Obi-wan Latifah: Film snobs stay away


I don't want to be a spoiler, but the only person who would want to see a romantic comedy in which Queen Latifah dies at the end is Mo'Nique, who would expect to pick up some good roles for a full-figured woman with Latifah out of the way.

Last Holiday goes through the motions of telling a story in which Georgia Byrd (Latifah) blossoms and starts living because she thinks she's going to die in three weeks, but the movie always seems to be winking at the audience as if to say, "Wait and see how we get her out of this!"

The formulaic tale has been told many times before, and in some versions the protagonist actually dies, so theoretically it could happen here. Last Holiday is a remake of a 1950 British film in which Alec Guinness played George Bird. If this starts a trend, I can't wait to see Latifah in the new version of Star Wars! (She's better than Tom Hanks in The Ladykillers.)

The most serious thing about the new Last Holiday is the inferences that can be made about corrupt politicians and attitudes toward the poor in the pre-Katrina New Orleans setting.

Georgia is a sweet but repressed woman who confines her dreams to a book of "Possibilities." She works in a department store (where she's under-appreciated) but longs to be a chef. She has a crush on a co-worker, Sean Williams (LL Cool J), and it's obvious to everyone but them that he returns her interest.

Some people have to be hit over the head, and that's about what happens to Georgia. A CAT scan reveals she has a rare (fictional) disease that will kill her in three weeks, "four on the outside." Even though she's never been north of Alabama, she obtains a passport in record time and flies to her dream hotel, Grandhotel Pupp in Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic.

The formerly frugal woman is determined to blow all her money, which includes her IRA and "bonds my momma left." That must amount to quite a bit, because she starts upgrading and living large, buying a new wardrobe and staying in the Presidential Suite for $4000 a night.

The worker's friend, Georgia is soon beloved by most of the staff (they dub her "the most amazing person who ever came to this hotel"), including her idol, Chef Didier (Gerard Depardieu). The lone holdout is the floor valet, mannish Gunther (Susan Kellerman). By the kind of coincidence you don't question in movies like this, other guests at the hotel include Georgia's senator (Giancarlo Esposito) and congressman (Michael Nouri), and the man who's paying for them in return for favorable legislation, Matthew Kragen (Timothy Hutton).

What's more, Kragen owns the department store where Georgia worked, and he's on a spending spree while the store's in Chapter 11.He's accompanied by his assistant/mistress, Ms. Burns (Alicia Witt).

Once-promising director Wayne Wang (The Joy Luck Club, Chan Is Missing) continues to prove (Maid in Manhattan, Because of Winn-Dixie) he's as versatile as Ang Lee but not as talented.

The movie goes into extra innings while Georgia straightens out everybody's lives, and her Big Speech merely restates the obvious points made in the movie's first 90 minutes or so. With less of a life force than Latifah, Last Holiday could easily be unbearable, but she is the personification of "Laugh and the world laughs with you."

Film snobs stay away, but Last Holiday is a people-pleaser.