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Love Hurts

Buried somewhere deep inside is a perfectly likable, sitcomish romantic comedy.

With: Richard E. Grant, Carrie-Anne Moss, Johnny Pacar, Jenna Elfman, Janeane Garofalo, Camryn Manheim, Rita Rudner, Jeffrey Nordling.

There’s a perfectly likable, sitcomish romantic comedy buried somewhere deep inside Barra Grant’s indie “Love Hurts,” but it would have taken some very significant rewrites to unearth it. What’s left on the surface is an ungainly, at times cringe-worthy succession of tame, telegraphed romantic mishaps, well-intentioned if unconvincing sentimentality, and some of the least authentic teenage dialogue this side of the “Friday the 13th” franchise. Opening Friday in limited release in Los Angeles, the pic faces a steep, uphill battle.

Film toplines Richard E. Grant (no relation to the helmer) as Ben, an uptight ear, nose and throat doctor who brings to mind an alternate universe in which Jerry Lewis has been cast as the lead in “American Beauty.” The character is clearly intended to be broadly drawn, but Grant himself seems to have no idea how to play certain scenes, and so just goes for broke, furiously flailing about. As the film opens, he is left by long-suffering wife Amanda (Carrie-Anne Moss), who jets off to stay with a sassy friend (Camryn Manheim) and cavort with a Fabio-chested new boyfriend (Jeffrey Nordling).

Crushed, Ben dedicates himself to moping around the house, wailing and wearing his wife’s scarves while drinking sloe gin fizzes (the poor guy is so out of touch, he doesn’t even know middle-aged men are supposed to take to whiskey after a breakup). His heartthrob son, Justin (Johnny Pacar) — surrounded at all times by a trio of buddies who may well have been extras on “Degrassi” — decides to take Dad under his wing, explaining that in order to “get back into the big leagues” and win back his wife, he’ll have to spend “some time in the minors,” i.e., shtupping a string of disposable, less attractive women.

This premise — oversexed teenager helps his nebbish father get laid — could be winningly creepy in the right hands, but here it just represents the shortest route to a makeover sequence, with a new suit and a Brian Grazer-esque haircut transforming Ben from a simpering pile of goo into an instant ladies’ man. Jenna Elfman and Janeane Garofalo have thankless roles as two of his conquests (considering the shallowness of the female parts here, it comes as something of a surprise that the film was written and directed by a woman).

The surest indication that the script needed major revamping is the proliferation of comedic loose ends; punchlines seem to arrive with no setups, and extensive comic architecture is constructed and then left abandoned. The pic includes sequences of both an overly amorous dog and an uptight adult accidentally ingesting marijuana-infused baked goods — essentially the two nuclear options of slapstick comedy — yet forgets to even make jokes about them. The dog humps Ben’s leg, then stops; the middle-aged square gets briefly stoned, then goes home quietly. End scene.

On a craft level, the film looks and sounds just fine for its modest ambitions and budget.

Love Hurts

Production: A Lantern Lane release of a Pageant Productions production. Produced by Brian Reilly. Executive producer, Laura Hopper. Co-producer, Sara Mattison. Directed, written by Barra Grant.

Crew: Camera (color), Alan Caso; editor, Roger Bondelli; music, Mark Adler; music supervisor, Frankie Pine; production designer, Dina Lipton; art director, Natalie Richards; costume designer, Johanna Argan; sound, Steve Morantz; supervising sound editor, John Chalfont; casting, Emily Schweber. Reviewed at Aero Theater, Santa Monica, Nov. 9, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 94 MIN.

With: With: Richard E. Grant, Carrie-Anne Moss, Johnny Pacar, Jenna Elfman, Janeane Garofalo, Camryn Manheim, Rita Rudner, Jeffrey Nordling.

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