The Casting Broad
The Casting Broad


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Dude, where's the love?

Dude, where's the love?

I'm trying to guess who can't seem to get enough of Ashton Kutcher.

He's got his second movie in a month out now, A Lot Like Love. The preview is very long and poignant, full of the kinds of precious moments that are supposed to remind you of when you fell in love, but really they just remind you of other romantic comedies you watched with your now ex-boyfriend, the ones that started you on the road to break-upville because they made you insecure about your lack of spitting contests and off-key serenades.

Now, I'm not a Kutcher-hater. I hope he and Demi have each other's babies. He's fun on "That 70's Show." But do I care if he gets the girl? Ehh, nope. Doesn't keep me up nights.

And he's paired with Amanda Peet, who has charmed in supporting roles in Something's Gotta Give and The Whole Nine Yards, but more often, like Kutcher, she registers on the likeability scale somewhere around "Pretty Cool Waiter at Macaroni Grill."

Barbie and Ken or whoever

So yeah, I've judged this movie on its cast without even seeing it, and that's kind of mean. But I think I can get a similar experience by following a random couple in the park, laughing loudly at their banter and eating popcorn.

Romantic comedies depend on the audience investing themselves in a relationship. Too often, though, the actors involved don't make you laugh and cry, they make you shrug and answer your cell phone.

Listen, decision-making Hollywood folks: stop giving me all these movies where two very pretty people fret that the other one might not be pretty enough to spend the rest of the week with. Especially if it involves a road trip, a little black book, or lent.

Good Food, Bad Date

At least those movies usually start out with weak screenplays, so there's not much there to screw up and waste. What's much more aggravating are the romantic comedies with good scripts that suffer under poor casting choices.

Take L.A. Story. It didn't do well at the box office, and ended Steve Martin's string of successful movies. Such a shame, because the majority of it is quirky, brilliant, hilarious, dreamy, and sweet.

It's my belief that it didn't become a sleeper hit because the romance was a dud. And it wasn't written to be a dud.

Unfortunately, Steve Martin wrote it with a particular actress in mind, and it was his wife at the time, Victoria Tennant. Lovely Englishwoman, okay when playing a manipulative wench or a bad mother, but in L.A. Story she seemed totally lost and kind of annoyed about it.

When the two end up together, I don't so much care as feel some concern that Victoria Tennant may have switched brains with the highway signpost.

Wish I could go back in time to 1990 and prevent this mistake by casting Emma Thompson, who was pre-Oscar and not famous in America yet, but even then was a match for Steve Martin in humor, strangeness, and intensity. And hey, she's British too, so no rewrites!

More recently, Wimbledon came along, and should have made Paul Bettany a huge star. He gave the kind of performance that makes you feel lonely when he leaves the screen.

The story was slight, but the writing was wonderfully witty and tender-hearted, and Bettany's triumph in the end felt earned. With Kirsten Dunst as the love interest, though, I didn't quite believe.

Granted, her part is underwritten, with the impossible task of being Bettany's inspiration and muse. But this movie supposedly signified Dunst's transformation into a true leading lady, and all I saw was another rendition of the precocious girl that she'd already done better in Bring It On, The Virgin Suicides, and Spiderman.

Don't get me wrong, those were good performances. But with Wimbledon, and especially with Paul Bettany, Dunst needed to do more than just sparkle.

Sparkle works for teenagers falling in love. They flirt by charming themselves in each other's vicinity. Sadly, that's what most of the scenes between Dunst and Bettany are like: he falls in love with her, and so does she.

A better actress for the part would have spunk without the self-aware giggles, and would spar and swoon with more generosity. Allison Mack ("Smallville") and Alexis Bledel ("Gilmore Girls," Tuck Everlasting) both come to mind.

"In fact . . . I have been very bad in my own small way."

The example on which it pains me most to opine is Rupert Everett as Algernon in The Importance of Being Earnest.

Actually, everyone in the film was somewhat miscast, but Everett was the biggest disappointment, because he had already personified everything gloriously Oscar Wilde in An Ideal Husband.

However, in Earnest, he came off stiff, subdued, and kind of mean, speaking too low and quickly underneath a terrible terrible moustache. For the first 20 minutes, I was sure I was watching a biopic on Robert Louis Stevenson and his canker sores.

In the second half, Everett's charisma returns, but he still lacked much of the mischief and joy in Algernon, not to mention his randiness. You'd have thought Reese Witherspoon gave him a parking ticket, not her hand in marriage.

Yes, in real life he's gay, but he can have plenty of chemistry with women onscreen, when he's awake.

Who would have been better? Honestly, all four leads were too old for their parts, so you'd have to redo the whole thing. A lineup I'd enjoy would be Martin Freeman ("The Office," Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy) as Jack, Oliver Milburn ("The Forsyte Saga," Me Without You) as Algernon, Samantha Morton (In America, Minority Report) as Gwendolyn, and Romola Garai (Vanity Fair, Nicholas Nickleby) as Cecily.

But none of them can open a movie. Fine. In a few years, they'll probably get the brilliant idea of updating The Importance of Being Earnest for a contemporary audience, and call it Keeping it Real.

If that happens, I really hope that Will Smith is Algernon, and that Ashton Kutcher is in something else. Like his house.

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