Channeling Godard’s Week-end after a course of road-rage therapy, Changing Lanes locates its site of redemption on the FDR, amid the bleary pandemonium of the a.m. rush hour. It’s a stormy Good Friday, no less, and this noisily introspective salvation allegory is doggedly literal about treading on Jesus’s footprints. First up for the protagonists: a really bad morning in court. Cretinous Gavin (Ben Affleck), a blowhard Wall Street lawyer, and irritable Doyle (Samuel L. Jackson), a 12-stepping insurance agent, get into a fender-bender while racing downtown to the halls of justice. Doyle shows up just in time to see his Oregon-bound ex-wife being awarded sole custody of their two young sons. Gavin realizes that in his haste to flee the scene of the collision, he dropped an all-important document—which Doyle has since pocketed, and proceeds to use as leverage as the two men hunker down for a vendetta that starts spiteful and petty but soon turns existential and life-transforming.
Gavin shuts off Doyle’s credit, Doyle sabotages Gavin’s car, et cetera. But along the way, Gavin, a lawyer so guileless John Grisham would be proud, finally figures out that his bosses are corrupt and his life is a sham, and Doyle learns how to get through a rough day without a shot of bourbon. Smitten by the symmetry of his parable, director Roger Michell crosscuts emphatically between the preening leads—a strategy that only draws attention to the numerous lapses in logic and unpersuasive changes of heart while sidelining the lively supporting cast (Kim Staunton and Toni Collette, as the clashing duo’s former lovers, are notably underused). As in most men-behaving-badly movies, the nastier they get, the more resounding the eventual absolution. The ending is guaranteed to aggravate any self-respecting New York driver—the film’s raised middle finger has, by that point, been tactfully covered by a righteous bumper sticker.
Shoving middle fingers into any available cavity, most of them its own, The Sweetest Thing (in general release) seems to have been assembled (at short notice, with blindfolds on) by people who have never seen any movies outside of Cameron Diaz vehicles. There’s some disco rump-shaking from Charlie’s Angels and matrimonial embarrassment from My Best Friend’s Wedding, but mostly the source text is There’s Something About Mary. But where the Farrellys positioned Diaz as an all-purpose smut repellent, immune by her very resplendence, this hen night of the living dead requires her to roll up her sleeves and wade right into the septic tank. Christina Applegate as the (frequently unpeeled) second banana makes needlessly hard work of the Aniston affect, while third wheel Selma Blair is at one point called upon to administer a piercing-impeded blowjob. For all the equal-op grotesquerie, The Sweetest Thing (incidentally, one of the cruddiest-looking movies ever made) is foremost a romantic comedy, and as such predicated on self-pity. A woman wants nothing more than the love of a good man, and the only thing that can reduce her to weeping fits is the relationship bible on her nightstand.