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HELD UP

by: Michael Dequina

When asked about his latest big screen vehicle, Held Up, by a radio DJ at a recent movie premiere, Jamie Foxx urged the crowd, "Don't see that s--t." I can't blame him. "Held up" is more than just what happens to his character in this laugh-free comedy--it's also what happens to Foxx's promising career with this creaky vehicle.

Foxx is a versatile talent; he more than held his dramatic own in Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday, whose soundtrack also gave him an opportunity to show off his impressive singing chops. First and foremost, though, he's known for his skill as a comedian, as displayed on his eponymous WB sitcom or, better yet, his stint on In Living Color. And there are moments in Held Up where his gift shines through. As his Michael Dawson and a few others are held hostage by a robber (Eduardo YaƱez) in a middle-of-nowhere convenience store, Foxx has his moments, such as when a spontaneous rendition of Earth, Wind and Fire's "Reasons" spurs on a mass singalong.

Maybe that example isn't exactly a gutbuster, but, sadly, is one of the more inspired moments of Jeff Eastin's weak script. Michael, who had been on a long road trip from Chicago with his girlfriend Rae (Nia Long), ends up at the convenience store after she leaves him there after learning that the vintage car in which they've been traveling cost much more than he said. Not long after she hitches a ride to the nearby Las Vegas airport, Michael's beloved car is stolen, and he's stuck in the convenience store with a typically eccentric bunch--one that grows even moreso with the arrival of the robber.

Eastin's idea of comedy is playing to racial stereotypes. The small desert town in which the store is located is a haven for bumbling rednecks. Those in law enforcement, such as Sheriff Pembry (Barry Corbin) and Deputy Beaumont (Jake Busey) are not much more intelligent, if not even less so. Michael, being the only black man in town, is mistaken for famous African-Americans such as Puff Daddy and--in a particularly weak joke--Mike Tyson since "Dawson" sounds oh so much like "Tyson."

With director Steve Rash focusing on the less-than-scintillating hostage crisis--which is made even more tedious by the real-time storytelling--Long is left with nothing to do. Every so often Rash cuts to Rae waiting in an airport bar for her flight back home to Chicago, telling the bartender (Julie Hagerty) about her relationship with Michael. Since there are no attempts at humor, strained or otherwise, in these passages they are somewhat easier to tolerate than the groan-inducing would-be hijinks at the convenience store. That fact, of course, doesn't necessarily mean that these scenes aren't boring, which they are.

That, in a nutshell, is what's wrong with Held Up: it's boring. It takes some doing to make performers as magnetic and energetic as Foxx and Long uninteresting to watch, and that's exactly what Rash and Eastin have managed to accomplish here. Foxx and Long will easily recover from this career misstep, but one has to wonder just how they got held up with Held Up in the first place.

RATING: * (out of *****)

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