Although she looks like a strong breeze would knock her over, the smiling Kate Hudson is an adorable presence, goodness herself, with the face of a beauty queen and the patience of a Stoic. With an easy sexuality and a nice line in spontaneity, Hudson does very well in this rare foray into comedy. Beside her, and playing Wilson’s straight-man, Matt Dillon is asked to do some very odd things, least of which is change from generous buddy to jealous husband in a couple of short scenes. Stranger still is the appearance of the permanently surprised-looking Michael Douglas, doing a riff on his Wall Street character Gordon Gekko to little comic effect although his shiny visage is a tribute to the art of sandblasting. Unhappy with his daughter’s choice of husband, Douglas’ mean old dad hatches various humiliations for Carl, the most conniving of which involve bringing Molly and Dupree closer together.
Played strictly according to the formula and adding nothing in particular to the long run of similar American comedies, Dupree is a mediocre romp elevated to three-star respectability by Wilson’s endearing presence. Part Zen philosopher, part surf dude, part puppy dog; what Wilson does best is play annoying characters without being annoying to watch. Skirting the borders between sweetness and infuriation, Dupree is a classic Wilson character, an innocent abroad, wrinkling his brow at everyday American life, confused by everything but able to smooth the ruffles in life with a smile and a wink. I have no doubt this kind of man still exists somewhere outside of the movies, a thirty-something with negligible emotional intelligence, eternally arrested in adolescence and prepared to float through life on a breeze, but Dupree is also a man with advanced cooking skills and the innate ability to exist on his wits alone, so how does that work? Dupree’s breathless tomfoolery, little of which is particularly inspired, seems sometimes like the actions of a different character in a different movie, one that doesn’t have to rely on tired old set-ups and extracts from old movies to make its point. Dupree is an essentially tragic character, popping up in a knockabout farce and joining in the fun, but his confident grin doesn’t really hide the sadness. “Oh, I can’t impose”, he says, while already seated and scanning the room for somewhere to dump the rest of his stuff. It’s a shame he is surrounded by so many distractions, from a lost-and-found of physical props to the more infuriating dead-end sub-plots, which together swallow-up his essentially good-natured Dupree, leaving him chasing around in circles mugging for laughs. They do not always arrive.
For a film that, at almost two hours, is more than a little too long, Dupree contains some decidedly strange omissions. The character of Mandy, a Mormon librarian corrupted by Dupree in an homage to Last Tango In Paris, is never shown on screen. Later, the shrewish wife of a neighbour can certainly be heard, screaming orders, but again, her face isn’t seen. These enforced anonimities are odd decisions, that ensure Hudson is the only woman on display but cause the film to suffer as a result. Other elements of the set-up feel forced and unnecessary. A street full of neighbourhood kids, all arrived from central casting with their 8x10s still pinned to their lapels, add nothing but backdrop to Dupree’s kidult capering. A very craggy Harry Dean Stanton gets a bewildering cameo that leaves the distinct impression there was far more of his performance dropped to make room for another chase sequence or gags about malfunctioning toilets. The other cameo comes from Lance Armstrong, the mono-testicled cyclist who pops up momentarily in more than a few of these buddy comedies, representing, I suppose, the crowning achievement of American manhood and the glory that awaits us all, if we only had the time and the thighs.
Wilson antics in particular had me sniggering away but the comedy is not sustained in any meaningful sense, the energizing release a big laugh would bring doesn’t arrive and the film peters out to such an extent that it was difficult later to recall the events of the final reel, barring the usual frantic chasing about that typically brings events to a stop in this battered old genre. With Dupree, we get three of these toppers in a row, the various degrees of destruction wrought providing the backdrop for most of the secondary cast to take a final bow and good night. It’s a shame but it is not unusual for welcomes to wear thin, as Dupree could tell you himself.