2 stars (out of 4)
"Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" is a cute little comedy about a starstruck girl from small-town West Virginia winning a highly publicized date with a hunky Hollywood superstar - but I'm afraid the emphasis here is on "cute" and "little" rather than "comedy."
In director Robert Luketic's follow-up to his hit feature debut "Legally Blonde" (the humorous original rather than the hokey sequel), Kate Bosworth, surfer girl of "Blue Crush," plays lissome Piggly Wiggly checkout gal Rosalee Futch, a big fan of the Cruise-Pitt cutie pie Tad, whose off-screen sexcapades force his handlers into manufacturing the "Win a Date" contest.
The idea is to make scapegrace Tad seem more accessible, less of a tabloid-magnet sleaze. But Rosalee proves such a sweet-faced blonde knockout and paragon of all-American virtues that she inflames and reforms the erstwhile womanizing hell-raiser Tad in one date - part of which she spends throwing up in his stretch limo.
Tad (Josh Duhamel) temporarily ditches his burgeoning career and goes panting after Rosalee, visiting Frazier's Bottom, W.V., to the squealing delight of Rosalee's friend Cathy Feely (Ginnifer Goodwin) and to the glum jealousy of Rosalee admirer and Piggly Wiggly manager Pete (Topher Grace of "That '70s Show"), twitching at the loss of his "great Frazier's Bottom love" to a guy who can't be out-charmed.
Kibitzing this clash are Cathy, who's in love with Tad; tattooed biker-gal bartender Angelica (Kathryn Hahn), who's in love with Pete; Rosalee's dad, Henry (Gary Cole), who's in love with his Hollywood Web site; and Tad's mostly venal agent and manager, two separate people both named Richard Levy and played by Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes. "Win a Date," which goes for the sweet rather than gross, has its share of laughs. But like many movies about the movie world, it flies off into fantasyland, even though its main plot gimmick hinges on the differences between what small-town characters think of Hollywood and what it really is. Hollywood isn't like this, and neither are small towns, especially this Southern burg, where everyone but barkeep Angela talks like they came from Johnny Carson's Nebraska.
Bosworth is adorable anyway, in a fresh-faced Ivory Soap Girl kind of way. So are Duhamel (who looks like an elongated Rob Lowe), Grace (who resembles a super-skinny Robert Downey Jr. and also acts like one) and most of the rest. In fact, there seems to be some kind of adorability sweepstakes going on here. They all twinkle their eyes, crinkle their noses and make both cow and bedroom eyes. And, in what passes for a major plot twist in this movie, two of the romantic leads display either six types of smiles (Rosalee's repertoire, according to Pete) or five (Pete's, according to Rosalee), depending on mood and facial muscles, which get a real workout.
I have to admit I laughed at this movie - often at Lane, who remains a master of comic timing, even trapped in Frazier's Bottom. It's not his fault; Victor Levin's script is so arch and anemic that this professional showstopper is reduced to getting laughs by screeching and banging his head on the ceiling, which he does with elan.
As for the three leads, they all deserve some winsome-star-of-tomorrow prize. They're all likable, but that's part of the movie's problem: its inability to establish some semblance of a cutting edge. There's no conflict in "Win a Date," except the rivalry between Pete and Tad, nice and nicer. Like some classic Hollywood romantic comedies (which this isn't), "Win a Date" has a slightly gay tinge, even when it's ripping one drooling, bad-hair desk clerk who lusts after Tad. In fact, this movie might be better if it were bitchier, if Tad had more of a sleazy, even nasty side in the later sections. As it is, "Win" should please its core audience, which includes anyone who might actually want to win a date with Tad Hamilton. Others may opt to wait for another date with Kate Bosworth - or Nathan Lane.
"Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!"
Directed by Robert Luketic; written by Victor Levin; photographed by Peter Collister; edited by Scott Hill; production designed by Missy Stewart; music by Edward Shearmur; produced by Lucy Fisher, Douglas Wick. A DreamWorks Pictures release; opens Friday, Jan. 23. Running time: 1:36. MPAA rating: PG-13 (sexual themes).
Rosalee Futch - Kate Bosworth
Pete - Topher Grace
Tad Hamilton - Josh Duhamel
Richard Levy the Driven - Nathan Lane
Richard Levy the Shameless - Sean Hayes
Henry Futch - Gary Cole