[Screen It]


(2014) (Daniel Radcliffe, Zoe Kazan) (PG-13)

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Romantic Comedy: A young man, past burned by love, tries to sort through his feelings toward his new female friend who already has a boyfriend.
Wallace (DANIEL RADCLIFFE) was once going to be a doctor, but when his girlfriend cheated on him, he dumped her, dropped out of med school, moved into his sister's attic, and took a job writing manuals. He's now jaded about love, and certainly can't hook up with anyone he meets, unlike his best friend, Allan (ADAM DRIVER), who's recently done that with Nicole (MACKENZIE DAVIS).

Wallace lets his feelings known to Chantry (ZOE KAZAN), an animator he meets at a party, and the two seem to hit it off. But he then learns that she's been in a long-term commitment with her U.N. copyright law boyfriend, Ben (RAFE SPALL), and would just like to be friends. He agrees, but it's soon obvious to everyone but Chantry and, initially, her sister, Dalia (MEGAN PARK), that he's smitten with her and is torn about what to do. With Allan and Nicole urging him to act on his desire, Wallace tries to figure out how he truly feels about Chantry, all while she deals with some unexpected changes in her life.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
It's always fun to witness people's reactions to things they already know about and then see or hear in movies. For diehard fans of the source material that inspired the flick, that might be certain characters or some inside joke that average viewers won't get. Then there are those who always seem to be surprised and delighted to see certain geographic landmarks of places they've lived or visited.

One that always seems to get a reaction from certain moviegoers is when the characters in a movie watch a real-life movie from their and our past. In "What If," two such movies get that treatment. The first is John Carpenter's "The Thing" and a particularly gruesome scene where an attempt to use a defibrillator results in the loss of two arms, a scene our protagonist, Wallace (Daniel Radcliffe), shows to his young nephew despite being told not to by the boy's mother, his sister.

The other is one that more people will likely recognize, and it's actually a collection of quick snippets from "The Princess Bride." Both Wallace and his friend, Chantry (Zoe Kazan), separately attend the same retro showing of Rob Reiner's classic fairy tale and discuss the nature of how love is presented in that genre.

Considering the storyline of the pic they're in (which was originally titled "The F Word" when it first screened last year), a more appropriate one naturally would have been "When Harry Met Sally." That's Reiner's classic rom-com famous for Meg Ryan's fake orgasm demo in a deli as well as the thematic and plot element of whether men and women can be friends without the thought, impulses or desires of sex sneaking into and clouding the picture.

A spoiler alert for those who may not have seen the now 25-year-old pic -- the answer is no, and that obviously would have been a good thing for the two young characters in this latest romantic comedy to know as they explore (once again) the age-old look at men, women, and falling in love. As is the case with most such pics, our couple here "meets cute" as Wallace arranges magnetic words on a fridge to show his displeasure with love and such matters (due to his former girlfriend cheating on him in the past) and then has Chantry make some playfully snarky remarks about that.

They seem to hit it off and Wallace thinks perhaps he's turned the corner, only to learn as he walks her home that she has a boyfriend (Rafe Spall). Slightly dismayed but not surprised considering his luck in such matters, he agrees to be friends. Anyone who's ever seen pretty much any offering in this genre knows exactly where this one is headed, including Wallace's wacky best friend (Adam Driver) and his wild child girlfriend (Mackenzie Davis).

Granted, diehard fans of these sorts of flicks won't mind the usual material and the predictability of it all. For the rest of us, and considering there's nary a surprise in sight, it's up to director Michael Dowse, screenwriter Elan Mastai (who's adapted T. J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi's play "Toothpaste and Cigars"), and the performers to imbue the story and its characters with enough charm, likeability and overall entertainment value to nudge the entire package over the hump. For the most part they succeed, mainly thanks to the sort of snappy, snarky and clever dialogue we all wish we could think/speak/write in real life but usually only get to experiences in movies along these lines.

The performances from the leads are decent enough, even if I never really felt the sort of tantalizing chemistry between Radcliffe (who's thankfully easily shed his "Potter" alter ego) and Kazan that normally makes you want to root for them to get together. That said, and as is the case with many a romantic comedy, the scene stealers belong to the wacky supporting characters who, natch, have words of wisdom buried within their otherwise outrageous and zany behavior.

In the end, the pic delivers exactly what you'd imagine and expect for an offering of this genre. Fans will likely enjoy it, while those hoping for a more unique spin on the subject matter -- such as occurred with the far better "(500) Days of Summer" -- will likely ponder the never explored possibilities that the title suggests. "What If" rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 4, 2014 / Posted August 8, 2014

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