Three’s a laughless crowd in ‘Dupree’

The late John Belushi once did a “Saturday Night Live” sketch entitled, “The Thing That Wouldn’t Leave.” It ran only a couple of minutes, accompanied by an ominous narrator, like a trailer for a horror film. Belushi merely sits on the couch, acting rude and oblivious to his fretting hosts, and it’s hilarious.

The new comedy “You, Me and Dupree” starts out much the same, except it doesn’t have the courage or the interest in doing anything as psychologically tense as the Belushi sketch. It winds up much like this summer’s other comedies: a treatise against working too hard and spending too little time with the family, with very few laughs besides.

Owen Wilson stars as Dupree, a lovable misfit who crashes on the couch of newlyweds Carl (Matt Dillon) and Molly (Kate Hudson), flipping their lives upside down.

Sensible Molly is a woman apparently without any friends or interests of her own; she’s a schoolteacher who spends a lot of time looking thin in jeans. Carl, however, works in a large land-developing firm under Molly’s dad (Michael Douglas). His father-in-law henpecks and undermines Carl, changing his eco-friendly plans and slipping him vasectomy brochures.

And so “You, Me and Dupree” turns from a high-concept comedy to an earnest saving-the-marriage tale. It doesn’t help that the Carl role is poorlyconceived; his entire arc depends on the fact that he never discusses his troubles with his wife. Dillon plays him with so much bottled-up angst that he loses shape. We’d rather see him explode than reform.

It’s even more awkward to pair up the New York method style of Dillon with the carefree, improvisatory style of Wilson. Dillon comes out looking stuck in the mud. Wilson, however, is in his element, playing his effortlessly nutty brand of a confident, passionate slacker. If only the movie had had the foresight to switch roles. Wilson could have been the main focus and Dillon could have been the uncouth sidekick (not unlike his comic foils in “In & Out” and “There’s Something About Mary”).

The biggest insult is that the movie doesn’t give a hill of beans about the problems of three little people. It stages its jokes externally, such as smashing bikes, spilling on skateboards and catching on fire — all the better if accompanied by a hot soundtrack hit. It’s a high-concept comedy with too much concept and not enough comedy.

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