Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (United States, 2004)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

One reasonable way to judge a romantic comedy is to ask how strong a rooting interest the viewer has in the coupling that is destined to occur at the end of the film. In Win a Date with Tad Hamilton!, the desire is lukewarm. The central flaw here isn't the predictability of the plot (that's a given in any film of this genre) or the absence of crisp dialogue, but the lack of conviction with which two of the three lead characters are presented. It's tough to develop a compelling romantic triangle when two-thirds of the participants aren't being effectively "sold."

The story, which has more problems than promise, could have been developed into an effective satire on the Hollywood system (and elements of that approach are in evidence), but director Robert Luketic (Legally Blonde) has elected to go in another direction. Instead of biting the hand that feeds him, he has targeted the film as a teen date movie. It fills the niche efficiently, but there's a scheduling issue: Win a Date is coming close on the heels of two other movies aimed at the identical target audience: Chasing Liberty and Along Came Polly. Time will tell if the box office can support three similar motion pictures released within a couple weeks of each other.

Rosalee Futch (Kate Bosworth) is a checker/bagger at the local Piggly Wiggly grocery store in a small town in West Virginia. She and her best friend, Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin), are huge fans of movie stud Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), so, when a contest to win a date with him is announced online, Rosalee enters - and emerges victorious. Thrilled by her luck, she flies to California, where she is treated to a magical evening with the star who seems to be everything she hoped he would be. For his part, Tad, although initially using the date as a publicity stunt to whitewash a tarnished image, is intrigued by Rosalee's innocence. Determined to change his life, he pursues Rosalee back to West Virginia, where he discovers that he's not the only one seeking to win Rosalee's affections. Her other suitor is her long-time friend, Pete (Topher Grace), who would easily have the upper hand, except that he lacks the courage to make the necessary move.

Kate Bosworth, possibly best known for her star turn in Blue Crush, was marvelous in Wonderland, a movie that forced her to dig deep. (In my opinion, she deserved a Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for that portrayal.) The strength of her work in the sleazy 2003 film makes the vapidity of her performance here all the more discouraging. Bosworth fails to imbue Rosalee with anything more substantive than a wide-eyed innocence. She's effective only in the scenes during which she is giddily anticipating winning the contest. As the object of two mens' affection, she lacks the appeal we would expect.

Josh Duhamel does as little with Tad as Bosworth does with Rosalee. Part of that is the fault of the filmmakers, who never see the mega-star as anything more than a gigantic complication in the Rosalee/Pete romance. However, considering the amount of screen time he is accorded, it would have been nice to see Tad escape (if only a little bit) from the stereotype into which he is shoehorned. A "real" Tad would have made for a stronger challenge to the Rosalee/Pete pairing, thus giving Win a Date more of a kick.

The only actor to give us a character worth caring about is Topher Grace, whose self-deprecating Pete represents the kind of underdog that audiences always get behind. Best known for his part in "That '70s Show," Grace has a natural charm and charisma, and comes across a little like a younger version of Robert Downey Jr. To the extent that we want the central romance to succeed, it's because of Pete, not Rosalee. Had the movie's focus been skewed more towards him than her, the rooting interest would have been stronger.

The film's comedy is lackluster, with supporting actors Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes (as Tad's manager and agent) providing a few mildly amusing moments that would be at home in a sit-com. Director Luketic appears more concerned with developing the romance than generating laughs. For those who are looking for a mediocre teen date movie with a love story that it more obligatory than heartfelt, Win a Date will do the job. But it's far from a worthy or memorable way to chase away the late-January blahs.

Win a Date with Tad Hamilton (United States, 2004)

Director: Robert Luketic
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Josh Duhamel, Topher Grace, Ginnifer Goodwin, Gary Cole, Nathan Lane, Sean Hayes
Screenplay: Victor Levin
Cinematography: Peter Lyons Collister
Music: Ed Shearmur
U.S. Distributor: Dreamworks
Run Time: 1:36
U.S. Release Date: 2004-01-23
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Profanity, Sexual Content)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1