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Published: Friday, 1/17/2003

Hot young stars trapped in lukewarm comedy

BY CHRISTOPHER BORRELLI
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Mankind should consider setting its clocks by A Guy Thing, the breezy, unremarkable new romantic comedy with a bevy of hot young rising stars that is not unlike last week's breezy, unremarkable new romantic comedy with a bevy of hot young rising stars, Just Married.

There is the U.S. Naval Observatory atomic clock, from which all Pentagon global positioning systems work, and all U.S. business is based. There is the bucolic charm of Greenwich, England, home of Greenwich Mean Time, which serves as Universal Time for the world; all time on the planet is measured relative to GMT. And yet when faced with the rigid plot mechanics of a light Hollywood showcase for new talent, Father Time looks like a fat kid in gym class who can't keep up.

Of course, this being January, a time when theaters overflow with Oscar contenders in a race to prove their ambition and their poignancy, one might be grateful for a movie that demands nothing more than a warm body holding the better part of $10. Count me in. Ambition seems so, well, ambitious after you've sat through hours upon hours of films about Virginia Woolf (The Hours), the Holocaust (The Pianist), screenwriters seeking enlightenment (Adaptation), and abused young men seeking family (Antwone Fisher).

A Guy Thing, on the other hand, is too much in the other direction, a film utterly devoid of an inspired thought. Curiously, this is a story about people who seem to have never attended a romantic comedy, watched reruns of Three's Company, or rented Meet The Parents when they couldn't think of anything else at the video store. If these characters ever did any one of those things, if they were as smart as the screenplay seems to believe they are, they would have settled their troubles in the first 20 minutes and spent the next 70 minutes boning up on The Apartment and Flirting With Disaster.

Not since the heyday of Freddie Prinze, Jr., has a light romantic comedy seemed so unnecessary. I propose every print of this film be sent to the Red Cross and used to insulate feed bags for needy llamas. Its single innovation is getting audiences to warm up to Julia Stiles (Save the Last Dance). You just cannot watch A Guy Thing without thinking of better movies, or the creaky gears of a zillion bad ones. It's just north of 90 minutes long. So let's hit the clock and I will walk you through its predictable tick-tock.

Two minutes in: We meet Paul (Jason Lee), a hesitant bridegroom-to-be going through the motions of his bachelor party. Five minutes in: Through mix-ups too boring to describe, Paul meets Becky, a tiki girl (Stiles) who can't dance. They have a laugh. Lee, grating in Almost Famous, takes his regular-guy role too much to heart; he lacks a pulse. Stiles, so cynical and dry in the past, has a smile here that you want to believe is sincere; Lee is Charlie Brown to Stiles' Lucy holding a football, urging one more field goal attempt.

Seven minutes in: Lee awakens the next day - beside Stiles. Oh no, his fiancee (Selma Blair) is coming over (10 minutes in). Stiles leaves, Lee hides her underwear in a toilet tank for inevitable discovery (45 minutes later, to be exact). Enter Karen (Blair), good-old reliable penny-loafers Karen, as sleek and cool as an art deco lamp, who we know (15 minutes in) is too ordinary for Lee's burgeoning rebel. Twenty minutes in, we meet his boss (James Brolin), who is, of course, Karen's father. Five minutes after that we meet Paul's parents, who wear purple, tell bad jokes, insult Karen's parents, and use a John Wayne picture in their dining room as ground zero of their interior design scheme.

The rules of romantic comedy tend to dictate the female fiancee be shrill. If there is something unexpected in A Guy Thing it is that Blair is not a shrew. She is clearly the better bet; she's funny, sexy, smart, all of which everyone mentions repeatedly. Yet Paul yearns for Becky, who (30 minutes in) is revealed to be Karen's cousin. Becky yells: Why didn't you tell me your fiancee was my cousin? You wonder: How could he have known?

As for the rest: Paul climbs out on a tree limb (35 minutes in); an ethnic man who talks in hip-hop lingo appears (50 minutes in); a psychotic ex-boyfriend shows up (47 minutes in); a formal family dinner turns loose and comical when everyone unwittingly gets stoned (70 minutes in); the wedding begins (80 minutes in); the funny mix-up with the sober priest happens (82 minutes in); and finally, Paul runs into traffic to stop Becky from leaving the wedding even though she's had every hint to stay (98 minutes in).

Like clockwork, right down to the drugstore cashier screaming for a price check on some embarrassing personal hygiene product. The only strange note is the film's weird loathing of conformity, a subject director Chris Koch (Snow Day) seems more than qualified to address. Blair's intelligence betrays her character's control-freak personality. The actress looks sad, frankly. About The Guy Thing in A Guy Thing: I have no idea what it is - an understanding among men, an instinct to cheat? - and, hey, I am a guy.



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