Movie review: A Lot Like Love **


"I'm getting my ducks in order," Ashton Kutcher explains.

"You mean 'ducks in a row,' " Amanda Peet corrects him.

"Yes, 'ducks in a row.' "

"What ducks are those?"

Allow me to interrupt:

Really irritating ducks.

The two lovers at the heart of A Lot Like Love, the new romance starring Kutcher and Peet, spend close to two hours meeting and parting, meeting and parting, meeting and parting. This in itself is not a problem. But generally when a film settles on unrequited, never-ending love for its subject, the separation is a cruel trick of distance (Sleepless in Seattle) or the harsh inevitability of fate (Brief Encounter). Or even the result of brainwashing, as it was in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which A Lot Like Love works overtime to suggest, and does - the way Bryan Adams suggests Bruce Springsteen.

Kutcher, such a surprisingly charming guy last month in Guess Who, oversteps himself and enters that shadowy land where actors mistake slack-jawed for thoughtful. Director Nigel Cole (Calendar Girls) and screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch (a first-timer) do him no favors:

Kutcher gets a deaf brother. Certainly, people have deaf brothers. In a screenplay, however, everything has its reason, even if that reason is "In life, people have brothers who are deaf." What bugs me about this is how Cole uses it as a cheap way of painting Kutcher as cute and thoughtful without establishing much more. Peet gets her own problems. With crooked teeth and a filthy smirk, she has a face made for mischief. What the character lacks are details or an inner life. She has crazy hair and a dead mother. Kate Winslet had orange hair in Eternal Sunshine. She worked in a bookstore, was slightly lonely. She wasn't limited to being "girl with orange hair."

Anyway, these two can't hash it out for a zillion bad reasons. No. 1: It's the early 1990s and the grunge thing is happening and, to mix decades, Peet is a rolling stone, following her muse. (The timeline is all messed up, too: according to the movie's math, grunge exploded about 1998.) No. 2: the later 1990s unfold, and Kutcher wants to sell diapers over this new technology called the Internet. He could get rich. Or something. It's vague.

There's no good reason for them being apart except, in a show of misguided pretension, there's a metaphor for it: Peet takes pictures of lovers but leaves the shutter open so the background blurs. If her subjects don't stand still, they'll blur, too.

Whenever Peet's lovey dovey, Kutcher is attached to another woman. They barely get names, never mind personalities. Because of this, we never really think he'll stay with them, and A Lot Like Love never bothers to establish the half-hearted tension a romantic comedy needs. Likewise, when Kutcher is pathetic because he's lost millions on the Internet, Peet is engaged to a man whose fleshy, vague features do not bode well for their future. Peet is far too needy for a woman who looks like Peet, yet not needy enough to convince us she'll settle for Mr. Fleshy Face. Call it a hunch.

Also, call it a basic rule of movie romance: Your stars should not show more love for themselves than they show for their screen partners. Peet takes pictures, for instance, of only Peet. Oh, sure, they hook up. But my prediction: they'll go Brad-and-Jennifer within eight months.

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