At one point in Head Over Heels, Amanda Pierce (Monica Potter) and Jim Winston (Freddie Prinze Jr.) take a moment from consummating their mutual attraction to discuss some of the ground rules of their burgeoning relationship. It’s a moment which illustrates all that is wrong — and the little that’s right — about this painfully insipid romantic comedy.
Here, and in other scenes where their natural likability isn’t undone by crude dialogue or even cruder slapstick (involving, among other indignities, a humping Great Dane and loud defecation), Potter and Prinze shine as a pair of romantic optimists in a cynical world, always ready to believe the best about someone despite experience.
But even this genuine moment is undercut. Take the image before them, on the television screen, of burning logs. In the insanely large, opulent and chic New York apartments they inhabit, no one has a real fireplace. Or consider that their every move is being scrutinized by Amanda’s four voyeuristic roommates, Jade (Shalom Harlow), Roxana (Ivana Milicevic), Candi (Sarah OíHare) and Holly (Tomiko Fraser), all would-be supermodels. (Their vapid self-absorption is a lame self-parody: These four are actually covergirls and runway stars.)
The warmth and sincerity Potter and Prinze manage to project is continually undone by the screenplay credited to Ron Burch and David Kidd, with two additional writers listed as story creators (Were four people necessary to cook up this dross?), which dictates behavior and situations so far removed from real life that the insincerity is mind-boggling. Granted, romantic comedies (particularly the screwball kind) are usually flights of fancy. Still, look at what these sorry imaginations have concocted for a painting conservator at the prestigious Metropolitan Museum. There’s a dingy basement where priceless canvases are tossed about, an obviously inept staff sporting paint-splattered lab coats, guards buzzing total strangers in after-hours, and Amanda actually being allowed to draw the face of her beloved onto a priceless Titian.
So then why shouldn’t too-good-to-be-true fashion executive Jim actually be a heroic secret agent? Director Mark Waters, who made the flawed but intriguingly creepy family romance, House of Yes (featuring Prinze prior to his teen-dream days), approaches this material with the dubious philosophy that if nothing is believable, anything goes. Someone should have warned him before he stepped onto that slippery slope and slid directly to romantic-comedy hell.
E-mail Serena Donadoni at email@example.com.