"Just Wright," "Letters to Juliet"
★ out of four stars
Rating: PG for brief rude behavior and sensual images, some language and incidental smoking.
"Letters to Juliet" is a torn-between-two-lovers toss-off that makes a fatal miscalculation. Well, more than one, but first things first. If you are going to have Amanda Seyfried choose between suitors (Aroogha! Spoiler Warning) do not cast the more interesting and lively actor in the loser role. Ladies, I put it to you. Bachelor No. 1 is the handsome and vivacious Gael Garcia Bernal, charismatic star of "Y Tu Mama También" and "The Motorcycle Diaries." Bachelor No. 2 is Christopher Egan, an English yutz who has done some TV. Which one would you want to be pinned beneath?
Seyfried plays a magazine researcher on vacation in Italy with Bernal, her restaurateur fiancé. She falls in with a group of ladies who mail advice to visitors who leave notes at the Verona home of Juliet Capulet. Discovering a decades-old note in which Vanessa Redgrave sighs over her lost Italian love, Seyfried urges her to seek him out and tags along as she scours Tuscany in search of Lorenzo. Doing the driving is Redgrave's priggish, disapproving nephew, Egan.
The film consists of the trio driving around, knocking on doors and not finding their man. Not right away, at least. Seyfried and Egan banter abrasively. For all the romantic heat they project, they may as well be acting opposite green-screen holograms. This one burns going down, like cheap Chianti. Woodenly directed by Gary Winick (the felon responsible for last year's hideous "Bride Wars").
Rating: PG for some suggestive material and brief language.
I like Queen Latifah. I like her smile, her charm, her big singing voice, her life force, the survivor instinct that has kept her a viable star while Whitney Houston and Halle Berry have flamed out. I do not like her taste in movie roles. She hasn't starred in a good movie since "Set It Off" in 1996. The hard-luck streak extends through her latest, the generic "Just Wright." Even the title announces, "We're not really making an effort here."
She plays a good-natured New Jersey girl, physical therapist by day and avid fan of the Nets by night. Fate and feeble screenwriting place her in a romantic triangle with the basketball team's star player (hip-hop star Common) and her own pretty, blithely materialistic cousin (Paula Patton). The relationship between the singers is, sad to say, seriously off-key. Latifah coaches Common through a career-threatening knee injury, but his real problem is lack of spine, or perhaps misplaced crown jewels. He shuttles between the cousins, as passive as a badminton birdie. He is given to declaring his love on bended knee amid large crowds. He also wears several tears painted onto his cheeks by the makeup department. This, I submit, is hooey. One does not make it big in the NBA by being a softhearted mooncalf.
For a brief moment ("Chicago," 2002) it seemed that Latifah might be getting her movie career on track. Then came the numbskull Steve Martin comedy "Bringing Down the House," "Scary Movie 3," "Mad Money" and now this. Forget twisted knees. Choices like those are career-threatening injuries.