How-to movie: 10 minutes and audience is gone

Two cute people with opposing agendas have 10 days to fall in love– or not– in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, a comedy so formulaic the structure shows through the trappings hung on it.

In the romantic comedy genre, we don't pay to see movie stars acting like real people– we see real people everywhere but on "reality TV"– but there should be limits to the amount of sit-commy stupidity we'll allow them to put themselves through. There aren't, of course, as long as the stars are attractive. But Kate Hudson's antics in this movie, while designed to be "cute," will repel most viewers long before they drive off Matthew McConaughey– or not.

Benjamin Barry (McConaughey) bets he can make any woman– "any single, straight, available woman"– fall in love with him in 10 days. At stake is a coveted diamond account that will be the biggest at his advertising agency, and Ben's been mouthing off to his boss (Robert Klein) that it takes the same technique to sell diamonds as to make a woman fall in love.

Andie Anderson (Hudson) is on the same deadline to write an article, How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, for Composure, "the fastest-growing women's magazine in the country." If she can prove herself, her editor (Bebe Neuwirth in an unflattering "Dragon Lady" look) promises her the freedom "to write about things that matter." Inspired by her unlucky-in-love friend Michelle (Kathryn Hahn), Andie boasts of being able to scare off any man "by making only the classic mistakes most women make, everything girls do wrong in relationships."

The deck is stacked against Ben because his rivals for the diamond account, a tag team known as "The Judys" (Michael Michele, Shalom Harlow), pick Andie as his target, knowing about the article she's writing.

So Andie and Ben meet, and the mutual attraction is as immediate as you would expect between two highly paid movie stars, but each is too busy working their particular angle to notice that when they're pretending to fall for each other, they really are.

Because each seems to have the other hooked, Ben doesn't have to work too hard, allowing McConaughey to play a guy whose phony niceness hides the real niceness we know lurks just beneath the surface, or he wouldn't be good enough to get our gal in the end.

That leaves Hudson the difficult task of keeping us on her side while Andie makes Ben's life hell with 10 days of chick flicks, Lilith Fair music, insipid baby talk, and feminizing his apartment. That's in addition to the big things like interrupting his poker night (in a scene lifted from The Odd Couple), calling his penis "Princess Sophie," and sending him to fetch a drink in the final minute of an NBA playoff game.

To give the movie a touch of class, the stars have Marvin Hamlisch accompanying them in the inevitable karaoke number. As part of the symmetrical design the formula calls for, each has two best friends of their own gender at work, like seconds in a duel. Sometimes it's hard to tell which is more calculating, the characters or the screenplay they live in.

You can analyze some of the greatest romantic comedies in screen history and find a similar formula lurking underneath. The difference is in the execution, and execution is too good for the people who made How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.