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With: Renee Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, David Hyde Pierce, Sarah Paulson, Tony Randall, Jeri Ryan, Melissa George, Ivana Milicevic
Written by: Eve Ahlert, Dennis Drake
Directed by: Peyton Reed
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sexual humor and dialogue
Running Time: 101
Date: 05/09/2003

Down with Love (2003)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Rock Bottom

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Between 1959 and 1964, Rock Hudson and Doris Day made three films together, Pillow Talk, Lover Come Back and Send Me No Flowers. They were safe, studio affairs decorated with cotton candy colors and shot mostly in Cinemascope; and they have not aged well. Hudson comes across as a poor man's Cary Grant and Day now looks like a husband-hunting goody-goody.

But at the time, Day represented a new generation of career women who tried to balance careers with marriage and family, and to many women that's still an issue. The new film Down with Love pays homage to the Hudson/Day films by re-creating their formula and running its heroine, Barbara Novak (Renee Zellweger) through that same ringer.

Unfortunately, Down with Love also re-creates most of the stale fluff from those films that does not work.

Barbara is a small-town Maine girl who has written a book called Down with Love that tells females how they can have casual flings with men. Part of the lesson involves eating lots of chocolate to re-create sexual euphoria.

Meanwhile, star reporter for Know Magazine, Catcher Block (Ewan McGregor), can get a hot scoop while dallying with sexy triplets at the same time. His editor Peter MacMannus (David Hyde Pierce) arranges an interview with Barbara, but Catcher keeps blowing it off in favor of trysts with airline stewardesses (one of them "Star Trek's" voluptuous Jeri Ryan).

When Catcher gets a load of the cute blonde Barbara instead of the bitter schoolmarm he's pictured, he wants a second chance. Since she won't see him anymore, he disguises himself as an aw-shucks astronaut and sets out to woo her the old-fashioned way -- without sex -- hoping to write one of his scathing exposes on her.

Director Peyton Reed (Bring It On) has fun with his crazy, swinging 60s set design and with the Cinemascope frame; he even kicks the film off with the old "Cinemascope" logo. He uses split-screen for a couple of comic sexual innuendos, but before long they start to feel like tired, tired Austin Powers jokes.

Going for ultimate authenticity, Reed also casts Hudson/Day veteran Tony Randall in a small role, and Pierce's character harkens back to the kind of sexually ambiguous role Randall usually played.

Unfortunately, most of the humor comes from someplace old and tired and the film suffers through way too many lengthy dead spots. Strangest of all, Barbara delivers a long, expository speech for some minutes without even a cut. It's funny for a little while, but it goes on too long and has the effect of deadening the momentum for the rest of the film.

Fans of the real thing will probably like this imitation, but at the same time, Down with Loveis the same kind of artless, airless studio product as the Hudson/Day films and will no doubt age just as badly.

It only makes last year's masterpiece Far from Heaven look that much better; writer/director Todd Haynes took another late 50s/early 60s film formula and used the colors and the feel of a Douglas Sirk movie to make a comment about films and about ourselves.

The only really exciting thing in Down with Love is a musical number that comes as an afterthought during the end credits with McGregor (Moulin Rouge) and Zellweger (Chicago) singing their little hearts out in a Dean Martin-esque duet; and they sound great together. With this kind of talent Reed should have paid homage to Stanley Donen or Vincente Minnelli instead.

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