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IN SHORT: Only for teengirls. [Rated PG-13 for Sexual Content, Some Drug References and Language. 95 minutes]
A couple of weeks ago we greatly angered our beloved niece, now thirteen, by saying bad things about Mandy Moore movies, the not-screened-for-the-press Chasing Liberty in particular. Now, for her enjoyment -- if her parents don't object to a couple of make-out scenes of an intensity that Ms. Moore would probably never agree to do -- comes Win A Date With Tad Hamilton, with a more competent actress in the starring role. WADWTH is, otherwise, a film of interest only to budding teens though it does throw in Nathan Lane, much funnier than his material, and teevee star Sean Hayes, striving hard not to do a repeat of his Will and Grace character, for us grownups. We'll come back to them later.
On one of those really dark roads that ring LA, movie superstar Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel) is busy drinking and driving and smoking and groping some generic supermodel type, all the while unaware of the National Enquirer paparazzi cameras recording his every gulp and swerve and suck and squeeze. When you-know-what hits the fan of the front page, his ace backup team of manager Richard Levy (Hayes) and agent Richard Levy (Lane) -- that's not a typo, it's a weak joke in the script -- springs into action to control the damage to the star's Middle-of-the-Road All-American image. That means a contest awarding a trip to LA and a date with the superstar. The winner is, all together now, as opposite to Hamilton as opposite can be. She's Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth), as fresh scrubbed as you can in a 22-ish boxer-check out girl at the local Piggly Wiggly in Frazier's Bottom, West Virginia. Rosalee also happens to be the unrequited love of Piggly Wiggly manager Peter Monash (Topher Grace) who is left to fume as the object of his desire jets off to LA for her Ultimate Date. Pete does insist that Rosalee to "guard her carnal treasure" which is about as close to revealing that, uh, adults know. Kidlets into the makeout stage of life figure "it" out though it's placement in the script is as out of place as you can get. We have family in West Virginia. Being country grown doesn't make you talk in bad metaphors but it may give you a femme friend like Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) who can quote Bad Romance Novels verbatim but that's mere comic relief.
Said date goes by in a blur which is a good thing since it's only relevance to the real story is that, upon her return to hometown Frazier's Bottom, Peter is motivated to voice his previously unvoiced adoration. Wouldn't you know it, at the very moment his knee starts to flex, a Like-struck Movie Star ruins The Moment.
Tad Hamilton has no unexpressed ulterior motive. He was, he says, so taken with Ro's goodness and naturalness that he wants to know more of life in the real country West of Virginny so he can shake off his LA phoniness and rediscover his humanity. This will hopefully lead to bigger movies, including one off camera potential starrer by a director named Jimmy Eng (?) that's a plot point in the making. In the meantime, Hamilton has oodles of dialog he can pick from for great seduction lines -- Ro's a fan and isn't fooled by 'em, and our brainpans were working overtime to try and recall which film(s) in the last few years did the exact same shtick. We toss the question to the floor as Win A Date With Tad Hamilton becomes as much about Pete's desperate attempt to win Ro's attention as it is her reaction to being courted by a real life movie star. The film tries its best to generate one comic explosion after another but only manages a few. Perhaps Ro's father (Gary Cole) puts it best when he tells Pete, that he blew twenty years of opportunity. Pete shouldn't worry. The local barkeep (Kathryn Hahn) is more than willing to step into the love gap. You'll figure that route from the lady's introduction. All the subplots are stock bits, all strung out by the rule book and all saved by the decision not to take the expected directions.
As implausible as the main story may sound, it isn't impossible. Nobodies in the entertainment business occasionally hook into the inner circle -- we managed it twice and we're about as nobody as you can get (and, no, we're not telling). Win A Date With Tad Hamilton managed to hit each obvious plot point in a manner off-kilter enough to keep us conscious. The young stars are akin to cardboard cut outs. All screen excitement comes from Nathan Lane and Topher Grace. Sean Hayes is doomed by the broad strokes of Will and Grace. There's little in his actor's utility belt to give him more comedic material to work with. His written role is one of the few times that the film should've just said "Yeah, do Jack" and left us to familiar shtick.
But, he, we're an old fart. The interesting elements of this movie are not the main romance attempting to play out on screen but the superior supporting cast.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Win a Date with Tad Hamilton, he would have paid . . .
Rent. Parental units be advised, see we see too many lugging dingle digits into screenings like this one, that the PG-13 is well earned. If you haven't had "the talk" with your kids and/or want to believe that they haven't entered the heavy makeout stage and should stay that way, this isn't a film for you to approve of.
Then again, teens are always more grown up than us old folk want to believe.
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