Paul Morse (Jason Lee) has this terrible problem. He's all set to marry the take-charge, raven-haired beauty Karen (Selma Blair), but late in the game finds himself also falling for her free-spirited blond cousin, Becky (Julia Stiles). Gee, what's a guy to do?
It's always nice to see a movie premise that average, ordinary moviegoers can relate to, ain't it? High concept aside, in real life, both ladies would probably ditch the guy for keeping it in the family anyway. One also has to wonder why, as a general principle, guys in movies so often end up engaged to people they really don't know and aren't right for. Oh, right -- that's how Hollywood marriages are.
That said, we should probably back up and elaborate on the premise of A Guy Thing. Paul's set to marry Karen, even though she makes him wear ugly sweaters and he works for her dad (James Brolin) at a company that publishes hunting magazines. At his own bachelor party, however, Paul pretends not to be the groom for reasons too silly to get into here, imbibes amply, and awakens the next morning with beautiful tiki dancer Becky in bed beside him.
Becky explains that nothing actually happened. Paul assumes he'll never see her again. Only two things make that an impossibility: the fact that Becky is a serial job-hopper (thus likely to pop up in random professions all over town), and that she's the bride's cousin. If all that seems a tad coincidental, we should also add that photos later show up apparently revealing Paul and Becky having sex, even though they supposedly didn't. It's really best not to get too analytical here, since the screenwriters -- all four of them -- clearly didn't either.
Therein lies A Guy Thing's central weakness. It doesn't lack for ideas, but rather has too many of them, and none are well thought-out. The heart of the premise is a classic screwball theme that's worked for years -- uptight guy marrying uptight girl meets free spirit and loosens up -- but the twists just pile on, and most are half-assed. The running joke that gives the movie its title is the premise that every guy in the city is willing to cover for any other guy -- even a stranger -- when he lies to his girlfriend about cheating. It's an amusing joke in several different contexts, but isn't made use of to the degree that it could have been.
Yet somewhere in there is much to like -- mostly the actors, who seem truly committed to the scattershot material. Shawn Hatosy is often cast as the best friend, but he's rarely this good. Lee is surprisingly convincing as a pushover, given his history of playing unrestrained id in Kevin Smith's "Askewniverse." Snickers pitchman Thomas Lennon brings his own distinct vibe as Paul's brother, who's obsessed with Karen, while Jackie Burroughs (The Grey Fox) takes the stereotype of the drinkin'-and-cussin' elderly relative in new directions. And Stiles is at her best since she debuted in 10 Things I Hate About You -- college seems to have given her more personality, or maybe it was those journeys to the darker side in The Business of Strangers and The Bourne Identity. For once, we can understand why someone would find more than just her looks appealing.