Music and Lyrics

(2007) ** 1/2 Pg-13
96 min. Warner Brothers. Director: Marc D. Lawrence. Cast: Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Johnston, Jason Antoon, Billy Griffith.

May Hollywood never run out of funny applications of Hugh Grant. After establishing himself in period pieces and light dramas, Grant ran a serious risk of settling into hair-flipping, stuttering, twit-tering self-parody for good. But 2002's About a Boy gave Grant's screen persona weight and a shot of confidence, by recasting him as an aging Peter Pan struggling with his shallowness. The same year, writer-director Marc Lawrence cast Grant as a "charming, irresponsible and fabulously wealthy" real-estate developer who falls for Sandra Bullock in Two Weeks Notice. Last seen as a doppleganger for Simon Cowell in American Dreamz, Grant reunites with Lawrence to play Alex Fletcher, the less-popular half of a Wham-like '80s pop duo, in Music and Lyrics.

Music and Lyrics feels even more sitcomedic than Two Weeks Notice, but both films are undeniably breezy thanks to a quality star pairing. Grant's new co-star, Drew Barrymore, plays a hypochondriacal houseplant-waterer and closet creative writer named Sophie. She's in the right place at the right time when composer Alex proves unsatisfied with his options for a lyricist partner. Idly mumbling lyrics as she waters the plants, Sophie becomes suddenly essential to Alex, who's on a deadline to revive his career by delivering a song to a Britney Spears-type named Cora (Haley Bennett). Sophie's gift draws her and Alex together, as colleagues and lovers, but does Alex want Sophie for more than what she can do for his career?

The script consists of a hook and a big climax wrapped around a simple, awkward romance. The hook is a good one: Grant starring in a hilariously perfect copy of a cheesy '80s music video. The group is PoP, and the catchy, credible faux-hit is "PoP Goes My Heart," penned by Andrew Wyatt and Josh Deutsch. Most of the music is by Adam Schlesinger of Fountains of Wayne (Hollywood's resident pop-pastiche expert, he also penned "That Thing You Do!" for the Tom Hanks film of the same name); Lawrence reverse engineers Schlesinger's newly penned ditty "Way Back Into Love" as Alex and Sophie struggle to write it over the course of one pressure-cooked week.

Not for nothing, but the plot doesn't stand up to scrutiny. In the first scene, Alex claims to be a suspiciously "happy has-been," but Lawrence doesn't do enough to dramatize the tension between his hip-gyrating, nostalgia-circuit resignation (following a failed solo album) and his hunger to be re-legitimized. Audiences will also have to puzzle out why a man as quick-witted as Alex can't write his own lyrics; as usual, Grant is a font of funny one-liners ("I have amazing insight. I would use it on myself, only I don't have any problems"). Sophie would seem to have grounds for a lawsuit against the writer (Campbell Scott) who thinly veiled their relationship for a bestseller about to become a film, but instead of getting even, the delicate flower has all but abandoned writing (so much for feminism). And why Cora and her handlers would share so much of her amusingly Madonna-like pseudo-spiritual, sex-pop concert tour with Alex is beyond comprehension.

Of course, the concert tour allows for a Madison Square Garden emotional climax for Sophie and Alex. If time compression contributes to implausibility on the part of the love story (Alex submitting happily to dinners with Sophie's sister's family), Lawrence uses the offhandedness to his advantage as the characters alternately hang out and bicker over business until they're no longer sure a relationship is a good idea. Barrymore can't make her bubbly ball of neuroses entirely believable, but she's likeable and works well with the effortlessly funny Grant. Kristen Johnston (Third Rock From the Sun) is amusing as Sophie's sister, more so than Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) as Grant's agent/straight man. Lightweight but pleasant from its music-video outset to its pop-up video credits, Music and Lyrics is an ideal date movie.

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