After the high of the holiday moviegoing season, the month of January is always anti-climactic. Though this is the time of year that the upscale and Oscar-hopeful films of the previous year (such as "Magnolia") find general release, this is also the month that the studios 'take out the garbage', unceremoniously dumping movies into the theaters in the hopes of making a fast buck. In 1998, it was the combination disaster-heist movie gone horribly wrong "Hard Rain", and last year it was the mediocre creature-feature "Virus". Just last week, the "Alien"/"Dead Calm" rip-off "Supernova" was unleashed onto unsuspecting audiences, after having spent two years in post-production limbo and being disowned by director Walter Hill. This week, Miramax, the embodiment of thoughtful, upscale, and independent film, does some housecleaning of its own with "Down to You". Billed as 'a new comedy about giving first love a second chance', "Down to You" is what I would call a 'disposable movie', with its throwaway plot, throwaway characters, throwaway subplots, and throwaway dialogue. Though writer/director Kris Isacsson throws in every filmmaking trick in the book (such as magic realism, narrative asides, and some slo-mo), he can't hide the fact that his movie has no substance.
The premise (and I am using the word loosely here) is essentially your typical 'boy meets girl, boy loses girl, and boy meets girl again' romance. Told in flashback in a "He Said, She Said" style, aspiring chef Al (Freddie Prinze Jr. of "She's All That") and aspiring artist Imogen (Julia Stiles of "10 Things I Hate About You") reflect on their college days and the relationship that they shared after a chance meeting at a bar. They then go through the ritual courtship, first sleepover, eventual cooling-off period, and final breakup... and that's about as exciting as it gets.
Though this movie purports to be a romantic comedy, the romance is cliché and there's very little comedy that's actually funny. Even more distressing is that "Down to You" is missing two out of three of the essential ingredients for any successful romantic comedy-- sex, lies, and deception. Think back to all the great romantic comedies of yesteryear, and you'll find that they all share these three common elements: "Shakespeare in Love", "My Best Friend's Wedding", and yes, even "There's Something About Mary".
Though there is much implied sex in "Down to You", there are no lies or deception, which considerably reduces both the romantic intrigue of the story and what the romantic leads have at stake. This ultimately reduces the amount of 'pain' that these characters must experience in order to win their 'true love'-- no pain, no gain. In fact, one of the interesting aspects of this movie is the virtual absence of conflict in the story. While this may be fine for "Barney's Great Adventure", having all your characters get chummy without anything threatening to pull them apart quickly translates into a lack of drama, which gets old real fast. As a result, "Down to You" is a sluggish movie where there is no sense of urgency, nothing at stake, and nothing interesting happens.
Dialogue is another major stumbling area in this movie. When writer/director Kris Isacsson wrote the script, I have a feeling that he really had nothing to say, as evidenced by the banal things that are uttered during this movie. The characters in "Down to You" prattle on about mundane things or crack insipid jokes, as though they are desperately trying to avoid any uncomfortable gaps of silence. Even more distressing, in a true sign of lackluster scripting, a large number of character's lines start with "So...", as in "So, how is it in San Francisco?" or "So, what are you going to do now?"
The stilted dialogue is further aggravated with wooden performances all around, from the romantic leads right down to the uninteresting supporting characters. Though Prinze and Stiles are nice to look at (as evidenced by the 'aawwws' and sighs of the teenyboopers sitting behind me in the theater), their scenes together look more like outtake reels from some bad rehearsals, which winds up killing any hope of chemistry between them. The movie's supporting actors are equally wasted, saddled with uninteresting and poorly developed characters that serve little or no purpose in irrelevant subplots. Zak Orth ("In & Out") is Al's best friend, an arrogant actor who starts off in porn and ends up doing Shakespeare; Selma Blair ("Cruel Intentions") is an M.I.T. dropout turned porn star who wants to get into Al's pants; Shawn Hatosy plays the same clueless loser that he did in last year's "Outside Providence"; and then there's Henry Winkler ("The Waterboy"), who has the thankless task of playing Al's father.
Suffice to say, I was quite happy when the sappy and crappy drivel finally ended and I was able to leave-- the best part of the entire ninety-minute ordeal. There is little redeeming value in sitting through "Down to You"... unless you are really, like, totally soaked on Freddie Prinze Jr.! Yes, I think I'm going to start on my 'Worst of the Year' list early, and "Down to You" will be the very first entry!