Although they're about as predictable and formulaic as they come, romantic comedies are occasionally offered in a number of differing shades that at least provide a little bit of variety for diehard fans of the genre (usually women) and those dragged along with them (namely men).
Nearly all of them progress through falling in love, having fun, breaking up, pining for the other or feeling sorry for oneself during the musical montage, and then getting back together at the end for the happy finale.
Yet, they can start from and/or then proceed with a small number of options within those parameters. There's the strangers accidentally meeting premise, along with the opposites attract one (where the two usually don't initially like each other). The mistaken identity element is sometimes thrown in for a complication down the road (and serves as the reason for the breakup upon the discovery or revelation of the purposeful or accidental ruse).
In "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days," director Donald Petrie ("Miss Congeniality," "Grumpy Old Men") and screenwriters Kristen Buckley & Brian Regan ("102 Dalmatians") and Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down") -- who work from a book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long - have taken that last element a step farther. Instead of just one bit of deception, both parties in the relationship possess a secret from the other, all of which is bound to ruin the inevitable relationship that will form despite the best intentions on either side.
Here, the woman - played by the bubbly Kate Hudson ("Almost Famous," "About Adam") - has a writing assignment where she's to get a guy to fall for her only to drive him away (and crazy) by using the relational mistakes women commonly make with men. Unbeknownst to her, the dupe she chooses -- Matthew McConaughey ("Reign of Fire," "The Wedding Planner") in full charm mode -- has his own selfish agenda. To land a coveted advertising contract, he agrees to a bet (with his boss as the referee) where he has to get a woman to fall in love with him in ten days which just so happens to be the columnist's deadline.
While such a scenario is loaded with potential - one can imagine Doris Day and Cary Grant finding themselves in the same romantic comedy quandary - the execution is bungled to the extent that the film comes off as far more annoying and unbelievable than romantic or funny. Few are likely to fall under its spell, let alone give it 10 days to prove its case.
Part of that stems from the setup that's hard to accept. Since the female protagonist's friend - played by Katharyn Hahn ("Flushed," TV's "Crossing Jordan") - has already committed about every relationship faux pas known to man and woman, you'd think that Andie would already have a treasure trove of source material with which to work (and thus wouldn't need to participate in any "field research").
At the same time, it's doubtful that an advertising manager could win a lucrative diamond account from his cohorts simply by winning the bet. That's especially true since those women -- Michael Michele ("Dark Blue," "Ali") and Shalom Harlow ("Vanilla Sky," "Head Over Heels") in full catty mode - or their boss -- Robert Klein ("Two Weeks Notice," "Primary Colors") - would suspect that Ben would simply pay some woman to say she was his girlfriend. Notwithstanding the cross-purpose premise, the filmmakers ignore that fact and thus omit the women until the end when they should have otherwise been trying to sabotage Ben's efforts.
Then there's the fact that Hudson's character must often act like an irritating sociopath to accomplish her goal. While that and McConaughey's corresponding reactions are supposed to generate laughs, most of the moments fall far more into the category of grating annoyance rather than comedy.
All of which is a shame since the two make a cute couple. Yet, there's only one moment (during a card game sequence) where they, their chemistry and the film feels natural rather than forced and artificial. The rest of the supporting characters are exactly what you'd expect from a romantic comedy. That means contrived sidekick creations or bosses designed to offer advice or create obstacles, all while slathered in all too familiar comedy goo.
Accordingly, the likes of those previously mentioned as well as Adam Goldberg ("A Beautiful Mind," "Saving Private Ryan"), Thomas Lennon ("A Guy Thing," "Out Cold") and Bebe Neuwirth ("Tadpole," "Celebrity") can't really do much with the characters they embody, although they thankfully don't suck the life out of the effort with horrible portrayals.
That's pretty much true for most of the film as it's an okay diversion to burn up your dollars and/or time. I really wanted to like the film -- despite it falling into a genre that's really starting to be run into the ground - because I like the two leads. Yet, so much of the picture misfires and/or simply doesn't work or make sense that the total package is not as good, enjoyable or entertaining as it should be. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" rates as a 4 out of 10.