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Music and Lyrics

Most people wouldn't like to be called a "has-been," but it suits Alex Fletcher (Hugh Grant) just fine. The lesser half of '80s music duo "PoP," Alex has emerged from a rough career patch in the '90s to earn his livelihood on a newfound repertory circuit, where Reagan-era music qualifies as "oldies" enough to earn him gigs at amusement parks and state fairs. In fact, Alex's professional life is filled with numerous, and sometimes tacky, business proposals — including "Battle of the '80s Has-Beens," which involves televised boxing — but his manager Chris (Brad Garret) soon comes across a genuine opportunity: Sexy pop diva Cora Corman is putting together a new album with star songwriters, and Alex is invited to write something called "A Way Back Into Love." The only problem is that he has to write it in less than a week, and the lyricist he's paired with isn't much of a team player. It's only when the young woman who tends to the plants in Alex's Manhattan apartment offers her own creative input that he proposes an entirely new partnership. Sophie Fisher (Drew Barrymore) may do little more than water ficus trees and write marketing material for her sister's chain of weight-loss centers, but she's also a Brandeis grad with a literary background, and before long she and Alex are working their way through the short, tumultuous business of crafting a hit. Sophie's older sister Rhonda (Kristen Johnston) is only too happy to learn that her younger sibling is collaborating with an '80s sex symbol. But Sophie's previous relationship with famous author Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott) has damaged her self-confidence. And the inevitable romantic entanglement between Sophie and Alex threatens to derail the entire project.

*          *          *

There's a clear and unintentional irony to be found in Music and Lyrics (2007) — Hugh Grant may be several removes away from has-been status, but he's very much in danger of repeating himself far too often. It's impossible to deny Grant's stature as a profitable movie star, but it's also hard to ignore the fact that he's been dining out on the same screen persona for some time now. When Grant scores on screen, he's inimitable, from his breakthrough role in Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994) to the entertaining Two Weeks Notice (2003) and the sublime About a Boy (2002). He's also very good at selecting material that plays to his strengths, which makes Music and Lyrics disappointing by comparison. Grant's stammering, sarcastic persona can't be plugged into just any scenario, and he's often best when he plays just slightly against type, be it as a lothario (About a Boy, Bridget Jones's Diary), a brutal, self-hating TV producer (American Dreamz), or even a prime minister (Love Actually). Here, it almost feels as if he's been given another famous-person role that makes him look a bit silly (especially in the retro music video that opens the picture, in which he plays Andrew Ridgely to a more prominent George Michael) with an acceptably A-list female co-star. It's comfortable territory, writted and directed by Two Weeks Notice helmer Marc Lawrence, but it's also surprisingly boilerplate in its approach to the genre. There are enough witty asides and amusing moments to compensate for a rather threadbare plot, but the ending is predictably contrived, and the music simply isn't up to the job. The characters clearly value the artistic ideal of the three-minute pop song, but nothing on the soundtrack approaches the clean, melodic strength of an '80s ballad like Careless Whisper, and there isn't even a hint of the adapted pop-Motown sound that powered the catalogs of most British acts at the time (Wham! and Culture Club being just two examples). Perhaps its asking too much to even note that there was a time in Hollywood when a film like Music and Lyrics would be expected to deliver a hit song in its own right. But it should be said that the movie will entertain casual viewers, while those who adore Hugh Grant's more subversive instincts will quickly go thumbing through his back catalog for a nostalgia fix.

Warner's DVD release of Music and Lyrics presents the feature with a solid anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) and Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Extras include "Note for Note: The Making of Music and Lyrics" (13 min.), a deleted scenes reel (11 min.), a gag reel (4 min.), and the complete music video of "PoP Goes My Heart." Keep-case.

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