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MPAA Rating: PG-13 (For sexual content, some drug references and language)
Running Time: 96 minutes
Starring: Kate Bosworth, Topher Grace, Josh Duhamel, Ginnifer Goodwin, Kathryn Hahn, Gary Cole, with Sean Hayes and Nathan Lane
Written by: Victor Levin
Directed by: Robert Luketic
Retail Price: $26.99
Features: Deleted Scenes, Gag Reel, Photo Gallery, Production Notes, Cast and Filmmakers Biographies
Specs: 2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French Dolby Digital 5.1, English Subtitles, French Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, Scenes (24 Scenes)
Released: April 20th, 2004
"You're BOTH named Richard Levy?"
"Yeah, who isn't?"
I'm not afraid to admit it when I say I was probably the only person in North America anticipating the release of "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" (Arguably, I might have also been the only person who knew this film was coming out.) I viewed the trailer quite a few times and the film looked incredibly appealing to me (which means the trailer certainly did its job). What wasn't there to like about it? It looked to be a fun, high-concept romantic comedy with a hot and capable director as well as a strong array of actors. And as much as I was hoping the 2004 movie season would get off to a fine start with this film (I originally saw the movie at a sneak preview on the second day of January), somehow all the potential I was hoping for in the film was completely missed. Just what made "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" so underwhelming?
The story is the usual love triangle, but it features a few quirks to stand on its own. Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) works at the local Piggly Wiggly in West Virginia with her two best friends, Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin) and Pete (Topher Grace). Like many females in the world, Rosalee is infatuated with the movie star Tad Hamitlon (Josh Duhamel). Hamilton though, has problems of his own. Apparently in a Hollywood where lewd sex crimes and drug overdoses don't quite exist, Hamilton is gaining a bad boy reputation (by - gasp! - having sex with models, drinking and smoking) that could cost him movie roles (apparently the Hollywood portrayed in the movie doesn't forgive these crimes).
Long story short, for good publicity, a contest is set up. For 100 dollars, you can win a date with Tad Hamilton (and the 100 dollars goes toward Save The Children)... and Rosalee wins. She's flown out to Los Angeles, and really hits it off with Tad. Charmed by her innocence, Tad decides to visit Rosalee in West Virgina and ends up buying a house there. As the two begin a whirlwind romance, Pete starts to become jealous. Of course, Pete has been harboring his true feelings for the girl he's known for twenty-two years and is on the verge of losing her for good. Who will win fair Rosalee's heart? Just remember, as the tagline goes for this particular film, in every love story there's only room for one leading man.
It's not that there is one set problem to "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" but rather, it's the crucial little things that end up culminating. I was personally surprised and puzzled by this, since it was directed by Robert Luketic. Luketic, if you recall, was responsible for helming the first "Legally Blonde" which was a sleeper hit during the summer of 2001. Many didn't have high hopes for that film, but Luketic was able to craft the mundane into a very likeable, fresh and smart comedy that soon wasn't just another film for teenage girls but for mainstream audiences of all ages. I don't know why, but he just doesn't get the magic right for his follow-up film.
Luketic certainly has storytelling instincts: the film is well paced and doesn't drag on, and he certainly has some very nice shots and is able to create the surreal world of celebrity culture, especially as an outsider (such as the flashbulbs going off when Rosalee's with Tad for the first time and Tad being spotted in the small West Virginia town). But Luketic doesn't set off the right sparks, and that's where the film suffers. The scene where Rosalee finds out she's won the date is a blip on the radar. We see the media surrounding her house and a short clip of her being excited, and that's it. I'm sure Luketic didn't want to overdo the obvious, but there should have been more of this in my opinion. Not only is it ripe with comic opportunities, but maybe to have Rosalee say something. Maybe Cathy and maybe Pete too (since they're both with her). And what about her father? Like a lot of the movie, there seems to be missed opportunities.
I also had problems with the actual date between Rosalee and Tad. It's a shame, since much of the movie and those two leads end up relying on what happens on that date. While I can give credit for it helping to establish Rosalee as a simple and sweet girl, as well as Tad's image and also how he falls for her, the date is incredibly flat. The conversation and dynamics between the two are not exciting, even with the obvious culture clashing. Couldn't the two connect more and in other ways besides having braces? It should have worked and been stronger, but it doesn't and we're given no choice but to buy into it. I also bet there could have been some funny moments on the date and within developing the couple, but all that's given is Rosalee getting so nervous that she vomits in the limo on the way to dinner.
I'm sure some of the blame when it comes to the two scenes I mentioned can also be put on screenwriter Victor Levin. But most disappointing about Levin's screenplay is how he seems to overlook the small and hilarious. This movie is not as funny as it should be. There are some amusing moments and clever one-liners, but nothing that will make an audience member laugh long and hard. Most frustrating to me though is how Levin tip-toes around great and topical humor when it comes to the entertainment industry and celebrity culture. I'm not sure if you can blame him though, since I have a feeling DreamWorks wasn't looking to alienate audiences and wanted humor a typical moviegoer would understand. However, what probably makes this frustrating is that we are given a taste of the humor Levin walks around through Rosalee's father. The scene where he meets Tad and talks to him in bullshit movie lingo a la the trade magazine Variety is pretty priceless.
Speaking of Rosalee's father, the film features an eclectic cast of supporting characters but barely uses them at all. These characters are great and more interesting than our protagonists even, and should have been given more screen time. The problem is that the characters are simply there and seem to serve a purpose with a subtle line or two, but that's it. The characters are more of an excuse to get some laughs - and they do - one or two scenes for each, and that's about it. I would have liked to seen more of Cathy, Rosalee's father (though the film doesn't explain what happened to her Mom) and the two Richard Levys. If the film took more time to develop these characters, they probably would have stood out even more and add a lot more to the narrative in general.
To Levin's credit though, he does give the story an ample amount of heart and wisdom when it comes to the nature of love. There are some nice, true-to-life monologues that are a little bit preachy, but still resonate quite highly. Levin is also clear to point out the difference in being truly in love with somebody and being in love with the idea of somebody, and how we think people can change us and how they really end up changing us.
There isn't really much fault when it comes to the acting either. Kate Bosworth's star is certainly rising, and she's a perfect fit as Rosalee. It's easy to buy Bosworth as a sweet small town girl, but she is winning and nicely balances the excitement of her situation with the conflict. As far as Tad Hamilton goes, it was a smart move to cast Josh Duhamel. It's easy to buy Duhamel as a charming movie star with the "bad boy" image. Duhamel has a natural screen presence and is also a natural actor to boot, and I'm sure a bigger star would have overshadowed the movie (though maybe it would have helped to bring more people in to see it). While the chemistry between Duhamel and Bosworth isn't intense, there definitely is some natural force between the two actors. Though I am kind of thinking that maybe if there were different casting choices, maybe there would have been a different kind of chemistry that could have helped the movie.
On the supporting side you get the great actors with their one or two scenes to steal. Ginnifer Goodwin is slowly making her mark as a versatile character actress (I look forward to seeing more of her, especially now that "Ed" is off the air) and the always reliable Gary Cole deserved a lot more scenes with his hysterical role. Nathan Lane is his funny and excellent self as one Richard Levy, while Sean Hayes is quite good as the second Richard Levy. Hayes is a fine comic talent. He's not over-the-top in this movie as he is on the sitcom "Will and Grace," but he manages to score a few laughs and still be kooky. The film also features another up-and-coming actress, Kathryn Hahn, as the symapthetic and lovelorn bartendtress Angelica. Hahn is very enjoyable as she shows off more of her wry comic skills and actually plays a critical role here.
Still, the absolute best thing about "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" is the talents of actor Topher Grace. Not only does it showcase his fabulous comedic rhythm and deadpan delivery, but his character also has the most drama to deal with. His performance is wonderfully heartfelt and even moving. Grace makes the character of Pete quite easy to relate to. It would probably be easy to overact as Pete, but Grace keeps the lines firm and hits all the right notes. If there is a single reason to see this movie, it is because of this fantastic actor. (Though I must say it is a little weird that there are two references to his "That 70s Show" co-star Ashton Kutcher.)
I must say that I really, really wanted to love "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" but it's really just predictable romantic comedy that isn't as fresh as it should be. It is decent and has a few bright spots to enjoy, but nothing that truly makes it stand out. The movie does have its heart in the right place, but it could have been so much better if it wasn't aiming to be a typical teen movie and took more risky chances in its satire. Alas, another film that makes me say "What could have been..."
Being released in separate widescreen and full screen versions, the widescreen "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" has a pretty nice anamorphic transfer. Presented in the aspect ratio of 2.35:1, black levels are solid, fleshtones look very fine and the colors are pretty bold and refined. Detail on the image is also pretty good. Unfortuantely, the contrast is usually way too high on the picture which results in shimmering and quite a bit of noise. Also noticeable throughout are pesky edge halos and some small edge enhancement. Now and then there are dirt pieces, scratches, specks and blemishes but they don't last for very long. Needless to say, these inconsistencies all become pretty distracting, but they don't completely ruin what is otherwise a clear and sharp looking transfer.
What does the film and its English 5.1 Dolby Digital track have in common? Easy: they're both predictable. Not that it's a bad thing, because the 5.1 track doesn't slouch here. Still, it's not all that exciting. The dialogue is firmly placed and easy to hear, and it doesn't become overpowered by anything else. The music in the film - that includes the score and well-selected pop songs - are mixed through the speakers well and give a nice aura to supplement the experience. The use of the subwoofer is nothing special, while surround effects are pretty limited but still effective. The surrounds come into play in your usual broad ways (cars driving and airplanes) and the usual subtle ones (background talking in restauraunts and the pourining rain). Come to think of it, this is all REALLY predictable. No complaints though, since it all fits and works. Also included is an English Dolby Surround track and a 5.1 Dolby Digital track in French, plus subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Oddly enough, given that there isn't much on the disc, I'm surprised Dreamworks didn't include a DTS track (as they do on most of their releases).
It's only been about three months since the film was in theaters and then released on DVD. Given how big of a bomb it was, I guess I shouldn't be surprised there aren't too many extras. While I would have actually liked to have a commentary from the cast or production team, or even some interviews, none of the supplements really focus on the creation of the film (other than the standard but rather in-depth press kit Production Notes). Oh well.
The major extra are the Deleted Scenes that run nearly twenty-three minutes long and are presented in decent looking non-anamorphic widescreen. Some of the scenes are actually alternative versions and extended ones. While there is no reasoning explaining why there were cuts or why other versions of some scenes made it into the final film, as usual with deleted scenes, it's all pretty obvious. None of the scenes featured add any depth to the film, though I'm sure a few could have been put back in and it wouldn't have hurt it. There are actually some pretty funny moments (more Gary Cole and Sean Hayes would have definitely helped), and the alternate ending - if a bit more was put into it - may have actually been better. But there is pointless stuff here (did this film really need the presence of Paris Hilton? or maybe her stuff was cut because of the film was released weeks after her controversial private tape hit the net?) and in all, nothing is truly missed. But if you liked the movie, you'll probably want to view these scenes.
The Gag Reel is actually pretty funny, and one of the best ones I've seen in a long time. Time was actually put into this one - you can tell since it has titles at the beginning and end and the outtakes are actually catagorized (maybe the reel was shown at a premiere party for the movie or something). There's also a Photo Gallery of stills from the movie and on-the-set pictures. Oddly enough, there are a few stills from scenes that aren't in the movie or even from the deleted scenes. I have a feeling that not all the deleted material was put on the DVD, but it's hard to complain about that when there's so much of it.
Rounding things off are very informative Cast and Filmmaker Biographies (also probably from the film's press kit) and a Previews section advertising the live-action "Peter Pan" coming to DVD and the film's soundtrack. Though, no trailer for the film itself. A shame really, since it what made me want to see this film in the first place (though maybe its for a reason: the trailer had alternative takes that weren't used in the final film).
I was very disappointed with "Win A Date With Tad Hamilton!" as it's definitely a film that could have been a cut-above instead of conforming to the usual standards of the romantic comedy genre. The film was the first flop of 2004, so who knows how well this film was marketed or if audiences were in the mood for this type of movie around the time. Nonetheless, it'll probably find a bigger audience on the video market. The DVD features an above-average presentation and sports a few extras, but it's not an amazing package for the retail price its offered at. The movie makes a perfect rental if you're in the mood for a romantic comedy, otherwise, I see only die-hard fans of the movie forking over the cash for this one (does this movie even have any die-hard fans?).