What If (PG-13) (102 min.) — The advance buzz about Michael Dowse's romantic comedy is that it would subvert the genre, which couldn't be further from the truth. It simply reassigns the cliches to trendier personalities, retaining the vacant minds. It is a tired rom-com in boutique clothing. Girls with far less dangerous boys.
What If does continue the nonsupernatural film career of Daniel Radcliffe, escaping Harry Potter's shadow. Radcliffe plays Wallace, who we meet sitting on his rooftop, where he does his best depressed thinking. Pushed to a party by friends, Wallace meets Chantry (Zoe Kazan), who's perfect for him but she has a boyfriend. Can they just be platonic friends? Didn't Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan answer that question 25 years ago?
Aside from its Toronto setting we don't see much, What If traces a template as familiar as The Love Boat. Dowse and screenwriter Elan Mastai make every single character relentlessly glib, selling ironic falseness with deadpan sincerity in a neo-screwball tempo. Even introspection comes with punchlines. It is exhausting to hear their constant attempts to one-up each other in clever repartee, from a script overwritten by half. And then, when Wallace and Chantry endure the usual third act obstacle to getting together, it's because someone doesn't take what the other says seriously. Seriously?
Radcliffe tries hard to appear sad-sackish but when you're prettier than your co-star, that's tough. Kazan ratchets up the wide-eyed waif appeal that suited the fantasy of her role in Ruby Sparks but not this movie, despite its whimsical bits of animation (look, she's a butterfly!). Ultimately, the movie's energy rises and falls on the presence of Adam Driver as Wallace's libido-on-legs friend, who can make you believe sex can solve anything. Except this movie. C
Steve Persall, Times movie critic