There's a problem casting Queen Latifah in such a light-hearted comedy with such a downbeat premise. On the one hand, the character needs to grieve and bemoan her sudden change in circumstances; on the other, the actress must display the kind of contagious, carefree attitude that plays well in trailers. Last Holiday doesn't achieve this balance, offering only a few throwaway moments of introspection to remind viewers of the stakes, but it should appeal plenty well to Latifah's fans. For one, it celebrates the "big is beautiful" ethos Latifah brings to most of her roles, making her frumpy department-store clerk the improbable love interest for hunky LL Cool J -- even before she's transformed by her new carpe diem confidence. If Wayne Wang's film were content just being a romantic character study of a terminal patient finding her bliss, that would be one thing. But to beef up the plot, Latifah's profligate spending gets her confused for a person of influence, and her idyllic ski resort becomes backdrop for a mistaken-identity farce involving a billionaire (Timothy Hutton), his mistress, and a handful of other acquaintances, inexplicably and coincidentally transplanted to Eastern Europe. In the process, the film's original intention is hijacked by the reliable Hollywood chestnut that a straight-talking outsider can always purify wayward souls. And just so there's never a moment's doubt about either Latifah's world-class appeal or the enlightenment of her European hosts, everyone who meets her is utterly enchanted, leaving only Hutton to bitterly resent all the attention. Last Holiday goes down easily enough, but by playing it too safe, Wang proves unworthy of Latifah's natural charisma, which could have fueled a much better film.
by Derek Armstrong review