Chemistry is a funny thing. Sometimes lightning strikes and you end up with a pair of onscreen lovebirds like Tracy and Hepburn, Hawke and Delpy, or Wilson and Stiller. (C'mon, you didn't really think that Wilson was crooning "Don't Give Up on Us" to Carmen Electra in Starsky & Hutch, did you?) Other times, it's as if you could bottle the two actors and sell them as a romance repellant-think Brosnan and Berry, Portman and Christensen, McConaughey and anybody. More often than not, however, screen couples fall squarely in the middle of these extremes; you accept them as lovers, but only because the movie keeps reminding you to do so. Such is the case with Ashton Kutcher and Amanda Peet, the fresh-faced stars of A Lot Like Love or, as it would be more accurately titled, When Harry Met Sally 2.0. Like it's obvious inspiration, the film follows a man and woman who are clearly perfect for each other but take several years to realize that themselves. Meanwhile, the audience slaps its collective head in frustration, wondering how two people can be so blind.

Fortunately for them (and us), Oliver (Kutcher) and Emily (Peet) are able to shave five years off Harry and Sally's 12-year courtship. The two first meet on an airplane from Los Angeles to New York. After not-so-subtly checking each other out while waiting to board, Emily corners Oliver in the bathroom and makes him a member of the Mile High Club. Oliver wants to get to know this mystery girl better, but she shoots him down without batting an eye. Luckily, Oliver is visiting the Hollywood version of New York-which is famous for being a small world-so he bumps into Emily again a few days later and they go out on an unofficial date. While they hit it off, both ultimately agree that their personalities are too different to start something serious. Oliver is one of those people who have their whole lives mapped out, whereas Emily prefers to make it up as she goes along. That's why three years later she's back in L.A. trying to find work as an actress and getting over a boyfriend who recently dumped her. On a whim, she tracks Oliver down and they have a second date. This time, he's the one unwilling to commit, as he's moving to San Francisco to start an Internet business and doesn't have time for a relationship. But after two years and another girlfriend go by, Oliver suddenly feels the need to reach out to Emily again...

You get the idea. On the one hand, A Lot Like Love is incredibly dopey. Oliver and Emily seem like nice folks, but their self-absorption and general wishy-washiness reaches almost toxic proportions as the movie meanders along. They're the kind of people you try to avoid at parties because you just don't want to get caught up in their personal dramas. The script works too hard to keep them apart as well. By all rights, they should get together after their second date, but then the movie would only be 45 minutes long. To keep the plot going, screenwriter Colin Patrick Lynch falls back on every rule in the romantic-comedy playbook, including the patented third-act misunderstanding that could be resolved in five minutes if the characters just talked to each other. That device has become so obvious by now it should be retired from commercial use along with the Alan Smithee pseudonym and the 555 telephone prefix.

And yet, it's hard to get too worked up about the movie's problems. It's such an unassuming picture that it appears entirely aware of its own flaws anyway. At least it's not aggressively stupid, like such dunderheaded rom-coms as You've Got Mail or Love Actually. And while Peet and Kutcher don't exactly ignite the screen together, they do establish a nice rapport. All in all, A Lot Like Love is an agreeably mediocre movie that can be watched, enjoyed and forgotten about in the space of a single day. If you want something more, you're better off renting When Harry Met Sally again.
-Ethan Alter