“Grant and Barrymore Tune Out”
by Scott Mantz

“Music and Lyrics”
Hugh Grant, Drew Barrymore
Directed by Marc Lawrence

The song remains the same! Drew Barrymore and Hugh Grant struggle to come up with “Music and Lyrics”

When it comes to chemistry in romantic comedies, either two people have it, or they don’t.  It’s that simple.  Unfortunately for “Music and Lyrics,” Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore don’t have it.  And without it, there’s not much of a movie.

And that’s kind of strange, since they are both extremely charismatic actors who’ve shared loads of chemistry with their co-stars in other films.  Barrymore generated plenty of sparks with Adam Sandler in 1998’s “The Wedding Singer” (and again in 2004’s “50 First Dates”), and she played well off of Jimmy Fallon in 2005’s underrated “Fever Pitch.”  As for Hugh Grant, it’s hard to think about someone he hasn’t had chemistry with ever since 1994’s “Four Weddings and a Funeral.”  Heck, he even charmed the pants off of Gene Hackman in the 1996 medical thriller “Extreme Measures.”  (Well, not really, but you get the point).

Maybe it’s their 15-year age difference — Grant is 46, Barrymore is 31 — or maybe it’s the lousy script (written by director Marc Lawrence).  Or maybe it’s both.  Despite a cute premise and two co-stars who should have been a match made in Valentine’s Day romantic comedy heaven (the movie opens Wednesday, February 14), “Music and Lyrics” is a contrived confection that — even at a mere 96 minutes — drags along and hits a false note almost every step of the way.

Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a washed-up 80’s pop star who performs at amusement parks and high school reunions in order to pay the bills.  He gets a chance at a comeback when the music industry’s reigning pop tart invites him to write a new song for her.  The problem is that while Alex is a master at melodies, he’s a disaster with lyrics.  That’s when he meets Sophie (Drew Barrymore), a scatterbrained plant lady who, rather conveniently, has an uncanny knack for words.  As Alex and Sophie embark on their first collaboration, they soon learn to make beautiful music together — both on and off the page.

The fact that “Music and Lyrics” doesn’t work is disappointing, but the fact that it falls apart so soon after such a strong and funny setup is even more of a shame.  The 80’s-inspired music video that kicks off the movie — featuring Grant in a Wham-meets-Duran-Duran-style pop group — is downright hysterical, and the song itself is so catchy that it will bounce around inside your head for days.

But fast-forward to the present day, and Grant’s character, who looks great and lives in a posh New York apartment, seems pretty comfortable for a guy who’s supposed to be down and out.  As a result, his desperation for a comeback doesn’t seem genuine.  To make matters worse, his relationship with the seemingly uncomfortable Barrymore feels contrived from the start, while her background regarding a failed relationship with a famous novelist (played by Campbell Scott) feels tacked on.

And there’s that problem with the chemistry.  I’m sure that the pairing of Grant and Barrymore looked great on paper, and recent film history is littered with examples of where fireworks between the right co-stars can be enough to save an otherwise dismal movie (witness Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey in 2003’s “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”).  But since that chemistry is sorely lacking in “Music and Lyrics,” the movie never had a chance.