Waking Up in Reno (2002) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Waking Up in Reno is a Miramax film which has pretty close to an A-list cast (Billy Bob Thornton, Charlize Theron, Natasha Richardson, Patrick Swayze, Penelope Cruz), all of whom are wasted in an unambitious dramedy about a redneck roadtrip. How did they get these particular people to agree to do this script? Some of them don't even seem to belong, but the British actress, Natasha Richardson, actually did a very good job with the Arkansas accent, and Penelope Cruz couldn't really mess up because she only had about four lines, playing a Puerto Rican hooker in the casino lounge.

I can understand how the first four mentioned above might have gotten involved in this project, because they got major roles in the film, they probably earned respectable paychecks, and Miramax's checks never bounce.  Cruz, on the other hand, must have been desperate for work, because this miniscule part would normally have gone to a scale actress, and would have been filmed in an hour or two. Her lines consisted entirely of stock Hispanic character fluff  like "I don' thin' ju can ah-ford me" and "Matches? I don' need no stinkin' matches". I imagined the second phrase, but she really said the first one.


There isn't any nudity, but Theron, Cruz, and Richardson had sexy moments. There is a pretty good look at Theron's buns in the deleted scenes.

Thornton and Richardson play a couple having marital problems. Theron and Swayze are their kind hearted but none-too-bright best friends. They all take a trip to Reno together, for some trailer livin' thrills like the world's most important monster truck rally. Theron's character is so compassionate that she ends up giving Billy Bob some mercy humpin' in a burst of emotion, thus setting in motion a chain of events that will lead to the magic moment that happens in all such films:

Theron has been trying for months to get pregnant. She finally does, announcing it to the other couple at breakfast proudly and joyfully just as her husband is on the phone in the adjoining bedroom  - getting bad news from his fertility clinic. He tells everyone. Glances are exchanged. Everybody figures everything out. You know the drill.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic 1.85:1.

  • deleted scenes

  • full-length commentary

  • brief "making of" featurette

The film starts out as a not-too-funny redneck farce comedy, but eventually makes a major tone shift and becomes a not-even-tryin'-to-be-funny soap opera, then takes another left turn into a Hollywood romantic comedy with a sappy-happy ending.

Dabbling in everything, it doesn't really stay with anything long enough to establish cred.

The Critics Vote

  • General USA consensus: one star. Ebert 1.5/4, filmcritic.com 1/5. The very BEST review, according to Metacritic, was a 60/100 from Rolling Stone.

The People Vote ...

  • Total gross was $260,000. The opening weekend was dampened by Miramax's decision to limit it to 197 screens. Their pessimism proved justified. It grossed only $108,000. about fifty dollars per showing.
  • On the other hand, the production company must have gotten some serious promotional funds from the makers of Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer, which seems to be shown or mentioned in every scene. Or maybe the beer company just donated unlimited quantities of free beer to the cast and crew, which would explain a lot of things about the movie.
Special Scoopy awards for excellence in criticism go to:

Order of merit in humor: The Miami Herald. "It's never a good sign when a movie's credits include: ''Tony Orlando as himself.'' But the crooner is the highlight of the dreadful Waking Up in Reno."

Order of merit in accuracy: Kevin Thomas of the L.A. Times, who wrote "Because they have not drawn from life but from a zillion other contemporary middle Americana movies and TV shows, their characters are so many times removed from reality that it is hard to blame director Jordan Brady for relentlessly condescending to their characters and plot. (This picture is way too heavy-handed to pass for satire.)"

Order of merit in sarcastic praise: Dallas Observer. "Miramax has been hiding this sucker on the shelf for danged near two years--but not good enough to overcome its status as damaged goods, which is almost a shame, since audiences will miss Billy Bob Thornton's best hairpiece in years."

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, this is a C- movie with a B+ cast.

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