'Date' induces diabetic coma

Staff WriterJanuary 23, 2004 

Pete (Topher Grace, left) and screen idol Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) vie for the heart of Rosalee (Kate Bosworth).

Ashton Kutcher may be punking audiences with "The Butterfly Effect" this weekend, but there is another "That '70s Show" regular who's also in a new movie and, unlike Kutcher, is trying his darnedest to make the best out of a bad situation.

That's Topher Grace, and he is certainly the brightest spot in "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" the latest piece of cotton-candy cinema from "Legally Blonde" director Robert Luketic. Grace plays Pete, the overachieving assistant manager of a Piggly Wiggly in Frasier's Bottom, W.Va., a part of the country that appears to be stuck in 1982.

He's secretly in love with best friend and co-worker Rosalee (Kate Bosworth), but Rosalee is too transfixed on another guy, matinee idol Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel). She and third-wheel friend Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) are in a constant state of swoon when they see him at the ol' picture show. Whereas Pete can't help but roll his eyes whenever Hamilton says some contrived piece of dialogue on-screen, in the ladies' eyes, he can do no wrong -- even though he's doing a whole lot of it back in Hollywood.

After a PG-13-rated night of debauchery, his agent (Nathan Lane) and his manager (Sean Hayes), both named Richard Levy, devise a plan to help Hamilton clean up his public image: He'll go out for a night on the town with a lucky contest winner. And guess what lucky gal in West Virginia wins the top prize?

Rosalee's homespun goodness rubs off so much on Hamilton during their date that he follows her back to Frasier's Bottom, buys a farm and encourages her to demonstrate more of that decency he's so lacking. Of course, this throws a monkey wrench in Pete's plan to tell Rosalee of his undying love.

"Date" is another sticky-sweet romantic comedy for the CosmoGIRL! crowd, complete with a WB-looking cast and an easy-to-follow plot. This is the kind of date movie for those who thought "Love Actually" had too may old geezers in it. Just like he did with "Blonde," Luketic directs "Date" in such a warm, bright, colorful fashion, you almost wonder if he hired Snuggles, the Fabric Softener Bear, to be his director of photography.

But it still isn't enough to override the overwhelming blandness brought on by Victor Levin's script. Levin used to be a writer for "Mad About You," which explains why the jokes are about as flat as Keira Knightley's stomach. The gags he sets up when Rosalee goes to Los Angeles for her date (Oh, look, everyone has a cell phone!) ring even more hollow. It's as if he was trying to write like satirical, savvy screenwriter ("In and Out") Paul Rudnick, but seriously lacking the over-the-top cattiness that's his trademark.

Lukatic certainly scores in casting the right people. He couldn't have found a more rosy-cheeked vision of heartland beauty than Bosworth. You keep expecting Tom Petty's "American Girl" to start playing every time she walks on screen. Duhamel makes being a shallow-yet-lonely stud seem quite effortless, practically looking like Ryan Seacrest after a night at 24 Hour Fitness.

But they are still inhabitants in Grace's world. He works overtime in exerting the deadpan snarkiness and smart-alecky charm he combines so well on "That '70s Show." You end up wondering how stupid Bosworth's character can be in not noticing how sprung this boy is over her. (Isn't that always the case?) By the end of "Date," you hope that Grace and Bosworth's characters never hook up. He's much too good for her -- and Grace is much too good for this movie.

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