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'Sweetest Thing, The'

Worst movie of 2002? 'The Sweetest Thing' is sure to be a contender

Friday, April 12, 2002

By Ron Weiskind, Post-Gazette Movie Editor

"The Sweetest Thing" accomplishes, if that's the word, several things I didn't think were possible.

'The Sweetest Thing'

RATING: R for strong sexual content and language.

STARRING: Cameron Diaz, Christina Applegate, Thomas Jane, Selma Blair.

DIRECTOR: Roger Kumble.

WEB SITE: www.sony.com/



It takes a thimbleful of usable material, rattles it around in 85 minutes of running time and makes it feel like three hours of mind-numbing torture. It roams aimlessly from romantic comedy to raunchy sex gags to the lead actresses playing dress-up because, simply, no one seems to know what else to do at the moment. Finally, it strips the verrry sexy Cameron Diaz down to her bikini underwear and somehow makes her look plain.

That goes beyond ineptitude. It approaches a horrible reverse alchemy of some kind that transforms Diaz's usual golden glow into a leaden lump of a movie.

Diaz is cast as Christina Walters, 28 and single, whose romantic philosophy is to forget about looking for Mr. Right and seek out Mr. Right Now. Have a good time, don't get serious, don't get hurt. The movie opens with a montage of men describing what it is like to have loved and lost Christina. Basically, it isn't better.

One night, she and her roommates -- Courtney (Christina Applegate) and Jane (Selma Blair) -- go cruising at their favorite nightspot. Jane has just been dumped by her boyfriend and is having no better luck here, so Christina grabs the behind of the next man who walks by and tries to get him to talk to Jane. Peter (Thomas Jane) tells her he doesn't appreciate it and walks away. Later, she accidentally spills a beer on him. They apologize to each other, he explains he's here for his brother's bachelor party, invites her to come along if she wants and leaves.

She's intrigued, perhaps because he doesn't fall all over her, but would never admit it even to herself. However, Courtney can tell, and she insists they crash the wedding (it's in a small town three hours away) so Christina can meet him again.

You can sense an iota of what screenwriter Nancy M. Pimental, a staff writer for "South Park" and recent co-host of "Win Ben Stein's Money," might have had in mind, or what the marketing department at Sony was thinking when they dubbed this "a romantic comedy without the sugar."

The opening montage made me think the movie would give men a taste of their own medicine -- depicting female players breaking male hearts without a second thought, good-time girls who refuse to make a commitment and enjoy reaping wild oats as much as those who sow them, and with no more consideration of propriety or the other person's feelings.

But while Diaz is a good actress who proved she can deglamorize herself in "Being John Malkovich," the whole point here is to play up her attractiveness to men. And you can't have her unleash that bright smile, those twinkly blue eyes, that glorious blond mane and believe for a minute she could be cold enough to take this script where it has to go if director Roger Kumble is going to fulfill his goal of "taking the genre of the romantic comedy and dumping it on its head."

Applegate could (and tries her best), but lacks the star power to supplant Diaz in the lead role. So could Parker Posey, who is wasted in the small role of the bride-to-be.

Instead, Kumble -- who directed "Cruel Intentions," the teen-age version of "Dangerous Liaisons" -- simply dumps on the genre. Blair, who appeared in his earlier film, becomes the object of numerous oral sex jokes ranging from a stained dress to, well, dangerous liaisons. Courtney and Christina's road trip becomes an excuse for slapstick toilet humor -- literally, in one case -- and for displaying the actresses in their skivvies.

Things turn out to be not what they expect -- anyone in the audience still paying attention won't be surprised, however. For one thing, Kumble's protestations to the contrary, "The Sweetest Thing" is very much a romantic comedy. The strain between intent and result becomes most clear in the denouement, where the characters themselves act in direct contradiction with their recently stated desires.

"The Sweetest Thing" seems to be three movies mixed together that don't really have anything to do with each other. Even the technical aspects of the movie fall short. Diaz looks like she was soft-filtered into a kind of haze early on, yet the lighting does her no favors when she's wearing next to nothing. At the nightclub, the background sounds are so muted that the music sounds like it is emanating from a small radio.

I'm guessing everyone was working at cross-purposes here. Maybe Pimental had one concept and Kumble had another, shredding her script in the process. Maybe her original screenplay really was awful. Maybe the studio wanted a raunchy sex comedy. Maybe Kumble thought he was making "Cruel Intentions" all over again and slipped into self-parody (although succeeding again to mangle the ending).

There's plenty of blame to go around. "The Sweetest Thing" leaves the sourest taste.

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