It’s an ominous sign when the best part of a film happens within the first five minutes. From there on, Music and Lyrics is a downward slide without a bottom. The movie, which pairs Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore for the first time, opens with a pitch-perfect ‘80s-style music video for a catchy tune called “Pop! Goes My Heart,” featuring Grant sporting a bad Flock of Seagulls hairdo. It’s clever, playful and appealing… everything that the rest of the film is not.
The setup, at first glance, seems harmless enough: Grant plays fallen ‘80s pop star Alex Fletcher, a once-cool singer in tight pants who now, 15 years later, sings his old hits to crowds at theme parks. His career is going nowhere, as indicated by his offer to appear on a new show called Battle of the ‘80s Has-Beens, which displays boxing matches between washed-up singers. Tempting, but he clings onto what’s left of his dignity and turns it down.
While he’s home moping one day, he stumbles upon Sophie (Barrymore) temporarily watering his plants as a favor to her friend. She’s the type of cute, bumbling girl who always wanders into a guy’s life in movies when he’s down on his luck. In this case, she also happens to be a savvy lyricist. This comes in handy for Fletcher, a talented musician but lousy writer who is given a chance to create a hit song for pop sensation Cora Corman (Haley Bennett in her debut). It’s a great opportunity to resuscitate his career. And if he falls in love along the way, by golly, so be it.
While the casting of often-charismatic actors Drew and Hugh should be double the fun, the result is more like a double whammy (their singsong names should have been a giveaway). Together they spend most of Music and Lyrics trying to out-adorable each other, jumping between sitcom shtick and overbearing neuroses generally found in lower-quality Woody Allen movies. She diagnoses herself with an array of ailments (“I think I have a coronary blockage!”) and he spews one pseudo-snarky line after another, doing his exhaustingly familiar “I’m the smartest guy in the room” act.
For a comedy, this really isn’t a whole lot of fun. The script by writer/director Marc Lawrence (of such gems as Two Weeks Notice, Miss Congeniality and Forces Of Nature... red flags, anyone?) spits out consecutive, lame sequences of jokes with very little success. Kristen Johnston steals a few scenes as Sophie’s ‘80s-crazed sister, but the same cannot be said for Brad Garrett as Alex’s agent, who is clearly struggling post-Raymond. It’s even worse when the film tries to be serious, bringing in Campbell Scott as the best-selling novelist who broke Sophie’s heart.
By the time the big over-the-top finale shows up (it makes the baseball field smooch in Never Been Kissed seem subtle by comparison), the film has established itself as just another lame duck in the pond. Then again, when lyrics such as “Figuring out you and me is like doing a love autopsy” are considered quality, it should be no surprise what we’re getting into. Music and Lyrics could have been a nostalgic delight, but instead it’s like listening to an out-of-tune note being repeatedly pounded on a piano.