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A Too Cute, Illogical Trip to 'Elizabethtown'


The film "Elizabethtown" would appear to have a lot going for it. It stars Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, who have starred separately in such popular hits as "Lord of the Rings," "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Spider-Man." And it's directed by Cameron Crowe, who wrote and directed such romances as "Say Anything" and "Jerry Maguire." So a lot of people have been looking forward to "Elizabethtown," including our own Bob Mondello.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

The first words out of Orlando Bloom's mouth are `As somebody once said, there's a difference between a failure and a fiasco.' Now I don't mean to be a pain about this, but I don't think anyone once said that except maybe over coffee. This being a new romantic comedy from the guy who made "Jerry Maguire," I really wanted to say the movie had me at hello, but it more or less had me arguing with it at hello, and it keeps saying hello as if Drew and Claire, the characters played by Orlando Bloom and Kirsten Dunst, will be more interesting if they don't get to know each other.

They first meet on a plane as he's headed for his father's funeral. He's just lost his job as a shoe designer, the failure or fiasco he was referring to, and she is the flight attendant who simply will not leave him alone.

(Soundbite of "Elizabethtown")

Ms. KIRSTEN DUNST: (As Claire) Louisville, Kentucky, huh?

Mr. ORLANDO BLOOM: (As Drew) Actually, he's near Louisville (pronounced loo-ee-vil).

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) Louisville (pronounced loo-i-vul).

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) Louisville (pronounced loo-la-vil).

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) Vul.

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) Louis...

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) Vul.

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) He's in Elizabethtown.

MONDELLO: This is known in Hollywood as meeting cute, and the director enjoyed it so much that he has them meet cute again on the phone.

(Soundbite of "Elizabethtown")

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) Hello.

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) Hello, stranger.

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) I just wanted to call you and thank you. So, you know, goodbye, thank you and...

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) I'll hold.

Mr. BLOOM: (As Drew) OK.

MONDELLO: And they meet cute again as the call turns into an all-night marathon and again after they drive to see each other at dawn, and then they separate so they can meet cute again at Drew's hotel, which they do a couple of times actually. All of this with Drew's family tragedy in the background, his father's funeral, and that other shoe tragedy thing.

(Soundbite of "Elizabethtown")

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) All right, you really failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You failed. You--you think I care about that?

MONDELLO: No, but the problem is that it's hard for us to care, either, partly because the shoe failure is a dumb plot device. Drew supposedly designed a sneaker that lost the shoe company a billion dollars. Now, excuse me, this is his fault? They don't do market research? But even if you pretend it does make sense, you'll soon be questioning other things like the whimsical funeral arrangements for dad, which include a tap dance and a rock concert, or what it is that director Cameron Crowe thinks is so funny about cell phones or when he thinks Claire has had time to put together 41 hours of carefully chosen music for a road trip she plans for Drew. In fact, by the time they're meeting cute on the road trip, you may even be wondering what the attraction is between these two. I mean, he's dull and she's annoying, but is that really enough to make sparks fly?

It would not have been enough in Cameron Crowe's earlier movies. He has a reputation for meticulous research and getting emotions right. He famously re-enrolled in high school before writing "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" and he made "Almost Famous" about his own experiences as a teen-age rock critic. "Elizabethtown" is also supposed to be based on his own life but it feels as if he filmed his first draft without bothering to make things funny or touching or, well, interesting really.

He did, however, helpfully include lots of death and disaster and getting lost metaphors, making it almost too easy for folks who want to mock his film. Let's not stoop to the failure vs. fiasco imagery here, but I will note that Claire says early on that the roads to Elizabethtown...

(Soundbite of "Elizabethtown")

Ms. DUNST: (As Claire) ...are hopelessly and gloriously confusing.

MONDELLO: And as an epitaph for the movie, well, as somebody once said, `If the shoe fits.' I'm Bob Mondello.

MICHELE NORRIS (Host): You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Bob Mondello, who jokes that he was a jinx at the beginning of his critical career — hired to write for every small paper that ever folded in Washington, just as it was about to collapse — saw that jinx broken in 1984 when he came to NPR.