The Baxter review by Mike Long

There's a classic scene in Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery where the action cuts away from the main film to show the home-life of one of Dr. Evil's nameless henchmen. (There are deleted scenes with even more of this on the DVD and laserdisc.) As simple as this sounds, it's an amazing and hilarious concept to take the viewer out of the film and show them the world of a stereotypical character which has been shown in hundreds of film. A similar idea is happening in The Baxter, a good-natured romantic comedy which, like Austin Powers, introduces us to a character that we've seen many times, but have never actually met.

According to the film, a "Baxter" is the man who doesn't get the girl. The implied example given at the outset of the film is any film where a woman is going to marry a man who is safe, but isn't right for her, only to be swept off her feet at the last second by the man of her dreams. That guy left at the altar, the one who was played for comic relief, he's "The Baxter". (I guess a close example of this would be Bill Pullman in Sleepless in Seattle.)

As The Baxter opens, we meet Elliot Wendell Sherman (Michael Showalter), a conservative accountant. Elliot likes his life very neat and orderly, and is the epitome of average (although, to be fair, he's a bit too dorky to be average). One day, Elliot meets a new client, fashion magazine editor Caroline Swann (Elizabeth Banks), and he is immediately attracted to her. This is also the same day that Elliot gets a new temporary secretary, Cecil Mills (Michelle Williams), and he finds himself drawn to her as well. Elliot and Caroline begin to date, and finding that they are very compatible, become engaged. But, not long before the wedding, Caroline's old flame Bradley (Justin Theroux) comes to town, and Elliot is immediately intimidated by this outgoing man. Now confused about his feelings towards Caroline, Elliot begins to wonder if he should have pursued Cecil instead. Will the man who has a history of being dumped be able to find true love?

The Baxter was written and directed by Michael Showalter, who many of you will know from The State and also from the film Wet Hot American Summer. I was never a regular viewer of The State, but from what I could gather, the show was filled with edgy, often avant-garde humor. The Baxter takes a completely different approach, as the best word which comes to mind to describe the film is (unfortunately): sweet. This is a romantic comedy for those who have a less than favorable view of love, but the movie never gets cynical. Elliot knows that he's been unlucky with relationships in the past, but he simply focus on the positive aspects of his life in the present and comes on going. Elliot seems to realize that he's out-of-step with the rest of the world, but as long as he's happy, that's OK. This message is quite different from the ones which we've seen in other romantic comedies, where the female characters beat themselves up for their shortcomings.

Along with the creative duties, Showalter stars in the film and does a fine job portraying Elliot. This is a character who could very easily be unlikable, but Showalter gives Elliot just enough pathos to be intriguing and enough self-doubt to be humorous. Simply peruse this site and you'll see that I'm a fan of Dawson's Creek, but I never liked Michelle Williams on that show. I found her much more appealing here, as she plays a women who is at once meek and vulnerable, but also knows what she wants out of life. Fellow The State alum Michael Ian Black has a great cameo as Elliot's eccentric friend who seems to having a problem wearing pants.

The Baxter was quite a surprising film, as I really didn't know what to expect, and judging by the copy on the DVD box, neither did MGM. I haven't seen 40-Year Old Virgin, so I can't compare the two films, but I have a feeling that they are similar in many ways. The Baxter isn't laugh-out-loud funny (except for one scene at the end), but it is one of the few recent films which manages to be humorous without losing its warmth or down-to-Earth feel.

The Baxter comes to DVD courtesy of MGM Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks good, as the picture is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain or defects from the source material. The picture shows a great deal of detail and the colors are good. There were some mild moments of artifacting, but the image is stable and never overly dark. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects with no evidence of hissing or distortion. The stereo effects are fine and there are some examples of surround sound action during the city street scenes, but there isn't much in the way of bass response.

The only extra features on the DVD are four bloopers. This is one film where I would have welcomed a commentary or making-of featurette to learn how Showalter came up with the character and how he was able to assemble his impressive cast.

(Editor's note: If you haven't gotten your Showalter fill with The Baxter, read our painful interview with Michael Showalter from a few years back here.)

7 out of 10 Jackasses

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