A Lot Like Love review by Mike Long

If we've learned anything from the disappointing box-office results from the Summer of 2005, it's that Hollywood doesn't always know what the audience wants. In their never-ending attempts to catch many demographics, movie studios will sometimes do what is called "counter programming" -- that is they will release a film that is the polar opposite from the other films in the theaters. For example, this summer Universal released the Depression-era boxing drama Cinderella Man to compete against action films and comedies. And we see how that went. In a similar vein, filmmakers will try something similar to "counter programming" with their actors when they cast against type, giving actors the sort of roles which they haven't done before. This is (sort of) the case with the romantic-comedy A Lot Like Love.

Ashton Kutcher stars in the film as Oliver Martin, a young man who is traveling to New York to visit his brother. On the same plane is Emily Friehl (Amanda Peet), a grungy, rock 'n roll girl, who catches Oliver looking at her. So, when Oliver visits the bathroom, she follows him in. Once on the ground, Oliver attempts to strike up a conversation with Emily, but she isn't interested, choosing to keep their encounter mysterious. However, they later run into each other and actually talk. Oliver has recently finished school and is embarking on his five year plan where he will become successful in business, buy a house, and then find a wife. The much more impulsive Emily rejects this idea and thinks that Oliver's life won't go as he plans. Oliver gives Emily his parent's phone number and tells him to get in touch with him in five years to see that he will fulfill his plan. Emily agrees and they part ways. Over the next few years, Emily and Oliver will run into each other several times, with each encounter brimming with awkward sexual tension. The pair are in relationships, but are they destined to be together?

It would be very easy to call A Lot Like Love a simpler version of When Harry Met Sally... for a younger generation and that would actually be very accurate. The story structure is very similar, as we get two strangers who meet on a trip and learn that they are polar opposites. Then, they continue to meet again over the years, and these meetings typically follow failed relationships. The only difference here is that the characters are younger and that the romance occurs much sooner. So, A Lot Like Love is certainly derivative, but it's picked a good film to mimic, as this sort of story can be quite intriguing to the audience. Essentially, if we like the two characters, we will be drawn into the film to see if they eventually find true love together. This is where A Lot Like Love makes a fatal mistake. It's not that Oliver and Emily aren't likable, but throughout the film we learn so very little about them. As When Harry Met Sally... progressed we discovered more and more about the characters. However, A Lot Like Love never scratches below the surface of Oliver and Emily. Therefore, the audience may want to know that outcome, but few will truly care what happens.

The fact that the two main characters in the film remain enigmatic doesn't mean that they aren't fun to watch, and much of that is due to Kutcher and Peet playing roles that are somewhat different from those we've seen in the past. Kutcher has career of playing incredibly goofy characters and comes off as somewhat cocky on his MTV show Punked. Yet, Oliver is a much more down-to-Earth person who is seems very uncomfortable in his own skin. Kutcher gives Oliver a much-needed innocence but backs off on the hyperactivity. Similarly, Peet is known for playing brash "sex kitten" type roles, but Emily is a damaged character (although we never really learn why) who goes from hiding behind a rough exterior to hiding behind bad boyfriends. While Peet still laughs at herself way too much she also tones things down from her normal performances and makes Emily a vulnerable, complicated, and often sweet character. Of course, both Kutcher and Peet are overshadowed by Ty Giordano, who plays Oliver's brother and steals every scene that in which he appears and also delivers the movie's only laugh-out-loud line.

A Lot Like Love turns out to be a lot like When Harry Met Sally.... The movie features refreshing performances from Kutcher and Peet and the structure makes the movie interesting, but you will feel that you've seen it all before.

A Lot Like Love flies onto DVD courtesy of Touchstone Home Entertainment. The movie is coming to DVD in two separate versions, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image looks pretty good, which isn't surprising given the fact that the film was in theaters only a few months ago. The picture is sharp and clear for the most part, showing only a small amount of grain. The image is well-balanced, never appearing overly dark or bright. There are no major problems from artifacting or edge-enhancement. The DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and very nice musical reproduction. (The film is filled with a nice array of pop and rock tunes.) There are some nice surround sound moments, mostly from crowd or street noise, but not much in the way of subwoofer action.

The A Lot Like Love DVD contains a few extras. We start with an audio commentary from director Nigel Cole, producer Armyan Bernstein, and producer Kevin Messick. This is an entertaining chat, as the trio discuss the casting of the film, the location, the film's production, and what it was like to endure the paparazzi who were constantly trailing Ashton Kutcher. The DVD contains 5 "Deleted Scenes" which run 8 minutes. One of these scenes is quite good, as it offers information about Oliver's business ventures which aren't contained in the finished film. The extras are rounded out by a "Blooper Reel" and a music video from the band Aqualung for the song "Brighter Than Sunshine".

6 out of 10 Jackasses

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