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Love Stinks 

Can Indiana Jones rescue romantic comedies?

For anyone who loves romantic comedies, the deterioration of the genre in recent years has been heartbreaking. While they may not be an endangered species just yet, it's definitely starting to feel that way. 

In a culture where couples hook up instead of date and CGI- and 3-D-driven comic-book movies make up the bread and butter of virtually every major studio's production slate, what chance do classy, smart, old-style romantic comedies (think Clark Gable and Carole Lombard, Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan) have of being greenlit by bottom-line-obsessed Hollywood executives? What's in it for them?

Sure, they may throw a few crumbs every year to increasingly disenfranchised female audiences by teaming Katherine Heigl (today's designated romantic-comedy It Girl) with Gerard Butler, Josh Duhamel, or Ashton Kutcher for variety's sake.

But on the evidence of Heigl's recent movies, they're clearly not interested in putting her in good romantic comedies — the sort of elegantly written bon-bons featuring knockout chemistry between two appealing leads that you can believe are truly destined for each other. The Ugly Truth? More like The Butt-Ugly Truth. Killers? Deadly. Life As We Know It? Whose life was that supposed to be anyway?

Because of this dire landscape, any tiny sign of hope glimmering on the multiplex horizon fills hopeless romantics with — possibly unreasonable, probably unrequited — glee.

The latest movie for lovers in this anguished genre is the glossy TV-newsroom comedy Morning Glory, which opens on Friday. It certainly has an illustrious pedigree. Director Roger Michell helmed one of the best modern romantic comedies, 1999's Notting Hill, with Hall of Fame romantic-comedy stars Julia Roberts and Hugh Grant, as well as the best-ever Jane Austen adaptation, 1995's Persuasion.

Likewise, screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna penned the delicious workplace romp The Devil Wears Prada and Heigl's only decent post-Knocked Up romantic comedy, 27 Dresses.

And the cast is just as sterling, combining national treasures — and genre ringers — Diane Keaton and Harrison Ford with gifted, immensely charming rookies like Rachel McAdams and Patrick Wilson. With these kinds of impressive stats, it's no wonder that romantic-comedy junkies have been looking forward to Morning Glory. 

During Hollywood's Golden Age, studios routinely served moviegoers with a veritable smorgasbord of genres all year long. Musicals, tear-jerking melodramas, westerns, war movies, monster mashes, gangster/crime dramas, and, yes, romantic comedies were all staples of a regular movie lover's diet.

Sadly, that's not the case anymore. In the elusive, self-defeating search to find new franchise commodities, boys-and-toys flicks have superseded virtually every other type of movie in our increasingly homogenized multiplex universe.

It would be naive to think that Morning Glory — or veteran romantic-comedy auteur James L. Brooks' upcoming How Do You Know with Reese Witherspoon trading barbs and sparks with Owen Wilson and Paul Rudd — will kick-start a renaissance if it lives up to expectations. But it's nice to know that not everyone is playing by today's cookie-cutter rules and that not everyone thinks chasing the next Transformers or Harry Potter is the essence of moviemaking in 2010.   

Send feedback to film@clevescene.com

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