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Serving Sara

Director: Reginald Hudlin
Cast: Matthew Perry, Elizabeth Hurley, Bruce Campbell, Cedric the Entertainer, Terry Crews, Amy Adams, Vincent Pastore

(Paramount Pictures; US theatrical: 23 Aug 2002; 2002)

Sucking

“M


y job sucks,” says Joe (Matthew Perry) at the beginning of Reginald Hudlin’s peculiar romantic comedy, Serving Sara. He’s a process server. And while he used to be one of the “best,” serving papers with speedy aplomb, lately, he’s had trouble. His marks have somehow been getting wind of his approach and hightailing it before he can push the appointed papers in their faces (the opening scene shows him strutting his stuff, serving a mobster named Fat Charlie smack in the middle of his gambling joint). Usually self-confident to the point of obnoxiousness, Joe’s now feeling the pinch. And his boss, Ray (Cedric the Entertainer, who spends most of the film alone in an office, literally phoning in his performance) takes pleasure in working the pincers.


Suddenly, Joe’s given an assignment worthy of his self-recognized talent, when rival server Tony (Vincent Pastore) screws up the dates while filing an important job. Aha! Joe’s back. Until he blows the job, delivering divorce papers to Sara (Elizabeth Hurley), trophy wife to sleazy multi-millionaire Texas cattle rancher Gordon (Bruce Campbell in a cowboy hat). Sara, being about as finely attuned to her surroundings as Joe is to his, is shocked to learn hubby wants out, and so, after a bout of weeping, decides to fight back. She convinces Joe to hold off on finalizing his documents regarding her serving, and to serve her husband with papers instead (there’s some rationale here, having to do with his residence in Texas and hers in New York City, and who gets served first, and how the money gets divvied up, though in truth, you won’t care about any of it).


Surprise: Sara convinces Joe to do her bidding, by looking so cute when she pouts and also by offering him a cool million out of her courtroom winnings should Gordon be served first. Joe really wants to get out of the serving business, and buy a vineyard in Napa Valley (at the moment, he grows grapes on an arbor in his apartment, and makes wine in beakers, though this little character detail only tells you he’s unhappy in his current circumstances, which you knew already). A deal is struck. The two league up against Gordon, tracking him to his workout spot in Dallas (where his brawny girl trainer beats up Joe) and then at his ranch in Durango, where he keeps his busty new girlfriend Kate (Amy Adams).


Sara and Joe aren’t only racing time: the tiresome plot needs to be more crowded than that. And so, they are also trying to elude the lumbering Tony, now assigned to serve Sara, and Gordon’s thug (Terry Crews). So that you understand the full extent of Vernon’s threat, he’s introduced torturing an office employee to learn what happened to a stapler, wears a black cowboy hat and black duster, as well as snakeskin boots with the fanged-up snakeheads on the toes (as Joe describes him, “Wyatt Earp looks pissed”). He’s a very scary black man—so scary that when he’s about to get on an elevator, the entire lot of white people on it run off in terror (as overstated and awkward as this joke is, it may be the only one with resonance outside the unrecognizable world of this film). Sara and Joe don’t actually have to interact much with Vernon, as whenever they see him, they run the other way and the film cuts to another scene. His menace is mostly for show.


Sara and Joe’s misadventures continue to rack up, and Serving Sara becomes increasingly incoherent, a string of rehashed sight gags based in insipid vulgarity. The hilarity involves Sara and Joe falling all over each other on an airport baggage belt (her pants are ripped off to reveal her pretty panties); Sara and Joe losing all their money and needing a motel room for the night (she bares her breasts to a “redneck” clerk, who is so awed that he can hardly speak); and Sara and Joe pretending to be a vet and his assistant, which means he’s forced to “milk” a temporarily impotent bull, that is, stick his arm up its butt in order to “prime his pump” (this scene goes on and on, with repeated close-ups of the bull’s rolling eyes and the rollicking clatter of his fake lady-mount, along with Joe’s moans of horror, of course: Tom Green would be proud).


Just when you’re thinking it can’t get any worse, the film finds another way to abuse its players and viewers: the final confrontation—a veritable battle of the servers—takes place at a Monster Truck Show, and guess who ends up running about in the arena, chased by a big black vehicle with 9-foot-tall wheels? In a word, painful.


Shot back the movie industry was panicked about a threatened actors’ strike, Serving Sara has a general air of desperation about it—like everyone just gritted his teeth and went on with it, dignity be damned. That said, dignity is not a high priority when it comes to gross-out comedies, and these do tend to absorb other genres into them rather indiscriminately: Tom Green, Jim Carrey, the American Pie crew—they all engage with bodily and other fluids in awful ways, and still get the girls in the end, don’t they?


Still, as Matthew Perry tells it, the making of Serving Sara was particularly difficult. His own life sucked at the time, as he was bouncing between the Friends set, rehab, and movie locations (in New York and on Ross Perot’s ranch near Dallas), and his own attitude was, unsurprisingly, rather “dark.” He says that he and Hudlin decided to incorporate this darkness into Joe’s demeanor. His doughy face is unshaven (to indicate his he-manness, perhaps) and his wisecracks are probably meaner than they might have been. Mostly, though he looks anxious. And that may be the one thing that makes sense in Serving Sara.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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