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Aniston, Eckhart fail to click in "Love Happens"

 Cast members Jennifer Aniston (L) and Aaron Eckhart of the new film
Cast members Jennifer Aniston (L) and Aaron Eckhart of the new film 'Love Happens' pose at the film's premiere in Los Angeles September 15, 2009. REUTERS/Fred Prouser
— image credit: Reuters

By Stephen Farber

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The generic title is a good indication of this movie's blandness and predictability. "Love Happens" might just as well have been called "Falling in Love" or "Love Affair," but those titles have been used.

"Love Happens" isn't even an accurate description of the movie, which opens Friday via Universal. Although it is being sold as a romantic comedy, Jennifer Aniston's role is distinctly secondary, and she has zero chemistry with Aaron Eckhart.

He plays Burke Ryan, a self-help guru and best-selling author trying to help people recover from the devastating loss of a loved one. Burke still is wrestling with his wife's death three years earlier; his grief prompted him to launch a lucrative business. While he's conducting a weeklong seminar in Seattle, the city where his wife died, he meets Aniston's Eloise, a local florist, and she helps him to start heeding the advice he has been feeding to others.

But the romance seems more of an afterthought than a central strand of the story. Although Aniston's name on the marquee might draw a few people to the theater, "Love" isn't strong enough as comedy or drama to sustain audience interest.

The script by Brandon Camp and Mike Thompson (who also composed another piece of inspirational goop, "Dragonfly") fails to make the basic premise credible. Because Burke mainly spews cliches about finding the strength to move on, it's hard to understand how he has developed such a passionate following. Perhaps if the film were conceived as a satire of the self-help movement, this wouldn't matter, but we are meant to take Burke seriously as a true savant who can heal everyone but himself. But his nuggets of advice are so superficial that we never really believe in Burke's celebrity status. While exploring Burke's psychological history, the film builds toward a surprise revelation that has been pretty transparent from the start. There simply isn't enough drama to sustain a nearly two-hour movie, and Camp's plodding direction only makes the picture seem more tedious.

Eckhart and Aniston are likable performers, but they don't click as a romantic duo. Martin Sheen brings his innate dignity to the role of Burke's father-in-law, who magically turns up just when Burke is in desperate need of a hug. The best performance comes from John Carroll Lynch as a grieving father; he coaxes the most poignant drama from the undernourished script. Frances Conroy has a brief scene as Eloise's mother; clearly, most of her part was left on the cutting-room floor.

The film is a glossy but uninspired production, with stock shots of the Seattle Space Needle to provide a sense of place. Editor Dana E. Glauberman, who did a crack job of editing "Up in the Air," can't find the right pacing for this lugubrious drama. The film bears some resemblance to "As Good As It Gets" and last summer's "The Answer Man," two other films about hypocritical literary lions, but it cries out for the wit that enlivened those movies.

(Editing by DGoodman at Reuters)

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