The title — “Love Hard” — is a mashup of “Die Hard” and “Love Actually,” clashing visions visions of “the Best Christmas Movie Ever.” And truthfully, this piffle doesn’t get much deeper or funnier than that.
It’s a Hallmark Channel holiday movie on a Netflix budget. The characters are bland, the performances not much better and the writing almost instantly awful — tin-eared, clumsy ESL grammar and usage, the works.
If you can’t hear what’s teeth-grindingly wrong with the redundancy of “It’s been said, according to the ancient Greeks,” you’re not going to roll your eyes at “But yet” this and Thoreau bashing.
And the message? “Catfishing” isn’t a cardinal relationship sin? Come ON.
But hey, hold on. Take a breath and give it a chance. That First Law of Movie Reviewing, “That which starts badly doth not get better later” doesn’t necessarily wipe out this “swipe right” rom-com.
It’s about an online “Disaster Dates” columnist, played by Nina Dobrev, aka “Courtney Cox: The Next Generation.” She’s an Angelino (Angelina) who keeps looking for “The One,” and writing about her write-offs in “Always a Bridesmaid” for some film fantasy version of a webzine — a multi-floor enterprise with offices, cubicles, editors and enough online-only readership to sustain that real estate.
Her dates run the gamut of “LA ass—-s,” would-be actors, poseurs, Tinder busts and Flirt Alert (made up for the movie) frauds. Whatever their “profile” says, this could be “a guy who was featured on ‘Hoarders,’ that fellow is so much older than his profile pic “he could be a waiter for the Last Supper!”
Her cynical, bottom-line boss (Matty Finochio) loves her failures — “A disaster for you is a hit for me.” But cubicle-mate Kerry (Heather McMahan) shares her “perfect match” wish fulfillment fantasy, and she’s the one who suggests widening her “search” — to nationwide.
That’s how Natalie stumbles in the profile of stubble-bearded, sporty, soulful Adonis Josh, way up in Lake Placid, New York. Many “getting to know you” texts and a bubble bath chat or two later, he lets drop that “I wish you could be here for Christmas.”
That’s her column! She’ll fly in, surprise her dream guy, and maybe get a “Happily ever after” out of it.
Everything about the plan goes wrong, climaxing with…Amer-Asian Josh lives in his parents’ basement and looks like second-banana/comic relief actor Jimmy O. Yang. Girlfriend’s been “catfished!”
“I’m really good at Photoshop,” as the catfishers all say.
But that’s not where this script stops. No, Natalie stumbles into the “photo” Josh (Darren Barnet) at the local pub. And failing to make a good first impression there, wakes up one Epi Pen later in a veterinarian’s operating room with real Josh, where they stumble into a “deal.”
He’ll coach her, Cyrano style, on wooing his former classmate, the Prom King/Xtreme Sports town hunk. All she has to do is pretend to be his girlfriend through the holidays, impressing a family sure he’d never find anyone.
Hallmark Channel and now Netflix have made movies like this a mass-production, cut-and-paste product. The family is a collection of “colorful types”– complete with a raunchy-thirsty granny (Althea Kay), obnoxious, over-achieving and attention-hogging big brother (Harry Shum Jr.), his ditzy bombshell wife (Mikaela Hoover) and go-getter Dad (James Saito).
There’s a stoner Uber (and Lyft) driver, an auto-tuned and overboard family Christmas caroling venture and some “Love Actually” imitation.
City people, Nat included, are cynical, sarcastic and shallow, rural folk more “real” and real-world capable.
Throw in a little local color — Natalie gets a crash course in rock-climbing and fortifies herself with pot to take a run down the Olympic bobsled course. Pepper the dialogue with “Die Hard” vs. “Love Actually” Christmas movie debates, Henry David Thoreau and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” as “rape-y,” Invisalign and Accutane plugs for the pursuit of physical perfection, and have the city gal slowly soften and “trust” the guy who connected with her under false pretenses.
The film made me sit up on that first meeting with the real Josh. Maybe this will be edgier than I thought, I thought. Maybe Natalie will face some sort of reckoning with her racism in addition to her superficiality.
Heaven knows, Hollywood is pandering and kowtowing to “The Asian Market” every way it can think of.
But that wasn’t to be. A couple of laughs and leads who aren’t particularly funny, charming or cute together and “Love Hard” goes bust. “With a Vengeance.”
Rating: TV-MA, pot use, adult situations, profanity
Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, Harry Shum Jr., Rebecca Staab, Althea Kay, Heather McMahan, James Saito, Matty Finochio and Mikaela Hoover
Credits: Directed by Hernán Jiménez, scripted by Daniel Mackey and Rebecca Ewing. Netflix release.
Running time: 1:44