Danny Wallace had a way with words when it came to Yes Man. His comedy book that inspired the Jim Carrey-led feature was an interesting bit of work because Wallace has the conviction of a man telling the truth. He did tell the truth. Showing evidence of lottery tickets that win him big bucks but are cancelled out by the gluttony of scratching off one more square and subsequently voiding it, travelling around the world on a whim and involving himself in scenarios that are well beyond what any dedicated socialite could hope to achieve. It is the freewheeling lifestyle so many dare not live but love to dream of that Wallace lived. It died in the hands of Carrey, but it lives on the page forever.
For audiences wanting a genuine riff on the oddities of saying “Yes” to absolutely anything, well, the book is there. It is not a classic, but it is a nice bit of reading that will offer a comfortable weekend of joy. Its 2008 counterpart from director Peyton Reed, however, is nothing of the sort. Played out with the passionless Hollywood blasé approach that can’t contain the larger-than-life leading man who was on the downturn at this point in his career, Yes Man relies on the sluggish comedy and the Americanisation of a text that works because nobody expects a British bloke down the pub to travel up and down the country, in a car he doesn’t need to meet up with people he doesn’t know.
The wry charm is expectedly lost on the Carrey-led comedy but at least it has similar qualities to that of Bruce Almighty. A nice enough role for Carrey to lose himself to, to pull the funny faces, hang around with Bradley Cooper and Zooey Deschanel. It’s par for the course in this empty Reed feature. There are a couple gags throughout that work as contained, independent bits of comedy but knowing they’re ripped from the book or even just embellished parts of what Wallace was writing shows a lack of faith in finding humour in the truth. Yes Man is a competently written book whose charm is released not by explosive acts of heroism but by a man coming to terms with himself and the risks that should always linger around the corner. That much is lacking in the feature adaptation because there is no way to adapt feeling in a Reed-directed feature.
Or at least, that is what Yes Man and all his other comedies prove. Carrey will become the centrepiece for anything he touches, and if the project is not a huge draw, then he will become the story. Yes Man is not big enough to swat away the Carrey effect, the aftershock of his appearance makes this, oddly enough, his last big venture in comedy for some time. He is not as big a name as Sonic the Hedgehog, which is why those films manage to ground him and engage with his comedy in a different but comfortable way. Not Yes Man though, a film Carrey has faith in more to be a vehicle at his service than a faithful rendition of a man saying yes to everything that crosses his path.