Any movie that features the line, "The bags under your eyes are starting to look like Hugh Hefner's ballsac" in the first 30 minutes promises to be a subversive, potty-mouthed romp. Unfortunately, "Crazy Stupid Love" veers schizophrenically between daring, jaw-dropping comedy and gooey sitcom cliches that weigh it down like Hef's saggy old...well, you know.
The Hefner line is uttered by Ryan Gosling as Jacob, a cool womanizer who becomes the lady-hunting mentor of dumped, dorky Cal Weaver (Steve Carell), after Cal's wife Emily (Julianne Moore) cheats on him with a co-worker.
For Cal, this betrayal hits particularly hard since he and Emily were high-school sweethearts, and she's the only woman with whom he's ever been intimate.
The bereft Cal starts spending his evenings bemoaning his fate over vodka-cranberries at the same L.A. watering hole where Jacob practices his smooth line of patter on a series of willing young lovelies. The young stud gets so fed up with the middle-aged Eeyore's wailing that he makes over everything from Cal's patter to his skin care. ("Are you in a fraternity? Are you Steve Jobs, the billionaire CEO of Apple? No? Then you have no reason to wear New Balance shoes. Ever!")
Naturally, just as Cal learns to put some rico in his suave, Jacob meets Hannah (Emma Stone), seemingly the one woman on earth who doesn't fall for his line. She quotes the old Lauren Bacall TV ads for High Point coffee and displays slack-jawed amazement over Jacob's "photoshopped"-looking abs; he reveals that his "big move" comes from a seminal chick flick.
Thus, Jacob and Hannah's sex-free night together winds up being the peak of "Crazy Stupid Love," since everything after that gets bogged down in zany, impossible plot twists (which, OK, I didn't see coming because I was hoping for something less like a PG-13 episode of "Full House").
The tug of war between the movie's smart, trouble-making side (which includes Marisa Tomei's hot-thing walk-on as Cal's first conquest) and its ultimate capitulation to the warm and fuzzy can be traced directly to the credits. Directors Glenn Ficarra and John Requa are the guys behind darkly hilarious rule-breakers like "Bad Santa" and "I Love You, Phillip Morris," while writer Dan Fogelman is the guy who wrote "Cars," "Bolt" and "Fred Claus."
Unfortunately for us, it's Fogelman's sensibility that emerges triumphant.
Still, there's a talented cast frequently pushed outside of their comfort zone. Gosling is, without a doubt, a talented actor, and the movie wisely takes the sour-faced self-satisfaction that can sometimes creep into his roles and turns it into Jacob's character flaw, making him equally believable as a shallow snake and as a guy desperate to leave the search for Ms. Goodbar behind him.
Stone, of course, can do intelligent ingØnue in her sleep by now, but she and Gosling generate enough sparks that you want to see them re-teamed in a better-written movie -- that long-threatened "Thin Man" remake, maybe?
As for Carell, in films like "Dan in Real Life," he has taken the lovable loser bit a few steps too far, figuratively dragging a string section behind him to get an "aww" out of the audience. Here he dials it back, making Cal's more pathetic features part of the joke. (After a fight with Emily, Cal is left standing alone in a parking lot, and it suddenly begins to rain. And just as you're thinking it, Cal says, aloud, "What a cliche.")
Julianne Moore, alas, doesn't get the comedic full-tilt-boogie opportunities she was afforded in last year's "The Kids Are All Right," but her performance is pretty much the only facet of "Crazy Stupid Love" that makes us care about whether or not Cal and Emily can fix their marriage. The film gets such a naughty lift out of Cal shedding his tucked-in polo shirts and pleated Dockers that we're in no hurry to see him return to suburban bliss.
"Crazy Stupid Love" seems destined to become an audience favorite on cable, since repeat viewers will know the parts they want to see over and over again -- and they'll also know when to change channels before things get too drippy.
Moviegoers won't have that option, but that's what snack-runs are for.