Originally created 01/23/04

At the Movies: 'Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!'



For a movie with an exclamation point in its title, "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" sure is unsure of itself - unlike, say, the Tom Hanks musical "That Thing You Do!" or even "Zapped!" that 1982 Scott Baio classic.

The film's young star, the perky Kate Bosworth, is the embodiment of such shiny, happy, 1950s wholesomeness as grocery store checkout girl Rosalee Futch, she's like a modern-day Sandra Dee.

Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), the Hollywood leading man she worships and wins a date with in a contest, is intended as a boy-next-door matinee idol similar to Tab Hunter.

Yet the film by director Robert Luketic - who made his debut with the surprise 2001 hit "Legally Blonde" - is set in the present and toys with the idea of skewering the superficiality of contemporary celebrity.

Ultimately, though, it lacks the guts to follow through and relies on Hollywood stereotypes. Actors are insecure, their fans are rabid, their agents and managers are parasites, and it never rains in Southern California.

"Tad Hamilton" also has no idea what to do with its likable, insanely attractive young stars - especially the person playing Tad Hamilton. Duhamel - formerly of "All My Children," currently of NBC's "Las Vegas" - has the looks and presence to carry the role, and seems like he's trying to infuse the character with some kind of depth or inner conflict. The script from former TV writer Victor Levin ("Mad About You") doesn't give him much to work with, though.

Also struggling gamely is "That '70s Show" star Topher Grace, who hasn't found a film since 2000's "Traffic" that lets him show off how disarmingly charismatic he can be. (We're not counting his cameo in the beginning of "Ocean's 11," because he was playing himself.)

As Pete, the manager of the Piggly Wiggly store where Rosalee works, Grace certainly has more to do than he did in last year's "Mona Lisa Smile," in which he played Julia Stiles' bland beau.

Here, he's the third party in the love triangle that forms the premise of "Tad Hamilton," and gets some pretty heavy (though pretty predictable) dramatic moments. Rosalee loves Tad, Tad falls in love with Rosalee, but Rosalee has no clue that Pete has secretly been in love with her since childhood.

Gee, who do you think she'll choose?

And while we're asking questions, who wouldn't fall for Rosalee? When she arrives in Los Angeles for her big date, she already looks like she belongs there, with her platinum blond hair, golden tan and toned body.

It's hard to believe, though, that after just one evening together - in which the paparazzi stalks them so incessantly, they're barely alone - Rosalee has had enough impact on shallow Tad to inspire him to set his priorities straight by living near her in small-town West Virginia.

"I'm trying to feed my soul," Tad explains to his appalled manager (Sean Hayes) and agent (Nathan Lane), both named Richard Levy, who devised the win-a-date contest as a public relations stunt to improve Tad's bad-boy image.

(That's sort of a shaky, anachronistic concept, too. Colin Farrell and Russell Crowe don't seem to have any problems finding work or fans.)

The movie would have been a lot more interesting - and would have shown more guts, to use the word again - if an unattractive actress, or even an average-looking one, had played Rosalee. Bosworth, star of the surfer chick flick "Blue Crush," is instead beautiful and harmless - just like Tad Hamilton, and just like "Tad Hamilton."

"Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" a DreamWorks Pictures release, is rated PG-13 for sexual content, some drug references and language. Running time: 96 minutes. Two stars out of four.