Don’t get too excited: Not only is there nothing especially dirty about Dirty Weekend, the latest and lamest film by erstwhile provocateur Neil LaBute, but the movie doesn’t even occupy an entire weekend. Instead, this surprisingly earnest two-hander depicts a single day in the lives of two office drones, Les (Matthew Broderick) and Natalie (Alice Eve), who wind up stuck in Albuquerque when their flight from Los Angeles to Dallas gets grounded by bad weather. It’s made clear early on that Natalie is gay, so there’s no chance of an affair with married Les, who spends a lot of time reassuring his wife on the phone. But once it becomes clear that they won’t be reboarding any time soon, Les is suspiciously eager to head into the city, alone, for what he claims is a mundane shopping trip. Natalie insists on accompanying him, and the bulk of the film consists of Les struggling to hide whatever his guilty secret is while Natalie constantly pressures him to come clean. As a gesture of good faith, she even reveals a secret of her own.
A lot depends, then, on what these two characters are concealing. Even some of LaBute’s lesser films, like last year’s Some Velvet Morning (which also starred Eve, opposite Stanley Tucci; maybe one day it’ll be a man who’s not 20 years her senior), benefit from a twist ending that recontextualizes everything that came before. That approach can feel contrived—or even cheap, at its worst—but at least it’s arresting, if only in retrospect. What LaBute’s doing here, by contrast, is exasperatingly coy. Dirty Weekend’s entire first half is just Les nervously hemming and hawing, punctuated by mild needling from Natalie. In the absence of any real drama, or even some amusing verbal fireworks (LaBute’s dialogue is atypically bland), there’s nothing to do but speculate about what perversion Les favors. The big revelation, when it finally arrives, is so innocuous that it was the subject of a hit single way the hell back in 1970. (Hint hint, though Les’ actual situation turns out to be slightly more complicated than that.) Not remotely worth the wait.
What’s more, Dirty Weekend proves to be a lot more squishy than astringent, ultimately offering a trite “be yourself” message that makes the film resemble a (very) slightly racy after school special. The sincerity doesn’t come across as hypocritical as one might expect, given LaBute’s track record, and it provides a little-known actress named Gia Crovatin with an opportunity to invest her preposterous character with a remarkable degree of tenderness and empathy. (She outshines Broderick and Eve, both of whom seem straitjacketed by how little is on the page.) But that doesn’t compensate for the overall banality, which is magnified by LaBute’s complete lack of interest in his chosen milieu. Locations are anonymous without being distinctively or expressively so, and minor characters are reduced to cute gimmicks—no matter when they leave the airport, or return to it, Les and Natalie repeatedly get the same shuttle driver and cab driver, a device that sacrifices region-specific verisimilitude for weak running gags. LaBute’s bad movies—even one as roundly mocked as his Wicker Man remake—used to be failures of ambition. More and more, they’re starting to feel like laziness.