Astaire and Rogers. Hepburn and Tracy. Heck, Ball and Arnaz, Houston and Washington, or Vardalos and Corbett. Over the decades, Hollywood has proved that its romantic comedies needn't suck. But alas, they often do -- as is the case with How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. Clearly, bigwig co-producers Robert Evans (the remake of The Out-of-Towners) and Lynda Obst (Someone Like You) instructed director Donald Petrie (Miss Congeniality) to supply investors with lucrative, cockle-warming "timelessness" -- but only a sad future will keep this embarrassing scrapheap in the public eye.
The setup is an industrial-strength emetic, featuring relentlessly cutesy peeks into the parallel worlds of stupid women's publishing (attended by techno Muzak for the ladies) and stupid men's advertising (set to a Bo Diddley rip-off to appease shit-kickin' fellahs). Inhabiting the former is fledgling "How-to" columnist Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson), a saucy piece writing a saucy piece about . . . well . . . the movie's title. Her quarry, also a strutting, alliterative cliché, is Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey), a cocky ad honcho who -- for reasons too retarded to explain -- needs to coax a woman to fall in love with him within 10 days, so he can become point-person for the world's biggest diamond company. Call it How to Lose an Intelligent Audience in 10 Minutes.
If you stay seated, it's your problem. You'll be subjected to a vulgar campaign to sell Hudson straight down your unsuspecting throat. While strong work in About Adam and Almost Famous sets her apart from most American movie princesses who've supposedly "earned" their fame (and frequently steal work from British actresses), this slop's no shining moment. Rather, as she squeaks and chirps like a trained bird, one merely recalls how amusing her mother Goldie Hawn could be by comparison. Conjure up Hawn's sly guy Chevy Chase, in contrast to vacuous McConaughey, and that quick refund and trek to the video store will gain pressing urgency.
As our zany lovers play their adorable game -- Andie striving to irritate in every girlie way possible, Ben striving inexplicably to woo -- we receive tiny life-rafts of dry humor from his co-workers (Thomas Lennon and Adam Goldberg), which are swiftly sunk by hers (Kathryn Hahn and Anne Parisse). Pressure builds from the expectations of his boss (Robert Klein) and hers (Bebe Neuwirth), as we watch the wannabe cobra-and-mongoose duo traipse through an ill-advised screening of Sleepless in Seattle, a "moving" visit to his kinfolk (complete with fart gag), and a genuinely horrifying duet of Carly Simon's "You're So Vain." It's all awful, but what can you expect from a couple so shallow that their entire value system is built upon Knicks tickets?
The biggest challenge to viewing 10 Days is deciding whether to think of its lead characters as "despicable swine" or "vile dung-weasels." In either case, producer Obst's nearsightedness is shocking. This woman packaged The Fisher King, a chunk of enduring genius filled with oddball romance and rich humanity, featuring grisly death descending upon a "chic, yuppie watering hole." How times have changed! Now she's peddling the expendable extras from that watering hole, while we're force-fed two hours of pretending that they're human. If this were black (as in grim) comedy, all would be well, but David Newman's repugnantly sentimental score and cinematographer John Bailey's glitzy Big Apple (half shot in Toronto, of course) emphasize the movie's attempted sincerity and utter failure.
Adding significantly to the discomfort, this project, adapted by Kristen Buckley, Brian Regan, and Burr Steers from a doodly little self-help book, really believes it's a wry farce with irony to burn. If you get stuck in the chair, judge for yourself. When they recycle Janeane Garofalo's puke line from The Truth About Cats & Dogs, with Andie's dorky friend muttering, "You could barf all over him, and he'd say, 'Do it again,'" is this witty? When they sketch Andie like Britney Spears in Crossroads, as a surprisingly "smart" girl with "integrity," is this fresh? When they prompt their heroine to present her beau with a frilly pink toilet, does this sum up the whole movie?
Oh, let's throw down. 10 Days is utterly implausible, since even the toughest hussy would do a 180 on her pointy little heel if her dumb hunk were inconsiderate enough to listen to UB40. Further butchering credibility, production designer Therese DePrez creates for Ben not a man's apartment, but a female fantasy of a man's apartment (hint, honey: No straight single man has a pedestal sink). Even Andie's abrupt shift to "vegetarianism" (immediately after wolfing down lobster) is hijacked directly from Naomi Watts's hypocrisy in David Baer's hilarious and informative short film, "Never Date an Actress." All in all, the only lesson here is how to irritate. This is a stupid movie for stupid people. If you're a stupid person, knock yourself out.