The nightmares begin when Paul wakes up the morning after a wild bachelor party, sleeping next to hotsy-totsy dancer Becky (Julia Stiles), with no memory of what happened the night before. The fiascoes multiply as Paul tries to disguise the situation from spotless and coy fiancee Karen (Selma Blair); her big-money, George Bush-crony parents (James Brolin and Diana Scarwid); and the rest of the wedding party. The subterfuge becomes madly complicated when Paul learns that Becky is actually Karen's cousin. Aiding Paul are his macho buddy Jim (Shawn Hatosy, who played the young Brendan Behan in "Borstal Boy"). Working against him, it seems, are almost everyone and everything else.
The movie was shot in Seattle and British Columbia (subbing for Seattle), but it's not an especially good-looking movie, and it's also aggressively cute. The actors tend to load up their lines with so many gestures and reactions per word, it's as if they were working for an ensemble mugging award. This mugfest gives the movie some of its laughs and a definite style. But it's not necessarily a pleasant style, and it doesn't really distract us from some crucial questions, such as why Becky wasn't more aware of her cousin's fiance.
These exaggerated tics aren't necessarily fatal, though, because a few of the actors (notably Blair) mug adorably, and others are more measured or convincing, especially Stiles, Hatosy, Jackie Burroughs (a mainstay of Canadian independent cinema, here slumming as smutty-mouthed Aunt Budge) and Lee.
In Lee's case, the restraint is quite a feat, considering that he has to do the following: desperately hide Becky's thong in a toilet tank, feign diarrhea while escaping from a second-floor bathroom window, retrieve near-pornographic surveillance photos from an inquisitive minister, cope with a pesky case of crab lice at a startled executive board meeting, and hide from the jealous fiancee's attack dog in yet another bathroom. But Lee is game, and he's a good actor to have to provide some counterpoint to the lewd frenzy.
Glienna directed and starred in the original Chicago-based independent version of "Meet the Parents" (the one that inspired the Robert De Niro-Ben Stiller movie), and though "Guy Thing" has his fingerprints on it, he isn't the only writer involved. Glienna and his partner, Pete Schwaba, have been bonded with another writing tag team (Matt Tarses and Bill Wrubel), and the material, passing through all these hands, may have gotten diluted or overworked. Or perhaps Koch simply has too heavy a hand for this kind of show - not necessarily for the movie's target audience of rowdy, sex-minded teens and twentysomethings, but for anyone much older or younger.
"A Guy Thing" takes its title from one of its better jokes: an unexpected helping hand from a benevolent chain-store clerk when Paul tries to explain the thong in his toilet tank. "It's a guy thing," the clerk explains later to his customer-witnesses. And so, in a way, is this movie. But it's also a modern equivalent for one of those innuendo-laden '60s comedies where Doris Day, Rock Hudson or others were continually suspected of sexual high jinks and peccadilloes that really weren't happening. Nowadays, most of those comedies look like fey, lewd antiques, and this one probably will, too - sooner than its makers guess.
2 stars (out of 4)
"A Guy Thing"
Directed by Chris Koch; written by Greg Glienna & Pete Schwaba and Matt Tarses & Bill Wrubel; photographed by Robbie Greenberg; edited by David Moritz; production designed by Dan Davis; music by Mark Mothersbaugh; produced by David Ladd, David Nicksay. A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release; opens Friday, Jan. 17. Running time: 1:41. MPAA rating: PG-13 (language, crude humor, some sexual content and drug references).
Paul - Jason Lee
Becky - Julia Stiles
Karen - Selma Blair
Ken (Karen's Father) - James Brolin
Jim - Shawn Hatosy
Ray - Lochlyn Munro
Sandra - Diana Scarwid Aunt Budge - Jackie Burroughs
Michael Wilmington is the Chicago Tribune Movie Critic.