Queen Latifah tries to act all shy and mousy at the beginning of Last Holiday. As Georgia Byrd, a prim department-store employee with big dreams, a dull life in pre-Katrina New Orleans, and a (mis)diagnosis of imminent death by symptomless disease, the likably ballsy entertainer tucks her chin in, dresses in garments of bilious beige, panics at the attentions of a nice fellow employee (LL Cool J), and uses about a quarter of her lung power. But it’s a no-go. We want va-va-ha-ha-voom from our Queen, and so we twiddle our thumbs through the setup until Georgia, having decided (after weeping to the heavens) to blow her savings on a swanky European vacation, throws off her cloister-wear and steps out in the eye-popping wardrobe and brash-but-warm, tough-but-funny, take-no-guff self-confidence that are the performer’s identifying marks. Then she’s on message.
A chaste and tepid remake of a 1950 British comedy in which Alec Guinness learned the benefits of living as if each day were his last, this Last Holiday, directed by Wayne Wang from a script by Jeffrey Price and Peter S. Seaman, displays telltale symptoms of International Blanditis, an unfortunate multinational co-production by-product in which even the most exotic settings and costars assume the depth of cardboard cutouts. Shot at the sumptuous Grandhotel Pupp in the Czech Republic’s Karlovy Vary and featuring Gérard Depardieu as a renowned master chef, neither mammoth 300-year-old hotel nor mighty large famous French movie star are given roles of proportionate substance.
Instead, in her Queenliness, the newly adventurous, outspoken, generous, and fabulously dressed Georgia enchants everyone she encounters, whether master chef, hotel clerk, or the up-to-no-good muckety-mucks she runs into in the lobby, among them a junketeering U.S. senator (Giancarlo Esposito), a pliable congressman (Michael Nouri), and their host (Timothy Hutton), who also happens to be Georgia’s greedy, conniving boss. All learn from her regal magnanimity as she teaches her rapt students to live life with gusto. In a lesson just about as profound, Chef Depardieu suggests everyone ought to use more butter.