Though youth-skewed comedy "A Guy Thing" does get slightly better as it goes along, the presence of four (credited) scenarists suggests a familiar syndrome at play: Whatever creative spark or individuality might have existed in early drafts got "polished" into oblivion between rewrites. Bland results will extract stray bucks.

Though youth-skewed comedy “A Guy Thing” does get slightly better as it goes along, the presence of four (credited) scenarists suggests a familiar syndrome at play: Whatever creative spark or individuality might have existed in early drafts got “polished” into oblivion between rewrites. Bland results will extract stray bucks in the romantic comedy sweepstakes amid the usual January new-release drought, but pic should be heading to the rental shelves by the time spring thaw sets in.

So old-hat square in its initial reels you might think you’re watching “Barefoot in the Park: The Prequel” — or at least something perhaps once intended for older lead thesps — tale commences as Seattle yuppie Paul (Jason Lee) sheepishly confronts his bachelor party at watering hole the Hula Lounge. Hoping to avoid embarrassing situations, he lets best bud Jim (Shawn Hatosy) pose as groom when skimpily-clad “Tiki Girls” invade the room. Still, booze has its effect, and the last thing Paul remembers is buying a beer for one such grass-skirted lass.

The next morning finds Paul waking next to the very same girl (Julia Stiles), whom he hustles out just in time to avoid incoming fiancee Karen (Selma Blair). One little fib leads to another, as do contrived coincidences. It soon emerges that the nameless bedmate is Karen’s cousin, Becky, who will be involved in all the coming week’s pre-wedding festivities.

Pileup of inconvenient events is worsened by the sniffing around of Becky’s still-possessive ex-boyfriend Ray (Lochlyn Munro), a steroid-raging rogue cop who thinks Paul his latest rival. Actually, latter is feeling some bothersome, mutual romantic vibes with the comely cousin. But mostly he’s trying to hold things together so the Big Day can go as planned.

Of course it doesn’t, with a de rigeur change of heart at the altar. Before then, “A Guy Thing” provides rote slapstick, routine situations, a few ethnic stereotypes, and impersonally competent packaging from TV-trained soph feature helmer Chris Koch (“Snow Day”). There’s also archaic trash-vs.-class contrast between Paul’s cheerfully vulgar folks (Julie Hagerty, David Koechner) and Karen’s wealthy-snooty ones (James Brolin, Diana Scarwid). Plus a getting-the-oldsters-unknowingly-high-on-grass sequence, a tussle with a vicious guard dog, and so forth. Original ideas are M.I.A. here, though in its later progress pic does pile on more colorful complications, hinting at a more absurdist/farcical strain that should have been allowed to run rampant. Perhaps at some developmental point, they did.

Unfortunately, there’s very little wildness (or true hilarity) apparent in end product. Becky is meant to be a free spirit, but comes off only as mildly flaky. Paul’s exulting “I’ve never done anything like that before!” — several times — after driving a bit fast is meant to be the cry of gray-flannel-suit liberation. Stiles’ admirers will find her wasted here, while Lee and Blair are as bland as the material seemingly requires. Support perfs are uninspired, tech/design aspects routinely slick.

A Guy Thing

Production

An MGM release of a David Ladd Films production. Produced by Ladd, David Nicksay. Co-producers, Danielle Sterling, David Kerwin. Directed by Chris Koch. Screenplay, Greg Glienna, Pete Schwaba, Matt Tarses, Bill Wrubel, story by Glienna.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Robbie Greenberg; editor, David Moritz; original music, Mark Mothersbaugh; music supervisor, Maureen Crowe; production designer, Dan Davis; art director, Patrick Banister; set decorator, Lesley Beale; costume designer, Pamela Withers; sound (Dolby Digital/DTS), Larry Sutton; supervising sound editors (Dolby Digital), Mike Wilhoit, Tony Lamberti; assistant director, Bill Mizel; casting, Risa Bramon Garcia, Brennan Dufresne. Reviewed at UA Galaxy, San Francisco, Jan. 13, 2003. MPAA rating: PG-13. Running time: 101 MIN.

With

Paul - Jason Lee Becky - Julia Stiles Karen - Selma Blair Ken - James Brolin Jim - Shawn Hatosy Ray - Lochlyn Munro Sandra - Diana Scarwid Buck - David Koechner Dorothy - Julie Hagerty Pete - Thomas Lennon Aunt Budge - Jackie Burroughs
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