Music and Lyrics

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Music and Lyrics."

Marc Lawrence's "Music and Lyrics" starts off, appropriately enough, with a music video that's so absolutely, totally '80s -- from the big hair and checkered-flag backdrops to the cheesy synth and electronic drums -- it could have easily been a part of the old MTV rotation.

Although everything that follows isn't quite as inspired as that three-minute mock clip, the mood has been neatly set for an agreeably loopy romantic comedy that bounces along effortlessly on the genuine chemistry of leads Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore.

Their pleasantly in sync performances alone should ensure that this heart-shaped Warner Bros. Pictures confection remains fresh well beyond its Valentine's Day opening date.

That spot-on music video belongs to PoP! -- an unmistakably Wham!-type outfit, in which Hugh Grant's Alex Fletcher essentially functioned as the Andrew Ridgeley of the group.

Thanks to the '80s nostalgia wave, Fletcher has been managing to eke out an existence at amusement parks and country fairs, where he performs the duo's old hits backed by karaoke-quality instrumental tracks.

A true comeback bid presents itself when Cora Corman (newcomer Haley Bennett), a wispy, Britney Spears-styled pop diva, invites him to write and record a duet with her. Trouble is, Fletcher hasn't written a fresh tune in years and needs to collaborate with a lyricist who can do something, anything, with Cora's supplied title, "Way Back Into Love."

Hope arrives in the unlikely form of Sophie Fisher (Barrymore), who initially has shown up at Fletcher's Manhattan apartment to water his plants but soon discovers that she has an untapped way with words of the lyrical variety.

Unsurprisingly, their professional collaboration eventually blossoms into something more personal, but the commitment-shy Sophie is still smarting over her previous affair with her old literature professor, Sloan Cates (Campbell Scott), who turned around and made her the central character in his best-selling novel.

Writer-director Lawrence, who also wore both hats on the Grant-Sandra Bullock romantic comedy "Two Weeks' Notice," certainly doesn't make any attempt to reinvent the genre, but he works efficiently within its familiar boundaries.

And while both Grant and Barrymore have demonstrated a flair for playing variations on these characters in the past, they prove to be a delightful fit. It might be their first time working together, but they create a gratifying comedic spark that should ensure future screen matchups.

Holding their own playing backup, meanwhile, are a terrific Kristen Johnston as Barrymore's unabashed PoP! groupie big sister, Brad Garrett as Grant's loyal manager and Scott as the slimy Sloan.

Technical contributions are uniformly bright, but what makes the picture really sing are those note-perfect '80s song approximations penned by Fountains of Wayne tunesmith Adam Schlesinger (he also successfully evoked the '60s with the title song for Tom Hanks' "That Thing You Do!") as well as Andrew Wyatt and Josh Deutsch, who wrote PoP!'s signature hit, "Pop! Goes My Heart."

Also nailing the requisite tone is Grant, who does his own singing here. Truth be told, if he were to ever consider a second career as a washed-up '80s pop singer, he'd be a natural.

MUSIC AND LYRICS
Warner Bros. Pictures
Castle Rock Entertainment presents in association with Village Roadshow Pictures
A Reserve Room production
Credits:
Director-screenwriter: Marc Lawrence
Producers: Martin Shafer, Liz Glotzer
Executive producers: Nancy Juvonen, Hal Gaba, Bruce Berman
Director of photography: Xavier Perez Grobet
Production designer: Jane Musky
Editor: Susan E. Morse
Music: Adam Schlesinger
Cast:
Alex Fletcher: Hugh Grant
Sophie Fisher: Drew Barrymore
Chris Riley: Brad Garrett
Rhonda: Kristen Johnston
Sloan Cates: Campbell Scott
Cora Corman: Haley Bennett
Running time -- 96 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13

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