behind him to stymie Tyler’s efforts. Several mindless ethnic slurs, a bull’s rump, and several red neck jokes later, the movie reveals who wins in this game of cat and mouse, but since the audience is the biggest looser, no one really cares.

Serving Sara (unintentionally) poses the question: Why do some successful TV sitcom actors not do well on the big screen? Consider Mathew Perry in his Chandler Bing role on Friends. His character is a smirking, smart aleck hipster, whose sarcastic asides make for some of the most rib-tickling stuff on the show. Perry plays the same kind of character in Serving Sara. He even becomes earnestly romantic at intervals, just as he does on Friends. But it doesn’t work because audience expectations from television and movies are different. Shows like Friends and Frasier with their conversation-centric actors work well on the small screen, but giving the actors the same persona in movies rarely works. It’s like the child who loves to play in the jungle gym at a McDonalds children’s playground; give the child an identical gym at Disneyland, and she would expect it to have a secret getaway into a roller coaster.

Different media carry different demands. Sitcom actors must expand their emotional repertoire to find success as film characters. Jennifer Anniston successfully played against her TV personality as a dead end character in The Good Girl. Bruce Willis on the big screen added a more aggressive tone to his Moonlighting style. Perry has yet to shake off his small-screen persona and become a leading man. In Serving Sara, he does a double take when he enters a Texas Office where bull heads hang over walls. Perry quips to the effect that these bull heads must be employees of the month. Such comments might earn him many laughs (especially the canned ones) on Friends and even an Emmy, but it creates barely a ripple among the viewers in movie theatres who want a leading man to be something more than a standup comic.

Serving Sara also suffers from confusion about its comic identity. It has a PG-13 rating and a lot of mildly risque repartee. But it also dabbles in gross-out formula comedy. One scene involves Perry’s hand, a bull’s rear end and bovine fornication. That it is in bad taste comes with the territory, but it is also poorly and haphazardly executed as well as completely out of synch with the mild comic tone of the rest of the movie. A half-hearted Farrelly is more offensive than the all-out real thing.

– Nigam Nuggehalli