You Stupid Man

Blatantly derivative romantic comedy seems like the embodiment of a studio pitch -- "Annie Hall" meets "When Harry Met Sally," minus the ethnic angle. Setting "Stupid" in patented New York Valentine-card settings, first-time helmer Brian Burns never misses a tourist-friendly Gotham postcard vista, while talkative star-crossed leads struggle through the scenery with forced "quirky" dialogue.

With:
Owen - David Krumholtz Nadine - Milla Jovovich Chloe - Denise Richards Brady - William Baldwin Jack - Dan Montgomery Jr. Audrey - Deborah Odell

Blatantly derivative romantic comedy seems like the embodiment of a studio pitch — “Annie Hall” meets “When Harry Met Sally,” minus the ethnic angle. Setting “Stupid” in patented New York Valentine-card settings (opening credit sequence outlines all the landmark edifices, including the World Trade Center, in white polka-dot snow), first-time helmer Brian Burns (Ed’s brother) never misses a tourist-friendly Gotham postcard vista, while talkative star-crossed leads (David Krumholtz and Milla Jovovich) struggle through the scenery with forced “quirky” dialogue. Whiny, neurotic whitebread Woody Allen without convincing witty patter, pic is likely to flounder theatrically, though recognizable stars and familiar premises could attract undiscriminating vid auds.

Set-up suggestive of “Annie Hall” finds Owen (Krumholtz) a magazine writer in love with Chloe (Denise Richards), a willowy blonde actress who swears eternal fidelity only to fly off to L.A., become a TV star, and bonk her well-endowed co-star. Pic then switches to “Harry…Sally” mode as broken-hearted Owen meets Nadine (Milla Jovovich) and couple, after an initial bristly encounter and blind date from hell, settles down to become “friends” (meaning Nadine must patiently listen while Owen yaks incessantly about Chloe).

Owen and Nadine finally do the nasty but, before their love can blossom, Chloe breezes back in town and Owen is helpless to resist her. Soon realizing his mistake, Owen executes a series of romantic tests to prove his love and win Nadine back, including projecting a 16mm print of “Meet Me in St. Louis” on the side of her building. A snatch of the trolley song from the MGM classic has heretofore been mercilessly reprised, Burns being determined to get his music-rights money’s worth by turning it into a recurring, self-conscious leitmotif for the Owen/ Nadine relationship.

Non-specific references to filmdom abound. Yet, unlike Woody Allen’s ardent film-buff characters in “Annie Hall,” and elsewhere, neither Krumholtz nor Jovovich demonstrate any real interest in cinema. Unlike, say, mogul Tom Hanks and bookworm Meg Ryan in Nora Ephron’s “You’ve Got Mail,” they are furthermore devoid of any class values, belief systems or even hobbies. For characters who blab non-stop, they have remarkably little to say.

Idiotic misunderstandings on the level of “you think my ass looks fat,” painfully thudding wordplay and cliched gender-coded stereotypes make the “humor” as painful as it terminally lame. Cultural quotes turn into slavish imitation: Richards’ sitcom is a straight “Laverne & Shirley” rip-off, Burns making no effort at satirizing or updating the raw material.

Krumholtz lacks the charisma to create personality out of whole cloth (the script giving him no background, job or circle, only the neurotic neatness of a Felix Unger or Jerry Seinfeld divorced from any developed persona).

Jovovich sometimes manages to command the screen, virtually willing her part into existence as she tries to make sense of Nadine’s wild mood swings, seemingly unrelated to context. She offers a fine imitation of lisping, baby-talking Thema Todd to Krumholtz’s limply wisecracking Groucho Marx in a fit of post-coital silliness, but awkward scene comes off as wholly gratuitous.

The only actors to emerge almost entirely intact are game vets with minimal dialogue. William Baldwin, as Krumholtz’s cop brother, registers as the movie’s most authentic voice. Delectably curvaceous, pouty-lipped Richards amusingly strikes poses for invisible paparazzi and intones “dumb starlet” lines with admirable vacuity, successfully matching her even broader comedy-turn in “Undercover Brother.”

Tech credits are unremarkable.

You Stupid Man

Production: A New Legend Media/Artists Production Group presentation of an Apollo Media/YSM Filmproducktion GmbH production. Produced by Cathy Schulman, Alex Campbell, Rick Yorn, Tom Berry, Franck Hubner. Executive producers, Al Munteanu, Peter Popp, Gerald Schubert, Brian Burns. Directed, written by Brian Burns.

Crew: Camera (color), David Herrington; editor, Bill Henry; music, David Schwartz; production designer, Alicia Keywan; costume designer, Delphine White; sound, Michael La Croix; supervising sound editor, Tim Archer; casting, Sarah Haley Finn, Randi Hiller. Reviewed at Hamptons Film Festival (View From Long Island), Oct. 18, 2002. Running time: 95 MIN.

With: Owen - David Krumholtz Nadine - Milla Jovovich Chloe - Denise Richards Brady - William Baldwin Jack - Dan Montgomery Jr. Audrey - Deborah Odell

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