By Todd McCarthy | Todd McCarthy's Deep Focus October 26, 2010 at 10:12AM
After hiding them for years while turning out more grandiose historical and action films, director Ed Zwick's television roots show up vividly in "Love & Other Drugs," an enormously contrived and cloying romantic drama without a moment of believable reality to it. The appealing stars Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway try hard, real hard, to inject some credibility into the sexually charged relationship between a hotshot drug salesman and a heavily guarded young woman with early stage Parkinson's disease, and the fact that they appear naked in many scenes will pique curiosity among some. But Zwick's shtick keeps getting in the way, to the point that the film feels as much like a strained sitcom as it does a failed poignant love story.
Review continues after the jump.
Gyllenhaal, who has never appeared so cranked up onscreen before, plays Jamie, a manic ladies' man and Pfizer rep in the mid-'90s who ends up being the right man in the right job at the right time when Viagra hits the market. His frenzied jack rabbit lifestyle comes to a screeching halt, however, when he meets Hathaway's Maggie, a free-spirited artist he first becomes attracted to in a "hilarious" meet-cute when, posing as a medical intern, he watches her bare a breast for a doctor's inspection.
Driven strictly by sex, not romance, they have a hot thing going for a while and their numerous encounters, bits of which they videotape on some awesome but hitherto unknown '90s process with the lustrous visual quality of HD, make this one of the more explicit Hollywood features in a while. In due course, they fall in love, and the obstacles thereafter center mainly upon Maggie's awareness of the inevitable decline that lies ahead for her; as she puts, it, "I'm going to need you more than you're going to need me."
If Zwick and his fellow screenwriters Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, working from a non-fiction book, "Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman," by Jamie Reidy, had calmed down and concentrated on the gradual transformation of a good-times guy into a selfless, monogamous mate and on the equally hesitant opening to trust on the part of a young woman who considers herself doomed, they might have had something. Instead, they make everyone pushy, hysterical and prone to yelling above everyone else to make themselves heard, spew out all the sex jokes they can think of and instruct the viewer what emotions are in store with the most heavy-handed and blatant music cues of the century thus far.
Nor could there have been worse casting of siblings than that of Gyllenhaal and Josh Gad, who are as believable playing brothers as would be Jude Law and Jonah Hill. Playing an overweight boor who's just cashed in during the financial high times to the tune of $35 million, the uncouth dude is foisted upon his brother in the name of "comic relief," which consists of him crashing on the couch while the noisy couple get in on in the next room and is climaxed by a scene in which Jamie catches the slob using his and Maggie's private sex tapes for porn gratification; isn't getting rid of embarrassing stuff like this what test screenings are for?
One gets the impression that the filmmakers are under the illusion that they've made something honest and bold here when, in fact, it's as artificial and button-pushing as a primetime comedy. But less funny.