Down With Love
starring Ewan MacGregor and Renee Zellweger
2 1/2 stars

Down With Love announces its cinematic intentions right after the Fox logo fades and a softly painted 50's-style title page tells us this film is presented in Cinemascope (that is, widescreen). Instantly we are to be transported back to the era of clever, well-written romantic comedies, the Billy Wilder movies, the Cary Grant and Katherin Hepburn films. We're to expect a crisp, jaunty bit of romantic business with the witty style and gotcha delivery of a movie like The Apartment, except this time it's in color.

What we get is, well, probably what you'd expect -- well-intentioned, earnest mimicry of the style of those films without any real grasp of what made them so good. The result is a movie that feels like a classic romantic comedy except you don't actually feel anything.

The movie's set in 1962 New York. Renee Zellweger has just arrived from Maine to attend the publication of her new book, Down With Love, in which she argues women don't need love, just sex. She's supposed to be interviewed by slick womanizer/reporter Ewan MacGregor ("Man's-man, ladies'-man, man-about-town," as he's jauntily described several times), but he blows her off. However, when her book becomes a huge success and she slams him on TV, he changes his mind; now he's going to pretend to be someone else, make her fall in love with him and then write an expose.

That's the plot, as though it mattered. Down With Love isn't really about story, it's about style and pacing, about Ewan's hearty grin or Renee's pout, Ewan's martini apartment or Renee's checkered coat. And that's sort of the problem. Down With Love is aimed at fans of classic romantic comedies. But those films were written by masters of dialogue who knew the sharp push and pull of good comic-dramatic-romantic dialogue. The breezy style is just the surface aspect of writing that is so sharp that major plot and character points can spin on six words of dialogue.

In Down With Love, there is none of that underlying super-sharp character or story logic; it's all just surface aspect. Everything is jaunty and energetic, but it's rendered so artificial, it drains the effect. There's wittiness, but not a lot of wit; glamour, but not a lot of beauty. And, staying true to its 50s/60s feel, there's also not a lot of what we would call "hotness". 

And most damaging, there's no real romantic spark. In any romance, there has to be that moment when one character is surprised to discover that he or she loves the other one. Here, as far as I can tell, that moment never happens. It's all just grins and snappy shoes and skipping steps and rat-a-tat-tat dialogue, right up to the end.

It's not Ewan MacGregor's fault; he can do this stuff. Hell, he was amazing as a romantic lead in Moulin Rouge, a hyper-artificial movie that nonetheless blazes with feeling. And fans of his should be happy; he appears several times shirtless, and he's always got his grin at full wattage. Rene Zellweger, on the other handů not so good. She was wonderful and winning in Jerry MacGuire as the supposedly frumpy girl who turns out to be beautiful. But when she plays the girl who's supposed to be beautiful, as in Chicago or Down With Love, somehow her cute little pouts seem to backfire. It's tough to care if she finds love or even if she gets manipulated into it.

Down With Love is not a terrible movie. It's a simple candy in some shiny packaging. Though it's not smart or clever, it has its flashes of charm. God knows, the look and design is terrific; everything about it beams with "50s-becoming-the-60s" style. But is it worth seeing when Matrix Reloaded is already playing in theatres as you read this? Uh, no.