Passionate pursuits are the devil’s plaything. Alec Baldwin stars and directs in this miscast mess, filled with genre struggles and a desire to impress. Baldwin must remember to take a step back, understand that the horrific animation that opens his feature of ensemble characters is not impressive, and accept that The Cat in the Hat was the best role he offered audiences in 2003. Dark days indeed for Baldwin, the bright spark of 30 Rock and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation has directed nothing since Shortcut to Happiness, and that is for the best. His opening credits feel like a cheap video game, and the film itself feels cheap.
“He wasn’t a bad writer,” Hopkins’ narration indicates, “but he was not a great writer.” Surely, he speaks of Archibald Macleish, scriptwriter of Shortcut to Happiness. His work here is his only screenplay credit, and telling it may be as to why that is the case, how Macleish pieces his characters together is stunningly dense. His writing is so stringent and lacking in realism that it makes dependable actors like Hopkins and Baldwin feel like first-timers. Despite directing his own performance, Baldwin chews the scenery, overacts alongside familiar faces and finds himself in a completely unwinnable position as an aspiring writer living in New York City. How very original, and although the Woody Allen influence has rubbed off on Baldwin, he captures neither the charm nor the artistry that his idol manages so gracefully and consistently.
Even working alongside those that have or would go on to work with Allen, from Dan Aykroyd to Hopkins, Bobby Cannavale and Al Palagonia too. None of their efforts is at all memorable or interesting. Shortcut to Happiness is so intricately tied to what Baldwin is trying to do. It is a sad shame for as his vision is collapsing around him, it is clear to see it is not his fault. While the premise of a man encountering an incarnation of The Devil is not exactly the most original of dealings, Baldwin has a flush hand. He isn’t able to play it, though, he is stuck under the pressure of directing and starring in his own feature. Very few can do it. His idol Allen could, but his desire to proclaim a real love for New York is absent from Baldwin.
At times, Shortcut to Happiness has the merits of an awfully hilarious production. A true car crash of delicate proportions. Hopkins and Baldwin are at least engaging, not because of their performances but because of their personalities. No script can remove that from them. Macleish very nearly succeeds with dire experimentation of massively horrific proportions, but even then, Baldwin is not helping matters. His simplicity in the directing chair provides us with no gauge of his passion, of his interest, or his talent. He provides that in front of the camera, not behind it. So many actors-turned-directors must learn this, but it seems that they will learn the hard way like Baldwin did with Shortcut to Happiness. His shortcut has not panned out. It was his first directing effort, and hopefully his last.