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'The Holiday' has scenes to spare

Somebody, please stop Nancy Meyers before she kills romantic comedy. The Holiday is her latest weapon, a plodding roundelay of meet-cute collisions, pathetic longings and resolutions delayed long after they're evident.

Upon introduction, each character proclaims some thing they are incapable of doing. Then, inevitably, they accomplish it. Gratuitously warm moments follow, capped by a group dance to a baby boomer hit. Standard operating procedure isn't always bad, but it's annoying that The Holiday's characters constantly bemoan declining Hollywood standards while contributing to them.

Meyers doesn't like movie marketing, so she casts Cameron Diaz as Amanda, a preview trailer director who edits bad movies into appealing ads. Control freakiness and a cheating lover make a getaway necessary. An Internet search for vacation house swaps leads her to Iris (Kate Winslet), a British newspaper reporter on the same neurotic wavelength. She hasn't gotten over a fling with a colleague or his unexpected engagement to another.

The two-week deal sends Amanda to a remote cottage that drives her crazy and Iris to a Beverly Hills mansion that makes her giddy. Love interests arrive the first day. Graham (Jude Law), Iris' brother, beds Amanda at once. Miles (Jack Black), a movie soundtrack composer, introduces Iris to Hollywood's glorious history of evocative music and women with gumption.

Then Meyers shames that history.

The 1940s screwball comedies The Holiday invokes would never spend 138 minutes telling this story. They had whiplash pacing. The Holiday has musical interludes, narrative detours and Meyers' habit of showing everything even when it doesn't matter.

Love at first sight shouldn't happen this slowly.

It's doubtful that Ennio Morricone or any other composer Miles idolizes would approve of Hans Zimmer's pushy violins and deference to pop radio classics.

A few scenes work well for sentimental purposes. Graham's secret life turns Amanda's fear of losing him into a beautifully sentimental exchange under a bed canopy decorated with paper stars.

Miles joins Iris, his octogenarian former screenwriter friend Arthur (Eli Wallach) and Arthur's old screenwriting buddies for a lively dinner. That gives Black a chance to act normal for a change and to do it well.

Meyers hits the right note at least once, with a sly take on the climactic running-to-love cliche.

The Holiday isn't entirely bad. It just needs more trims than Meyers will allow. Something's Gotta Give and What Women Want each had the same problem, although good performances pulled them through. The cast of The Holiday don't have much to play and must stretch it too long.

That's especially obvious when Meyers gives Arthur a late chance to repeat his distaste for blueprinted movies and DVDs. Okay, we get it. But The Holiday is constructed and marketed with those mass appeal mechanics the director eschews.

It's a good bet that Meyers won't turn down the DVD royalties. She can't hate the game and then play along. Something's gotta give, or else give up.

Steve Persall can be reached at (727) 893-8365 or persall@sptimes.com.

REVIEW

The Holiday

Grade: C-

Director: Nancy Meyers

Cast: Cameron Diaz, Kate Winslet, Jude Law, Jack Black, Eli Wallach, Edward Burns, Rufus Sewell

Screenplay: Nancy Meyers

Rating: PG-13; sexual situations, brief profanity

Running time: 138 min.

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