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(1999) ((French Stewart, Bridgette Wilson) (R)

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Comedy: After meeting and falling for a beautiful woman who's determined to get married no matter what it takes, a TV sitcom writer soon finds her turning his life into a living hell when he refuses to propose.
Seth Winnick (FRENCH STEWART) is a successful TV writer who's just met a beautiful woman, Chelsea Turner (BRIDGETTE WILSON), at a wedding for Seth's writing partner, Larry Garnett (BILL BELLAMY), and his wife, Holly (TYRA BANKS). Although they've only known each other for less than a day, Seth and Chelsea quickly hit it off and instantly become an item with her moving into his house not long after that.

With advice from Holly about how to manipulate a man into proposing, Chelsea, who's obsessed with getting married, sets out to snare Seth. The only problem is, he's not keen about tying the knot, no matter how much he loves her or enjoys the sex. That soon creates a problem between the two, but they finally agree that if things are still going well after a one-year test period, he'll propose to her.

When that time's up, however, he doesn't pop the question, thus evoking her wrath as she sets out to ruin his life for breaking his promise. Soon, the two are at each other's throats, with her refusing to move out of his house and even trying to date his agent, Marty (STEVE HYTNER). Meanwhile, he plans to go out with Tawny (SHANNA MOAKLER), a blonde bimbo he's hired to appear on his TV sitcom, "Ronnie & Juliet," where the actors, Jesse (JASON BATEMAN) and Rebecca (TIFFANI-AMBER THIESSEN), act out Seth and Chelsea's life, from his perspective.

From that point on, Seth tries to contend with Chelsea's various tactics of ruining his life by countering her moves with those of his own, and soon a full scale domestic war ensues.

OUR TAKE: 2 out of 10
Some things simply stink, but they're not always limited to just the olfactory region of one's body. While sulfur, Limburger cheese, a teenage boy's old tennis shoes and garbage dumps obviously smell bad, the fact that "Seinfeld" will never air a new episode, and that, for all intent purposes, half my income goes to paying taxes, indeed truly stinks.

For some, however, love conjures up analogously malodorous thoughts, especially if they've gone through a nasty breakup, separation or divorce. What once started as affection, romance, or just outright lust occasionally turns south, causing those involved to wonder what they ever saw in their significant other in the first place. Nonetheless, and despite the messy and often expensive termination, many "damn the torpedoes" and do it all over again, jumping headfirst into yet another relationship.

Of course, after seeing "Love Stinks," people might change their minds. Not particularly about love, but instead about spending money to see a rather lousy film. A sporadically amusing look at love gone bad, the film has far more of a made for cable TV movie feel than that of a major theatrical release. Thus, it shouldn't come as much of a surprise when it heads there rather quickly after what appears will be a probable, lackluster theatrical run.

Now, if you enjoy scenes depicting farting or replacing hair conditioner with hair remover as grand entertainment, than this might be the picture for you. And if you favor cleavage -- and we're talking major amounts of it -- that will be yet another selling point for you since this film apparently took more steps and paid more attention to ensuring its presence rather than spending such time and effort on writing a decent script.

Essentially a dummied-down version of 1989's "The War of the Roses" (directed by Danny DeVito and starring Michael Douglas and Kathleen Turner), the film similarly wishes to entertain moviegoers by showcasing a knockdown, drag out battle between a formerly loving couple.

Yet where "Roses" was a wicked, often funny and occasionally disturbing look at such a domestic splintering and featured a great cast and director, this film is a cheap imitation, with a no-name director, an only partially recognizable cast and a script and subsequent humor that is on par with -- and perhaps even below -- that of an everyday TV sitcom.

The film's biggest problem -- beyond the lackluster script -- is that none of the characters are remotely interesting, let alone likable, thus ensuring that viewers won't care in the slightest about who eventually "wins." We never understand what any of them see in the others in the first place, and women in particular get the bum wrap as they're portrayed as nothing more than cleavage-revealing, manipulative bitches who will do anything to get their way.

Presumably we're supposed to root for the character embodied by French Stewart (TV's "3rd Rock From the Sun," the big screen remake of "McHale's Navy"). Yet, that's mostly only by default and we never care about him simply because Stewart -- while a capable TV comedian in a supporting role -- doesn't have what it takes to carry a picture, let alone salvage this dud.

Bridgette Wilson ("I Know What You Did Last Summer," "Mortal Kombat") obviously has what it takes to land a role like this, and her two best assets are clearly visible for everyone's "entertainment." Whether she can really act is difficult, if not impossible to ascertain due to her inhabiting nothing more than a one-dimensional character.

The same holds true for super-model turned actress Tyra Banks (whose breasts similarly get in the way of any chances to act), while Bill Bellamy ("How To Be A Player," "Love Jones") can't do much with his best friend character who's limited to simply but continuously looking flabbergasted.

Written and directed by Jeff Franklin (making his directorial debut after writing "Summer School" and "Just One of the Guys"), the film does have some built-in potential, but it's never even remotely realized. To be successful, this sort of story almost always has to be told in a blackened fashion, yet Franklin never turns up the burner past simmer, thus ensuring lukewarm results at best.

The "battle tactics" are never remotely imaginative -- unless you're still in middle school and think throwing a cat off a pier is funny -- and while some of them may elicit a chuckle or two here and there, they simply aren't humorous enough for a film that's positioned as a comedy.

In fact, one of the film's more amusing moments comes from left field when Warren Littlefield, the president of NBC Entertainment, who plays a TV executive here (yes, a big stretch), tells Seth that they shouldn't waste their sitcom on NBC. Of course few people know who Littlefield is, but the inside joke is one of the few mildly bright moments the film has to offer.

Meanwhile, an extended moment where Stewart and Wilson's characters (the latter dressed as a female Elvis with cleavage) imitate Elvis and Ann-Margret with the real scene from "Viva Las Vegas" playing in the background -- all of which is presumably supposed to be the film's memorable set piece -- is about as lame as they come and proves that you never simultaneously show original material with its imitator. Of course, that's all this film is -- a bad imitation of a good movie.

While some relationships do indeed go sour as the J. Geils Band sang about in their anthem, "Love Stinks," at least love can blossom once again and put some life back into romance. Unfortunately, the bad smell emanating from this unsavory comedy simply means it's dead on arrival, is beyond resuscitation and is already quite putrid. We give "Love Stinks" a 2 out of 10.

Reviewed August 30, 1999 / Posted September 10, 1999

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