Hugh Grant finds inspiration where he least expects it in the romantic comedy The Rewrite.
THE REWRITE (12A)
Twenty years ago, Hugh Grant donned his crown as floppy-haired prince regent of the romantic comedy in Four Weddings And A Funeral, winning a Bafta and Golden Globe for his efforts.
Notting Hill, About A Boy, Two Weeks Notice and Love Actually and a recurring role as a bounder in the Bridget Jones films have enforced his screen image as the bumbling bachelor who inadvertently insults the girl but still wins her heart.
The Rewrite, which reunites Grant with director Marc Lawrence for the fourth time, won’t alter that perception.
Light, frothy and utterly forgettable, this flimsy tale of second-chance love and self-acceptance plays to the leading man’s strengths, endearing us to his morally flawed character despite a propensity for the occasional fib and social faux pas.
Grant could deliver this performance in his sleep so it’s fortunate that he is nuzzled by a solid supporting cast including the luminous Marisa Tomei as his potential love interest and the always glorious Allison Janney as a humourless Jane Austen scholar, who won’t tolerate unethical behaviour among her faculty colleagues.
Fifteen years ago, screenwriter Keith Michaels (Grant) was the toast of Hollywood.
His script for Paradise Misplaced scooped a Golden Globe and the film industry bowed down at his altar.
Unfortunately, successive scripts have flopped and Keith is fast approaching 50, his marriage has collapsed, he is estranged from his son Alex and he is struggling to pay the bills.
Thanks to his agent Ellen (Caroline Aaron), he lands a position as writer-in-residence at Binghamton University on the outskirts of New York, teaching a screenwriting course to 10 talented students.
“It’s impossible to know what anyone could teach here except, ‘Get out!’” quips Keith in voiceover as he surveys his new home.
Fellow staff including Dr Harold Lerner (JK Simmons) and Professor Jim Harper (Chris Elliott) offer Keith a hearty welcome but Professor Mary Weldon (Janney) proves more difficult to win over.
His young students including star-struck beauty Karen (Bella Heathcote), Star Wars obsessive Billy (Andrew Keenan-Bolger) and enviably talented nerd Clem (Steven Kaplan) hang on Keith’s every stuttering word but it’s mature sophomore Holly (Marisa Tomei) who catches his eye.
They spark a simmering attraction but Keith’s insecurities threaten to derail the fledgling relationship.
The Rewrite is a gently effervescent confection that follows a predictable narrative arc and lightly tugs heartstrings as Grant’s cynical scribe overcomes his disdain for the teaching profession.
Tomei radiates maternal loveliness in an underwritten role and as the only eligible female of a similar age to Keith, she’s destined to fall for his dithering.
The supporting cast scene-steal, including Simmons as the proud family man and Desert Storm veteran who wells up when he talks about his children.
The script is peppered lightly with smart one-liners to ensure a lively tempo.
THE MAZE RUNNER (12A)
Based on the bestselling novel by James Dashner, The Maze Runner is a testosterone-fuelled survival thriller cast from the same robust mould as The Hunger Games and Divergent.
Like those dystopian nightmares, Wes Ball’s film centres on naive characters, teetering on the cusp of adulthood, who are forced to make stark choices between life and death to secure freedom.
Only here, adolescent males are trapped in the moral mire and forced to establish a microcosm of self-governing society a la Lord Of The Flies in which the strongest take charge and the meek keep their heads down.
While The Hunger Games and Divergent expended valuable time establishing character back stories and motivations, this opening salvo of The Maze Runner employs a nifty cheat: amnesia.
All of the protagonists are stripped bare of memories including their identity, emerging from the darkness of a lift shaft into an enclosed green space called The Glade as blank slates.
“I can’t remember anything,” whimpers newbie Thomas (Dylan O’Brien).
“You get your name back in a day or two. It’s the one thing they let us keep,” explains Alby (Aml Ameen), the de facto leader, who emerged into this strange prison three years ago.
Gargantuan walls enclose The Glade and every morning, one wall parts to reveal a maze which ‘runners’ like Minho (Ki Hong Lee) map while avoiding hideous denizens called Grievers in the vain hope of finding an exit.
The runners must return before dusk when the wall closes and the maze reconfigures.
Having plucked his name from the fog of his mind, Thomas forges friendships with Alby, second-in-command Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) and runt of the litter Chuck (Blake Cooper), but falls foul of brutish rival Gally (Will Poulter).
Out of the blue, a girl called Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) emerges from the lift.
She woozily claims to know Thomas and paranoia runs rampant...
For the opening hour, The Maze Runner is lean and taut, rattling along at breakneck speed to the beat of composer John Paesano’s propulsive score.
The threat of bloodshed hangs in the air but it’s only when Thomas strays into the labyrinth that the film unveils a surprisingly nasty streak, despatching the good-looking cast in a shockingly cold, clinical fashion.
Director Ball doesn’t succumb to squeamishness or sentimentality: death comes quickly and gruesomely, and the strongest, most noble and endearing characters are prime fodder for the rampaging Grievers.
The film earns its 12A certificate without flinching.
O’Brien and Ameen anchor the young ensemble with fine performances, with sterling support from Lee, Brodie-Sangster and Poulter, the latter fleshing out his punishment-fixated bully with aplomb.
Scodelario is noticeably short-changed but presumably, she will play a pivotal role – from beyond the grave or in the flesh – in next year’s fleet-footed sequel, The Scorch Trials.