In any romantic comedy the ending is something of a forgone conclusion and in this case it's cheesed out to the max with soft focus lensing and cheap repetitive dialogue. With that criticism out of the way the fun of How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days is in how the story gets to its inevitable and overplayed climax--and this one's a doozy. Andie Anderson (Hudson) and Benjamin Barry (McConaughey) are two ambitious young creative types. She's a columnist for Composure magazine assigned to write an article about how to lose a guy in 10 days--and she has to do it by perpetrating every dating atrocity known to womankind on her gullible guy. He's an ad exec aspiring to leave beer and sports equipment accounts behind in favor of luxury items like diamonds--and the only way he's going to get there is to win a bet with his boss by making a girl fall in love with him before the big pitch to the client a diamond consortium in 10 days. Andie does everything she can think of to make Ben (aka Benny Wenny Benji Muffin etc.) fall out of love with her while Ben's effort to make her fall in love means he tolerates her every girlie invasion of his life from chick flick marathons to Vagisil in the bathroom to a Celine Dion concert on the night of the MBA finals. The result is an ever-escalating joke that the audience is in on from the outset and it works. Of course I'm a sucker for romantic comedy and if you can give it a quirky twist so much the better I say.
Hudson and McConaughey have marvelous chemistry in this film and you'll love watching them make out make up and generally make each other's lives a mess. McConaughey's such a convincing Casanova that it's easy to see why Andie can't resist Benjamin and even his plotting and manipulations are tinged with a Southern charm that's impossible to fake and easy to love. Hudson too plays her dual role charmingly capturing the Sex and the City coolness of her character's ambitious side while really letting it all hang out as she tries multiple maneuvers to make Ben drop her like a brick--including calling his mother leaving 17 messages on his answering machine in about 17 minutes and buying him a little doggie with a diamond collar and a penchant for peeing on the pool table.
Director Donald Petrie's How To Lose a Guy in 10 Days based on the book by Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long succeeds because it makes it easy for us to see ourselves in the roles of the leading characters. How many women have sent a potential Mr. Right running for his manly life by calling too often too soon? I can't think of any that haven't. How many men have stuck around in spite of it? Probably not as many as we'd like but certainly enough that we believe the possibility. And that's really the trick to a good romantic comedy: it has to make us believe that we all have a shot at the fairy tale--at true deep meaningful love--without seeming like a fairy tale itself. The movie has to make us believe we have this chance in spite of--even because of--the obstacles in love's path since in real life they are myriad and often overwhelming. But it's not just the women who can live the fairy tale in this film--men will appreciate the fact that the real Andie Anderson is a rowdy Knicks fan a ravenous eater of bacon cheeseburgers and a fantastic card player. And what guy wouldn't want to identify with McConaughey (who incidentally takes his shirt off to great effect at least twice in the movie)?
Appropriately enough this movie gets its title from the stinking saltwater lake in California's Imperial Valley that used to be a popular recreation spot before irrigation runoff poisoned the waters the fish and the community surrounding it. It's this run-down white-trash desert "destination" that serves as the backdrop for this arty noirish unpleasant film that more than borrows from Memento and Pulp Fiction. Val Kilmer is Danny Parker once a successful jazz trumpeter who wore cool suits and loved his beautiful wife very much. Tragedy strikes when he sees her gunned down in a drug deal and he vows revenge. To that end he adopts a new identity and goes deep--too deep--undercover as an informer for a couple of narcs (Anthony LaPaglia and Doug Hutchison). Danny (now Tom) infiltrates a gang of methamphetamine addicts led by a particularly nasty human specimen known as Pooh-Bear (Vincent D'Onofrio) who has snorted so much crystal he has to wear a plastic nose and reenacts the Kennedy assassination with pigeons just for kicks. In due time Danny completely loses his identity and morphs into Tom becoming into a junkie himself living in a vermin-ridden fleabag apartment and hanging with a bunch of "tweaker" losers like Jimmy "The Fin" (Peter Sarsgaard) while never losing sight of the score he wants to settle.
Val Kilmer's slippery detached demeanor is just what's required as his character fatalistically recounts his sad story via voiceover allowing the viewer to tag along with him as he explores what makes Danny/Tom tick. Kilmer seems to do best with character studies rather than action roles (i.e. his Jim Morrison in The Doors versus his parts in big-budget flops like The Saint and Red Planet). Vincent D'Onofrio almost seems like he's trying to re-create elements of his horribly depraved character in The Cell here. But in that movie it worked; in this one it doesn't. He's too out there for a small-time drug dealer and you're left going "Oh come on already." Oddly frighteningly this is Val Kilmer's movie.
This movie tries so hard to capitalize on the sleeper success of Memento but Tony Gayton's (Murder by Numbers) script completely lacks that film's tight originality and creative execution. Director D.J. Caruso tells the story in flashbacks and time shifts that keep you paying attention but which sometimes just confuse. Plus there's too much emphasis on the secondary characters and their theatrics--it's just self-indulgent filmmaking. Caruso's strong suit is that in his belaboring of many points he manages to create an authentically seedy gritty and evocative atmosphere especially making good use of the Salton Sea as a backdrop--both literally and figuratively--in his imagery.
After catching her live-in boyfriend in a compromising position Amanda sets out to find a new place to live. She ends up rooming with four supermodels (Shalom Harlow Ivana Milicevic Sarah O'Hare and Tomiko Fraser) whose apartment has a great view -- especially of Jim the "perfect guy" across the way. When Amanda in a "Rear Window"- type scenario witnesses Jim committing what she thinks is a murder she sets out to prove that he did it. However to her surprise she ends up falling head over heels (literally a lot of the time) for him instead.
The chemistry between Prinze and Potter is near perfect. Potter does a great job of playing a klutzy girl who can't seem to stay on her feet long enough to have a conversation with Jim. But then again who could? Prinze exudes his usual charm and winning smile while at the same time showing great comic timing. The more pivotal moments with the four models who are "struggling " as they like to say are well done and surprisingly hysterical. Who needs a drama when you can have four models who are actually funny?
Director Mark S. Waters and Prinze Jr. are together again after their 1997 film "The House of Yes." "Head Over Heels" is a cross between "Fatal Attraction " "An Officer and a Gentleman" and "There's Something About Mary " which means it's a bit muddled in its direction. Waters tries a little too hard for the shock value while at the same time trying to convey romantic comedy elements almost overshadowing the performances of the actors. But hey then again we get to see supermodels covered in poop. Priceless. Still the fairly clever and darker script plus the winning chemistry between the lead actors makes it worthwhile.