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Ashford and Simpleton

"Music and Lyrics" proves that even Hugh Grant can't save every romantic comedy.

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Music and Lyrics" has a cute setup. Hugh Grant plays Alex, a wealthy aging bachelor pop star — a dramatic turn from his numerous wealthy aging bachelor non-pop-star roles. Famous for his glory days in an imaginary '80s act (think Wham! and Duran Duran), Alex is the kind of half-forgotten minor celebrity resurrected Saturday afternoons on VH1.

The first indication this is not a film aimed at Rhodes scholars is the name of the group's biggest hit, "Pop!" The intro to the movie, the most likeable sequence, is the music video, which gently pokes fun at old-fashioned music videos. It's played just slightly broad of real, as is Alex's current lot — a series of half-sad reunion performances at theme parks and state fairs. And surprisingly he accepts it. "They might be older," he explains, "but I recognize them and they recognize me." Alex could be a real person in a real movie, but soon we are reminded he's not; he's in this one.

"Music and Lyrics" betrays even its good ideas to save a silly premise. Alex is saved from appearing on television's "Battle of the '80s Has Beens" when a contemporary pop star named Cora (Haley Bennett) offers him the chance to write her a new hit. The catch is that he only has four days to deliver it, which may have been three more than the makers of "Music and Lyrics" had. A dour lyricist gets fed up in the first day, and Alex has to enlist his — pause to think of way to describe this — houseplant-watering girl, Sophie (Drew Barrymore). (Evidently maids no longer do plants.)

The four-day deadline must have been deemed too wimpy to drive a plot, and so Sophie is turned into a "Friends"-caliber flake who is unwilling to fully cooperate. And even when she does, Cora wants to turn their earnest ballad into a kooky Tibetan-flavored dance number. It's all whisked along without ever stopping to wonder if anyone cares.

With its vanilla sense of humor and cheap construction, "Music" is reminiscent of a Friday night sitcom, and not just because it co-stars "3rd RockFrom the Sun"'s Kristen Johnston and "Everyone Loves Raymond"'s Brad Garrett. If it were a sitcom, however, it would be hastily canceled. This is the kind of movie people will be making fun of years from now on VH1. (PG-13) 96 min. ** S

Music and Lyrics online



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