Thursday, May 13, 2010

The rom-com merry-go-round spins again

Predictable as it is glossy, the rom-com Just Wright has at least two things going for it: Queen Latifah's undeniable spark and the presence of a variety of real-life NBA stars including Dwight Howard and Dwayne Wade. The movie centers on Leslie (Latifah), a physical therapist who -- thanks to a conniving friend (Paula Patton) -- lands a job helping to rehabilitate an injured NBA star, played by the rapper Common. Basketball fans immediately will recognize the movie as pure fantasy because, among other things, it imagines that the woeful New Jersey Nets are playing for an Eastern Conference title. Patton, last seen as a caring teacher in Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire, is stuck playing an annoyingly obvious character who wants to marry an NBA star so that she can live the good life. Someone might as well have stamped the words "Gold Digger" on her forehead. Latifah's Leslie is a hard-core Nets fan, but unlike Patton's character, she's "real;" i.e., she's the kind of woman guys tend to choose as friends rather than love interests. Assembled with the requisite glow by director Sanaa Hamri, Just Wright follows a predictable arc, but offsets its groan-inducing tendencies with a likable, down-to-earth performance from Latifah. Common, who evidently did his own basketball scenes, seems a trifle uncomfortable at times, and although he's seen only briefly, Orlando Magic Star Howard proves that he has big-screen charisma. Sports fans may be lured by the gaggle of NBA stars and ESPN broadcasters who appear as themselves, but I'm not sure guys will embrace this updated take on Cinderella once they're drawn into theaters.

Amanda Seyfried helps the lovelorn in Italy.

Letters to Juliet, another rom-com, requires a tolerance for cuteness that goes way beyond anything I could muster. The movie travels to Verona, the town in Italy where lovelorn women leave notes for Juliet (yes, that Juliet) embedded in a wall. Amanda Seyfried's Sophie learns about this romantic Wailing Wall when she visits Italy with her fiance (Gael Garcia Bernal). Sophie's fiance, a fanatically ambitious New York chef and restaurateur, is too busy sampling food and wine to spend any time with his future bride. Left to her own devices, Sophie meets a team of local women who answer some of the letters that have been left for Juliet. The plot revolves around a 50-year-old letter to which Sophie finally responds. Sophie's belated reply brings Claire (Vanessa Redgrave) to Italy with her grandson Charlie (Christopher Egan). Claire searches for the lover she abandoned when she was too young and frightened to follow her passion. Sophie, who aspires to be a New Yorker writer, follows Claire and Charlie around. Of course, Sophie and Charlie bicker. They also fail to realize what we know from the outset: They're made for each other. Letters to Juliet, on the other hand, seems made for those with a high tolerance for contrivance, phony romance and movies that expect the scenery to do at least half of their heavy lifting. Expect a hit.

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