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By Pete Vonder Haar | February 12, 2009

There’s a point about halfway into “He’s Just Not That Into You” that actually offers a brief glimmer of hope to weary veterans of a thousand formulaic romantic comedies. At this critical juncture, some of the film’s high profile relationships appear to be in real danger of collapse, thanks to classic bugaboos like adultery, fear of commitment, and good old psychosis. Maybe, you find yourself thinking, just maybe Hollywood decided not to go the safe, saccharine route in a movie about relationships and give us a movie where all of the characters don’t necessarily end up in a Happy Place.

It’s a credit to humanity’s innate resiliency that I even allowed myself to entertain this possibility, because sure enough, director Ken Kwapis and screenwriters Abby Kohn and Marc Silverstein – purveyors of such discerning fare as “License to Wed,” “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants,” and “Never Been Kissed” – can’t permit these hopes to bear fruit. That isn’t to say absolutely every person in the film ends up with their special someone, but even those that don’t are left at least temporarily content with their loveless status.

The “star-studded” cast seems to have been selected according to their Premiere power ranking and/or desperation for exposure. Jennifer Connelly is the only recipient of an acting Oscar, and as such lands the only role with any real dramatic weight (Janine, the Wife Who Suspects Something). Ben Affleck and Drew Barrymore make appearances early on and near the end, but otherwise don’t seem too interested in the proceedings. Meanwhile Jennifer Aniston, wringing out the last drops of her viability as a romantic lead, has a central part as Beth, the Live-In Girlfriend Who Tires of Her Anti-Marriage Guy (Affleck).

That leaves Ginnifer Goodwin, Bradley Cooper, Justin Long, and Scarlett Johansson to do the bulk of the story’s heavy lifting. Goodwin is the Chick Who Goes Psycho Stalker After One Date, which might come be creepy if she wasn’t so gosh-darned cute. Cooper is the Tempted Husband Who Was Probably Going to Cheat At Some Point Anyway, Johansson the Busty Temptress, and Long the Relationship Guru, dispensing wisdom to Gigi in a purely platonic manner (I wonder how that will end). These tangled narrative skeins all come together in an alternate reality Baltimore populated almost exclusively by white people.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a fair amount of anxiety and mild unpleasantness that comes into play in the second act. And how refreshing would it be to see a movie like this end with some ambiguity instead of tidy resolution? To leave one or more of its characters embittered and depressed after failing to meet the guy/gal of their dreams? To present human beings and their relationships in a realistic and therefore messy manner?

Not in this economy, chief.

And the problems continue. These people love to talk, which in and of itself isn’t a bad thing, but with nine main characters and at 129 minutes, it’s too damn much. There’s the framework of an intelligent movie in there somewhere, but it’s unrecognizable behind the sheer tonnage of redundant conversation. Hell, you could lose Barrymore’s character (The Overscheduled Professional Who Relies on Her Gay Co-Workers for Dating Advice) and the “When Harry Met Sally” interludes featuring “real people” talking about their love lives, and end up with a much leaner film, but it wouldn’t entirely eliminate the issue of having your characters pontificate endlessly about their neuroses. Hey, at least your a*s wouldn’t get so numb.

Finally, this is a New Line release. That, in and of itself, isn’t important, but I hope if you’re somehow roped into seeing this the theater has attached the Friday the 13th trailer beforehand. It didn’t elevate my expectations for the remake, but it at least allowed me to divert myself for the next 2+ hours by imagining Long and Johansson getting messily beheaded by a glandular freak in a hockey mask.

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