Writer-director Richard Curtis has made a fatal mistake with Love Actually. By cramming eight different stories into his film, he has guaranteed that none of them will get enough time to fully develop. And this failure to prune down the number of tales also means that several of them are puerile beyond measure.

Love Actually takes place in the month leading up to Christmas, and follows a group of Londoners as they cope with various romantic, and not so romantic, entanglements. Hugh Grant's British Prime Minister falls for a secretary (Martine McCutcheon) in his office. Laura Linney pines away for a co-worker. Aging rock star Bill Nighy (in a performance that totally steals the film) hopes his new single will top the charts. Writer Colin Firth finds he's attracted to his Portuguese housekeeper (Lucia Moniz). Married couple Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson cope with his infidelity. And so on and so forth.

Some of this is quite charming, reminding us that Curtis is, after all, the man who wrote Four Weddings and a Funeral and what might be the best romantic comedy of the last ten years, Notting Hill. But Curtis has obviously forgotten the prime lesson of Notting Hill, that less is more. Several flabby stories are no substitute for one or two really good ones.

So a tale about a horny young Brit (Kris Marshall) who goes to the States to get laid gives new meaning to the word "idiotic." Liam Neeson, as a recently widowed father trying to teach his young son (Thomas Sangster) how to deal with the first pangs of love, doesn't fare much better. And the subplot in which Andrew Lincoln reveals his love for the newly wed wife (Keira Knightley) of his best friend (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is downright embarrassing.

So what's left? Well, Grant is as charming as ever, and the adorable McCutcheon is a welcome newcomer. Brit stage vet Nighy shines in every scene he's in, and is fall-on-the-floor hilarious. Firth, Thompson and Rickman also score in their respective roles.

Love Actually also features a great pop score--Grant's solo dance to The Pointer Sisters' "Jump To My Love" is a real highlight--and enough comic elements to make it a relatively pleasant viewing experience. But this debut directorial effort only proves that Curtis needs to learn when enough is enough.

--Lewis Beale