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A Guy Thing

Remember the days when nobody worried about getting an R rating and just went ahead and made funny movies? Remember when sex comedies were sex comedies, and chick flicks were chick flicks, and never the twain should meet? Okay, maybe longing for those days just makes me old. Or maybe it's just a critic thing.

What it's not is A Guy Thing.

Director Chris Koch has thrown together a likeable cast and an amusing premise. But whether by studio interference or his own desire for marketability, any bite this movie might have had has been taken away. Yes, this results in the coveted PG-13, but we're left with a freshly neutered dog of a movie. It wants to be playful, but all it can really do is lie around and think of better times.

Part of the problem does lie with its awkward melding of genres. A Guy Thing tries to look at a chick flick situation through male eyes. To do it, it tries to set up that men have an unspoken instinctive agreement to protect each other from getting found out by women. But so as not to turn off the female audience, the movie also goes to great lengths to prove that Paul (Jason Lee) is not that kind of guy. Except he is, and then he isn't. And then maybe, just maybe, he is again.

We meet Paul at his bachelor party. In just one week, he will marry Karen (Selma Blair), the perfect woman according to his brother Peter (Thomas Lennon).

Superguy Paul doesn't like the ritual of the bachelor party, especially the part about strippers (in deference to women in the audience, they're really just bad go-go dancers). To take the attention off of himself, he trades "groom" hats with best man Jim (Shawn Hatosy) so that Paul can fade into the background.

Except that one first-time dancer, Becky (Julia Stiles), notices him and the next thing you know, he's bought her a drink and awakened the next morning with her naked in his bed. What a guy, that Paul. If you've spotted the strange dichotomy of a guy shunning the cheap sexuality of a bachelor party only to be the one who "gets some," ignore it. It's a guy thing.

As it turns out, though, the two didn't actually do anything, and a good thing, too, because Becky is Karen's cousin. Such a close cousin, in fact, that she's at every family gathering that week in preparation for the wedding, but not close enough to have ever met before. As for the being in bed naked part, that's really just a plot complication so that we can have hijinks surrounding her missing underwear and think that they had sex. Oops. I've spoiled the surprise.

A slight subplot pops up with Becky's ex-boyfriend, a psycho cop who still has an obsession with her, though he may have cheated on her. It's never quite clear, though Paul makes a reference to his cheating late in the film, so maybe it will be clarified on DVD. Lochlyn Munro plays the cop with such jarring scene-chewing that it makes one long for the subtlety of Gary Busey. Or even Jake Busey.

Though grounded in the real world of Seattle, A Guy Thing wants to have touches of whimsy which would make the ex-boyfriend seem just part of the overall feel. Paul seems to be easily swept up into his own imagination. His parents are unexpected (and thankfully underplayed) horrors, but not really. And little random moments of lunacy threaten to burst forth from time to time.

But Koch doesn't have the touch for it, odd because he has worked on Malcolm In The Middle. Again, I'll blame editing, which is pretty ham-handed. Many jokes get set-ups, and then don't follow through to punchlines. Paul's imagination sequences are all believable (death for the tone trying to survive here), getting longer and more mundane each time they happen. They're supposed to surprise the audience into laughing, but they just don't work.

At one point, the script even trots out the old gag of stuffy parents getting stoned. As old as the joke is, the audience looks forward to seeing it played out and gets nothing. We see Karen's parents loosen up a bit, but nothing outrageous.

The worst consequence occurs completely offscreen, as the minister becomes too ill to perform the wedding. But that's okay, because that enables another joke that the audience didn't see coming an hour before, only if they stepped out for a moment to take a phone call. At least the truly great stand-up Larry Miller almost manages to salvage it.

One joke does work well, and that stems from the film's title. The first time it's used comes as a surprise punch to an otherwise ridiculous scene, provoking a huge laugh. But it also sets up a running gag that the movie forgets to run with. I won't spoil it here, just in case you do decide to catch this movie on cable.

And on cable it might be worth it. Everybody struggles to make this movie work. Jason Lee really is a comic actor of leading man quality, but outside of Kevin Smith's films, he hasn't found the project to prove it. (And to give props to Koch, this is one of the two non-Smith movies in which Lee doesn't give a slightly stilted performance -- Almost Famous being the other.) Stiles looks uncomfortable playing the free spirited Becky, but she's such an intense actress that she gives it all she can.

All the supporting cast (except for Munro) try to be funny and real, with a standout being James Brolin as Karen's wealthy father. Married to one of the most notorious liberals in Hollywood (Barbra Streisand), Brolin makes one amusing ultra-conservative, a publisher of hunting magazines and good friend of President Bush.

As a date film, which is its intent, A Guy Thing will allow you to sit quietly in the dark for 101 minutes. If that's your thing, go for it.

What's it worth? $3.50

Derek McCaw

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