Two good-looking New Yorkers meet under false pretenses, fall in love, discover one another’s lies in a public setting, break up, realize they are miserable apart (in a montage set to music), then reunite again in a public place.
I have just described every romantic comedy ever made, from the cave paintings done 10,000 years ago in the mountains of Peru, up to and including “Maid in Manhattan,” which was released just a month ago yet contains no more believable dialogue than the cave paintings did. I have also described “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” the latest entry in the genre that, as with most of its predecessors, brings nothing to the table other than its adorable stars, who in this case are Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey but who might as well be Katie Holmes and Freddie Prinze Jr, or Goldie Hawn and Kurt Russell, or Lassie and Rin Tin Tin.
The twist in the formula is that this time, both parties are lying. Hudson’s Meg Ryan-ish character, Andie Anderson, writes “how to” articles for a women’s magazine called Composure — you know, how to talk your way out of a ticket, how to fix your abs, how to be a skanky ho, and so on. Her new idea? How to lose a guy in 10 days. She will start dating a man and then intentionally do all the wrong things, thus driving him away within a week and a half and giving her fodder for an article about how women sabotage their own relationships. Think of it as a bubbly, reverse-gender version of “In the Company of Men.”
The guy she chooses for her cruel-but-funny (?) experiment is Benjamin Barry (McConaughey), a cool and loose advertising exec who, unbeknownst to her, has bet his friends he can stay in a relationship for at least 10 days — and in fact can even get a woman to fall in love with him in that time. He chooses Andie at the same time she’s choosing him; neither knows that they are but pawns in a game.
The fact that Andie and Ben are both playing each other leads to some amusing situations, though the focus is definitely more on Andie’s program of intentional annoyance than on Ben’s wooing skills. Women and men will all laugh with recognition at what Andie does: moving things into Ben’s apartment, making him miss crucial basketball games, embarrassing him during his guys-only poker night, and so on.
It’s not enough to sustain the film, and fortunately the workable script (by Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan and Burr Steers) knows this and shifts gears midway through, allowing Andie and Ben’s relationship to develop into something beyond jokes about tampons in the medicine cabinet. A scene with Ben’s Staten Island family is enjoyable, though marred by out-of-nowhere flatulence jokes. (I will grant you that old people farting is funny. I submit, however, that just because something is funny doesn’t mean you can put it in any scene you want to, whether it fits or not.)
The unraveling, in which Andie and Ben discover one another’s lies, is especially preposterous, even by rom-com standards. But it’s an unusual kind of preposterousness, and it involves Marvin Hamlisch and it made me laugh.
Bebe Neuwirth is nearly wasted as Andie’s boss. Wasting Bebe Neuwirth should be a felony. I’m just sayin’.
It’s essentially a very standard romantic comedy, with a few laughs and a couple semi-sweet moments. By any impartial system of judgment, it is at best a mediocre film, but within its genre, it’s better than some.
B- (1 hr., 56 min.; )