Romantic comedy, madcap farce and suspense thriller collide in “Head Over Heels,” a mildly amusing trifle set in Gotham’s high fashion world. Though the film’s strenuous play for laughs tends to overshadow its assets, it does offer a pair of appealing leads in Monica Potter and Freddie Prinze Jr., attractive eye candy in a quartet of models, and a pleasant romantic diversion that should make it easy for Universal to recoup its relatively modest budget.
Pic reps the sophomore effort of helmer Mark Waters, whose “House of Yes” was a Sundance favorite in 1997. But those who appreciated the darkly funny sensibility of his tyro feature will be disappointed by the unabashedly commercial nature of Waters’ second: “Head Over Heels” has all the edge and density of a Nerf ball.
New pic reteams him with Prinze, who in the interim has built a resume as a teen heartthrob in films including “She’s All That” and “Down to You.” Often better than his material, Prinze graduates here to an adult role playing Jim Winston, the suave and charming fashion consultant who catches the eye of an improbably unlucky-in-love art restorer, Amanda Pierce, winningly played by Monica Potter.
Having taken up residence with four out-of-work models and sworn off men after discovering her boyfriend’s cheating ways, Amanda is duly shocked at her instant attraction to Jim, a fellow so fetching that she’s weak at the knees whenever they meet; their first encounter is a standard screwball riff in which she stammers and equivocates incessantly. He’s equally smitten with her, though a good deal more articulate.
So it’s mighty convenient that Jim’s apartment is in full view of the one occupied by Amanda and the models, who begin to track his rituals, document his social life and count his chin-ups. But when Amanda thinks she’s seen Jim commit a murder, she reports him to the police, who find her claim groundless.
Drawn to Jim but emotionally conflicted, Amanda enlists her model chums to help investigate Jim’s apartment. That makes for a funny, if mostly predictable, scene in which Jim returns unexpectedly and the fashion divas hide in his shower after being alerted (from across the courtyard) to his presence.
Hitchcock might not be amused at the unapologetic homage to “Rear Window,” but contempo audiences most certainly will, particularly by an off-color, “Dumb and Dumber”-like sequence that finds Jim defecating noisily while the hidden models cringe in horror.
There’s even more Farrelly brothers-style scatological humor where that came from, as in a superfluous gross-out bit that finds the glamorous gals hiding in a filthy restaurant bathroom stall after spying on Amanda and Jim. The final act resolves — oh so neatly — the questions of Jim’s identity, Amanda’s feelings, the alleged murder and the fate of the models’ careers.
The statuesque quartet of Shalom Harlow, Ivana Milicevic, Sarah O’Hare and Tomiko Fraser — supermodels all — are great sports throughout, particularly given that “Head Over Heels” paints them as bubbleheaded Amazons. Harlow, who revealed a surprising comic sensibility in “In and Out” and developed her acting chops in “Cherry,” is ready for bigger things.
As the couple who fall — yes — head over heels for each other, Potter and Prinze anchor the picture credibly and exchange banter effectively, but their courtship suffers from an inordinate number of distracting and redundant pratfalls.
Tech values are generally fine throughout, though locations are minimal and coverage sometimes feels compromised. The wardrobe, which fittingly evokes Seventh Avenue chic, couldn’t be more flatteringly displayed. Music by Randy Edelman and Steve Porcaro plays a key role in evoking the pic’s mood shifts; it helps guides the viewer along the precarious transitions from comedy to thriller and back.