MOVIE REVIEW- Parent trip: Too long a story for one night

a still from this week's filmPutting the "lent" in Valentine's Day, Definitely, Maybe is a borrowed collection of romantic clichés that's been nicely packaged but overstays its welcome. Or considering that How I Met Your Mother is in its third season on CBS, perhaps we should be grateful that this uncredited knockoff comes in at around two hours.

Steve WarrenWe should certainly be grateful that Ryan Reynolds' acting is tolerable, for perhaps the first time in his career, although he won't be mistaken for Ryan Gosling in that department, and his fans will be disappointed that he never takes his shirt off. (Shoulders peeking over the bedcovers don't count.)

Will Hayes (Reynolds), a New York ad man, is in the middle of a divorce. His precocious ten-year-old daughter, Maya (Abigail Breslin), who's just had her first sex education lesson in school, wants to know the whole story of how she was created, hoping she can somehow bring her parents back together.

Will starts to answer her as a bedtime story, but snoring from the audience tells him it's too long a story for one night. He changes the names of the female characters, making it "a love story-mystery," as he relates his autobiography.

It begins in 1992, when he leaves Madison, Wisconsin, to spend two months in New York working on the Clinton campaign (the Bill Clinton campaign). Sadly staying behind is his college sweetheart, Emily (Elizabeth Banks). Maya immediately rules her out because the old girlfriend at the beginning of the story always gets dumped.

Two more prime suspects emerge, with a few dark horses in the background. Also working in the Clinton office, but with no political motivation, is April (Isla Fisher). She and Will clash from the get-go, which gives her the edge, especially since she's got second billing, after Reynolds. Ah, but Rachel Weisz has special billing, so perhaps she's the special one. She plays Summer, a budding journalist and college friend of Emily's, who's the part-time plaything of sexagenarian author Hampton Roth (Kevin Kline).

For five years Will bounces between the three women like a pinball, never hitting the right one when she's lit up for bonus points. As enjoyable as many scenes are, the mystery increasingly becomes less Who will it be? than When will it end?

Will softens elements of the story for Maya's benefit, explaining recreational sex as a "rehearsal" for making babies, although there are times when the narrative is strictly for our benefit and the young listener is forgotten until she asks something like, "What's a threesome?"

Will and April initially bond over cigarettes in what looks like a scene from a ‘40s movie, but several anti-smoking messages are sprinkled through the movie, and it's made clear that both characters quit.

The political motif is timely for this election year, while nostalgic elements (Gennifer Flowers, Monica Lewinsky) mostly focus on the downside of the Clinton years. Viewers too young to appreciate that nostalgia can get off on the penguin scene– it's so 2006.

"What's the boy word for slut?" curious Maya asks. Her daddy tells her, "They haven't come up with one yet."  

If Reynolds reads his own reviews, he should at least think of "himbo." This new film indicates he definitely, maybe, has the potential to break out of that category, but it's too soon for him to stop taking off his shirt, especially when Matthew McConaughey's chest was number one at the boxoffice last weekend.