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Adventures in the Screen Tirade

Anne Joyce/Lionsgate

The Rewrite (2014)

Hugh Grant and Marc Lawrence — now as telepathically linked as Robert De Niro and Martin Scorsese — continue their long-term project of knocking the actor down a peg or two in "The Rewrite." Way back in "Two Weeks Notice" he was a billionaire, but their latest comedy finds Mr. Grant busted all the way back to Hollywood scriptwriter. And it's tough to get lower than that. Marooned in the sticks by an uncaring Tinseltown, this cynical grinch sees the appeal of honest toil and the affections of a feisty local lady — a plot that once kept Michael J. Fox in business and today feels like being beaten to death with a marshmallow.

Running strictly to timetable, "The Rewrite" compares Hollywood with Binghamton, N.Y., and evenheandedly contrives to see the good in both places. Keith Michaels (Mr. Grant) washes up at Binghamton University to teach scriptwriting, and lecherously selects a class of beautiful women and men less handsome than himself — two well-supplied categories. But while happily bedding shallow wide-eyed student Karen (Bella Heathcote), he bumps into Marisa Tomei's hard-working single-mom Holly, who gives as good as she gets. He also lands one of his nerdy male students a plum Hollywood job, which puts a dent in the film's gender politics. Mr. Lawrence is a Binghamton alumnus, which might account for the film's faith in the power of education and the written word, not to mention the rosy view of the establishment's disciplinary procedures.

Mostly the film has faith in Mr. Grant, an actor as intimately familiar with typecasting as anyone alive. Mr. Lawrence cheats a bit by signalling Keith's younger, carefree days with a clip of Mr. Grant picking up his Bafta in 1995, although the desolated look that flits across the present-day character's face is uncomfortably convincing. The actor's comedy timing remains bulletproof, as long as he has a decent foil to bounce off. Mr. Lawrence has previously supplied his star with solid comics such as Sandra Bullock and Drew Barrymore; Ms. Tomei is lumbered with a prosaic heart of gold, and the pair just aren't very interesting. When Allison Janney turns up as an overstarched faculty head and regards him witheringly, Mr. Grant perks up noticeably. He hasn't looked as banjaxed since Amanda Donohoe flashed her thighs at him in "The Lair of the White Worm."


Opens on Oct. 8 in Britain and on Feb. 13, 2015 in the United States

Written and directed by Marc Lawrence; director of photography, Jonathan Brown; edited by Ken Eluto; production design by Ola Maslik; costumes by Gary Jones; produced by Martin Shafer and Liz Glotzer; released by Lionsgate (Britain) and RLJE/Image Entertainment (United States). Running time: 1 hour 47 minutes. This film is rated 12A by B.B.F.C. and not rated by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Hugh Grant (Keith Michaels), Marisa Tomei (Holly Carpenter), Allison Janney (Prof. Mary Weldon), J. K. Simmons (Dr. Harold Lerner), Bella Heathcote (Karen Gabney) and Chris Elliott (Prof. Jim Harper).


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