For those who like to track and chart film directors, Wayne Wang has become one of the game's slipperiest figures, even more so than the unpredictable Steven Soderbergh. In the past decade, Wang has turned out brainy, yet physically and sexually potent works like Smoke (1995) and The Center of the World (2001), working with funky, outsider writers like Paul Auster and Miranda July.

He has also teamed up with the master screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière (Belle de Jour, The Unbearable Lightness of Being) on the strikingly personal Chinese Box (1998), which is all the more interesting because of its ultimate failure to find meaning in the 1997 handover of Hong Kong back to Communist China.

Yet, also during this period, his name has turned up attached to the lightweight weepie Anywhere But Here (1999), as well as last year's children's film Because of Winn-Dixie. These particular jobs may have come as a result of his success on The Joy Luck Club (1993), but this career strain has also led to women's romantic comedies like Maid in Manhattan (2002), which to date is Wang's most financially successful and least acclaimed film.

It's obvious, then, how the new Last Holiday came about. If one diva, Jennifer Lopez, can command a hit from Wang, perhaps another, Queen Latifah, can do the same.

Though neither Lopez nor Latifah would be caught dead in public wearing less than $10,000 worth of wardrobe while flashing million-dollar smiles, they both play shy, drab, withdrawn characters in Wang's comedies. Eventually they must learn to break out of their shells because of a man, or fate, or God, or all three.

In Latifah's case, she plays Georgia Byrd, a New Orleans department store clerk who likes to cook but only eats Lean Cuisine, and who is in love with a fellow clerk, hunky Sean Matthews (LL Cool J), but is too shy to connect with him.

After a bump on the head and a cursory CAT scan, it's revealed that she has a fatal brain disease, leaving her with about three weeks to live. She cashes out her entire savings account, liquidates all her bonds, and jets to Prague. There, in a ritzy hotel, she hopes to meet and taste the wares of a famous chef, Didier (Gerard Depardieu).

Finally out of her shell -- and with a new wardrobe and makeover -- Georgia begins to charm those around her, including the vacationing Louisiana senator (Giancarlo Esposito), an evil retail magnate (Timothy Hutton) and his mistress (Alicia Witt). Everyone begins to believe that she's a "somebody," and she learns to live for the first time.

Last Holiday is a remake of a 1950 Alec Guinness film (he played "George Bird"), and though Latifah has a long way to go before she reaches that kind of genius, she has a definite robust charm that glows from the screen. Even in her pre-makeover scenes, it's not too hard to believe LL Cool J going gooey at the sight of her.

Wang clearly clues into her as well. During the movie's quiet moments, he luxuriates in her, watching her as she enjoys her newfound opulence and glamour. But, sadly, he needed something to put in the trailer to sell to the masses, so we have the usual collection of slapstick and pratfalls as Georgia learns to snowboard and base-jump.

Hutton, likewise, dumbs down the film with his silly portrayal of the shallow and twitchy villain, who snoops into Georgia's past and discovers who she really is. And Jane Adams (Happiness) is wasted in a "best friend" role whose job is to continually harass Georgia about her love life.

Indeed, the film's larger arc and plot twists leave quite a bit to be desired. But Wang's overall delicate touch makes Last Holiday tolerable. His lovely Cinemascope frame emphasizes the fantasy element of the glamorous resort, and he has an eye for food, making Latifah and Depardieu's scenes together a delight.

In fact, with a little re-writing and a little editing, Last Holiday could have been a wonderful "foodie" movie, one that celebrates the virtues of butter and pork fat. But taste is one thing and a balanced diet is something else entirely, and this film simply bites off more than it can chew.

DVD Details: Paramount's DVD comes with deleted scenes, three featurettes, two recipes and a trailer. The widescreen versions and pan-and-scan versions are available separately.

Starring: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Giancarlo Esposito, Alicia Witt, Gerard Depardieu, Jane Adams
Written by: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman, based on a 1950 screenplay by J.B. Priestley
Directed by: Wayne Wang
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual reference
Running Time: 112 minutes
Date: Friday 13, 2006

One of the most likable performers in the business, Queen Latifah finally gets a vehicle that gives her formidable talents and expansive spirit plenty of blooming room.

That picture, a remake of a 1950 Alec Guinness film recast as a female-targeted fantasy romantic comedy, would have at best been a minor bit of genial fluff without her presence.

But with the Queen on the scene, it's elevated to a breezy escapist romp with considerable crossover appeal. "Last Holiday" should be a solid King Day holiday weekend entry with sufficient word-of-mouth stamina to emerge as a tidy little hit for Paramount Pictures.

Latifah is Georgia Byrd, a glammed-down, shy New Orleans department store sales clerk who sings in her church choir and has dreams of having a boyfriend, traveling to exotic countries and meeting the celebrity chefs who inspire her to cook great meals which she dutifully photographs and pastes in her Book of Possibilities before popping a Lean Cuisine in the microwave.

As fate would have it, those possibilities are about to meet reality when a bump on the head leads to a faulty CAT scan resulting in a misdiagnosis that gives Georgia mere weeks to live.

Determined to make every last minute count, she quits her job, cashes in her savings and jets off to the venerable European resort village of Karlovy Vary, home to fairy-tale snowy mountains and the truly grand Grandhotel Pupp (not to mention the annual Karlovy Vary Film Festival).

In short order, Georgia waxes those oppressive eyebrows, outfits herself in fabulous clothing and generally busts out of her shell to become the toast of the Pupp, charming congressmen (Michael Nouri), senators (Giancarlo Esposito) and even the notoriously temperamental Chef Didier (a swell Gerard Depardieu in one of his threatened final performances), while proving to be a thorn in the side of the smarmy retail magnate (Timothy Hutton) who once was her boss.

While Georgia might be making up for lost time, director Wayne Wang ("Maid in Manhattan," "The Joy Luck Club") keeps the pace quite leisurely, for the most part refusing to force any of the gentle comedy to be found in the script by Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas").

Although their adaptation lacks the satiric edge of the J.B. Priestly original, it gives its star plenty of opportunity to showcase a more introspective side to that proven, more lively personality.

Wang also mines terrific performances from a supporting ensemble that would have been right at home in any vintage studio comedy. In addition to the aforementioned players, there's also nice work from LL Cool J as the soft-spoken object of Georgia's secret affections, Alicia Witt as Hutton's reluctant mistress, Ranjit Chowdhry as a neurotic doctor and Susan Kellermann as an uptight, nosy hotel valet.

Contributing to the desired escapist vibe are those Old World European locations, photographed to postcard picturesque effect by "Under the Tuscan Sun" DP Geoffrey Simpson, not to mention costume designer Daniel Orlandi's fabulous frocks and composer George Fenton's lush score.

Last Holiday
Paramount Pictures
Paramount Pictures presents an Imagemovers/Laurence Mark production
A Wayne Wang film
Credits:
Director: Wayne Wang
Screenwriters: Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman
Based on a screenplay by: J.B. Priestley
Producers: Laurence Mark, Jack Rapke
Executive producers: Robert Zemeckis, Steve Starkey, Richard Vane, Peter S. Seaman, Jeffrey Price
Director of photography: Geoffrey Simpson
Production designer: William Arnold
Editor: Deirdre Slevin
Costume designer: Daniel Orlandi
Music: George Fenton
Cast:
Georgia Byrd: Queen Latifah
Sean Williams: LL Cool J
Kragen: Timothy Hutton
Chef Didier: Gerard Depardieu
Ms. Burns: Alicia Witt
Sen. Dillings: Giancarlo Esposito
Congressman Stewart: Michael Nouri
Rochelle: Jane Adams
Ms. Gunther: Susan Kellermann
Dr. Gupta: Ranjit Chowdhry
MPAA rating PG-13
Running time 108 minutes

Queen Latifah lives out loud so well on screen that it's hard to imagine her doing anything else. Yet in "Last Holiday," the new remake of the classic Alec Guinness comedy, the plus-sized actress with the outsized personality plays against expectations.

MOVIE REVIEW


LAST HOLIDAY

DIRECTOR: Wayne Wang

CAST: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Gérard Depardieu

RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes

RATING: PG-13 for some sexual reference

GRADE: C

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Her lonely department store sales clerk Georgia Byrd is meek, subdued and soft-spoken but never less than warm and gracious. When she's diagnosed with an incurable brain tumor (in a cumbersome and clumsy sequence) and told that she has three weeks to live, the softest voice in her gospel choir cries to the heavens that it's time to stop dreaming and start doing.

In a spare-no-expense vacation at a Karlovy resort (funded by her cashed-out retirement account), the unpretentious Georgia hobnobs with the arrogant and spoiled rich, bonds with the bullied hotel staff, and befriends the hotel's celebrity chef (Gérard Depardieu) with equal aplomb and unassuming sincerity.

Even as Georgia feeds her appetite for life, however, the radiant Latifah never quite stokes the fire of her memorable screen persona in such films as "Beauty Shop" and "Chicago." It's right for the character but the film could use a little of the old Latifah's fire because it has none of its own.

Director Wayne Wang stumbles through the awkward script without finding its shape or its tone, steering it toward maturity while the script falls back into slapstick sports gags and adolescent social politics. Wang even fumbles the would-be dream romance with fellow employee LL Cool J and the should-be vacation fling with a handsome senator (Giancarlo Esposito) attracted to her forthright passion.

"Last Holiday" is overlong (it's almost two hours) and unfocused, but thanks to Latifah, at least you're in amiable company.

The transformation of Queen Latifah from urban rapper to leading lady has been an interesting one. The zaftig actress seems to have made few serious missteps on her way to big-screen stardom.

Sure, there were turkeys (Taxi, anyone?), but Latifah's feisty persona has managed to elevate much of her material, no matter how lame. Think Barbershop 2 (2004), Bringing Down the House (2003) or Set It Off (1996). Her turn as the prison matron in Chicago rightfully earned her an Academy Award nomination in 2003. And in 2005, she proved she could carry a romantic comedy with the so-so Beauty Shop, in which her salon-owner character was romanced by the hunky Djimon Hounsou.

In her latest film, Last Holiday, Latifah goes against type -- softer and kinder -- by playing a meek cookware saleswoman named Georgia Byrd, and darned if she doesn't pull it off.

Georgia is all about repression, from the tight bun and frumpy clothes to the notebook filled with pamphlets and photos titled "Possibilities." She toils in a New Orleans department store but dreams of becoming a chef, while also secretly pining for a cute sales associate, played appealingly by fellow rapper LL Cool J.

But then Georgia is told that she has only three weeks to live.

So, she quits her job, cashes in her savings and heads to a Central European resort called GrandHotel Pupp. It doesn't take her long to discover the pleasures of flying first-class, commuting by helicopter and staying in a $4,000-a-night suite. She also buys a pricey new wardrobe and indulges in spa treatments, snowboard lessons and base-jumping.

But -- coincidence alert! -- Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), the scheming owner of the department-store chain, also happens to be staying at the hotel. He's on a "business trip" with his mistress and two senators.

The seemingly-rich Georgia quickly draws their curiosity, even as her kindness and decency win over hotel staffers, including the renowned chef (a well-cast Gerard Depardieu.)

Last Holiday, though directed by treacle-prone Wayne Wang (Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie), is blessedly low on the treacle quotient. Also, it doesn't resort to cheap slapstick like so many romantic comedies these days. Most of the humor is character-driven, as Georgia transforms others' lives with her live-for-the-moment attitude.

Georgia's own transformation is subtler, and Latifah's dignified performance makes it believable. The ending, though predictable, feels appropriate and emotionally rewarding.

The film also takes full advantage of its wintry setting in the Czech Republic, with location shots at the spectacular real-life Pupp resort and the breathtaking city of Prague. Almost makes you want to cash in your IRA and live it up.

Story
Things really start to happen for Georgia (Queen Latifah), a shy sales clerk and amateur chef, when she finds out she only has three weeks to live. The guy she’s been secretly admiring (LL Cool J) suddenly asks her out, she quits her job even after her overbearing boss offers her more money to stay and she spends all her savings to travel to a grand European resort, staying in the presidential suite. Once she’s checked in, the mucky mucks in the hotel mistake her for someone important (and dammit, she is!) The resort’s master chef (Gerard Depardieu) loves that she likes to eat and takes her under his wing--and she teaches him a few things. She base-jumps off a dam, wins $100,000 betting on the same roulette number three times--and basically captures the hearts of everyone she meets. If only she weren’t about to die…oh come on, it’s a comedy, for crying out loud. You know nothing really bad is going to happen.

Acting
Incorporating a very tired plot device, Last Holiday revolves around a character who changes the lives of those around them just by being themselves. We’ve seen it countless times before, but at least the carefree, fun-lovin’ Queen Latifah sells it as best she can. The actress just has an effortless style which she infuses into everything she does--whether the film measures up or not. As Georgia, the actress shifts from dowdy to ghetto fabulous with great ease and believability. Everyone else in the film, however, are cardboard cut-outs, including LL Cool J as the would-be suitor, Timothy Hutton as a snobby mogul trying to ferret out Georgia’s flaws and Alicia Witt as his beleaguered mistress. And no one is quite sure what Gerard Depardieu is doing in the film, except to say his lines unintelligibly.

Direction
Director Wayne Wang has definitely made a name for himself in the sentimental department, having helmed such sappy fare as The Joy Luck Club, Maid in Manhattan and Because of Winn-Dixie. Last Holiday fits right in on his resume, without offering anything new or exciting. The film has a few redeeming qualities, however. Shot in Austria and the Czech Republic, there is plenty of beauty and old-world charm to get into the mood to take a big trip--if you had a million to spare, that is. And if you are into the Food Network, you’ll get a more than few helpful hints on how to prepare a five-course meal. Just don’t go see this movie if you’re hungry (I did and it was torture).

What would you do if you had only three weeks to live? Quit your job? Go on a wild spending spree? Live out your wildest fantasy?

Rating: A -

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Georgia Byrd, who's played by Queen Latifah, does all three in "Last Holiday," a remake of the 1950 film starring Alec Guinness.

Georgia is a timid, mousy department store clerk who dreams of becoming a chef and opening her own restaurant. But she never acts on those dreams until one day a workplace accident leads to a misdiagnosis that makes her think she's dying.

So, she liquidates her assets and checks into the presidential suite of a fabulous hotel in Czech Republic where she proceeds to live the fabulous life. She goes on a lavish shopping spree, tries snowboarding for the first time and orders every entree on the menu to eat in one sitting.

Georgia, who by now looks stunning in bright, eye-catching diva gowns, wins the admiration of the famed French Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu) who plies her with cassoulet, free-range quail with brioche-currant stuffing, lamb shanks with polenta and blood-orange relish, warm lobster salad in a potato nest with leeks and caviar and other goodies from his kitchen.

As the suddenly unleashed Georgia tries to experience everything around her - including extreme sports and exotic spa treatments - she becomes the talk of the hotel. Georgia's transformation from shy church mouse to belle of the ball is the stuff of fantasies, making this a classic chick flick.

Predictably, the film is marred by a tangle of highly contrived twists such as the doctor's - surprise, surprise - realization that his diagnosis was incorrect. And of course, Latifah's department store love interest Sean, who's played by LL Cool J, has to be the one to jump on a plane and travel thousands of miles to tell her the good news.

When he arrives, Sean goes out on a ledge - literally - to declare his love for Georgia. The movie, which is directed by Wayne Wang ("The Joy Luck Club," "Smoke") leads to a predictable but smile-worthy conclusion.

Queen Latifah takes the Alec Guinness role in a good-natured but clumsy remake of the 1950 Alec Guinness comedy Last Holiday. Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman's script—adapted from J.B. Priestly's original—follows a shy and unassuming woman on her journey to self-determination after a fatal diagnosis.

Latifah's Georgia Byrd decides to deprive herself no longer and jets off to the eye-catching Czech resort village of Karlovy Vary. At the opulent Grandpupp Hotel, Georgia's every fantasy is fulfilled: dressing down her corporate boss, living it up with senators and congressmen, eating like a queen, and finding true love. By spreading joie de vivre like so much pâté, Georgia also makes unlikely new friends: her boss' pampered girlfriend (Alicia Witt) and world-famous Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu).

Latifah gives her most nuanced screen performance (though that's not saying much), and LL Cool J and Depardieu strike the right tone as Georgia's admirers. But director Wayne Wang sinks to a career low by accepting the most obvious plot developments and encouraging over-the-top mugging from supporting players including Timothy Hutton's CEO ("Nobody makes me do a face plant!), Ranjit Chowdhry's Dr. Gupta, and Susan Kellerman's German-sourpuss chambermaid Ms. Gunther ("Ja, I know I'm a bitch...").

Don't count on Last Holiday having the courage of its convictions, despite periodic attempts to warm the heart. "Next time we'll do things different," says Georgia. "We just won't be so afraid." A noble sentiment, but a better way to seize the day would be to do something other than sitting through the sitcomedic Last Holiday.

Queen Latifah lives up to her name in "Last Holiday," a gentle, old-fashioned romantic comedy that showcases her luminous beauty, regal bearing and warm heart. The movie isn't everything it could be, but the Queen never lets us down.

Director Wayne Wang's remake of a 1950 Alec Guinness vehicle was partly filmed in pre-Katrina New Orleans, lending an unexpected air of nostalgia that fits right in with this movie's overall sense of being from an older, more gracious time.

Latifah stars as a mousy department-store clerk who is barely living her life until she finds out she has only a few weeks to live.

When Georgia Byrd's CAT scan comes back pockmarked with signs of a rare and fatal virus, she chucks her quiet ways and her dead-end job cooking samples in the housewares department. When the bank clerk nervously asks why she's withdrawing every penny of her retirement savings, Georgia announces she intends to "blow it" on a fabulous European vacation.

At the storybook-perfect Hotel Pupp in the snowy Czech Republic (I'm bookmarking it right now on Travelocity), Georgia showers her retirement fund on glam clothing, riotously complex spa treatments and extreme sports. The rich and powerful hotel guests view Georgia with awe - who is that woman who helicoptered in and opted for the Presidential Suite? They're magnetically drawn to Georgia's (and Latifah's) no-nonsense charisma and inner glow.

The more she risks, the more she gains. She loses her inhibitions on black-diamond ski slopes, wins at the casino on impossible bets. All the hopes she'd kept in her "possibilities" scrapbook - pictures of fine cuisine she'd made but never tasted because she was dieting, doctored photos that paired her with the hot guy at work she'd never dared talk to - can become realities, she realizes, with just a little courage.

This is a cautionary tale about living life to the fullest, and, as such, totally predictable. A slow start, with an unusually subdued and frumped-up Latifah seeming to lack a pulse before Georgia's diagnosis, dims hope that the movie will do more than mark time as it plods through its familiar paces.

But then, in the same way that Georgia discovers her power and beauty, the movie blossoms. Each unfurling petal reveals more charm and delight, as do the lovely, funny supporting players - from Gerard Depardieu, as a four-star chef who appreciates an appetite for life, to Susan Kellermann, as a grimly Teutonic hotel concierge who paws through the guests' belongings.

It's too bad there's so little of LL Cool J as the secret object of Georgia's fantasies. He'd make a funny, nimble, sexy romantic lead with just a bit more screen time.

Latifah dominates the movie, as she should, but she's generous toward her able supporting cast: A startlingly lean Timothy Hutton, as a reptilian power broker; Michael Nouri and Giancarlo Esposito, as spineless politicians, and Ranjit Chowdhry, as a nervous radiologist. Smokey Robinson in a cameo sings a haunting version of his "Tracks of My Tears."

Another supporting player, in a way, is the food - among the tastiest spreads of haute cuisine ever put on film. Not all of the movie looks good, perhaps due to the budget, but the food sizzles and Latifah is almost blindingly radiant. The girl can't help it.

What would you do if you learned you had an obscure, inoperable, incurable late-stage illness with a stuffy name and only three weeks to live?

Not much, probably. You might have time for a few pints of Ben & Jerry's while updating your will, saying goodbye to loved ones and deciding whom to entrust with that Disraeli Gears album. Then, toodle-oo. Three weeks over. Klonk.

But if you're Georgia Byrd, this is what you'd do: You'd cash in your IRA, sell your mama's bonds and spend the whole whupping load on a midwinter trip to the Czech Republic, where you would tickle your every fancy at the Grandhotel Pupp (say "poop").

While there you would hobnob with VIPs and, in so hobnobbing, come to be viewed as a VIP yourself, issuing simple, searingly honest observations that are received as mind-altering profundities by everyone around you, or everyone who never saw Being There. Chances are nobody's seen Last Holiday, a 1950 Alec Guinness film about a modest salesman afflicted with "Lampington's disease" who heads to a seaside resort, where he buoys all who meet him and learns, in his last days, to live.

It didn't need to be remade, but most films don't need to be remade, and that didn't stop Jonathan Demme from mucking around with Charade. This latest Last Holiday — from director Wayne Wang, who drew gentle magic from Because of Winn-Dixie — is a mild, fangless, forgettable thing that entertains some and offends little, barring one obnoxious subcontinental stereotype and a cloying urge to make everybody chipper at the end.

Gone is the original's dusky ironic closure. Gone is Guinness, replaced by the ordinarily amazing Queen Latifah, here reduced in amazingness by Wang's pallid direction. There are amusing bits, and there are sweet bits, and there are bits involving northern Europeans with garbled, phlegmy accents and funny hair, but most of these bits are accompanied by maudlin strings. The nub of the movie is Georgia's impregnable goodness; she may sell cookware for a living, but she can tell these big snots, excuse me, big shots a thing or two about basic human kindness.

Among the characters she meets in the Pupp are a bearish chef (a very Gérard Depardieuish Gérard Depardieu), a glad-handing senator (the sadly underused Giancarlo Esposito) and a jerk retail giant who owns the store where Georgia works. This jerk is ably rendered by Timothy Hutton, who began his career as a downy, anguished youth but now looks as pitiless and serrated as a steak knife. By contrast, the film's fluffiest male presence is LL Cool J as Georgia's love interest, meekly making googly eyes amid the fuss.

Wang's Last Holiday reminds me of that creaky old joke (with a spoiler, so beware) about the guy whose eyes pop out, hair falls out, skin turns green and tongue swells up. Told he'll die in three weeks, he blows his life's savings on wine, dames, clothes. A tailor asks him his neck size. "Fourteen," the guy says. "Can't be," says the tailor. "If you wear 14, your eyes will pop out, your hair will fall out, your skin will turn green, and your tongue will swell up." Ba-da boom.

It's a groaner, all right. Sorry I wasted your time. If you have three weeks to live, I'm doubly sorry, because every last minute is precious. Don't spend any on Last Holiday.

There are two big laughs in Disney/Jerry Bruckheimer's African-American Hoosiers, Glory Road. The first comes when some white guy says derisively, "Can you imagine what basketball dominated by Negroes would look like?", while the sight of defeated Kentucky coaching legend Adolph Rupp (Jon Voight), vilified by history perhaps unfairly (though there's no question that he's vilified unfairly by this film), mourning the loss of the National Championship Game to an upstart team prompts the second. Both moments speak to the biggest problems in a film riddled with little ones: the former because it makes the audience complicit in--and comfortable with--the picture's callousness and casual blanket racism, and the latter because everything that happens in the film is already a foregone conclusion. The only appeal left is rooted in seeing the black players put on exactly the kind of degrading sideshow the picture suggests they're too human for. Glory Road is smug, offensive, and ignorant in the way that films with no self-awareness are ignorant--wrapped in a story designed specifically to make people cheer and believe that this one game in 1966 changed peoples' attitudes towards African-Americans in sports instead of simply bolstering the idea that the black athlete was advantageous and alien rather than just merely alien.

The point illustrates itself early on as Coach Haskins (Josh Lucas) moves his ornamental reaction shot of a wife (Emily Deschanel) and kid (kids? Who knows) to the men's dorm of little Texas Western University in taking over the school's moribund men's basketball program. With no recruiting budget, resourceful Haskins resorts to acquiring seven young black men from across the country (out of his own pocket, it's suggested--so much is suggested and so little demonstrated that the picture's narrative outline must've looked like an ink blot) to institutional asides of "we don't want no ------ ball here," referring to the undisciplined playground style of basketball believed to be played by a race too stupid to learn the nuances of Dr. Naismith's game. Soon enough, after the requisite training montage that includes a lot of running and very little instruction, point guard Bobby (Derek Luke) says, "C'mon coach, you gotta let us play our game." Said "game," of course, proved to be superior and is augmented in true Jerry Bruckheimer-style (producer of this and the identically muddy Remember the Titans) by Magic Johnson/"Showtime" Lakers-era alley-oops off the glass, in-your-face theatrics, and reverse slam-dunks. It's the equivalent in knuckle-headedness of the heroine in the simultaneously-opening Tristan & Isolde somehow channelling John Donne poetry from hundreds of years into the future. These films don't know any other way to give their characters currency and figure that their targeted audiences won't know or care about the difference.

Supporters of Glory Road are interested in history insofar as it can be ground up and shoved into a sausage skin for ease of consumption, orally or otherwise. It suggests that once Haskins arrived at the El Paso campus, he brought with him the first black folks these crackers (other epithets used by the black heroes for their white teammates include "honkey" and "Green Acres" and "Jethro, Ellie May, and Uncle Jed" before their victims protest that at least on the team, they're the minorities) ever laid eyes on when the school had not only tentatively integrated in the fifties, but had already featured three black players on the basketball team, too. (The team that evil, monolithic Kentucky (which itself tried to recruit legendary, and black, Wes Unseld in 1964, two years prior to the events of the film) beat to play Western Texas in the finals, in fact, featured four-out-of-five black players in the starting line-up.) Important to few, Haskins won the title in his sixth year as coach, not his first--but important to me is a fictional pre-game pep talk that has Haskins expounding at length about how "everyone" thinks the team is a bunch of monkeys. That's pretty risky stuff in a film that itself skirts along the edge of being patronizing exploitation. Soft-sold is the way that the players were essentially imprisoned in their dorms so as not to disturb the rest of the campus: forward Dave Lattin (Schin A.S. Kerr in the film), a year removed from the Big Game, offered that "it's a funny place. On the basketball court you're groovy people, but off the court you're animals. Even the Mexicans look down on you." (Jack Olsen, "The Black Athlete," SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, July 15, 1968, pp. 30-43). (And speaking of Mexicans, there's one on the team so marginalized that he functions as befuddled wallpaper. Power to the people, my brothers.) The requisite ball-breaking earth mama figure is here, too, pushing her son to become a student athlete and scholar. In truth, Haskins received a lot of heat for the academic performance of his recruits:

Winning the title focused national attention on the school, and what was discovered embarrassed Haskins. Most of the Texas Western players were either failing academically, or worse, being carried by the school to keep them eligible. Haskins was publicly accused of exploiting his Black recruits for his own glory. For the first time the question of the intellectual cost of athletic integration was being raised. Yes, a basketball scholarship got these brothers into college. But what good did it do them if they made no progress to a degree? (Nelson George, Elevating the Game, Harper Collins, 1992, pg. 137)

The problems solved by Glory Road are problems still. The NBA instituted a dress code this year in an unspoken effort to align the "thug" culture of modern basketball with the expectations of its largely white upper-middle-to-upper class audience. Philadelphia 76ers star Allen Iverson, tattooed, 'do-ragged, and the bane of conservative white culture, told the PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS that "just because you put a guy in a tuxedo, it doesn't mean he's a good guy." But more central to the issue are comments made by Rob Manfred, executive vice president of labour relations and human resources for Major League Baseball, when asked whether the MLB was considering following suit: "Because of the nature of our travel and the makeup of our employees, it has never been an issue that we had to centrally regulate." (Italics ours.) What Glory Road does is exacerbate difficult issues by blowing them into a sugared bauble of underdog sports clichés and, more damning, race caricatures and slapstick, sitcom misunderstandings and rapprochements, all excused as artifacts of some distant past. Whites are soulless and stiff, blacks are soulful and groovy; a scene on a bus where the whites compare music with the blacks is paid off with Lattin pulling out a giant speaker to demonstrate, what, that blacks liked their boomboxes even in the '60s? Between its wall-to-wall soundtrack of Motown-for-happy/Gospel-for-serious, its tacked-on love affair, its stock, gloriously-underwritten performances, and its badly-shot and context-less game re-creations, Glory Road is a mostly-fabricated feel-good flick about bigotry and the painful integration of America's public institutions.

Evil in a different way, Queen Latifah's latest turn as champion of the underclass is a remake of a little-known Alec Guinness starrer from 1950, Last Holiday. In it, find Guinness' George Bird transformed into sass-dispenser Georgia Byrd (Latifah), a house wares clerk in a department store (at least she's not wearing her house-mammy uniform from Bringing Down the House) who discovers that she has three weeks to live and proceeds to blow her savings at an exclusive resort in the Czech Republic, where everyone on the street speaks French. (French equals class and expense, Czech equals kidnapping and ransom, I guess.) The early part of the film is shot in pre-deluge New Orleans, lending the piece a good deal of gloomy irony as the very religious Byrd (she has a running monologue with God, throughout) thanks her maker at the end for allowing her to fulfill her dream of opening a restaurant in the Big Easy. The message of the piece is less Marxist, though, than it is confirmation that the best things in life aren't free, but in fact very, very expensive--and, moreover, worth it, baby. Byrd's initial repressed spinster-ism (she cooks a gourmet meal...well, an Emeril meal, takes a picture, and then pops in a Lean Cuisine instead) mutates into a sort of Bagger Vance font of down-home wisdom post-diagnosis, using her temporary wealth as the means through which to tug the ears of congressmen and business magnates with her brand of chicken soup for the soul. Georgia saves the world one Abramoff at a time.

It's a remake of not only the Guinness original, then, but also Joe vs. the Volcano and Short Time. A series of wailing protestations sees Georgia taking on the church, the government, the airlines, the broken healthcare system, and, curiously, the proletariat afflictions of having to wait in line. Last Holiday is one part self-defeating social commentary and one part Being There naïf tomfoolery as Latifah, her body-shape often the only punchline, snowboards and base-jumps for the purposes of inspiring rich people. Money can't buy love, except that it can--the picture's self-righteous message concerning the evils of capitalism in its palm-crossed politicos deflated utterly by its message that spending great amounts of cash on yourself is guaranteed happiness. After a night at the roulette table leaves Georgia one-hundred grand richer, the intention of the film is brought home with force as one remembers that she's at a charity event and that this hundred grand, especially in the hands of a terminally-ill woman about to die, would certainly benefit the less-fortunate more than another dress-up montage will. Last Holiday is the filmic equivalent of getting people to vote against their own fiscal self-interests--and if I can't be bothered to discuss the huge crush that co-wage slave Sean (LL Cool J) nurses for Georgia, leading to a weird climax wherein Sean appears to have frozen to death on a glacier, count yourself lucky. It doesn't make any sense (and neither does Gérard Depardieu as a smitten chef or poor Susan Kellerman as Frau Blücher), though what does strike a chord is the idea that to change the world, you gotta be loaded--and that once you're loaded, you're probably loath to change the system that got you there. Isn't that right, Ms. Latifah? You go girl

"Last Holiday" is a movie that takes advantage of the great good nature and warmth of Queen Latifah, and uses it to transform a creaky old formula into a comedy that is just plain lovable. To describe the plot is to miss the point, because this plot could have been made into countless movies not as funny and charming as this one.

Latifah plays a sales clerk named Georgia Byrd, who works in a big chain store in antediluvian New Orleans, giving cooking demonstrations. At home alone in the evenings, she prepares elaborate gourmet dishes, watching TV cooking shows and training herself to be a great chef. Then, more often than not, she eats a lonely Lean Cuisine, because she's on a diet.

The need for dieting comes to a sudden halt when she receives bad news: She has three or four weeks to live. Her HMO won't cover the expensive treatment, which might not work anyway, and so Georgia throws caution to the wind, cashes in her 401-K, and buys a ticket to Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. That's where her hero, Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu), rules the kitchen, and she decides to go out in style, eating everything on the menu and treating herself to all the services of the spa and the ski slopes.

Karlovy Vary is a jewel box of a spa town 90 minutes outside of Prague. Its hotels are high and wide but not deep, because steep mountain walls rise close behind them. A stream runs down the center of the town, and at the top of the little valley is the Grand Hotel Pupp, where Georgia checks in. My wife and I were in Karlovy Vary four years ago for the film festival, and, like Georgia, we did a double-take when we discovered that the correct pronunciation of the hotel rhymes with "poop." Yes, but it is a magnificent edifice, and soon Georgia is walking eagerly into the dining room to order -- well, everything on the menu.

Visiting this hotel is another party, consisting of a retail tycoon named Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), who owns the chain of giant stores including the one Georgia resigned from in New Orleans. At his table are his mistress (Alicia Witt), a senator (Giancarlo Esposito) and a congressman (Michael Nouri). They are startled when Chef Didier pays more attention to the woman dining by herself than to their self-important table. They don't know that Georgia has already invaded the chef's kitchen and impressed him with her cooking skills -- both disciplined, and improvised.

Who is this woman? Kragen's table becomes consumed with curiosity, especially since Georgia Byrd is obviously very wealthy. There's a montage that reminds us of "Pretty Woman," as she raids a high-fashion dress shop (while "If I Were a Rich Girl" plays on the soundtrack), and subjects herself to being beaten with birch leaves at the spa ("I Feel Pretty"). A spa in Karlovy Vary is not quite as spartan as one in America, and does not count so many calories; after your treatments, you are free to recover with roast duck and dumplings, followed by apple strudel.

By making no claims, putting on no airs, telling no lies and acting as if she had nothing to lose, Georgia transforms the hotel. The important guests are in awe of her. The staff is in love with her. The chef adores her. And there is even romance in the air, because of her unmistakable chemistry with Sean Matthews (LL Cool J), a New Orleans co-worker who is shy but -- I will not reveal more.

All of these things may be true and yet not inspire you to see this movie. I am the first to admit that the plot is not blindingly original, although transporting the action to Karlovy Vary at least adds an intriguing location. The movie is a remake of a 1950 film which starred Alec Guinness in the Queen Latifah role, and the story was not precisely original even then.

All depends on the Queen, who has been known to go over the top on occasion, but in this film finds all the right notes and dances to them delightfully. It is good to attend to important cinema like "Syriana" and "Munich," but on occasion we must be open to movies that have more modest ambitions: They only want to amuse us, warm us, and make us feel good. "Last Holiday" plays like a hug.

When a movie can do that, a strange transformation takes place. Scenes that in a lesser movie would be contrived and cornball are, in a better movie, redeemed by the characters. There is a moment here when Georgia and another hotel guest find themselves on a ledge on the roof of the Hotel Pupp. A crowd gathers below. Such a scene could be creaky and artificial. Not here. It works.

And what, you ask, about the Idiot Plot? The whole story depends on a series of elaborate misunderstandings. One word would set everybody straight. Yes, true, and yet the movie smiles and winks at its own contrivances, and we enjoy them. The point of this story is not to discover the truth about Queen Latifah's past life, but to enjoy the unfolding of her future life (if of course she has one).

The movie was directed by Wayne Wang, whose "Joy Luck Club" and "Maid in Manhattan" showed a sure feel for romantic comedy with a human dimension. The key thing he does with Queen Latifah is to accept her. She is not elbowed into an unlikely comic posture or remade into a cliche, but accepted for who she is. Or perhaps not for who she really is (for which of us knows the mystery of another?) but for who she can play so comfortably and warmly on the screen. One of the movie's best scenes comes when she gives advice to the tycoon's mistress -- who is conventionally sexy, but senses that Georgia is sexy in a transcendent way because of who she is. The mistress is sexy to look at. Georgia is sexy when you see her. The men at the other table can't take their eyes off.

Latifah is warm and winning but her movie is predictable from beginning to end.
Movie Review Jackie K Cooper
"Last Holiday" (Paramount Pictures)

"Last Holiday" is a sweet comedy that stars Queen Latifah. She has enough star power and charisma to make this movie more than it is, but what it is isn't much. It is too predictable and too obvious in its key plot elements to make audiences do more than smile politely as they watch it.

Latifah plays a woman named Georgia who lives in Louisiana. For some reason she has kept her life on hold and only lives for the possibilities that might occur in the future. Then one day she learns she has a brain tumor and will die in three weeks.

This knowledge gives her the courage to live her dreams and she does this by flying to Europe and checking into a four star grand hotel. She goes skiing, she visits the spa, she buys herself some great clothes. Of course when she does this all the other guests decide she must be some important person and begin treating her as such.

The other guests include a Trump type business tycoon (Timothy Hutton) and a congressman (Giancarlo Esposito). Of course in this type of movie she also makes friends with the hired help and the hotel chef (the soon to be retired Gerard Depardieu)

Her potential boyfriend is played by LL Cool J, and he and the Queen make a handsome pair. The film could have used a little more romance and a little less "straightening out of other people's lives."

The problem with the movie is how predictable it is. How many movies have you seen where the lead character is going to die and then there is a twist? Too many! And all the changes in the people she meets are so predictable. There isn't a surprise in any one of them.

Latifah acts with warmth and she looks great, most of the time. Hutton is smarmy as the role requires. Depardieu is okay in a thankless role. Alicia Witt makes the most of her role as Hutton's mistress.

The film is rated PG-13 for profanity.

Queen Latifah is an award winning actress. She deserves something better to use her talents in than this. It's a sweet movie but a sometimes dull one. It is warm-hearted but way too predictable. It just should have been better.

I scored "Last Holiday" a seasonal 5 out of 10.

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) lives an unassuming life, she sings (quietly) at her church, she earns her living in the cookware department at Kragen’s, she cooks lovely food for the kid that lives next door but dines on Lean Cuisine. If it weren’t for her “Possibilities” book, one would think she had no imagination or dreams. When she dreams, she dreams big – she wants to travel, cook professionally and she would like to marry Sean Matthews (LL Cool J), the very sexy sales associate on the floor below (but she hasn’t really had the courage to even talk to him). She gets a nasty bump on her head and in the process of running tests Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) discovers a rare terminal disease, which only gives Georgia weeks to live.

She decides that maybe living a bit before the end would be a good thing so she cashes it all in and hops on a plane to Karlovy Vary with reservations at a posh hotel where one of her favorite chefs is in residence – Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu). Among the hotel guests are Mr. Kragen (Timothy Hutton) the mega-retailer she used to work for, Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt) his “personal” assistant, and Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) her representative from back in New Orleans who has been ignoring his constituents. Everyone at the hotel assumes that Georgia is wealthy and influential and daring; these are traits that everyone is drawn to but Mr. Kragen. He's threatened by her and believes that she is out to sabotage his plans for greasing the palms of his local politicians in order to close a big acquisition.

For all of the attention and glamour that Georgia is getting to experience, what she truly longs for is home and Sean and more time on earth.

Let’s start with the fact this is almost 2 hours long – don’t get us wrong, if we are on holiday we want it to last a really long time but this is like watching too many of someone else’s slides – great for them but... The romantic interest stuff works really well, the food, shopping, and spa, all in grand opulence is wonderful – the corporate intrigue bits were missing the intriguing stuff. Queen Latifah is looking fabulous, she has believable chemistry with LL Cool J and Gérard Depardieu; she is engaging as the heroine of the tale but the story has too many elements and it goes all over the place at the same rate as her snowboarding adventure.

"I've lived my whole life in a box. I'm not going to die in one." So says Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah), as she makes her cremation plans upon hearing that she has less than a year to live in Last Holiday, a remake of the 1950 Alec Guinness vehicle.

Conservative to her core, she has always kept her thoughts and opinions to herself. Knowing she is going to die suddenly gives her a freedom and boldness she never knew she had. She takes her life's savings and rents the presidential suite at an exclusive European chalet where she is assumed to be a rich and powerful mover and shaker.

Determined to make the most of what she believes to be her few remaining days left on this earth, she is game for just about everything. From snowboarding to base-jumping, Georgia is ready to be the kind of person she was always to fearful to be.

Her transformation enraptures the staff and other guests at the resort, especially the world renowned chef (Gerard Depardieu) she has long admired. The only one not smitten with this brave and beautiful woman is Kragen (Timothy Hutton), a retail tycoon for whom, unbeknownst to him, Georgia works. He believes her to be a political spy or rival who is investigating him and his "business trip" with a couple of senators.

As Georgia explores her new self, back home, Sean (LL Cool J), a co-worker and secret admirer, has wondered where she has gone.

The premise exists only to give Queen Latifah an excuse to be her sassy self and it is largely due to her dynamic personality that this movie works. It is a feel good, predictably satisfying comedy. It is spiced up to the PG-13 level due to some sexual references (mainly humor related) but over all the focus remains on Georgia and her new found zest for life.

Latifah is surrounded by a competent supporting cast who perform their roles perfunctorily. Only Gerard Depardieu fills the empty spaces of the script with a larger than life energy that is captivating.

Director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club) knows he has a piece of fluff entertainment anchored by a fireball performer and so shapes his film around his star. Nothing much happens onscreen unless Queen Latifah is in the middle of it.

Georgia Byrd's problem is not unique to her. We are all fallen prey to the same obstacles. We let fear of failure, fear of rejection, fear of humiliation or embarrassment keep us from pursuing our dreams or living life to its fullest. Shame on us. What is worse: living with fear or dying with regrets?

We must come to understand that living in fear is a choice we make. It is available to eradicate fear from our lives.

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage." Hebrews 2:14-15 (KJV)

Fear is bondage of a spiritual nature. But our binds have been loosed. Scripture tells us that "perfect love casts out fear." As we begin to manifest the love we have within us, not letting the fear keep us from acting, the fear will dissipate until it has totally disappeared.

Note to Queen Latifah: I have almost forgiven you for the inexcusable "Taxi" now.
3 stars

Note to Queen Latifah: I have almost forgiven you for the inexcusable "Taxi" now.

Last Holiday" is a sweet-natured, intelligent comedy that is a cut above its fish-out-of-water formula. Latifah has penchant for playing the fish out of water, the person in an environment who changes the lives of those around her and survives against the odds.

This is a tired formula that irritates me nearly every time I see it -- it's the result of lazy writers and filmmakers who fill in the blanks to make a quick buck. Latifah, who was simply perfect in the oft-ignored "Set It Off" and superb in "Chicago," has appeared in two retreads of this formula: "Taxi" and "Bringing Down the House."

But she's better than her uneven career, and "Last Holiday" proves it. Here's she's a real person, Georgia Byrd, a woman who works as a sales clerk in a huge department store in New Orleans.

Georgia loves food. She loves to cook, but doesn't eat the gourmet cuisine she prepare herself because she's trying to diet.

During an accident involving Georgia's would-be boyfriend (LL Cool J), she hits her head and is taken to the store's clinic, where a surprised and saddened doctor discovers she has a brain tumor that's so deadly she has only three weeks to live.

So she takes all of her money out of the bank, cashes in her bonds, and heads off for her dream trip to the Czech Republic, where her favorite chef (Gerard Depardieu), prepares exotic meals for his wealthy customers in a beautiful hotel.

She proceeds to charm everyone around her -- especially the chef, who admires this woman who orders everything on the menu -- with her graciousness and zest for life. She also meets the owner of the chain (Timothy Hutton) for which Georgia worked. The millionaire is at the Grand Hotel Pupp to meet a congressman in what may be some underhanded dealings. And he's among the visitors who are jealous of how much attention the chef pays to Georgia.

The movie is a remake that originally starred Sir Alec Guinness. I haven't seen it, but I'd like to, because I certainly enjoyed this little romp.

I like the work of director Wayne Wang. He has a knack for putting happiness right there in front of his camera, and he shares it with his audiences in movies such as the "Joy Luck Club'" "Dim-Sum: A Little Bit of Heart," which is one to check out if you haven't already; and the wonderful "Because of Winn-Dixie."

My late dad, who was a gentle soul, always said this: "I like a movie that makes you feel better when you come than you did going in."

This is one of those movies, and I wish Dad could have seen it.

Stars: Queen Latifah, LL Cool J, Timothy Hutton, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael Nouri, Alicia Witt, Gerard Depardieu, Ranjit Chowdhry and Jane Adams.

Director: Wayne Wang.

Screenwriters: Jeffrey Price, Peter S. Seaman and J.B. Priestly.

Running time: 112 minutes.

Rated: PG-13 for some sexual talk and mildly foul language.

iven the comic and poignant possibilities inherent in a doomed character's wish-fulfilling last hurrah, is it lack of imagination or sheer perversity on Wayne Wang's part that all roads in Last Holiday lead to montages of Queen Latifah trying on splashy outfits to Gwen Stefani's "Rich Girl"? I haven't seen the British 1950 movie which served as basis for the screenplay by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, though the effacing slyness that was original star Alec Guinness's specialty sounds ideally tailored for the role of a mollusk finally freed from his shell by the notion of impending death. By contrast, the casting of perpetually robust Latifah as a shy wallflower comes off as not so much an against-type gamble as a miscalculation of a performer's most vital gifts, with the actress subsequently appearing trapped in a body cast.

Latifah's Georgia Byrd, the meekest voice in her local gospel chorus, is a New Orleans department store clerk too timid to follow her dreams, instead keeping them as snippets in a scrapbook helpfully labeled "Possibilities." A slapstick bump to the head and she's off to the clinic, where a cranial scan reveals multiple tumors and three weeks left to live—her responsibilities lifted, the heroine smashes her asshole boss's cell phone with her pump and empties her bank account for one final splurge in Europe. Once her hair is down, Latifah becomes the resplendent focus of attention in an ultra-expensive Czech hotel, her newfound sassiness working like magic on a snobbish circle that includes smug CEO Timothy Hutton (who learns that life is not just about making money), irresponsible senator Giancarlo Esposito (who learns to "help his own people"), and imperious celebrity chef Gérard Depardieu (who talks funny because he's, you know, foreign).

If not as offensive as the shrugging racial subjugation of his Maid in Manhattan, Wang's tepid feel-gooder follows a virtually identical arc of ethnic mistaken-identity comedy, with a black woman plopped amid posh settings for the giggles of white audiences (see Latifah gasp at the wealth all around her; see Latifah shriek and tumble while snowboarding down a mountain). Variously described as "a true existentialist" and "a saint," the plain-spoken character is meant as a counterpoint to the arrogant swells peopling the hotel, but it's clear that the movie is far more interested in her as an exotic sass-machine comically lost in luxury than a woman coming to terms with her quandaries. Ultimately, one might gladly exercise the film's carpe-diem moral by concluding that life is too short for movies like Last Holiday.

Last Holiday should not work. Its premise is weak, its outcome is never in doubt, and its humor tends to fluctuate between the banal and the uninspired. And yet somehow this remake of a darker 1950 Alec Guinness comedy overcomes all that and emerges as a sweet, engaging, and winning vehicle for a game Queen Latifah. This will not end up on anyone's Top 10 at the end of 2006, but for this cold January, it offers a welcome ray of light.

Latifah is Georgia Byrd, a shy, lonely retail clerk who toils in the cookware section of Kragen's, a New Orleans department store. At home, she keeps a dream book of what she hopes her future holds: her own restaurant and a relationship with hunky coworker Sean Matthews (LL Cool J). But she is too shy and retiring to ever act on her ambitions and then she gets some devastating news. She has a rare brain disease and will be dead within a matter of weeks.

Staring mortality in the face, she decides to start living. She cashes in some savings bonds and an IRA and books a room at a glamorous Czech Republic inn, the Grandhotel Pupp. It is the setting for a fairytale, a gorgeous, centuries-old alpine playground for the rich and famous (as, indeed, it is in real life—it boasts past guests as diverse as Ludwig von Beethoven, Franz Kafka, and Alan Alda). But Georgia has a more practical reason for choosing this particular hotel, as it is the home kitchen of star chef Didier (a twinkly Gerard Depardieu), and if she admits to dying at all, it is that she is dying to try his cooking.

That terminal diagnosis liberates her. She falls in with a crowd that includes Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton), the slimy CEO of her former place of employment; Louisiana Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito); and Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri). Dillings, in particular, is charmed by this glamorous daredevil who bests Kragen at base jumping but, recognizing a corrupt situation when she sees one, chastises him for his lack of ethics. And this woman, who was living on Lean Cuisine, rediscovers her passion for butter and pork fat, to the utter delight of Didier. Everyone loves her (almost) and why not? She is the life of the party.

It is all utterly formulaic, and poor Hutton is saddled with a role that is such a cartoon villain that one of the movie's few surprises is that he does not have a mustache to twirl a la Snidely Whiplash. Director Wayne Wang whose specialty is the small, character-driven drama, such as Chan Is Missing and The Center of the World, is not a natural with this type of broad comedy, and it shows, particularly in the timing. Scenes that start out funny, such as one where Georgia rides a snowboard for the very first time, go on so long that they're finally bled of all humor.

Offsetting that is everything else, particularly Latifah, who plays Georgia as a woman who blossoms the minute she stops hiding from life. The supporting cast is excellent (even the sandbagged Hutton), and Depardieu is a standout. The locations are also exceptional. Six months ago, of course, New Orleans would not have been that special, but this glimpse of the pre-Katrina city is unexpectedly moving. As for the Grandhotel Pupp, it is truly spectacular.

Last Holiday comes out at a time when one aspect of its plot has become suddenly relevant. The relationship between Kragen and the two congressmen mirrors Washington's current scandal involving lobbyists currying favor by showering gifts—including trips to high-end resorts—on politicians. Kragen is footing the bill for Dillings and Stewart in exchange for their help on a regulatory matter, unethical behavior that leads Georgia to scold Dillings, "I voted for you. Whatever happened to that community center you were going to build?"

Regardless of this accidental nod to the Beltway's latest tempest, Last Holiday is not a movie that will tax anyone's brain cells. But as diversions go, it is pleasant, a nice escape from winter's doldrums.

J.B. Priestley used to be one of the most famous voices in 20th- century English literature. Today, the mention of his name is more apt to result in a blank stare than anything else. His plays are still known, but a quick search of Amazon.com shows only one of his novels, The Magicians, as readily available in America (with a sales rank somewhere beneath the million mark). It's a shameful situation for an author whose last book was published in 1977.

Priestley was what is known as a "man of letters." He would turn his hand to anything literary – novels, plays, critical essays, political and sociological writing, biography, autobiography. Several of his novels and plays were made into films, but only once did he write an original screenplay: for a film he co-produced, Last Holiday.

That screenplay resulted in the only truly inspired film for the workmanlike director Henry Cass and afforded Alec Guinness one of his best roles as George Bird, a timid agricultural equipment salesman who is misdiagnosed with Lampington's disease and told he has only a few weeks to live. Cashing in his savings and insurance, Bird sets out to have a taste of "high life" at a posh seaside hotel where his new attitude on life finds him being taken seriously by important people and his luck becomes almost magical.

Flash forward to 2006 and we find Queen Latifah inheriting the mantle of Alec Guinness (can Obi-Wan-Kenobi be far behind?) as Georgia Bird, with the reliably uneven Wayne Wang in the director's chair and the authors of the big screen How the Grinch Stole Christmas providing a revamped screenplay. Certain things are a given here: No way in hell this version is going to go all the way and kill off Queen Latifah in the last reel, and the comedic aspects of the story will be broadened. The latter results in about 30 minutes of high-grade cinematic fat being added to the proceedings.

The surprise, though, is that this new Last Holiday – while nowhere near the quality of the original – isn't an outright travesty. Some aspects of it, in fact, are pretty clever Americanized updatings. Though a staunch socialist, Priestley couldn't resist taking a poke at the inadequacies of early socialized medicine with the film's overworked and generally inept doctor. Here, the script turns its aims on the inherent flaws in HMO health care. Priestley would likely have approved, and the same could be said of the new film's unflattering stance on big business.

As an agnostic, he would less likely have cared for the new movie's slightly religious bent, but this is hardly a major aspect of the film and it feels less like propaganda than part and parcel of the character of Georgia Bird. What he'd make of the excessive broad comedy is another matter, but there's no denying that much of the tone of his screenplay – the theme of "failing" at life through being afraid to act – is still there. Or it's there up till the cop-out ending, which is less damaging than the appallingly cheesy addition of a cheap post-fade-out series of "what happened next" stills of the characters with "clever" updates.

However, what keeps Last Holiday afloat when it's less than its source material is the collective charm of its stars – Queen Latifah, LL Cool J and Gerard Depardieu. Even when the film threatens to crash and burn – and that happens a good bit – these actors are on hand to provide the characters a likable quality that neither Wang, nor the writers, have much to do with. That's perhaps not inapt, since this is first and foremost a star vehicle for the Queen, and it's the best such she's had to date. OK, so it's not all that hard to better things like Bringing Down the House, The Cookout and Taxi, but Last Holiday does have some intrinsic merit. The pity is that it could have had more. Rated PG-13 for some sexual references.

Keep Christ in Christmas," reads a poster at the church where Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) sings in the choir. The camera's brief pan of the group reveals they are earnest and hardworking, preparing their performance for a visit from Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito), on whom they hope to impress the importance of their churchy work.

Bighearted and big-dreaming, Last Holiday's Georgia has personal aspirations as well, which she keeps to herself. A cookware salesperson at a New Orleans department store, she watches Emeril, and cooks delicious experiments for customers and the doting kid next door. Though she's instructed to stop "cooking for the moochers," Georgia takes pride and joy in pleasing folks. And so she resists management's efforts to "change the culture around here," instead finding ways to give of herself and flash that fabulous Latifah smile.

In particular, Georgia wants to get the attention of her most divine coworker Sean (LL Cool J), who appreciates that when she cooks, "it smells like my mama's house." Though she's unable to tell Sean, at home she keeps a Book of Possibilities, in which she's assembled her dream wedding and honeymoon, with her face pasted in alongside Sean's. When the neighbor kid discovers the book, she's embarrassed, but only smiles sheepishly and turns to her Lean Cuisine meal for comfort (right: she doesn't eat her own cooking, another sign of her generous but self-repressed nature).

It takes a dreadful misunderstanding to drive Georgia to act on her desires. Following a clunk on the head at work, she's informed by a doctor Ranjit Chowdhry) that she's got Lampington's Disease and only weeks to live (the machines he's working with are so obviously decrepit that you're not inclined to put much stock in his diagnosis). After a little fretting, she quits the job and cleans out her savings for a tip to the resort village, Karlovy Vary, where she stays at the Hotel Pupp and impresses the magnificent and generally irascible Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu) with her grand appetite.

At this point Wayne Wang's remake of the 1950 Alec Guinness film gives in to the romantic comedic conventions the director also indulged in Maid in Manhattan. The fact that the new movie is not so tedious as the previous one is a credit to Latifah, whose luminous energy makes the flat-footed plot proceedings almost bearable. Almost: the clichés are dull by any standard, as Georgia is surrounded at the hotel by unhappy rich people and their servants, and called on to instruct them in what's really important in life. (It's also worth noting that, during her stay at the hotel, Sean is mostly off-screen back in New Orleans, and so the film quite misses the point of casting LL Cool J as romantic object: he's only visible some 20 minutes total.)

Georgia's students at the hotel are utterly familiar: women need to assert themselves and men need to become sensitive to the needs of their partners, employees, and, in the case of Congressman Stewart (Michael Nouri) and the conveniently appearing Senator Dillings, constituents. The lovely Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt) works for egregiously self-absorbed executive Kragen (Timothy Hutton); their affair has quite run its course, but she goes along in order to preserve her career (you can imagine Georgia's thinking on this situation, and she lets Ms. Burns know). That Kragen thinks Georgia is a business competitor makes him especially unable to see her charms, until he does, and then he too learns a lesson.

Likewise, imperious hotel valet Ms. Gunther (Susan Kellermann) first perceives Georgia as the enemy, as Gunther is too snooty and regimented to appreciate her guest's vivacity and kindness, not to mention paid by Kragen to snoop in Georgia's luggage. Gunther's eventual turnaround is premised on Georgia's irresistibility. Full of insight and advice, she also teaches by doing, enthusiastically taking up snowboarding, gambling, base jumping, and cooking with Chef Didier (in a by-the-numbers montage, for which they agree, "It's not how you start, but how you finish!").

Compassionate and centered, Georgia has something of the Magical Negro about her, as she sheds light on all the troubles of her wealthy white fellows. That said, she does have her own happy ending, and she doesn't have to sacrifice herself for anyone, even if she thinks that's where she's headed for the bulk of the movie. At the same time, the film offers a rudimentary class critique in working-class Georgia's boisterous reeducation of the hoity-toity types. But none of these bits -- and the film reads like a series of bits -- quite grants Latifah a performance stretch. She's Latifah pretending to be plain, then she's Latifah shining her considerable light on everyone else.

While the assembly of actors is surely appealing (aside from the unstoppable Latifah, Hutton is actually very good as the not-so-slow-burning Kragen; you might imagine he's got a Matt Dillonish recuperation in his future), this comfort-foodish film can't get out from under its burden of clichés. As she gains increased clout (maybe her new Hollywood star counts for something), perhaps the Queen can angle for work that's challenging and rewarding for all her subjects.

Georgia Byrd (Queen Latifah) lives an unassuming life, she sings (quietly) at her church, she earns her living in the cookware department at Kragen’s, she cooks lovely food for the kid that lives next door but dines on Lean Cuisine. If it weren’t for her “Possibilities” book, one would think she had no imagination or dreams. When she dreams, she dreams big – she wants to travel, cook professionally and she would like to marry Sean Matthews (LL Cool J), the very sexy sales associate on the floor below (but she hasn’t really had the courage to even talk to him). She gets a nasty bump on her head and in the process of running tests Dr. Gupta (Ranjit Chowdhry) discovers a rare terminal disease, which only gives Georgia weeks to live.

She decides that maybe living a bit before the end would be a good thing so she cashes it all in and hops on a plane to Karlovy Vary with reservations at a posh hotel where one of her favorite chefs is in residence – Chef Didier (Gérard Depardieu). Among the hotel guests are Mr. Kragen (Timothy Hutton) the mega-retailer she used to work for, Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt) his “personal” assistant, and Senator Dillings (Giancarlo Esposito) her representative from back in New Orleans who has been ignoring his constituents. Everyone at the hotel assumes that Georgia is wealthy and influential and daring; these are traits that everyone is drawn to but Mr. Kragen. He's threatened by her and believes that she is out to sabotage his plans for greasing the palms of his local politicians in order to close a big acquisition.

For all of the attention and glamour that Georgia is getting to experience, what she truly longs for is home and Sean and more time on earth.

Let’s start with the fact this is almost 2 hours long – don’t get us wrong, if we are on holiday we want it to last a really long time but this is like watching too many of someone else’s slides – great for them but... The romantic interest stuff works really well, the food, shopping, and spa, all in grand opulence is wonderful – the corporate intrigue bits were missing the intriguing stuff. Queen Latifah is looking fabulous, she has believable chemistry with LL Cool J and Gérard Depardieu; she is engaging as the heroine of the tale but the story has too many elements and it goes all over the place at the same rate as her snowboarding adventure.