When Tad Hamilton, a Hollywood heartthrob with a conscience, protests his love for Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth), a cashier at a Piggly Wiggly grocery in a West Virginia town, she says that he loves only the idea of her -- real love is about specifics. Unfortunately, so is real filmmaking.
Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, a flimsy, genial romp peopled with early-twentysomethings and targeted at teens and young adults, tells the light-romantic and even more lightly comic tale of what happens after Rosalee enters the title contest. Tad's agent and manager (Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes) have designed "Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!" merely to sanitize their client's bad-boy image, but Rosalee inspires him to clean up his whole act.
Except for Topher Grace's career-making turn as Peter Monash, Rosalee's oldest male friend and Piggly Wiggly's manager -- and Rosalee's undeclared true lover -- the movie gently follows a country-mouse/city-rat formula without supplying enough details to make it fresh or memorable. Luckily, an attractive cast and the smattering of clever lines in Victor Levin's script leave an audience cheerful if not entirely satisfied.
Generally, director Robert Luketic's notion of satiric comedy (he also directed the first Legally Blonde movie) consists of taking cliches to extremes. So when he and writer Levin met, their eyes must have rolled around and clicked into position like the symbols in a one-armed bandit. Their funniest idea is to give Lane's and Hayes' characters the exact same name: Richard Levy. Agent Levy sums up the movie's point of view when he warns Tad (Josh Duhamel) that a values issue separates him from Rosalee: She has them.
No one can deliver a withering put-down with more ferocious lilt than Lane. And Bosworth is equally adept at coming out with smiley-faced down-home exclamations, such as "Shake-a-doo!"
But not even this movie's meager, carefully controlled action can sustain such a stark contrast between L.A. jadedness and W.Va. innocence. It becomes clear that Rosalee is an anomaly even in the secluded hamlet called Frazier's Bottom. She's not wise to the male come-ons that every man in town admits he's tried. Her best female friend (Ginnifer Goodwin) and her Internet-surfing dad (Gary Cole) are savvier about (respectively) the erotic and financial activities of show biz.
Grace's lovelorn boss, Peter, has plans to transfer to a Piggly Wiggly in Richmond and attend college there. But bright, bubbly Rosalee appears content to be a grocery clerk. Her unruffled serenity makes no more sense than her inability to read the emotions of a man she's gone to school with or worked with all her life.
Rosalee idealizes Tad -- and Duhamel is deft at conveying Tad's delight that she makes too much of him. But the movie idealizes Rosalee. It's no mean feat to embody purity in its first sexual bloom, but Bosworth could have used a few more brush- strokes. In a charming speech, Peter lovingly and poetically lists her attributes for Tad, including the six different smiles that animate her face when she thinks something is funny or is merely thinking fondly of her friends. Too bad Bosworth doesn't get the chance to flash the full half-dozen in the movie.
Still, as Peter, Grace pulls off one coup after another. Playing a reedy, bespectacled smart guy with an unpracticed gift for romantic devotion, he stops the show and then makes sense of it. Rosalee may grow tongue-tied around Tad; Peter puts up verbal smokescreens between Rosalee and himself, waiting until it's too late to tell her his college plans and declare his love for her.
Rather than grow frustrated with him, we root for him, because Grace brings Peter a core of knotted feelings that vibrate through his curlicue line-readings. He's both funny and touching -- a master of longing. He makes us see Bosworth's golden girl through his eyes, and that makes Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! a winsome date movie.
Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!
Starring Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace and Josh Duhamel
Directed by Robert Luketic
Released by DreamWorks
Time 95 minutes
Sun Score **1/2