Movie review, 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days'

"How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" is a would-be romantic comedy about modern New York City dating wars. That seems a likely subject for an entertaining big-studio movie, but though it's trendy and sleek-looking enough for a Giorgio Armani TV commercial or two, this picture's preposterous premise almost completely sabotages Kate Hudson, Matthew McConaughey and the rest of an attractive but doomed cast.

Based on a cutesy, forgettable book of dating "don'ts" by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long, "How to Lose" tries to make us believe that true love can blossom between a Manhattan women's magazine columnist trying to act like a selfish idiot for a column on shedding boyfriends and a promiscuous ad agency executive trying to win a lucrative diamond company account by betting he can make a total stranger fall in love with him in record time. Both, of course, are working on tight deadlines.

As you might expect, pretty Andie and studly Ben (played by Hudson and McConaughey) wind up hitting on each other, largely through the machinations of Ben's rivals for the account, the perfidious femme fatale duo of Spears and Green (Michael Michele and Shalom Harlow). Andie, goaded by tyrant editor Lana Jong (Bebe Neuwirth), her boss at the Cosmopolitan knockoff "Composure," acts like a witch on wheels. Ben, whose usual modus operandi is the one-night stand, forgives her for everything.

And everything in this case means demanding that he leave (twice) during the final minutes of a Knicks-Kings game to get her a Diet Coke; putting up with her teddy bears, toy dogs and feminine hygiene products (on his bathroom shelf); and the cucumber sandwiches she brings to his poker night.

There may be some way to make this nonsense amusing, but writers Kristen Buckley and Brian Regan haven't even figured out a reasonable setup for getting the two together. Equally stumped is their mop-up man, Burr Steers (the writer-director of the amusingly nasty "Igby Goes Down," here reduced to unamusing nastiness). Ridiculous almost beyond belief, "How to Lose" takes its absurd premise and rams it down our throats for two hours, while director Donald Petrie ("Mystic Pizza" and "Grumpy Old Men") tries to distract our attention with glossy decor and a zippy pace.

The script can't stand up to even a minute's scrutiny. How can we accept Ben's ludicrous ad agency, run by Robert Klein's smirky Philip Warren - a place handing out prized accounts based on adolescent bets? How can we sympathize with our heroine, appalling Andie, who supposedly suggests the column to prove herself to editor Jong and win the right to do "serious" pieces on politics? I didn't have a clue why this couple would fall in love, other than the possibility it was written into the movie contract. Fittingly, the big tender scene of recognition has Ben and Andie visiting his parents on Staten Island, and connecting while playing a simple-minded card game with the unprintable name that begins with "Bull."

Given the extreme provocations of the script, Hudson and McConaughey reveal surprising chemistry and charm. Still, anyone who recalls the great romantic comedies of Billy Wilder or Tracy and Hepburn, or even the entertaining new ones like "My Best Friend's Wedding," is likely to be confounded by this dotty dating game. The cast is strong, the look is sexy, and director Petrie has a lively touch. But why did anyone bother with this "material" in the first place? "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" tries hard to be a good date movie and, had it been done in a funny way, it may have succeeded. But I can't think of much that might happen on a date evening that could be more annoying than this movie.

1 1/2 stars (out of 4) "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days"
Directed by Donald Petrie; written by Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, Burr Steers, based on the book by Michele Alexander, Jeannie Long; photographed by John Bailey; edited by Debra Neil-Fisher; production designed by Therese DePrez; music supervised by Dana Millman-Dufine; produced by Lynda Obst, Robert Evans, Christine Peters. A Paramount Pictures release; opens Friday, Feb. 7. Running time: 1:56. MPAA rating: PG-13 (some sex-related material).
Andie - Kate Hudson
Ben - Matthew McConaughey
Tony - Adam Goldberg
Spears - Michael Michele
Green - Shalom Harlow
Lana Jong - Bebe Neuwirth Phillip Warren - Robert Klein

Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.

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