Rosalee (Kate Bosworth) and Cathy (Ginnifer Goodwin, “Mona Lisa Smile”) are two West Virginia Piggly Wiggly cashiers who dream about Hollywood hunk Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel, TV’s “Las Vegas”) every chance they get, annoying their more cynical friend, Pete (Topher Grace, “That 70’s Show”) in the process. In an attempt to change his image from a boozing womanizer to classic “guy next door,” Tad Hamilton agrees to hold a contest for one lucky winner to go out on a romantic Los Angeles evening with him. When Rosalee wins the internet drawing, she is whisked away into the arms of Hamilton and taken from her small town life, much to the chagrin of a very jealous Pete, who secretly adores Rosalee in ways he cannot express to her.
In the initial moments of “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton,” (IMDb listing) there comes a sinking feeling that the audience is in for another romantic comedy stinker. Conceived as a piercing satire of Hollywood and its effects on small town America, “Hamilton” dishes out the tired material right away; detailing a Los Angeles full of agents and cell phones, and a rural West Virginia, where the simple folk are employed at the Piggy Wiggly and dream no higher than to “park” with a romantic partner. The film is painted in big bright colors to make its point to the audience, which is understandable, but watching actors like Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes shamelessly ham it up as Hamilton’s dueling agents starts the film off on a depressingly unlikable note.
I wouldn’t say that “Tad Hamilton” is an especially funny comedy, nor does it break any type of new ground in the romantic genre. But once it steps past the lame setup, the film simmers down and eases into a charming little confection that delivers on its promised sweetness factor softly. Director Robert Luketic has a gift for overcoming decidedly unpleasant material, having untangled the potentially asphyxiating “Legally Blonde” and shaped it into a charming, unexpected blockbuster. Luketic works his magic on “Tad Hamilton” as well, taking it away from goofy concepts and offensive rural West Virginian characterizations (after the horror film “Wrong Turn” and now “Tad Hamilton,” I would sue Hollywood for defamation if I lived in that state) and heaving the enterprise into the arms of his cast, who have a clear idea how to play their roles.
It’s Kate Bosworth that really surprised me. After her static lead role in the 2002 surfing drama, “Blue Crush,” and her broad “acting!” turn in the heavily hyped, poorly attended 2003 John Holmes crime flick, “Wonderland,” I wasn’t too taken with Bosworth’s inadequate charms and her million watt smile. In the ensemble-driven “Tad Hamilton,” the pressure is off Bosworth to carry the film, and she relaxes to give a natural, funny performance as the overwhelmed object of affection. Bouncing off her co-stars with ease and genuine appeal, this is the best, most enchanting I’ve seen Bosworth to date. I hope this is a hint of things to come from her.
Though “Tad Hamilton” lacks surprises, if you look toward the nooks and crannies of the film, there are hints of creative thinking. For the picture to fulfill genre standards, the Hamilton character has to be the ultimate creep so that Rosalee will see the man truly best for her. Hamilton is a cad, but actor Josh Duhamel doesn’t dive into that pool completely. Luketic provides a moment or two of Hamilton’s sweet side, and his genuine attraction to Rosalee. This doesn’t last for long, but it gives “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” a little more spunk than it should rightfully have, and makes the film seem less a chore than it had the potential to be.
Filmfodder Grade: B