Watching the redoubtable Elizabeth Banks try to breathe life into the stillborn farce “Walk of Shame” is like watching a team of paramedics perform CPR on the corpse of Ulysses S. Grant. Indeed, it’s an ill-tempered housecat who elicits just about the only real laugh in writer-director Steven Brill’s hapless mash-up of “The Hangover” and “After Hours,” an erstwhile FilmDistrict title (originally slated for release last September) being dumped by Focus into a handful of theaters concurrent with its VOD debut. Banks deserves far better, to say nothing of the audience.
As she ably demonstrated in “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “Role Models” and “Slither,” Banks is a first-rate comedienne with real screwball elan, which makes it all the more disappointing that this seemingly tailor-made star vehicle is such a bust. You can’t blame the actress, who gives it her all (and then some) as Los Angeles newscaster Meghan Miles, whose personal and professional lives seem to go up in smoke in the course of a single day. Ditched by her fiancee and passed over for a promotion to the network anchor desk, Meghan resolves to drown her sorrows during a raucous girls night out with her two BFFs (Gillian Jacobs and Sarah Wright Olsen) — a night that ends with Meghan in the comforting arms of a handsome bartender/“postmodern romantic fiction” writer (James Marsden).
When all hope seems lost, Meghan gets a message from her producer that the network job is back in play. But in her hasty scramble, Meghan finds herself locked out of her new beau’s downtown apartment sans phone, purse or car and must find her way back to civilization (and the news desk) — clad in a skin-tight, banana-yellow dress and stiletto heels. That dress — about the only thing in this grimy-looking movie that qualifies as a visual idea — proves to be a crucial impediment, causing Meghan to be mistaken for a stripper/hooker by a lecherous taxi driver (“Borat” sidekick Ken Davitian), a couple of bumbling cops (Ethan Suplee and Bill Burr) and a trio of kindly crack dealers (Lawrence Gilliard Jr., Alphonso Mcauley and Da’vone McDonald). If that joke isn’t especially funny or inspired the first time around, by the sixth time it has become a kind of comic waterboarding.
Most of Meghan’s journey takes her through stretches of South and Central L.A., which Brill (“Little Nicky,” “Drillbit Taylor”) renders as the exclusive domain of addicts, dealers, pimps and other assorted vagrants, nearly all played by actors of color in a movie whose race politics are just this side of Donald Sterling’s. Marsden, who proved his own formidable comic chops in “Enchanted” and “Anchorman 2,” seems relieved to be spared the brunt of the movie’s humiliations, relegated to periodic reaction shots as he follows Banks’ breadcrumb trail with Jacobs and Olsen in tow.