Two Comedies from Touchstone Pictures
10 Things I Hate About You (January 19/10)
Heath Ledger's starring debut, 10 Things I Hate About You follows high schooler Cameron James (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) as he sets into a motion a progressively convoluted plan after learning that the object of his affections (Larisa Oleynik's Bianca Stratford) cannot date until her rough-around-the-edges sister (Julia Stiles' Kat) does the same - which results in a series of complications and misunderstandings as Cameron hires an imposing senior (Ledger's Patrick Verona) to woo Bianca's prickly sibling. Director Gil Junger has infused 10 Things I Hate About You with an affable, downright poppy sensibility that effectively mirrors Karen McCullah Lutz and Kirsten Smith's breezy screenplay, with the pervasively easy-going vibe ensuring that the movie is generally as superficial as it is watchable (ie there's an absence of depth here that's often reminiscent of a garden-variety sitcom). It's consequently not surprising to note that the film starts to run out of steam somewhere around the midway point, as the relatively one-note nature of the premise results in a lack of momentum that becomes increasingly difficult to overlook. This is despite the cast's uniformly winning work; Stiles, Oleynik, and Gordon-Levitt are incredibly charismatic in their respective roles, while Ledger's palpable star quality is impossible to miss even at this early stage in his career. It's also worth noting that the expected fake break-up is handled quite well, which - in conjunction with a finale that's genuinely romantic - effectively cements 10 Things I Hate About You's place as a slightly above average teenage romcom.
When in Rome (June 13/10)
It's a testament to the charisma of Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel that When in Rome fares as well as it does, as the movie boasts a seriously underwhelming premise that ultimately negates the good will established (and perpetuated) by its stars. Bell stars as Beth, a hard-working curator who, while in Rome for her sister's wedding, drunkenly grabs a handful of coins from a nearby fountain of love - which effectively sets into motion a magical spell that leaves the original owners of said coins in love with her. There's also a subplot revolving around Beth's immediate attraction to fellow New Yorker Nick (Duhamel), yet her feelings for Nick are complicated by the inevitable realization that he may also have dropped a coin into that mystical fountain. The strength of Bell and Duhamel's chemistry together proves instrumental in initially capturing the viewer's interest, with the pair's incredibly personable work enhanced by a periodic emphasis on genuinely romantic interludes and sequences. There's little doubt, then, that When in Rome's decidedly lackluster feel is due almost entirely to its eye-rollingly broad comedic elements, as director Mark Steven Johnson stresses the hopelessly sitcom-like exploits of the four men (Will Arnett's Antonio, Dax Shepard's Gale, Jon Heder's Lance, and Danny DeVito's Al) who are unwittingly (and irresistibly) drawn to Bell's character. This wouldn't be quite so problematic were any of this stuff actually funny, yet the talented performers' ongoing efforts at eliciting real laughs from the viewer are consistently thwarted by David Diamond and David Weissman's distressingly hackneyed screenplay. The end result is as uneven a romcom as one can easily recall, with the appealing nature of the central coupling almost (but not quite) compensating for the less-than-enthralling nature of everything else.