Archive for Thursday, January 22, 2004

Date With Tad Hamilton’ an ideal date movie

*** (PG-13)

January 22, 2004

Is it a coincidence that this weekend's feature film releases are
dominated by the stars of TV's "That '70s Show?"

If given the choice between doofus prankster Ashton Kutcher
attempting to get in touch with his "serious side" in the thriller
"The Butterfly Effect" or Topher Grace deftly mastering the role of
acerbic charmer in "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!," audiences might
want to settle on the latter.

Grace is just one of many things right with this simple yet slightly
subversive romantic comedy - which actually takes two direct but
good-natured shots at Kutcher. The movie boasts three excellent
leading performances, as well as a gaggle of colorful supporting
roles. Most importantly, it effectively keeps the balance between
romance and comedy evenly distributed. The relationships never get
short-changed for cheap laughs, nor do the jokes ever wane when the
mushy stuff is cranked up.

Grace plays Pete, a manager of a Piggly Wiggly supermarket in
Fraziers Bottom, W.Va. As the story begins, he is accompanying his
two best friends/co-workers - perky Rosalee (Kate Bosworth) and stout
Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) - to the theater. The girls want to see the
latest Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) tear-jerker, but Pete would rather
just make fun of the film's dopey plot.

While Pete mulls over the right way to tell Rosalee that he's in love
with her, she enters a contest to win a date with the movie star.

Back in Hollywood, Tad's needling manager and agent (Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes) have cooked up the scheme to help the box-office giant tame his increasingly bad-boy image.

"I am the boy next door if you happen to live in a very dysfunctional
neighborhood," Tad says.

Of course, Rosalee wins and is whisked off to Tinseltown. (The
filmmakers waste no more than 10 minutes getting to this point in the
story.) But then the interesting dynamic begins, involving the
inevitable romantic triangle and the more internal themes of what a
down-to-earth girl like Rosalee can do for a movie idol desperately
trying to sort out his real values.

Australian director Robert Luketic obviously learned from his
"Legally Blonde" experience that the best way to give a light comedy
some heft is by casting it well. It's no surprise that Grace proves
himself a master of the sarcastic quip ("I will tear you to pieces
with my bare hands ... or vicious rhetoric," he threatens his rival.)
Yet Grace is really convincing when he lets his guard down in the
emotional scenes.

The 21-year-old Bosworth, best known as the gritty surfer girl in
"Blue Crush," plays a character almost completely different from her
breakthrough effort. She manages to be convincingly sweet and
affable, but never to the point where she comes off as a caricature.

Former soap star Duhamel certainly fits the bill as a generically
handsome matinee idol. The best thing about how his character is
conceived is that he is not a conventional good guy or bad guy; he's
just a famous guy, and with that comes a whole alternative set of
ethical rules.

There's always a tendency when Hollywood takes on these small town
versus big city comedies to break it down to the most coarse
stereotypes. (See the hideous "Sweet Home Alabama.") Victor Levin's
"Tad" script portrays the L.A. types as the affected ones, and the
West Virginia folks as, well, pretty normal.

However, some of these supporting players don't fit in quite so
effortlessly into the easygoing plot. Kathryn Hahn plays a tattooed
bartender who is as in love with Pete as he is with Rosalee. This
implausible relationship smacks of contrivance.

And the usually dependable Gary Cole (the creepy boss in "Office
Space") turns up as Rosalee's dad, who begins to have an obsession
with all things box-office related once he discovers she's dating a
movie star. Although this plot point often falls flat, it does
provide one of the funniest insider sight gags when Cole appears
wearing a "Project Greenlight" T-shirt.

In that HBO reality series, the producers ripped on the actor for turning
down their film in order to shoot "Tad Hamilton!"

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