American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
"I'm innocent!" proclaimed Dignan (Owen Wilson), the reckless child-man in Wes Anderson's "Bottle Rocket" (1996). Now it's 10 years later and Dignan has aged into Dupree, 36 years old, a wild and innocent man-child with much longer locks. Or, at least, that's how the makers of "You, Me and Dupree" would probably like you to think of him. They'd also like you to think of "Wedding Crashers," last summer's $200-million-grossing comedy in which Wilson played second fiddle to Vince Vaughn, eventually relegated to the relatively thankless role of romantic lead -- or, essentially, the part played by Matt Dillon in this picture.
Fundamentally, though, "You, Me and Dupree" is a variation on the old Guest Who Will Not Leave template. The obliviously uncivilized Dupree is the descendant not only of Dignan, but of Michel Simon's uncouth prole in Jean Renoir's "Boudu Saved From Drowning" (remade by Paul Mazursky as "Down and Out in Beverly Hills" with Nick Nolte) -- with a dash of Monty Wooley as "The Man Who Came to Dinner." At least in the first act.
And that's where the problem starts. The premise is that newlyweds Carl and Molly Peterson (Dillon and Kate Hudson) take guilt-tinged pity on Carl's downtrodden best friend and best man Randy Dupree, who has lost his job... and his apartment... and his car. And all on account of taking some unauthorized time off to attend their wedding in Hawaii, where Molly's dad, real estate tycoon Bob Thompson (Michael Douglas), toasts the couple by making demeaning jokes at Carl's expense. Bad form, bad omen. Oh, and he's also the owner of the firm where Carl works, which builds soulless housing developments with names like The Oaks at Mesa Vista on barren plots in the apparent vicinity of where Cary Grant encountered the murderous biplane in "North By Northwest."
For a while, it's almost like "Fatal Attraction" with a blonde best friend instead of an adulterous lover. The movie plays with our sympathies, alternating between revulsion and compassion for Dupree: Is he really a misunderstood guy, down on his luck, who means well but just hasn't grown up and found himself? Or does he have something of the feckless, sociopathic manipulator in him? For a while we're not sure. The problem, in retrospect, is that the movie isn't either.