The pathetically generic title that’s been slapped onto Ashley Judd’s first romantic comedy is of recent vintage; until a few months ago the picture, directed by actor Tony Goldwyn, was known as “Animal Husbandry,” the name of the source novel by Laura Zigman. The studio probably felt that that moniker might keep audiences away in the belief that the picture was some sort of 4-H instructional film, but the original title was actually much more appropriate. “Someone Like You” is evocative of the aroma that the livestock whose mating habits act as an analogy to human boy-girl relationships in the story would leave behind in a crowded barn. Simply put, the movie reeks. That’s doubly unfortunate because it has a very attractive cast. Judd remains lovely and personable, and she’s teamed with Hugh Jackman (Wolverine in last summer’s “X-Men”), who’s a very charismatic fellow. Unhappily, things get so bad before the movie’s over that you might say they’re reduced to wallowing in a trough full of dreadful material.

The plot’s extraordinarily dumb. Jane Goodale (Judd) is a TV production assistant dumped by her latest beau, a smarmy co-worker played by the equally smarmy Greg Kinnear; soon she not only moves in with another colleague, macho chauvinist Eddie Alden (Jackman), but develops a pop philosophy about male-female problems based on the observation that in the bovine world, a bull will never do it with the same cow twice. Instead of putting forth this theory herself, however, she attributes it to a nonexistent Ph.D., who immediately becomes a media sensation (especially since she’s necessarily a recluse). The unsurprising denouement naturally involves her linking up with Jackman and addressing the world in her own voice about a revision of her views.

The intention of Goldwyn and scripter Elizabeth Chandler was probably to fashion a modern version of the old Tracy-Hepburn formula, but they haven’t managed even to meet the standards of the Doris Day-Rock Hudson vehicles of the 1950s. Nothing about “Someone Like You” works. The plot is flimsy, the attempts at cuteness fall flat, and the dialogue is banal. The picture also lurches along at a flaccid, fumbling pace, hobbled not only by mind-numbingly clumsy narration from Judd but by its division into supposedly amusing little segments by title cards so insufferably cute they might just make you retch.

Obviously the cast can do little under the circumstances but either overplay or try to disappear into the woodwork. Judd, sadly enough, is the worst offender in the former category; she mugs and rolls her eyes so savagely that she reminded this viewer at least of (if you’ll pardon the expression) Teri Hatcher. She’s also compelled to endure several sequences that are simply humiliating–the worst being a scene in which she has to do a cheerleading routine in her undies. Kinnear is only slightly less virulent, perhaps because he doesn’t even seem to notice the junk he’s stuck in. Ditto Ellen Barkin, who’s unbearably shrill and mincing as the prima donna talk-show host for whom everybody works. And then there’s Marisa Tomei, as Jane’s best friend and confidante, who pops up every so often to hear her girlfriend’s complaints and offer advice and commiseration; she goes overboard, too, but the difference is that her role is so peripheral to the story that it could easily have been cut altogether. She probably wishes it had been.

Jackman, on the other hand, attempts to escape too much notice by underplaying. There are times one can almost sense that his obligatory lady’s man smile is slowly freezing into an appalled grimace–entirely understandable in this context. Thankfully he, and Judd too, are talented enough to survive this debacle.

One can’t be certain, though, that the same is true of Goldwyn. His first directorial effort, the independent “A Walk on the Moon,” was no masterpiece, but it had a genuineness the present synthetic fiasco completely lacks. It was also decently constructed, something of which this cinematic shambles could never be accused. Maybe Goldwyn should just stay in front of the camera after all.

One oddly telling line from the picture points up exactly what’s wrong with it. In discussing Jane’s pseudonymous article, Barkin’s Liz, anxious to get the author as a guest on her program, enthuses, “It’s provocative, it’s clever, it’s got mass appeal written all over it”–everything, in short, that “Someone Like You” is not. Ridding theatres of the stench this fleabag of a movie will leave in its wake will require a positively Herculean effort (just think of the Augean stables). It takes the typical chick flick, never all that great to begin with, to a distressing new low.