Directed by: Robert Luketic
Starring: Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace, Josh Duhamel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Gary Cole, Nathan Lane, Kathryn Hahn
The movie poster had little appeal. The premise sounded like a de-musicalized Bye Bye, Birdie. Director Robert Luketic hadn't exactly dazzled me with Legally Blonde. Two of the three stars were largely unknown to me, while the one I did know, Kate Bosworth, had annoyed me in Blue Crush, and barely registered as one of James Van Der Beek's pickups in The Rules of Attraction. So I settled in, grim-faced and ready to be in full cranky mode, expecting further evidence that it's a miracle the movie-going world doesn't march on Hollywood every January and collectively demand its money back.
But the evening got off to a better-than-expected start when I didn't have to sit through the trailer for Miracle again. And then the feature started. Hmmm, I thought. The credits are at least cleverly done in a kind of retro manner that promises something savvier than the plot outline, the pedigree and the poster. And, amazingly, Win a Date With Tad Hamilton! was soon winning me over. I kept waiting for its foot to slip, and while it came close to it on a couple of occasions, the film kept just sidestepping the banana skins to land on its feet as a pretty funny and surprisingly charming little romantic comedy.
Compare the movie's opening to that of Along Came Polly: Tad is a masterpiece of economical set-up -- one scene to establish how gaga Rosalee Futch (Bosworth) and her friend, Cathy Feely (Ginnifer Goodwin, Mona Lisa Smile), are over Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel, TV's All My Children), and how disgustingly mystified their friend Pete Monash (Topher Grace, Mona Lisa Smile) is by this obsession. One more brief scene deftly sketches in how far removed the shallower-than-a-mud-puddle Tad is from his gooey, sanctimonious screen image. Then a very funny sequence with Tad and his agent, Richard Levy the Driven (Nathan Lane), and his manager, Richard Levy the Shameless (Sean Hayes, The Cat in the Hat), sets up the premise of creating the wholesome win-a-date contest in order to counteract some bad PR arising from a National Enquirer photo depicting the real smoking, drinking, speeding, groping Tad.
Having quickly established its premise -- and doing so with great fun and creativity -- the movie then wastes no time in setting up the inevitable scenario of Rosalee winning the contest. Too, she soon confirms the fact that Pete is in love with her, but is too scared to confess it (though after he tells her twice in the airport to protect her "carnal treasure" as she sets out on her dream date, you'd think she might have gotten some notion of this).
The date itself is nicely done, slowly making Tad ... well, a tad more likable, after having made him considerably less so ("Tell me again why I'm going out with this Okie?"). The film also manages the not-inconsiderable feat of allowing Rosalee to actually protect her "carnal treasure" without making her appear saccharine in the bargain. It's only then that the real plot sets in, when Tad follows his non-conquest back to Frazier's Bottom, W.V. -- much to the dismay of agent Levy ("It won't work. It's a question of values -- she has them") and the obvious chagrin of Pete.
Yes, it sounds a little -- OK, a lot -- like Sweet Home Alabama, and it's easy to expect the usual barrage of Southern trailer-trash cliches. So what a delight it is when these don't materialize! Sure, the locals react with appropriate awe at the presence of a movie star in their midst, but the film never looks down on them, and it never reduces them to the level of buffoons. In fact, it doesn't dwell on their "backwoods" aspect at all, merely their small-town quality. In this regard, Tad resembles a lighter version of David Mamet's State and Main; in fact, Rosalee's father (Gary Cole, One Hour Photo) indulging in Variety speak, and sporting a "Project Greenlight" shirt, is very reminiscent of the old codgers in State and Main arguing over "per-screen grosses."
The small-town movie house of the film is a charmingly preserved art deco affair, and even the local watering hole isn't some s**t-kicker bar a la Sweet Home Alabama, but a pretty normal place. Locals like Rosalee's friend Cathy are far from backwards (Cathy offers to accompany Tad to the airport, promising that by Route 77, she will have "pleasured" him in ways he's never heard of!), and the whole thing is pretty refreshing. If anything, it's the Hollywood folks who come off looking pretty dim ("This overlooks the bottom 40," Tad declares when he impulsively buys a farm, adding, "I don't know how much land that is, but I think it's a lot").
While not much that's unexpected happens in terms of plot, director Luketic, screenwriter Victor Levin and the cast take you to the expected places with charm and energy -- and they arrive at their foregone-conclusion destination in often surprising ways. Tad is not a great film, but it's an entertaining and pleasant one that doesn't waste an evening at the movies -- and it might just make a real star out of Bosworth.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke