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Friday, May 4, 2012

CHASING HAPPINESS -- movie review by porfle

It begins and ends with Bollywood beauty queen Kashmira Shah doing a bellydance, which is not a bad way to begin and end a movie, let me tell you.  What's not so great is all the in-between stuff that makes CHASING HAPPINESS (2011) one of the least happiness-inducing comedies that ever pickled your funnybone.

This dreary romp concerns the adventures of four housemates trying to come up with the monthly rent as New Year's Eve approaches.  The group's queen bee, Jen (Elisa Donovan, CLUELESS, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch"), is secretly in love with Rapheal (Claude Duhamel), the guy she pimps out to rich, horny housewives under the guise of being a "sex therapist." 

Gorgeous babe Andrea (Cerina Vincent, who was the yellow Power Ranger and the naked foreign exchange student "Areola" from NOT ANOTHER TEEN MOVIE) runs an illicit poker game in the dining room which will eventually lead to grief.  Meanwhile, exotic Karina (Shah) hones her bellydancing skills in the backyard when she isn't using it as an outdoor "wellness clinic" for gullible yoga students. 

Producer Beni Tadd Atoori's debut as writer-director plods along with all the lighthearted ambience of a slasher flick but with leaden humor instead of death.  The murky lighting is similar too, while the awkward photography often appears to have been done by a camera mounted on a radio-controlled blimp.  Though shot in 2011, the film resembles some obscure flick you might have rented from a Mom-and-Pop video store back in the 80s.

The story's main focus is on the terminally unattractive Rapheal, his sex-hungry customers, and the fact that his oversized willy is shaped "like a coat hanger."  He's supposed to be from Tijuana, although Canadian actor Claude Duhamel's peculiar accent made me think the character was Scottish for about half the movie. 

A side story in which a troubled woman actually does come to him for sex therapy shows promise but doesn't go anywhere, while the subplot about Jen's secret love for him is resolved by her getting a new hairstyle.

Aside from how great Cerina Vincent looks, which gives the poker scenes their main reason for existing, just about the only bright spot in CHASING HAPPINESS is Kashmira Shah.  Her bellydancing is easy on the eyes, especially in the party sequence near the end of the movie when her cheerfully erotic performance is lovingly captured by Atoori with his best staging in the entire film. 

Kashmira's bubbly personality buoys all her scenes, and in an early sequence she reveals a hidden facet to her performance which comes as a delightful surprise.  This occurs during a "wellness" class with a comical Indian yoga master leading his students in a series of ridiculous exercises and urging them at one point to engage in "farting" as a means of cleansing the spirit.  It isn't BLAZING SADDLES, but it is, for better or worse, the funniest scene in the movie.

This being Beni Tadd Atoori's first outing in the director's chair, he can only go up from here and I hope that he does.  Until then, both unsuspecting viewers and bad-movie fans have CHASING HAPPINESS to tide them over until something better comes along, which should be just about any second now.

See it with Amazon Instant Video:

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