It's official: The 1950s are back. "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" is as perky as that exclamation point in its title. It's also instantly forgettable, a pleasant puff-pastry throwback to Sandra Dee movies, "Bye Bye Birdie," and other pre-Beatles effluvia. Set in the here and now, "Win" features a virginal heroine who says things like "Shake-a-doo" instead of the usual string of Anglo-Saxon exclamations, and whose faith in true love falls slightly to the left of Gidget. Fourteen-year-old girls will find the movie enchanting. Your own response may depend on your tolerance for confectioner's sugar.
Director Robert Luketic's last film, "Legally Blonde," popped Reese Witherspoon loose as a major star, and "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" may well do the same for his latest blonde, Kate Bosworth. The actress has done solid work in "Blue Crush" and as Val Kilmer's girlfriend in "Wonderland," but this movie offers her up on the half shell, and she takes full advantage of it.
Playing Rosalee Futch, a West Virginia supermarket cashier who wins a dream date with a preening Hollywood man-hunk, Bosworth radiates a genuineness and an open-faced optimism that transcend her Barbie-doll looks. Rosalee's also fetchingly tongue-tied; when someone asks if he might give her a kiss, she responds, "You might maybe may." She's an approachable goddess in a Piggly Wiggly apron, and the script gives her just enough smart, doubting dialogue to keep you rooting for her.
Rosalee is the focal point in a romantic triangle whose other two vertexes consist of Pete (Topher Grace, from "That '70s Show"), the store manager and best friend who has loved her since childhood, and Tad Hamilton (Josh Duhamel), the buff Tinseltown god who meets Rosalee on a PR-stunt date and sees in her all the honesty his shallow life lacks. (Rosalee's lumpy, wisecracking best friend Cathy, played by Ginnifer Goodwin, stands on the sidelines and makes lumpy wisecracks throughout.) "Win" zigzags from Frazier's Bottom, W. Va., to the gleaming chic of Beverly Hills and back again after Tad follows Rosalee home in an effort to get in touch with both his soul and her body. Unbelievable? You must not be a 14-year-old girl.
The film's funniest moments belong to Grace, who sputters with the trenchant cynicism of a burned romantic as Tad sweeps his girl off her feet, along with everyone else in town. After Rosalee relays to him some of Tad's endearments, Pete turns to three locals at the check-out line and says, "Fellas, show of hands: Who here has used some variation of the `I don't want to ruin the friendship' line?" (It's unanimous.)
Duhamel is serious eye candy and not much more as Tad; if heavy petting is as far as he and Rosalee go, that's still enough to melt the braces of the film's target audience. Gary Cole picks up some chuckles as the heroine's movie-buff father, but Nathan Lane and Sean Hayes seem to be visiting from another, sillier movie as Tad's agent and manager, respectively, both named Richard Levy.
That joke and the tarter lines of dialogue are evidence of a cleverness that lies buried in "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" like crops in an unreaped field. Who ends up with whom is never remotely in doubt, and Luketic's uninspired direction rarely rises to the lightweight challenges of Victor Levin's script; the movie evaporates off the screen as you watch it.
What remains is Grace's bitter wit and Bosworth's bioluminescence as a big-hearted small-town girl of the sort found only in studio story meetings. Tad is expecting a pimply fan when he and Rosalee first meet; opening the door, he exclaims, "You're . . . pretty." Well, of course she is, dummy; she's Kate Bosworth, freshly minted Hollywood star. If there's irony there, rest assured that no one involved with "Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!" seems aware of it.
("Win a Date With Tad Hamilton!": **)
Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.