A Lot Like Love

(2005) ** 1/2 Pg-13
107 min. Touchstone Pictures. Director: Nigel Cole. Cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Kal Penn, Ali Larter.

A Lot Like Love earns points for resisting the usual corny romantic comedy gimmicks (I'm looking at you, The Wedding Date!) for most of its running time. Playing a bit like a one-picture remake of Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise and Before Sunset, A Lot Like Love can hardly claim to be as sublime. Nevertheless, Nigel Cole's highly improbable but sweet romance is more often than not a reasonably honest look at the challenges of modern yuppie relationships, which is a minor mainstream miracle.

Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet play Oliver and Emily, youngsters who join the mile-high club and part unceremoniously. Fate throws them back together the next day, when they bond over New York tourism, but they return to their lives. Circumstances conspire to bring them together several times over the next seven years, but they reside in an uncomfortable friends-with-benefits holding pattern as each clings to flimsy excuses to postpone a shot at happy commitment.

What distinguishes A Lot Like Love is that the focus remains squarely on the leading characters without indulging unnecessary subplots and supporting characters (the nicest exception: Ty Giordano as Oliver's deaf brother). While doing so, screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch traces the development of the characters in relation to what's important to them: relationships, career, and family.

Kutcher and Peet are appealing enough; though their characters are pretty generic, we spend enough time with them to accept them as everyday people with a veneer of wit (one on date, they grin through the "silent treatment"). A Lot Like Love is more of a light romance than a comedy, and after sustaining the premise for the better part of 107 minutes, the picture succumbs to a flimsy third act marred by a cookie-cutter ending that betrays the film's tone. Despite that profound frustration, this one's—as the faint-praise saying goes—good enough for government work.

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