Paul Morse (Jason Lee) has this terrible problem. He's all set to marry the take-charge raven-haired beauty Karen (Selma Blair, thanklessly playing second fiddle as usual) but, late in the game, finds himself also falling for her free-spirited blond cousin, Becky (Julia Stiles). Gee, what's a guy to do?
It's always nice to see a movie premise that average, ordinary moviegoers can relate to, ain't it? High concept aside, in real life both ladies would probably ditch the guy for keeping it in the family anyway. One also has to wonder why, as a general principle, guys in movies so often end up engaged to people they really don't know and aren't right for. Oh, right -- that's how Hollywood marriages are.
That said, we should probably back up and elaborate on the premise of A Guy Thing. Paul's set to marry Karen, even though she makes him wear ugly sweaters, and he works for her dad (James Brolin) at a company that publishes hunting magazines. At his own bachelor party, however, Paul pretends not to be the groom for reasons too silly to get into here, imbibes amply and awakens the next morning with beautiful tiki dancer Becky in bed beside him.
Becky explains that nothing actually happened. Paul assumes he'll never see her again. Only two things make that an impossibility: the fact that Becky is a serial job-hopper (and therefore likely to pop up in random professions all over town) and, of course, the fact that she's the bride's cousin. If all that seems a tad coincidental, we should also add that photos later show up apparently revealing Paul and Becky having sex, even though they supposedly didn't. We never see anything but the backs of said pictures but are told that they're pornographic. It's really best not to get too analytical here; the screenwriters -- all four of them (including Meet the Parents scribe Greg Glienna, recycling his own bits) -- clearly didn't, either.
Therein lies A Guy Thing's central weakness. It doesn't lack for ideas but rather has too many of them, and none is well thought out (director Chris Koch's Snow Day had a similar problem). The heart of the premise is a classic screwball theme that's worked for years -- uptight guy marrying uptight girl meets free spirit and loosens up -- but the twists just pile on, and most are half-assed. The running joke that gives the movie its title is the premise that every guy in the city is willing to cover for any other guy, even a stranger, when he lies to his girlfriend about cheating (which in this case he didn't actually do, but it's also a prerequisite for these films that no woman will ever believe a man caught in a potentially incriminating situation). It's an amusing joke in several different contexts but isn't made use of to the degree that it could be.
Similarly, there's the psycho ex-boyfriend angle, in which Becky's 'roid-raging crooked-cop ex-boyfriend (Lochlyn Munro, reprising his Dead Man on Campus crazy shtick, secure in the knowledge that no one saw it the first time) shows up to wreak havoc. He and Lee have one or two good scenes together, but then he's written out rather quickly as we move on to the next thing. There's the old marijuana-in-the-food bit (not funny and never really was). There's Larry Miller, pulling double duty by doing his requisite scary-conservative routine and later filling the obligatory "wacky minister" quotient. And there are Walter Mitty-like fantasy sequences for Lee, none of which plays well.
Yet somewhere in there is much to like -- mostly the actors, who seem truly committed to the scattershot material. Shawn Hatosy is often cast as the best friend, but he's rarely this good. Lee is surprisingly convincing as a pushover. Snickers pitchman Thomas Lennon brings his own distinct vibe as Paul's brother, who's obsessed with Karen, and Jackie Burroughs (The Grey Fox) takes the stereotype of the drinkin'-and-cussin' elderly relative in new directions. And Stiles is at her best since 10 Things I Hate About You -- college seems to have given her more personality, or maybe it was those journeys to the darker side in The Business of Strangers and The Bourne Identity. For once, we can understand why someone would find more than just her looks appealing.
Special mention should be made of SNL alumnus David Koechner as Paul's balding stepdad with a John Wayne fetish. As written, and as visually conceived, it seems as though the character was modeled on Randy Quaid's recurring character in the Vacation movies, but Koechner imbues him with so much energy that the lowbrow routine takes on new life. When Koechner's beer-drinking lug is put opposite James Brolin's tanned businessman, it's a weird dichotomy of conservative archetypes brought to life -- as if we're watching a two-man struggle for the soul of the Republican Party right there. If they'd made that the whole movie, they might have had a winner.
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