There comes a point in “Some Kind of Beautiful” when a boy, his father and his grandfather stand together on a pier, unzip their flies and proudly urinate into the Pacific Ocean — a scene of intergenerational bonding that Salma Hayek watches from afar with an affectionate “Aww, isn’t that sweet” look on her face. It’s a wretched moment for any actress to have to play, though it’s certainly preferable to the one in which Hayek imitates a series of noisy, grunting male orgasms in front of two prim school administrators, whose expressions of withering unamusement will likely be matched by the audience’s own. From first frame to last, “Some Kind of Beautiful” is some kind of hideous, a perfect storm of romantic-comedy awfulness that seems to set the ailing genre back decades with the sheer force of its ineptitude. Commercially and artistically, this Lionsgate atrocity is pretty much pissing in the wind.
Brosnan plays Richard Haig, a Cambridge literature professor who specializes in the Romantic poets, and who has an insatiable appetite for booze and beautiful women. He’s currently sleeping with one of his students, Kate (Jessica Alba), though he tries to do right by her when she announces she’s pregnant. The two move to Southern California — specifically, to a magnificent Spanish-style villa in Malibu that no one onscreen should be able to legitimately afford — but their marriage is short-lived, as Kate inexplicably falls for some guy named Brian (Ben McKenzie). Richard stays on in the poolhouse so he can continue to be involved in his son’s life, but he’s clearly a bloke in need of redemption: With lousy job prospects and his green card about to expire, he’s facing possible deportation back to the U.K. Along comes Kate’s beautiful older sister, Olivia (Hayek), who has never been a fan of her hard-drinking, heavy-flirting brother-in-law, but who’s startled to find herself developing feelings for him. Watching grown men pee in public will apparently do that to you.
Directed by Tom Vaughan (who didn’t exactly cover himself in glory with his 2008 romantic comedy “What Happens in Vegas”), Matthew Newman’s screenplay patches together so many banal conventions and moronic stereotypes that it practically begs to be taught in classes as an example of how not to write a comedy for the screen. There is, for starters, the foul-mouthed old grandpa (Malcolm McDowell, dreadful) who’s treated as a source of curmudgeonly comedy and forced pathos; the cloying use of a cute kid to give the movie a sentimental boost whenever the soundtrack isn’t deemed sugary enough; the strained attempt to milk comedy from nonexistent Anglo-American tensions, all mimicked accents and mangled Britishisms; the leering sexism that paints Richard as a lovable Lothario but Kate as a one-dimensional slut; the generic-to-the-point-of-meaningless title, changed from the rather livelier “How to Make Love Like an Englishman”; the subplot involving a greasy Mexican attorney and a south-of-the-border immigration scheme that might have been offensive if it weren’t so damn uninspired.
The two lead actors are as appealing and attractive a duo as you could want to anchor a romantic comedy, but they’re grievously ill served here. Even Brosnan’s signature charm feels a bit gun-shy under the circumstances, while Hayek can’t quite get a handle on Olivia, of whom we learn little except that she has a fiery temper and garbage taste in men, and longs to be a writer herself some day. Perhaps the most foolish aspect of “Some Kind of Beautiful” is its witless literary posturing — the way it attempts to use poetry to teach us something about nonconformist living, while positioning the reckless, womanizing Richard as some sort of latter-day Byronic hero. It was Byron, of course, who wrote, “Now hatred is by far the longest pleasure; men love in haste, but they detest at leisure.” “Some Kind of Beautiful” runs 99 minutes, but your hatred for it will last a lifetime.