A half-baked hybrid of “After Hours” and “Blind Date,” “Woo” is a graceless and gratingly unfunny comedy that brings out the worst in just about everybody involved. The New Line release has been positioned to make a quick score in urban markets before the onslaught of summer blockbusters. But theatrical shelf life may be even briefer than the distrib expects.
Pic is a formulaic farce about a wildly mismatched couple: Woo (Jada Pinkett Smith), a drop-dead gorgeous extrovert who’s absolutely convinced of her own wonderfulness, and Tim (Tommy Davidson), an insecure and straight-laced law clerk who’s badly in need of loosening up.
The couple is thrown together during a blind date arranged by Claudette (Paula Jai Parker), Woo’s cousin, and Lenny (Dave Chappelle), Claudette’s boyfriend and Tim’s best buddy. At first, Woo refuses to take part in the matchmaking effort. But when she learns Tim is a Virgo — just like the Mr. Right she’s been promised by a friendly psychic — Woo changes her mind, and speeds over to Tim’s apartment. Not surprisingly, chaos ensues.
Tim gets off to a wobbly start by trying to come across as a cool customer with seduction on his mind. In this, he is encouraged by a studly neighbor (LL Cool J) who keeps a stable of beauties in his apartment. Woo immediately sees through Tim’s posing, and responds by teasing and humiliating him. Then, before they can leave Tim’s apartment, three other buddies (Duane Martin, Darrel Heath and Michael Ralph) drop by. Angered by their chauvinistic comments, Woo spooks them out with manic-depressive behavior. Amazingly enough, however, that isn’t enough to keep Tim from taking Woo out to dinner.
As the evening progresses, director Daisy V.S. Mayer (“Party Girl”) and screenwriter David C. Johnson (“D.R.O.P. Squad”) contrive to present Woo as a sassy, brassy free spirit who says and does whatever pops into her head. When the couple visits a fancy Italian restaurant, Woo causes sufficient commotion to get them ejected from the place. Later, Tim takes her to a dance club in a dicey neighborhood, only to get punched out by Woo’s ex-boyfriend. Tim walks outside and finds his expensive new car has been stolen. Woo thinks this is hilarious; Tim doesn’t.
“Maybe we could be having a good time,” Tim shouts, “if you could control your psychotic mood swings!” The line is meant to be funny, but it actually sums up everything that is wrong with “Woo.” In this type of pic, a leading lady (or leading man) can get away with all manner of wacky behavior if the audience’s sympathies are engaged. But as she’s played by Pinkett Smith, Woo has all the charm of fingernails on a blackboard.
To be sure, it’s not entirely Pinkett Smith’s fault. Indeed, it’s difficult to think of anyone else who would fare much better, given the way the character is written. Director Mayer compounds the problem by encouraging her star to come across as arrogantly and exhaustingly cocksure for too much of the pic. By the time Woo is supposed to soften just a little, to suggest that maybe she’s not quite as egomaniacally unreasonable as she seems, it’s too late for either the character or the actress to connect with the audience.
As Tim, Davidson is slightly more engaging, even though a viewer can’t help wondering why his character doesn’t simply run for cover when Woo first evidences her “psychotic mood swings.” During the pic’s only funny scene, Tim gets romantic advice from Mr. Smooth Moves himself, Billy Dee Williams. The latter appears as himself in the brief fantasy bit. And unlike anyone else on screen, Williams obviously appreciates the art of understatement.
Supporting performances range from buffoonish to obnoxious, but rarely manage to amuse. Even though it clocks in at under 90 minutes, “Woo” seems padded and repetitious. To be fair, however, it should be noted that lenser Jean Lepine and production designer Ina Mayhew make the nighttime world of New York look like an invitingly vibrant and romantic wonderland. Then again, it may have helped that most of the pic was actually shot in Toronto.