Despite attractive trappings and some distinctly delightful cameos, Fox’s “How to Marry a Billionaire” ultimately comes off as a wooden effort Fox’s take on the original 1953 pic replaces the three women out to marry into money with three men out to accomplish the same — and adds extra zeroes to the titular target. But while the argument presented in the pic — what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander (if women can marry for money, why not men?) — makes perfect sense, this story remains an idea that never quite works, resulting in a joyless, if intermittently amusing, made-for.
There’s no credit given anywhere onscreen, or in the press materials, to the film version, which starred Lauren Bacall, Marilyn Monroe and Betty Grable, and certainly it’s the fundamental concept that’s borrowed more than any specifics. Story, transplanted from New York to Los Angeles, is placed in the context of a holiday fable. Nonetheless, the original’s basic premise is followed.
After having been dumped by another in a long line of girlfriends seeking financial stability along with good sex, struggling sculptor Tom Noonan (John Stamos) convinces his buddies, obsessive compulsive Mark (Joshua Malina) and dimwitted actor Jason (Shemar Moore), to pool resources, convinced that they can lure loaded mates by pretending to have money themselves. Jason’s temporary digs (he’s housesitting in Malibu) give them a luxurious habitat to extend the pretense.
It doesn’t take long for Tom to find an appropriate bride, a blonde and decidedly airy dry cleaning heiress named Tiffany (a funny performance from Dorie Barton). It also doesn’t take long for Tom to fall for an apparently inappropriate bride, Jenny (Gabrielle Anwar), a painter who’s smart and beautiful but seemingly penniless.
You don’t even need to have heard of the original to know exactly what’s going to happen here — Tom’s storyline simply couldn’t be more predictable. It should be more fun to watch it anyway, except for the fact that Stamos invests Tom with obvious reluctance from the start. He’s a character never comfortable with his own actions, and it’s not fun to watch someone be so completely depressed for so long. There’s an incongruous earnestness, and lack of charisma, to Stamos’ scenes.
The side stories are lighter and more effective, thanks to an able supporting cast. Malina’s Mark becomes involved with a wealthy divorcee and starts to learn about himself. Moore’s Jason sleeps around with a host of sexy female lawyers and gets to spew some clever dumb-actor one-liners from writers Steven Peterman and Gary Dontzig. All along the three pretend to be film producers (what else?).
Pic comes to life whenever Rhea Perlman and Dabney Colemen appear. They play Tiffany’s parents, who, upon arriving from Russia years ago, changed their names to John and Jackie Kennedy, and their accents are as strong as their always impeccable timing. There are also too-brief appearances by the wonderfully silly Kenneth Mars and Katherine Helmond.
Director Rod Daniel brings it all together competently enough, with highly capable assistance from cinematographer Bing Sokolsky and editor Jack Hofstra, but there’s just too little comic spark to the execution, even in the farcical scenes.
Tech credits are strong.