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Wednesday, February 14, 2007 - Page updated at 09:20 AM

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Movie Review

Grant, Barrymore are inspired casting in an average romantic comedy

Seattle Times movie critic

"Could you accompany me to the ladies' room?" murmurs Hugh Grant in "Music and Lyrics," with his trademark sleepy yet devastating Masterpiece Theater sexy-beast diction. The recipient of the question jumps up instantly: She'll follow him anywhere. Those who feel the same way about the charms of the debonair Grant are probably already lining up to buy tickets for Marc Lawrence's romantic comedy, in which Grant and Drew Barrymore succumb to each other's considerable wiles. And if I tell you that the movie is pretty cute, but not at all as good as it might have been considering its potential, will it matter a whit? Didn't think so.

Should Grant announce his intention to film himself reading zoning ordinances aloud, I'd show up: The man can spin even the lamest lines (and, let's face it, the ladies-room query isn't exactly Oscar Wilde) into mellifluous gold. Unfortunately, that's what he's called upon to do too often in "Music and Lyrics," in which he plays a washed-up '80s pop star named Alex, who's commissioned to write a potential hit song for teenybopper songstress Cora Corman (Haley Bennett). Though this shouldn't be too difficult — her last hit, after all, was something called "Welcome to Bootytown" — Alex hits a case of writers' block, which can only be overcome by the beguiling Sophie (Barrymore), a plant lady who turns out to be a natural lyricist.

Movie review

Showtimes and trailer 2.5 stars

>"Music and Lyrics," with Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore, Brad Garrett, Campbell Scott, Kristen Stewart, Chris Riley, Haley Bennett. Written and directed by Marc Lawrence. 96 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some sexual content. Several theaters.

That Grant and Barrymore make beautiful music together, so to speak, shouldn't be too surprising. They're an inspired pairing: Grant's posh coolness merges nicely with Barrymore's dippy, crooked-smile warmth. So there's chemistry flying all over the place, but really nowhere for it to land. Lawrence can't seem to find any kind of interesting twist on the rom-com formula; a pointless back story for Sophie, involving a cad (Campbell Scott) who broke her heart, never goes anywhere and darkens a movie that should be all light. Otherwise, Alex and Sophie write a song together (alas, it's ghastly, though everyone in the movie seems to think that the pair are a cuter Lennon-McCartney) and squabble and make up. Cue the credits.

Ultimately, it all works far better than it deserves to — the film emerges as a triumph of casting over material. Grant and Barrymore croon adorably (though Grant's distinctive voice becomes curiously bland when he sings; it's almost as if he's been dubbed by a duller actor) and work wonders with the clunky dialogue they're given. And Lawrence starts off the movie splendidly, with a hilarious '80s music video from Alex's former group, PoP. Grant, wearing a long scarf, scary '80s hair and a gleeful grin, throws himself into the caricature, bouncing around and swiveling his hips like a toy just wound up.

There's an abandon to the video performance that isn't matched in the rest of the movie; Grant, as he so often does, remains just a bit remote. That's part of his charm — both on and off screen, he seems the most reluctant of stars. (Grant often tells interviewers that he's thinking of giving up movies, and his screen appearances are becoming rare.) Barrymore, though, seems to soften him up a bit (no surprise; her smile could melt a Popsicle), and the best moments in "Music and Lyrics" are when they effortlessly connect, finishing each others' sentences and gazing into each others' eyes in happy disbelief. It's not a great movie, but for a Valentine's Day date this year, you could do a lot worse.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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