‘Going the Distance’ pulls up short

Posted: September 02, 2010

Purists who say that modern romantic comedies are too often crude for the sake of being crude have fresh evidence in "Going the Distance."

Ever since Judd Apatow made romantic comedy both profitable and hip with hits like "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," imitators have sought to repeat his success by importing the crude sexual candor of his characters.

Whether it fits or not. And it doesn't in "Distance," featuring Drew Barrymore and Justin Long as a youngish, commitment-minded couple separated when their careers take them to different coasts.

The movie could have been relevant and timely - the economy stinks and is forcing young people to take jobs they don't like in places they really don't want to work.

Garrett (Long) has a frustrating gig in the moribund music industry, forced to rep kiddie haircut bands he doesn't respect, barred from promoting the indie bands he likes. Erin (Barrymore) is a budding journalist who wants a newspaper job. 'Nuff said.

There's a comedy there, surely, but "Going the Distance" does not look for jokes in the reality of the character's lives. It instead turns to an array of R-rated supporting characters - Garrett has a cougar-hunting pal (Jason Sudeikis), another friend (Charlie Day) who poops with the door open, and so forth.

Erin's circle includes a sister (Christina Applegate) in a comically unglamorous marriage (to Jim Gaffigan), a marital foil that's an obvious borrow from "Knocked Up."

When it runs out of kooky friends, "Going the Distance" sticks to the rom-com playbook by placing leads in embarrassing or humiliating situations, mostly for the sake of slapstick yuks; for example, a completely gratuitous scene of a naked Long getting spray-tanned in a salon booth, which just pops up for no reason.

It's not that the movie is laughless. It has its share. It's just that the laughs have an "insert gag here" feel, aimed at capturing some other movie's commercial appeal. They mostly have nothing to do with the leads or their hapless socioeconomic situation.

That comedy - love among the ruins of dead-end jobs and diminished options - is still waiting to be made.

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