Opposites Detract

Unlikeable `Someone Like You' brings out the least in its ensemble cast, wasting Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear and 97 minutes in the process.

March 30, 2001|By Michael Sragow | Michael Sragow,SUN MOVIE CRITIC

"Someone Like You" is a relationship comedy in which the only real relationship is the film's desperate courtship of the female audience. Based on Laura Zigman's novel "Animal Husbandry," this chick flick never should have made it out of the incubator.

Zigman's book was joke-laden fiction in the Carrie Fisher tradition and centered on the hyperbolic theory that men, like male cows, are drawn only to females who are new to them. This "New Cow" theory could have been the basis of a slick adult cartoon or a "Sex in the City" episode. For this putative feature, director Tony Goldwyn and screenwriter Elizabeth Chandler dilute the jokes, coming up with comic near-beer. It panders to wronged women - then pulls back on its ribald rancor.

Ashley Judd plays our heroine, Jane Goodale, talent booker for a New York TV talk show. (In the book her name was spelled Goodall; in any case, the reference to the primate expert is intentional.)

She and the show's new executive producer, Ray (Greg Kinnear), fall in love; then he stomps on the brakes, throwing her into emotional whiplash. While recovering, she rooms chastely with Eddie (Hugh Jackman), her office's king of one-night stands. Sharing his warehouse-sized apartment in the (nudge-nudge/wink-wink) meat-packing district, Jane does her New Cow research and systematizes her thinking. In the guise of an aging Ph.D., she writes it up for the men's magazine where best pal Liz (Marisa Tomei) is an editor. Naturally, the column is a smash. Complications ensue, none of them funny or revealing.

During their whirlwind fling, Ray and Jane are no different from the couple in "Best in Show" who view upscale mail-order catalogs as the Old and New Testaments. But in "Best of Show" the couple is riotously satiric. In "Someone Like You," Ray and Jane are supposed to be taken semi-seriously. How is that possible? Their most singular mating gesture: Jane buys him a shirt. They reach their peak of coupledom when they survey a fabulous Greenwich Village apartment; Ray seals their doom when he takes a second look and finds fault with it.

Liz can tell right away that Ray is the clean-cut, pseudo-sensitive type that Jane has fallen for before. But even audiences who share Liz's perspective must sense the couple's emotional affinity if the story is going to catalyze hilarity or pathos.

Not one authentic amorous word or glance passes between them. The filmmakers are bereft of lusty or tender ideas; they resort to such Madison Avenue devices as inter-cutting Jane and Ray's road to sensual fulfillment with a succession of innocent young girls talking to the camera and defining states of rapture, culminating with Jane herself defining ecstasy. There's more heat and originality in TV commercials about middle-aged couples at Disney World.

The way Goldwyn and Chandler have rejiggered the material, once Jane moves in with Eddie, opposites attract and then discover they're not so opposite after all. Eddie, too, carries romantic scars: His way of dealing with them is having lots of casual sex. Unfortunately, Jane's disapproval of Eddie has no comic or dramatic weight, since Jane's affair with Ray comes off as casual sex taken way too seriously.

"Someone Like You" is a case of collaboration gone catastrophic. Nearly everyone involved brings out the least in each other. Kinnear can be a deft farceur in the direst circumstances (for example, "Nurse Betty"), but when he's on the romantic make in this film, there's no gleam in his eye. Though Jackman has a fuzzy affability far removed from his furry menace as "Wolverine" in "X-Men," the script doesn't imbue him with enough virile glamour; his best quip comes when he says Jane and Ray will end up with matching Volvos and chocolate Labs. Marisa Tomei brings some zest to her sidekick role, while Ashley Judd registers as a beautiful blank.

Judd lobbied hard for this film so she could extend her comic range. But the director doesn't guide her through the perilous border that separates game high spirits from true invention. Late one night, when Jane does a routine in her underwear to prove to Eddie that she was once a cheerleader, there's neither a pratfall nor a pinwheel. It's all just mildly goofy. One of the funnier lines filched from the book is, "Time wounds all heels." But the time lost at "Someone Like You" is simply time killed.

`Someone Like You'

Starring Ashley Judd, Greg Kinnear, Hugh Jackman and Marisa Tomei

Directed by Tony Goldwyn

Rated PG-13

Released by 20th Century Fox

Running time 97 minutes

Sun score *

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