MVD Rewind Collection: Shortcut to Happiness (2003) Reviewed

Shortcut to Happiness might very well be one of the littlest known films to have such a star-studded cast in the early 2000s. Alec Baldwin, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Dan Aykroyd, and Amy Poehler all grace us with their presence, but unfortunately for them, it was probably one of the biggest missteps of their careers. Inspired by Stephen Vincent Benet’s classic short story The Devil and Daniel Webster and a 1941 film of the same name, this Faustian comedy is Alec Baldwin’s directorial debut and also his last attempt at directing to date, presumably because the production was so riddled with problems.

After financial issues led to the film being shelved for many years, Yari Film Group purchased it from a bankruptcy court. They proceeded to heavily re-edit it to the point where Baldwin disowned it, deciding to use the pseudonym “Harry Kirkpatrick” for his directing credit rather than his own name. Eventually Shortcut to Happiness was aired on Starz and Showtime, and now, after all these years, it is finally on Blu-ray so we can all watch this mediocrity in higher definition. While the Blu-ray is nothing special (its only bonus feature is a collection of trailers), it might be worth watching for the sheer fact that it’s such a blemish on Baldwin’s otherwise respectable career.

The premise of the film is the hackneyed “money can’t buy happiness” story of an aspiring writer who can’t catch a break. Jabez Stone (Alec Baldwin) desperately wants a book deal and becomes overwhelmed with jealousy when his close friend Julius Jensen (Dan Aykroyd) sells his novel for $190,000. Completely down on his luck, Jabez encounters a beautiful woman (Jennifer Love Hewitt) that promises him fame and fortune in exchange for his soul. He accepts this proposition, his wish is granted, and although he is initially happy, his life as a famous author isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. He wants out of his devilish deal, but it’s not as easy as he’d hoped. Acclaimed publisher Daniel Webster (Anthony Hopkins) offers to help him out of his predicament, and the two come up with a plan to break his contract and save his soul from eternal damnation.

Shortcut to Happiness has several glaring flaws that seem to have arisen after the acquisition by Yari Films. Alec Baldwin was right to be upset about the re-edit of this film: it is awkward and badly paced. The last half hour of the film meanders, and had it been tighter, it would have improved the film considerably. The excessive use of slow-motion shots doesn’t help matters either. Moreover, much of the soundtrack is akin to outdated corporate stock music. The special effects are that of a low-budget made-for-television film at best—which, appropriately enough, is what it ended up becoming. The embarrassing-looking CG devil in the opening credits is a befitting harbinger of things to come: it looks as amateurish and poorly conceived as the rest of the film.

Although many of the film’s issues can be blamed on the post-production, Baldwin is not entirely off the hook. His directing is average at best, and his performance feels entirely lackluster. None of the actors utilize their full potential, and comedic heavy-hitters like Amy Poehler and Dan Aykroyd aren’t able to bring in even a single laugh to this vastly unfunny comedy. Anthony Hopkins does a decent job with what he is given, but it is almost cringeworthy to watch such a talented, legendary actor giving his all for something so beneath him.

Shortcut to Happiness is definitely not a shortcut to happiness. It would be interesting to see a director’s cut from Baldwin for comparison, and that would have been a valuable addition to the Blu-ray—perhaps even the only reason to have a Blu-ray of this film in the first place. To go into this movie blindly, simply knowing that it features so many beloved actors, only to see this mess unfold, was hugely disappointing.

-Andrea Riley