Although not nearly as bad as its title, “Failure to Launch” is an especially slight romantic comedy whose modest charms are derived largely from its supporting players. Conspicuously inspired by magazine articles about a trendy, “Oprah”-worthy syndrome — adult children unwilling to leave their parents’ homes — the filmmakers pad the movie’s allotted time with over-the-top interludes in pursuit of a screwball tone. Blessed with some crowd-pleasing elements, “Launch” should enjoy modest appeal among the weekend-date crowd but, to borrow its terminology, it doesn’t seem destined to fully achieve liftoff.
This is actually the second time Matthew McConaughey and Sarah Jessica Parker have done the “meet cute” thing, the other coming when he guest starred as himself (not all that convincingly) on “Sex and the City.” It’s too bad, however, that their characters aren’t as well buffed and polished as the stars’ deservedly celebrated physiques.
Despite that athletic frame and chiseled jaw, fun-loving Tripp (McConaughey) is a 35-year-old man still living with his mom (Kathy Bates) and dad (Terry Bradshaw). In fact, his designated method of breaking up with the sundry babes he bags is to bring them home as soon as they exhibit the first sign of becoming too attached.
More improbably, Tripp’s best buddies, tech geek Ace (Justin Bartha) and world traveler Demo (Bradley Cooper), are also live-at-home examples of this Peter Pan syndrome. Even so, they tell Tripp that he’s “afraid of love,” a charge he rejects, insisting that his prolonged adolescence is just swell.
Tripp’s parents don’t appear particularly upset with the arrangement, but, after chatting with some blissful neighbors enjoying a newly emptied nest, they retain Paula (Parker), a “professional interventionist” who promises she can seduce men suffering from “failure to launch,” thus inspiring them to move out on their own.
As Paula soon realizes, however, Tripp is an atypical case, and not just because he and his friends all have weird names. The two share an obvious attraction, muddling her carefully orchestrated routine, which is built around not becoming too involved. (A moment when we see her with a more conventional “client” — enthusing about the “Star Wars” trilogy — hints at a different and perhaps better movie, though there’s still the untidy little matter of dumping these losers after romancing them to independence.)
Director Tom Dey (“Shanghai Noon”) and TV writing veterans Tom J. Astle and Matt Ember alternate between more down-to-Earth scenes and cartoonish ones. On that latter score, Tripp keeps having oddly dangerous encounters with animatronic animals, leading to broad slapstick sequences that are incongruous with the rest of the film.
Granted, there is a belated if somewhat feeble attempt to explain why animals keep attacking Tripp, along with why Tripp’s still at home and how Paula stumbled into this bizarre line of work. But, none of it is any more convincing than Tripp’s absurdly precocious nephew, who comes across as sitcom silly.
Parker isn’t far from her “Sex” persona and fares a bit better than McConaughey, whose comic chops are less developed than his abs.
Pic’s saving graces and few genuine laughs, meanwhile, flow from the goofy antics of Bates and Bradshaw, with the old quarterback even baring his backfield for the team. Zooey Deschanel also brings some quirkiness to her role as Paula’s misanthropic roommate, though the two are such unlikely friends it feels as if Deschanel parachuted in from an entirely different movie.
Shot in locales that include Maryland, New Orleans and Alabama, “Failure to Launch” ultimately shares something in common with its protagonist that doesn’t bode well for its theatrical run: While both Tripp and the movie are attractive and far from a total failure, neither offers much motivation to leave the house.