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By Pete Vonder Haar | September 22, 2007

Saint Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch. He was arrested by the Romans in 108 AD or thereabouts on the orders of Emperor Trajan. He was tortured before the Senate and eventually thrown to the lions. If the legends are to be believed, Ignatius went willingly to his death, going so far as to ask his fellow Christians not to interfere with his eventual martyrdom.

Me, I’m an atheist. But in 2007 AD, at the orders of Film Threat emperor editor-in-chief Mark Bell, I attended a screening of “Good Luck Chuck,” starring Jessica Alba and MySpace’s favorite comedian: Dane Cook. I went grudgingly, even though I was facing a mere 100 minutes of virtually laugh-free romantic comedy and ill-conceived toilet humor and not a terrible death at the hands of ravenous carnivores.

Ignatius had it easy.

The movie starts in 1985, where a young Charlie Logan is playing spin the bottle for the first time at a junior high party. When the bottle points to the local goth chick, he’s hesitant to follow through with the making out. Enraged, the girl puts a spell on Charlie that will keep him from ever falling in love, with the side effect that any woman he sleeps with finds true love in the next man she dates. In other words, “dooming” him to a lifetime of commitment-free sex.

Once word gets out about Chuck’s situation, the normally mild-mannered dentist finds himself swarmed by women desperate to find Mr. Right. Many guys, including Chuck’s pig of a best friend Stu (Dan Fogler), might consider such a dilemma a blessing rather than a curse. Not so Chuck, who initially resists the offer of near-constant coitus because he only has eyes for Cam (Alba), who works with penguins at the local aquarium. Cam is aware of Chuck’s “condition,” and at first is none too keen to let his assumedly disease-ravaged member near her honeypot. He persists, in spite of (or perhaps because of) Cam’s severe klutziness, which quickly goes from “endearing” to “aggravating.”

“Good Luck Chuck’s” premise is mildly interesting, but in the hands of first-time director Mark Helfrich and screenwriter Josh Stolberg (who will doubtless receive censure on this very site when his “Piranha” remake hits theaters next year) it merely veers between flaccid slapstick and mean-spirited vulgarity. Chuck is allegedly a decent guy at heart, who resorts to truly Byzantine stratagems (he fakes being sick) to avoid Cam when she finally decides to go all the way (the better to make sure she doesn’t fall for someone else). However, any heart in this film is ripped out – Mola Ram style – by the multitude of weary gags (a Japanese man “hilariously” mangling a karaoke rendition of “I Touch Myself,” for example) and the insulting presumption that all women are so desperate to get married they will gladly w***e themselves out to a perfect stranger if it gets them to the altar. There’s also a sequence involving a morbidly obese woman (Chuck tries to break the curse by nailing a woman no one would ever want) that would’ve been deleted from “Norbit” for being too high-brow.

At his best, Cook makes for a decently unassuming schlep, but any sympathy we have for him is sabotaged by the ambivalent nature of his affection for Cam, which doesn’t stop him from humping scores of women while she’s “emotionally unavailable.” The worst decision Helfrich and Stolberg make is letting him slip into his stand-up persona later in the film, as it only highlights his a*****e side. Alba’s still cute, for now, and appears perfectly happy to let dimples and firm buttocks take the place of talent. Problem is, they have about as much chemistry as John Hinckley and Jodie Foster. All the familiar romantic comedy elements are present (buried as they are in gross-out humor and soft-core sex), but when the characters don’t appear to care about each other, why should we care about them?

With “Chuck,” I’ve now endured three movies starring Cook (see also “Employee of the Month” and “Mr. Brooks”), so consider this my notice: I’m done with Dane. I think six hours, more or less, is ample time in which to get a handle on an actor’s talents, and to this point I have yet to see anything to recommend the guy beyond the bit part he had in “Waiting…” It’s win-win, really. Cook, like Adam Sandler before him, commands an army of slavering fans, and none of them like to hear negative things about their champion, so all the homunculoids who consider bits plagiarized from Louis CK and the “SuFi” to be the apex of comedy will be happy I’m no longer trying to derail the Dane Train. As for me, lessened exposure to Cook means I’ll be able to put off my megaplex killing spree for at least another couple of months.

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