Grade: D

It doesn’t take long for this would-be romantic charmer from Donald Petrie to turn off viewers with its clumsily convoluted, curiously unpleasant premise about two extremely photogenic twenty-to-thirtysomethings, each of whom tries to attract the other for selfish, mercenary motives but who–surprise, surprise!–wind up falling in love for real. In fact, a more appropriate title would be “How to Lose an Audience in 10 Minutes.”

The fact that the plot is based on a wager might lead one to suspect that the project was originally intended as a post-collegiate scenario for Freddie Prinze, Jr., who made a career out of betting school buddies that he could get the class nerd to the prom or the frat dance. But instead we get a substitute–the unfortunate Matthew McConaughey, who plays Ben, an ad man anxious to extend his reach beyond the company’s “macho” clientele by becoming the point man on a big “female” account with a diamond firm. To convince his boss (Robert Klein) that he has the understanding of women needed to do the job, Ben blithely offers to make any woman fall for him in ten days, and Spears and Green (Michael Michele and Shalom Harlow), the two distaff colleagues who want the gig for themselves, select the target: Andie (Kate Hudson). The choice is supposedly a random one, but the duo–by one of those cutesy coincidences that proliferate in this genre–happen to know that Andie is a magazine writer who’s just taken on an assignment to pen the titular column by picking up a guy, entrancing him, and then driving him away within a week and a half with the kind of egregiously irritating behavior that usually dooms single gals. The remainder of the picture is basically a series of increasingly unattractive episodes in which Andie tries to humiliate Ben into dropping her and he repeatedly grovels his way back into her good graces. Still, the pair seem to be headed for true love, despite the insistence of Andie’s smarmy editor (Bebe Neuwirth) that she complete her assignment and Ben’s reluctance to reveal why he approached her in the first place. Naturally the course of bliss is temporarily thwarted when each discovers the truth about the other, but it’s a foregone conclusion that their separation will only be temporary.

There’s just one episode in all this vaguely sour malarkey that strikes anything resembling a human note–a visit that Ben and Andie make to his middle-class family on Staten Island. It’s a rather sweet, uncharacteristically low-key few minutes, marred only by a thoroughly unnecessary flatulence joke, and a sharp contrast to the utter artificiality and stridency of the rest of the movie–especially the big bash featuring Thomas Lennon and Annie Parisse as the diamond-owning couple and the idiotic reconciliation at the end. (The fact that the family sequence centers on a card game called “Bullshit” seems an ironic commentary on the picture as a whole.) Under the circumstances it’s predictable that Petrie seems at a loss about how to shape things (the opening scenes are, quite simply, a mess) and the cast fares poorly. McConaughey does about as well as could be expected playing a human punching bag, but since Ben has little to do beyond acting alternately smug and debased, it’s a thoroughly thankless task. Hudson is similarly afflicted, forced to mug and shriek half the time while desperately pleading for our empathy elsewhere. Neuwirth, Klein, Michele and Harlow are all insufferably arch, but Adam Goldberg is acceptably nerdy, in a typically sitcom way, as Ben’s best buddy. On the other hand, Kathryn Hahn overdoes the needy bit as Andie’s unlucky-in-love pal. The picture looks fine–Therese DePrez’s production design and John Bailey’s cinematography make it a much prettier package than the script deserves–but as is usual in such cases, the music score (by David Newman) is unbearably perky.

The campaign that Ben comes up with for his new clients is based on the catch-phrase “Frost yourself.” It doesn’t seem likely that many women would be inclined to don sparkling gems in response to such an invitation, but most viewers will be frosted in quite a different sense after sitting through this misfire. “How to Lose A Guy in 10 Days” may sparkle visually, but it’s all glass–cinematic costume jewelry.