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Love and Other Disasters

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Richard Curtis should be tickled. The manicured depiction of London as the cosmopolitan, romantic playground of the 2000s, which reached gratingly artificial heights in "Love Actually," is aped with more calculation than inspiration in Alek Keshishian's "Love and Other Disasters."

With:
Jacks - Brittany Murphy Paolo - Santiago Cabrera Peter - Matthew Rhys Talullah - Catherine Tate James - Elliot Cowan Finlay - Jamie Sives Felicity - Stephanie Beacham Therapist - Dawn French

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Richard Curtis should be tickled. The manicured depiction of London as the cosmopolitan, romantic playground of the 2000s, which reached gratingly artificial heights in “Love Actually,” is aped with more calculation than inspiration in Alek Keshishian’s “Love and Other Disasters.” As thoroughly generic as its title, the comedy genuflects repeatedly to “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” but it’s more of a wannabe “Sex and the City” than anything else. With Brittany Murphy busily channeling Holly/Carrie, surrounded by low-salaried, mostly low-charisma co-stars, this wanly conceived effort looks an unlikely bet for significant bigscreen dates.

Zipping around London in a silver Mini Cooper, with flawlessly ironed hair and an endless supply of hot lingerie, smart heels and sexy little dresses, Murphy plays Emily Jackson, known as Jacks. Her job as an assistant at British Vogue is just one similarity to this summer’s “The Devil Wears Prada.” But subtract the distinguishing element of Meryl Streep’s icily imperious Miranda from that comedy and you have an idea of this toothless offering.

While Jacks is happy enough to continue sleeping with James (Elliot Cowan) well after their supposed breakup, she keeps the possibility of real love at arm’s length. Likewise her gay roommate and best friend Peter (Matthew Rhys), a struggling screenwriter. Adding to the general aura of romantic dysfunction are batty poetess Talullah (Catherine Tate) and bereaved gallery owner Finlay (Jamie Sives).

Keshishian’s script is sloppy in both setting up and sustaining the sexual identity confusion that fuels the comic engine. This hinges on tasty Argentine photographer’s assistant Paolo (Santiago Cabrera), whom Jacks mistakenly thinks is gay, despite such giveaways as his disdain for the fashion world and passion for gritty photo-reportage.

Looking like carbs are now a distant memory, Murphy does her best to amp up the daffy charm. But despite the odd amusing bit of banter as the characters flit around London hipster haunts, an air of fatigue and familiarity hangs heavy over the proceedings. Keshishian’s visual style is as anonymous and lacking in effervescence as his sense of comedy.

The cast works overtime at being oh-so-droll, and the effort shows. Only Rhys seems entirely comfortable with the material, his relaxed, unforced manner making Peter the most likable figure onscreen. Cabrera does soulful and sexy well enough, but the chemistry between him and Murphy never really sparks.

A handful of star cameos provide momentary distractions: Dawn French appears as Peter’s therapist in a sitcommy routine; Michael Lerner pops up as a bullish movie producer, echoing his “Barton Fink” role (Keshishian’s constant cine-references are self-congratulatory and stale); and Gwyneth Paltrow and Orlando Bloom are roped into a ho-hum final-act reveal that wouldn’t make the first draft of an “Entourage” script.

Love and Other Disasters

France-U.K.

Production: A Europa Corp. (Paris), Skyline (London) co-production in association with Ruby Films, with participation of Canal Plus. Produced by Alek Keshishian, Alison Owen, Virginie Silla Besson. Executive producers, Luc Besson, David Fincher. Directed, written by Alek Keshishian.

Crew: Camera (color), Pierre Morel; editor, Nick Arthurs; music, Alexandre Azaria; production designer, Alice Normington; art director, Steve Carter; set decorator, Barbara Herman-Skelding; costume designer, Michele Clapton; sound (DTS/Dolby Digital), Simon Hayes; assistant director, Matthew Penry-Davey; casting, Kate Dowd. Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Special Presentation), Sept. 9, 2006. Running time: 91 MIN.

With: Jacks - Brittany Murphy Paolo - Santiago Cabrera Peter - Matthew Rhys Talullah - Catherine Tate James - Elliot Cowan Finlay - Jamie Sives Felicity - Stephanie Beacham Therapist - Dawn FrenchWith: Dawn French, Michael Lerner, Gwyneth Paltrow, Orlando Bloom.

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