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Crap actually

A review of Love Actually


The prime minister (Hugh Grant) falls in love with his lackey (Martine McCutchen) in Love Actually.
  • The prime minister (Hugh Grant) falls in love with his lackey (Martine McCutchen) in Love Actually.

Love Actually (R)
Universal Pictures

Apologists for saccharine romantic comedies will defend Love Actually as "a cute date movie." And they're right. Because if your date likes this movie, dump him or her immediately.

Trust me, in a few years it'll make a really cute story.

Isn't that a bit harsh?

Well, uhh, no. Harsh might be commandeering Tinseltown's projection booth, destroying the print and then proceeding to Universal Studios to incinerate the negative.

But why is this cute film so vile?

Because like much lite porn, Richard Curtis's directorial debut sloshes through 692 vaguely related subplots (maybe just nine) while pretending that his cardboard people and their cardboard relationships have something new to tell us about love and romance. The film's tagline is "Forget what you know about love."

Please. Remember everything; you'll need it.

For romantic comedies to work they require chemistry between the leads and a hint of substance (Annie Hall, Say Anything) or they can merely be crap-your-pants funny (There's Something About Mary). Love Actually does neither while employing desperate cinematic mechanisms -- and every breathing actor in the United Kingdom -- to pander to our lowest common emotional denominator. Which is that deep down, all of us -- even Gazette editorial writers -- are in love with the idea of falling in love. And Love Actually offers nothing if not a lovey-dovey paean to the loviest, lovey-dovey love that was ever loved.

The film's pantheon of subplots includes, but is not limited to: the perpetually befuddled Hugh Grant as the UK's Prime Minister smitten with his assistant; Alan Rickman as some sort of design professional on the verge of betraying his wife (Emma Thompson) for his secretary; and Colin Firth who, despite a language barrier, has gone gooey for his Portuguese maid (Lcia Moniz).

The message is quite simple: Take a powerful man and a subservient woman and, by gum, romance is a fait accompli. This is not to deny that power serves as an aphrodisiac, but to revel in it so recklessly is snide and, well, kinda creepy.

There are many other subplots to speak of, but the most prominent include Liam Neeson as a widowed dad with a love-struck stepson who could give McCauley Culkin competition in the repulsively-cute-child-of-the-holiday-season category, and Laura Linney whose devotion to her mentally ill brother keeps her from bonking a colleague who looks more like an underwear model than any desk-bound professional ever should.

The reason Love Actually will make more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes is that we're a nation of incurable anglophiles and women who go gooey over vulnerable Brits like Firth and Grant. And as loath as I am too admit it, Curtis delivers a few decent yuks. Not nearly enough mind you, but the prospect of Grant batting his eyelashes in 10 Downing Street is undeniably amusing -- particularly when he acts out the fantasy of British lefties by standing up to a smug American president (Billy Bob Thornton). Plus, the object of Prime Minister Grant's affection (Martine McCutcheon) is both funny, charming and -- how do I say this? -- Yuummmmmm!

With so many story lines, Love Actually takes what seems like a month to conclude. It couldn't be more predictable, nor could it contain more unearned moments. If that's not enough, you can hold your breath until another feel-good hit of the 1970s is deployed to instruct you how to feel: The answer is good.

All this could be forgiven if the laughs compensated for a paucity of substance. But they don't. However, in the spirit of the holiday season let's count our blessings because Love Actually might have been worse. It could have also starred Meg Ryan.

-- John Dicker

Tinseltown, Cinemark 16

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