A first feature effort for director Jason Naumann and several collaborators, “Coyote County Loser” is a stab at good clean fun that only gets the clean part right. Bland romantic comedy about a city slicker wooing a resistant small-town gal covers battle-of-the-sexes terrain once trod by Tracy and Hepburn — but they had better dialogue, situations and sidekicks. Wholesome but wholly formulaic indie has been playing one regional-market theater at a time since late March, tubthumped by filmmaker p.a.’s; prospects may brighten in ancillary.
Major-market radio personality Jack Proctor “the Love Doctor” (Beau Clark) is driving through the Southwest en route to an expected lucrative new gig in L.A. when he stops in podunk Coyote County. (Pic was mostly shot in Roswell, N.M., famously the site of alleged space alien visitations.) There he befriends everybody save local on-air counselor Lauren Hartford (Nikki Boyer), whose “Hart Smart” show he ridicules for dispensing impossibly high-minded relationship advice. Her big thing is advocacy of an “NNCL” (Non-Negotiable Check List) in which women are to compile practical qualities (income and education level, etc.) they’ll demand before even considering a prospective partner.
This is intended to keep the list-holder safe from disappointment later on. “Chasing dreams,” Lauren advises, will only lead to heartbreak –and she knows, because, natch, she’s been hurt before. (It’s typical of the movie’s obvious yet wobbly thinking that despite much-vaunted years of counseling studies, our heroine bases all her public wisdom on a single instance of abandonment she experienced in childhood.)
Jack feels that shopping for a partner as one might a car kills the potential for “magic” to happen. When his big-city gig is put on hold, he decides to stick around, accepting an offer to temporarily host his own, rival, show on the unfortunately named station K-RAP, while goading/courting prickly Lauren. Warring over whose romantic advice is best, they commence a contest to find the county’s “biggest loser” in love. Jack swears he can turn the hapless guy into a successful pursuer of his dream girl.
Screenplay’s predictable beats include mildly quirky secondary leads (Everette Scott Ortiz, Tiffany Lynch) who mirror the principals’ awkward path to amour; a beloved oldster (K Callan) whose death reminds all to seize the moment; a last-minute on-air plea leading to final clinch; et al.
Though perfs and packaging are competent enough, “Coyote County Loser” plays it so safe it’s almost characterless. Making a contemporary romantic comedy sans raunch or cynicism is a laudable goal. But as Hollywood of yore once routinely proved, that needn’t mean sacrificing wit, originality and style for connect-the-dots stereotypes, schmaltz and tepid humor. The result is undemanding fare of an instantly forgettable stripe that, like its heroine, is resourceful in practical terms (handily stretching modest production coin) but over-armed against spontaneity and inspiration.