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Monday, December 22, 2014

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Susan Granger's review of 'What If'

Published 5:02 pm, Friday, August 22, 2014
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What if you had charismatic Daniel Radcliffe as your leading man? Wouldn't you strive for the most interesting, original vehicle possible to separate this now 25-year-old man from his Harry Potter past? That obviously didn't concern Toronto-based director Michael Dowse ("Goon"), who dives into a cloying, predictably rom-com, based on Nora Ephron's observation, "Men and woman can't be friends because the sex part always gets in the way," which Billy Crystal verbalized in "When Harry Met Sally" (1989).

Med school dropout Wallace (Radcliffe) has become a hermit, living in the attic of his sister's home, ever since he caught his girlfriend cheating on him. Cautiously venturing out one night, he meets a flirtatious animator, Chantry (Zoe Kazan), at a party given by his blowhard best friend Allan (Adam Driver). Composing cleverly cynical refrigerator-magnet poetry, they hit it off, but she's already living with Ben (Rafe Spall), a high-powered diplomat with the United Nations. So they become friends, sort of, since Wallace has feelings for her that are definitely not platonic. Not surprisingly, when globe-trotting Ben departs for Dublin for six months, Chantry and Wallace become inseparable, kind of.

Adapted by screenwriter Elan Mastai from T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi's stage-play "Toothpaste and Cigars," it's coyly sweet and snarky, never establishing a consistent tone -- with hip, yet trifling banter passing for dialogue and Chantry's whimsical cartoons quickly becoming an annoyance.

Making an interesting transition to adult roles, Radcliffe seems to be channeling Hugh Grant in his bashful-yet-brash British mannerisms. With big blue eyes and chipmunk cheeks, Kazan works her theatrical heritage; she's the daughter of screenwriters Nicholas Kazan and Robin Swicord and granddaughter of director Elia Kazan. Driver is familiar from HBO's "Girls," while Spall is the son of British character actor Timothy Spall. In supporting roles, Megan Park plays Chantry's promiscuous sister and Mackenzie Davis is Allan's hot-to-trot girlfriend.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, What If" is a trifling, tedious 3. It's not even worth placing on your Netflix queue.