Blu-ray Review: The Rewrite

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Writer-director Marc Lawrence and star Hugh Grant have collaborated several times before (Two Weeks Notice, Music and Lyrics, Did You Hear About the Morgans?) and they’re back with the direct-to-video The Rewrite. Now available on Blu-ray from Image Entertainment, the film marks something of a mainstream return for Grant, who has kept an astonishingly low profile in recent years. Boasting a likeable cast (including Marisa Tomei, Allison Janney, Chris Elliott, and recent Oscar winner J.K. Simmons), The Rewrite centers on award-winning screenwriter Keith Michaels (Grant) and his floundering career. Unable to successfully pitch any new projects or escape the long shadow cast by his one big success, Keith begrudgingly accepts a teaching position at Binghamton University in a rainy upstate New York town.

Things get off to a breezily entertaining start as Keith immediately begins shirking his responsibilities as a screenwriting teacher. Enrollment in his class is secured not by good writing, but by having a hot Facebook photo. As a result, his small class is comprised almost entirely of sexy chicks plus a few nerdy guys. As funny as Grant is, offering a slightly bewildered, world-weary tweak on his patented stammering charm, he’s sabotaged by a plot that devolves into sitcom clich├ęs and predictability. We instinctively know where things are heading with Keith hooks up with a comely student (Bella Heathcote). It’s obvious that Keith’s tipsy political incorrectness directed towards literary department head Mary (Janney) will land him in deeper trouble. The flirtations between Keith and his sole middle-aged student Holly (Tomei) will clearly lead to something deeper than his dalliances with students.

Rewrite 2 (380x253).jpgThere’s no twist hiding up writer-director Lawrence’s sleeve for any given plot point. The often-funny dialogue that enlivens the first half of the film gives way to sappiness and well-trodden storytelling paths in the second half. The worst aspect is that Lawrence forgot to write anything for his female characters to play. Tomei is saddled with a standard “cool single mom” role; a scene in which Keith spies on Holly and her kids dancing like no one’s watching hammers the point home. Heathcote is initially quite intriguing as the manipulative Karen, but neither temptress nor lecherous teacher learns any apparent lesson by film’s end. And Allison Janney is unfortunately reduced to a running gag (her character is a stuffy literary snob with an unhealthy Jane Austen fixation).

No gripes regarding Image’s excellent high definition visual presentation. The Blu-ray offers a sterling image throughout. Though the DTS-HD MA 5.1 is not problematic per se, be forewarned that it’s a very subdued listening experience. So subtle (to the point of nearly non-existent, at times) are the surround effects, I had to check several times during the film to make sure there was any sound emanating from the satellite speakers (there was, it was just extremely low). But the dialogue and the supremely generic, temp-sounding score by Clyde Lawrence are free of problems.

Rewrite 3 (380x253).jpgSpecial features are incredibly light on The Rewrite. There are two deleted scenes. One, “Guard Gate,” is actually a montage of what would’ve been a particularly lame running gag. The other, “Student Screenplays,” is even less funny (offering a glimpse of what Keith’s students were writing). “The Making of The Rewrite” is a typical EPK piece that runs about seven minutes. Everyone involved fawns over each other, citing the fact that the well-known cast alone is testament to the quality of Marc Lawrence’s screenplay. I promised myself I would resist the temptation to say this, but The Rewrite desperately needed a rewrite if it was to make have any real impact.

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Chaz Lipp writes for The Morton Report.

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