The most laughable thing about "Love Stinks" -- a romance- gone- wrong comedy featuring a sitcom writer trying to break up with his deranged girlfriend -- is that nobody in the movie thinks the plot is funny.
When the writer, played by French Stewart of "3rd Rock from the Sun," tries to incorporate the very story you're watching into his show, the other writers shake their heads, the actors protest and the show's ratings take a nose-dive.
So if writer-director Jeff Franklin acknowledges the material isn't funny, what's he doing making this movie?
I've been working on that one for two days now.
Anyway, Stewart stars as a TV writer who meets the girl of his dreams (Bridgette Wilson, "Mortal Kombat") at his best friend's wedding, and early on the romantic comedy is mighty cute as he puts on the full courtin' press. Much to my great relief, the actor isn't a one-trick pony he seems on TV, and sheds his "3rd Rock" schtick, taking on more of a likable, wise-cracking, Billy Crystal-in-"When Harry Met Sally" persona.
Blonde beach babe Wilson is equally charming -- at least at first. But the plot relies on happy-with-bachelorhood Stewart failing to recognize a few tell-tale signs (a stack of bride magazines on her coffee table, for instance) of where his new sweetie thinks their relationship is heading. Before long she's used every sneaky trick in a year's worth of Cosmopolitan magazines to turn decorating his new house for him into a cohabitation marriage trap -- and when he doesn't pop the question on cue, she goes berserk.
In theory, this could be rich comedic material, but "Love Stinks" expects us to sympathize with Stewart when he's too thick to see this fate coming. After months of calculated, but certainly not subtle, feminine manipulation and underhanded relationship games, this guy should have bailed long before finding himself facing the matrimony ultimatum his girlfriend lobs at him.
Almost enjoyable until this twist of fate, the picture suddenly changes tone and takes a failed stab at a low-brow rehash of the ugly divorce dark comedy "War of the Roses." Wilson files a palimony suit, but refuses to move out, and the former couple try to make each other's lives a living hell.
While Stewart's and Wilson's compound insult-sniping is at times magnificently harsh, after "Love Stinks" turns dark, the comedy frequently misfires. In part because the two leads become suddenly and fundamentally unlikable, but also because Franklin hasn't given his characters anything but paint-by-numbers character traits in the first place -- especially the women.
Wilson, who wears so much makeup and so little clothing she might as well be playing a stripper, becomes little more than a harpy. Her best friend, played by model (and definitely not actress) Tyra Banks, comes off looking dim-witted and socially blind for siding with her. Meanwhile Banks' husband (Bill Bellamy), who is Stewart's best friend, tries to talk sense to all parties.
He also narrates (badly), rehashing the horror story of the relationship in flashback to Stewart while they're on a plane headed for Las Vegas, where it seems he's about to marry Wilson after all and Bellamy is trying to talk him out of it.
Although there's a bit of a vengeful comedic payoff in the finale, the last half of the move offers very sparse laughs, most of them coming on the set of Stewart's deliberately lousy, WB-quality sitcom. In a stroke of beautifully ironic cameo casting, the show's stars are Jason Bateman and Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, and it's produced by Warren Littlefield -- all sitcom veterans with some kind of ax to grind against network TV.
But that gag -- really the best the movie has to offer -- is barely enough material for a "Saturday Night Live" skit, and it certainly isn't enough to rescue a whole, sloppy movie that disintegrates as quickly as "Love Stinks" does.