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(2003) (Jason Lee, Julia Stiles) (PG-13)

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Comedy: After unwittingly waking up in bed with his fiancée's cousin following his bachelor party, a man ends up digging himself into a deeper hole as he tries to cover up what happened with various lies.
It's a week before the big wedding day and Paul (JASON LEE), an ad salesman who works for his future father-in-law, Ken (JAMES BROLIN), is set for his bachelor party thrown by his older brother, Pete (THOMAS LENNON), and best friend, Jim (SHAWN HATOSY).

Among the "entertainment" for the evening are three hula girls - including Becky (JULIA STILES) who's on her first day working the job. She's not very good, but she hits it off with the somewhat drunken Paul, unaware that he's the groom-to-be.

The next morning, a phone call from future mother-in-law Sandra (DIANA SCARWID) awakens Paul and he discovers Becky in his head. Unable to remember what happened between them, he hurries Becky out the door before his fiancée, Karen (SELMA BLAIR), arrives. His neighbor, Minister Ferris (LARRY MILLER), is not amused.

Discovering Becky's underwear just as Karen arrives, he races to hide it and sets off on a course of progressive lies to cover up what may or may have happened with Becky. Things get more complicated at a dinner hosted by Karen's parents. Not only are his mom, Dorothy (JULIE HAGERTY), and stepfather, Buck (DAVID KOECHNER), in attendance, but so is Karen's Aunt Budge (JACKIE BURROUGHS) and cousin, who turns out to be none other than Becky.

Unable to avoid eventually "meeting" her, Paul scrambles to make up more lies, some of which are covered by other men since "it's a guy thing" to do. The situation worsens, however, when Becky's jealous and deranged ex-boyfriend cop, Ray (LOCHLYN MUNRO), shows up and is none too happy about photos taken of her and Paul. As the big day approaches, Paul does what he can to cover his various lies and prevent Karen from learning about what happened.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
The funny thing about lies is that they rarely exist as solo entities. Like letting a roach loose in your home, telling a lie inevitably leads to more of them and before you know it, you're flailing about trying to stomp them into submission. Outside collaborators help for a while, but unless the root lie is dealt with, the problems will only get worse.

That's what the protagonist in "A Guy Thing" needs to learn. A zany comedy wannabe from the writer of "Meet the Parents," the film follows a soon-to-be-married man who - after attending a drunken bachelor party - finds himself in bed with another woman who turns out to be his fiancée's cousin. Intended comedy ensues as he attempts to cover that up. Of course, that only spawns more lies and soon his life is crawling with the pesky little critters that threaten to derail his pending wedding.

With the proper story direction, engaging characters and just the right directorial touch, such a setup would be rife with comedic potential. Unfortunately, not all three fire simultaneously -- or sometimes at all - resulting in a hit or miss affair.

One can easily see, however, why the cast, crew and studio agreed to the project. The story has all of the familiar markings and humorous style material that made "Meet the Parents" such a hit with critics and viewers alike.

There's the generally sweet-natured but somewhat dorky protagonist who's subservient to his domineering, future father-in-law, the ex-boyfriend who's still in the picture, and a series of out of control hijinks and complications that bedevil him. In fact, it's not hard to imagine most of the cast from that film - especially lead actor Ben Stiller - playing the roles in this one.

Yet, for various reasons - including the particulars that differentiate the films - this one comes off like the ugly stepsister. You want to like it, but just can't manage to do so. While there are some decent laughs to be had - particularly related to some of the titular subject matter where guys cover for other guys who are in the lurch romantically - the film quickly and rather messily spins out of control as it launches humorous attempts from all across the board only to find most missing their target.

There's the figurative and literal bathroom humor, scenes that turn out to be fantasies rather than reality, goofy and unrealistic characters, the clash of family members from both sides of the relationship and much, much more. If anything, the film isn't pace-deprived, but everything becomes so hectic and frantic in trying to elicit laughs that things don't have the time to play out like they should.

That's not to say that everything isn't carefully calculated (or at least feels that way), however, as various bits are present to serve as comedic payoffs later in the film. The problem with that, however, is that they - along with the plot and its direction - are more than predictable and increasingly unrealistic. By their nature, goofy comedies aren't supposed to be true-to-life on all counts, but this one utilizes far too many plot and character coincidences for its own good.

Director Chris Koch ("Snow Day") also doesn't quite get the film's tone right, and that stems back to the plot point that serves as the catalyst for everything that unfolds. Although we eventually learn that the protagonist -- Jason Lee ("Stealing Harvard," "Big Trouble") in full Stiller mode - didn't have sex with his fiancée's cousin - the alluring Julia Stiles ("The Bourne Identity," "Save the Last Dance") - we still infer that that was their intention. That makes him a cad (drunkenness or not).

Thus, that stays with us as we watch him squirm under his growing mountain of lies (that unfortunately aren't as cleverly tied together as they could have been). While some viewers - most likely those of the female persuasion - might want to see that ultimately crush him, this is supposed to be a zany comedy rather than a black one.

Accordingly, we then expect to see him learn his lesson by the end. Beyond the predictable nature of that, the fact that we have a reason not to like him (despite other conditions and behavior) and that he escapes unscathed hurts the effort.

The structuring of the bride-to-be by screenwriters Greg Glienna ("Meet the Parents") & Pete Schwaba (making his debut) and Matt Tarses & Bill Wrubel (TV writers making their feature film debut) as well as her portrayal by Selma Blair ("The Sweetest Thing," "Legally Blonde") as a mostly oblivious sort don't help matters. While appropriately cute, the character should have been designed to complicate the heck out of the liar's life, but that only comes in small doses and she isn't venomous or sympathetic enough to make it work.

Supporting performances from the likes of James Brolin ("The Master of Disguise," "Traffic"), Larry Miller ("Max Keeble's Big Move," "Best in Show"), Shawn Hatosy ("John Q," "Outside Providence"), Julie Hagerty ("Storytelling," "Freddy Got Fingered") and others are hit or miss and don't really end up helping the production.

That's particularly true for the subplot featuring Lochlyn Munro ("Dracula 2000," "Duets") as a deranged and jealous cop who wants to get even with the protagonist for "seeing" his ex-girlfriend. Not only does that subplot feel incongruous with the rest of the material as well as forced (as if Becky would really have dated a guy like him), it simply isn't that funny.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy and/or laugh at bits and pieces of the movie. Yet, so much of it misfires that it's not as clever, funny or entertaining as it might have been. "A Guy Thing" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed January 14, 2003 / Posted January 17, 2003

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