Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!
First screened and reviewed in April 2004
Director: Robert Luketic. Cast: Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, Topher Grace, Nathan Lane, Sean Hayes, Ginnifer Goodwin, Gary Cole, Kathryn Hahn. Screenplay: Victor Levin.

Twitter Capsule: Full of bright color and usually amiable actors, though few of them get to shine. All Duhamel's show.

VOR:   Like previous year's Down with Love, an instance of camp-inflected color and tone in service of cutesy straight romance. Unexpected choices for the girl.

Photo © 2004 DreamWorks SKG/Red Wagon Entertainment
Josh Duhamel has a great time playing mythical Hollywood superstud Tad Hamilton. The movie, in turn, has a great time letting Duhamel play him. Not just the title but almost every shot and sequence is in thrall to Duhamel, flashing his generous smile, sloping down his still more generous biceps and pecs, circling around key scenes where Duhamel shows he's not just a pretty face—nor is he playing someone who is simply that. Josh and Tad can convey enthusiasm, concern, curiosity, good intentions, regrets. It's not a mile-marker performance; you will, assuredly, forget where you were the first time you saw Josh Duhamel on screen. But it's spry and comfy light-comic work. Duhamel doesn't let himself get stuck in the rut of his movie's enrapturement with him, like Matthew McConaughey did in A Time to Kill. It's almost impossible to judge an actor's ability when the whole movie is being served to him, but Duhamel survives his big test: we'd like to keep him around.

I would especially like to keep him around if he doesn't work with any of the same people ever again, and in fact, most of them would get detention if it were up to me. Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, aside from existing as a Duhamel Distribution Device and as a way-station for director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) between better-scripted puff pieces, is also, ostensibly, the story of one Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth), an apple-cheeked retail slave from West Virginia who scores an anonymous date with her favorite dreamboat celebrity (Josh Duhamel!) through some kind of contest, where she... has to raise money... okay, hold it. I know there was a kind of application or money-raising thing associated with how she "won" the contest, because she and her requisite "kooky friend" Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) were taking donations at the SavMart, or wherever they worked. And all the proceeds from the contest were going to charity, which was supposed to polish the PR-image of Tad Hamilton (played by All My Children's sculpted and boyish Josh Duhamel!) after this budding ingenue spent some overly rambunctious night on the town in Hollywood. But that's all I have for ya. Oh, Rosalee's friend/boss/buttoned-up admirer BLANK, played by Topher Grace, is against the whole mystery-date idea, because he's got a sorta-kinda-secret thing for Rosalee. So he makes lots of sarcastic cracks about Tad (Josh, certified by 9/10 critics as a fresh tomato!), about Rosalee, about women, about Hollywood, all to show everyone that he's above it all, which of course just shows them (and us) that he's feeling outdone, outbodied, and outshone by Tad (Duhamel, whose legs, you'll note, look good in and out of his jeans).

And BLANK is quite right to be worried, because it's a horribly written part. Topher Grace is a clever and likable young actor, taking the piss out of prep-school privilege in Steven Soderbergh's Traffic and even spoofing himself in the ace opening of Ocean's Eleven. He's getting a little ahead of himself with the whole lovable-crank thing, though. He and his movie forget to ever make BLANK (Dan? Dave? Peter?) remotely likable; he is such a wisecrack machine that he quickly passes from threatened lover to arrested adolescent, earning our contempt instead of our rooting interest. Moreover, Grace isn't a confident enough character and Kate Bosworth isn't a resourceful enough actor to withstand the film's lopsided focus on Duhamel. Even when Tad performs the compulsory Betrayal Of Rosalee's Trust, he's a good apologizer, and we still prefer him to that crank BLANK (I'm pretty sure it was Pete). Not everyone can manage what Jimmy Stewart does in The Philadelphia Story (maybe no one can), playing second fiddle to Cary Effin' Grant for two hours and still emerging as a unique and attention-drawing guy. But almost everyone can manage to seem worthy of Kate Bosworth, who is a sweet-seeming actress without much spark. We don't even want DavePete to get farmed off to Cathy, or to Angelica, the blowzy barmaid with an unaccountable fixation on him, played by expert comedienne-in-training Kathryn Hahn (How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days). We donít want anyone to win a date with BLANK.

As he did in Legally Blonde, director Luketic tries to inject some color and verve into a pedestrian, one-joke script—and since the idea that Josh Duhamel is hot isn't really a "joke," this is an even harder script to redeem. Someone had the idea to hire Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes as Josh's fawning agents, but I doubt it was Luketic. Their schticky improvisations are so listless and forgettable that the director seems to lose interest in these cut-ups even before we do. More time is spent on bright color schemes, punchy little inserts (Luketic scores a laugh just by letting Bosworth and Goodwin scream and jump around), and on actors like Gary Cole who try to achieve their humor in a creative, roundabout way, rather than picking up the ol' trowel like Lane and Hayes do.

But gee, don't it just sink a movie like this when even while you're watching, you're thinking about how the director is trying to mask this weakness, or fix that plot-strand, or save this scene? Isn't it sad that during Topher's big monologue about Rosalee's six smiles, you're going, "Oh, here's the part where BLANK, that twit, is winning her heart. 'You had me at hello,' and all that." It's remarkably easy to imagine Luketic as the victim of some kind of Mulholland Drive-type intervention, forced into making a movie he himself finds insipid. Win a Date with Josh Duhamel hardly seems worth the effort, but then, it also looks remarkably like the movie Justin Theroux is filming in the Lynch opus. You can hear Dan Hedaya growling, "You will condescend to West Virginia, you will use a soundtrack's worth of bland radio-pop-rock, you will edit in a bizarre insert of Paris Hilton parachuting into a swimming pool! And you will show Josh Duhamel, shirtless, chopping a block of wood in one unedited take, so that we know it's really him! This is the girl boy!"

Okay, that's a little hard to imagine Dan Hedaya saying. But someone said it. Duhamel's agent? Standing just out of frame, over Luketic's shoulder, indulging Lane and Hayes in their flailing, lumpen impressions of themselves? For Duhamel, this could be the start of something big. For everyone else, it's just....wait, who else was in this movie again? Grade: C

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