A GUY THING

Grade: C

The title of “A Guy Thing” certainly represents truth in advertising–the crassness and slapstick violence that constitute a goodly portion of the script, though more benignly delivered than is often the case nowadays, will surely appeal more to the young males that make up much of today’s moviegoing audience than to their girlfriends, some of whom at least will blush at the goings-on their dates are chortling over. The picture is a pretty lame, crude affair, filled with clumsy coincidences, stupid contrivances and sitcom characters, but the agreeable cast make it more palatable than it would otherwise have been.

Jason Lee, laid-back and likable as usual, plays Paul, an advertising exec about to tie the knot with beautiful Karen (Selma Blair), the daughter of his hard-driving boss Ken (James Brolin). At the bachelor party hosted by his lustful buddy Jim (Shawn Hatosy), Paul bumps into a klutzy exotic dancer named Becky (Julia Stiles); and the next morning he finds her beside him in bed without any memory of how she got there. Paul tries frantically to keep the dalliance a secret from his fiancĂ©, but that proves difficult when Becky turns out to be Karen’s cousin. There follow a series of labored comic episodes–many of them involving bathrooms and embarrassing physical disorders–that portray the poor fellow’s desperate efforts to hide the truth; many of them also include Becky, whose ex-boyfriend Ray (Lochlyn Munro), a maniacal cop, takes umbrage at Paul’s increasingly close relationship with her. Also on hand are Julie Hagerty and David Koechner as Paul’s determinedly lowbrow parents Dorothy and Buck, Jackie Burroughs as Karen’s hard-bitten old aunt Budge, and Larry Miller as a minister upset by Paul’s peccadilloes.

The ending of this “Thing” is never in doubt–there’s even a tangential figure on hand whose admiration for Karen is so overwhelming that it’s inevitable they’ll get together. And, of course, Paul and Becky bicker so charmingly that by the conventions of the genre they must be meant for one another. But it has to be said that the picture gets where you expect by stringing together a bunch of decidedly unlikely incidents. The result has very little logic and a great deal of crudity, but viewers who appreciate a Farrelly brothers style of farce, though somewhat tepid in execution, may be amused by it. The performers have been well chosen, too. Lee still seems more a perfect second banana than a leading man, but he shows a nicely ingratiating quality even in mediocre vehicles like “Stealing Harvard” and this flick; he certainly undergoes the myriad humiliations Paul endures with a sympathetic hang-dog face. Here, moreover, he has a better partner than he did in “Harvard.” That might be taken as a backhanded compliment, since anybody would be preferable to Tom Green; but Stiles, although given little to do besides pout and smirk, is nevertheless an attractive presence. Blair manages to keep Karen from becoming an irritating bore, and Brolin brings an appropriate measure of dumb pomposity to her father. (Brolin, by the way, seems to show up in every third film nowadays–perhaps he feels a need to get out of the house?) Hatosy plays the jerk without becoming disagreeable–a considerable feat– and Hagerty and Koechner manage to get through the sitcom-level shenanigans of Paul’s parents without too much embarrassment. Munro, though, comes on way too strong as the loony cop.

Even the finest farceurs, however, can do only so much with essentially crummy material; “A Guy Thing” is pitched at a very low comedic level, and while it often hits the target, that’s not much of an accomplishment. Technically the picture is okay, though the excessively perky score by Mark Mothersbaugh does try one’s patience. The setting of the story, incidentally, is Seattle, and it’s a measure of Chris Koch’s heavy-handed direction that periodically the camera pans in such a way as to provide an all-too-blatant shot of the famous Space Needle, apparently to remind us of where we are. It’s a nice-looking structure, but by the last time it shows up for the final time, its appearance is more like a cinematic eye-gouge than an amiable nod to the northwest.

Slapdash and silly though it might be, “A Guy Thing” would have been worse were it not for the performers.