“How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days” will soon be known in the trade as “How Not to Write a Romantic Comedy.” This is the kind of movie that was doomed on the page, both by an inherently problematic premise and ill-conceived character motivations.
Project is adapted from Michele Alexander and Jeannie Long’s spoofing “guide,” subtitled “The Universal Don’ts of Dating.” And under the circumstances, scripters Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan and Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) fall back on a trite formula for their comedy: In a pre-arranged ruse, the gal arranges matters so her target guy dumps her in 10 days’ worth of dating hell, but she doesn’t know that her guy is also playing a game to make her fall in love with him in the same period.
Pic opens as women’s magazine “how-to” columnist Andie (Kate Hudson) is seen chafing at writing dumb copy she believes is below her ambitions as political journalist, while ad exec Ben (Matthew McConaughey) is driven to break out of his firm’s “sneakers and beer division” and land a lucrative diamonds account.
Catalyst for Andie is the latest flubbed romance of g.f. and fellow staffer Michelle (Kathryn Hahn), a relationship smothered by the latter’s unwitting ability to sabotage things at every juncture. In an editorial meeting led by high-powered editor Lana Jong (Bebe Neuwirth), Andie picks up on column idea of methods to lose a guy in short order. In a matching section, Ben must compete with sneaky ad execs Spears (Michael Michele) and Green (Shalom Harlow), selling boss Phillip Warren (Robert Klein) on idea that he can better craft diamond ads for gals because he can win someone’s heart in 10 days.
Spears and Green (who know Andie) goose Ben on to choose the columnist as his love prey. Even before the day-by-day game proceeds, comedy’s credibility is in deep trouble. While it’s fair to question the likelihood of a jock-oriented ad guy even being interested in pitching diamonds, or that he would go after an account in such a laborious fashion, it beggars all possibility that a columnist would pose as a man-killing con artist to get her story when it’s easier (and far more realistic) to simply use her gal pal’s misadventures as research material.
The comedy goes through its paces, with Andie easily reeling in Ben with her wiles and a bit of sex and then, day by day, exhibiting one sign after another of being clingy and self-centered, doing everything from disturbing his enjoyment of the final minute of a Knicks-Kings game at Madison Square Garden and ruining his lovingly cooked home meal to moving her bathroom gear into his place. With each impossible phase, Ben puts up with it all, even begging for forgiveness for rejecting her after Andie’s especially obnoxious display at a guys’-night-out poker game.
It’s easy to sense McConaughey and Hudson wanting to toss out all of this business and get down to a nice romancer, but the script forces him to look like a witless punching bag for abuse, and it is especially cruel to Hudson, who’s forced to behave in a faux-crazed mode half the time. As a result, Hudson makes every move look like too much effort, and director Donald Petrie clearly has no good solution to the dilemma.
Final third is particularly hopeless, after a fairly warm and genuinely felt weekend interlude spent by the couple at Ben’s rowdy parents. The 10th night climaxes in an unfortunate ballroom finish, tossing together all sort of clashing ingredients. Final reconciliation on a busy Gotham bridge is of a piece with previous incredible action.
While the leads are hemmed in a box and can’t get out, a few support thesps get off some zingers, especially Neuwirth and Hahn, though not Klein, who seems oddly out of place here.
Production credits are solid, with lenser John Bailey and costumer Karen Patch showing why they’re masters of the glossy New York movie look.