Imagine a standard-issue romantic comedy drained of humor and suffused with sincerity, and you’ll know what to expect from “The Competition,” a ponderous trifle that plays very much like the cinematic equivalent of a 45 RPM record spun on a turntable set at 33 1/3. Helmer Harvey Lowry and scripter Kesley Tucker evidently intended to take a realistic and humanistic approach to the clichés and contrivances common to the sort of lightweight romps that provided gainful employment for Matthew McConaughey, Ashton Kutcher, Kate Hudson and similarly game players a decade or so ago. But the result suggests that classic “Star Trek” episode in which well-meaning inhabitants of a distant planet tried to piece back together a damaged Earthling without ever before having seen a being of his kind.
Thora Birch stars as Lauren Mauldin, a Portland, Ore., research scientist — well, OK, she researches things like creating tastier pizzas, but she’s a scientist nonetheless — who moonlights as a blogger dispensing cynical observations about the inevitability of infidelity. Specifically, she espouses what she calls the PIG (Point of Infidelity and Guilt) Theory, insisting that no one, male or female, can resist the temptation to cheat on a partner after six months in a relationship.
For reasons not entirely clear — no, strike that, for no really good reason at all — Lauren’s sister Gena (Claire Coffee), a senior partner at a high-powered law firm, strongly disapproves of Lauren’s sideline, and is aghast when she learns a publisher has made a preliminary multimillion-dollar offer for a book based on the blog. So she offers a partnership to an attorney at her firm, Calvin Chesney (Chris Klein), if he can woo her sister and thereby change her attitude about true love. Or something like that.
To his credit, Calvin is unable to sustain the subterfuge after he really does fall for Lauren, so he tells her about Gena’s role in setting them up as a couple. But, of course, in order to keep the movie longer than a 15-minuite short, further complications must arise. So Calvin and Lauren agree on a wager: If she can manage to tempt at least three of his five putatively committed friends into infidelity, he will give up his efforts to discourage her, and even write the introduction to her book. But if three of the committed friends remain true, well, she’ll just have to get over herself.
What follows is a series of interactions that are several guffaws short of a laugh riot. When they aren’t trying way too hard to amuse — for instance, when they spring a cringe-worthy sight gag about splattering mother’s milk, or play to the cheap seats by introducing an ethnic-stereotype younger lover for Lauren and Gena’s mom — the filmmakers try even harder to convince you that “The Competition” is a heartfelt paean to totally committed romantic love. Trouble is, their earnestness comes across as synthetic as the sentiments on an online greeting card. Worse, the movie is altogether shameless, and borderline repugnant, in its efforts to wring laughs from the frustration of a female supporting character who fears she may no longer be considered sexy because of physical changes after she’s become a mother. We’re supposed to laugh when evidence of her unfaithfulness is brandished. We don’t.