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"Date' from hell

In a strange coincidence, co-stars of a second-rate TV sitcom each star in the only two films opening nationwide today. At least I hope it's a coincidence that Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher of That '70s Show each have movie careers working in synch. The cosmic alternative is too horrifying to imagine.

Grace's romantic comedy Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! should be funnier than Kutcher's sci-fi drama The Butterfly Effect but don't bet on it. Any unintentional humor that may be created by Kutcher's acting surpasses the rote romance and minuscule comedy of Grace's movie.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! (beware of any movie except Airplane! with an exclamation point) is a knockoff of Bye, Bye Birdie, in which a small town is turned upside down by a vain celebrity visiting for a publicity stunt date with a local girl. This time it's a movie star (TV refugee Josh Duhamel) sprucing up his bad boy image in Frazier's Bottom, W.Va., with perky, virginal checkout clerk Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth, Blue Crush).

Rosalee's manager/best buddy at the Piggly Wiggly, Pete Monash (Grace), really, really likes her but never mustered the nerve to say it. When her date with Tad goes better than expected, Pete makes all those moves people make only in the movies to hold up his end of the triangle.

This movie never made me smile, much less laugh. The screenplay by sitcom veteran Victor Levin (Mad About You) is woefully short on gags, and director Robert Luketic stages some scenes so slowly that any comedic momentum is doomed. The movie also fails to do what Along Came Polly does so well, establishing second, third, and fourth bananas who can amuse while the mushy stuff is going on.

Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes ad-lib a couple decent jokes as Tad's pushy agent and publicist. Gary Cole's running gag as Rosalee's dad is his shift to Tad's Hollywood style by wearing a Project Greenlight T-shirt and quoting Variety. Ginnifer Goodwin (Mona Lisa Smile) bounces and squeals to minor effect. Only Kathryn Hahn as a sympathetic bartender with a sultry crush on Pete makes an impression.

Grace is okay in a mope-by-numbers role. Bosworth and Duhamel are attractive enough but the script is only skin deep. There's never any doubt who Rosalee will choose, or that the jilted party will be a better person for it. Win a date, lose your money at the box office.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!

Grade: D

Director: Robert Luketic

Cast: Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, Topher Grace, Ginnifer Goodwin, Nathan Lane, Sean Hayes, Gary Cole, Kathryn Hahn

Screenplay: Victor Levin

Rating: PG-13; profanity, sexual content, drug references

Running time: 95 min.

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