Dir: Chris Koch. US. 2002. 101mins.

Having got his big break as the writer of $300m worldwide hit Meet The Parents, Greg Glienna now mines a similar vein of material for A Guy Thing, a sweet-natured, though sometimes familiar-feeling romantic comedy made on a modest budget for MGM. Replicating the success of Meet The Parents is unlikely, especially since stars Julia Stiles and Jason Lee are still relatively unproven box office draws. But a mid-level US performance should be within reach for MGM (which has just turned the equally unassuming Barbershop into a $75m domestic hit), given the quiet competition at this time of year, when the film is released in the US this week Given that Stiles and Lee are less well known outside the US, international distributor 20th Century Fox will have to work hard to produce significant overseas results.

While the film's content recalls Meet The Parents, its style brings to mind a kinder, gentler version of the Farrelly brothers' There's Something About Mary. Lee's Paul is an ineffectual nice guy who, after his boozy bachelor party, wakes up in bed with pretty stranger Becky (Stiles). Paul opts to conceal the slip from his fiancee Karen (Blair, from Cruel Intentions) only to discover, at a pre-wedding dinner, that Becky is Karen's cousin. Torn between his obligation to the conventional Karen and his growing attraction to the more adventurous Becky, Paul finds himself caught in a comedy of errors from which a brave, life-changing decision is the only escape.

Director Chris Koch (who made his feature debut three years ago with surprise family hit Snow Day) displays a deft sense of comic timing and keeps the story moving at a pleasantly breezy pace. The script - on which Glienna eventually worked with fellow comedian Pete Schwaba and TV comedy writers Matt Tarses and Bill Wrubel - finds some original angles on its basic material and has at its centre a nicely spun-out comic thread about honour among guys: every time Paul thinks he has told one lie too many to Karen and her protective family, a fellow male unexpectedly steps in to help him maintain the deception.

Some of the incidental bits of comedy business, meanwhile, rely on a softened form of the gross-out humour pioneered by the Farrellys. The gross-out gags, though, are none too original and are frequently sold too hard by the writing team. Paul's visit to a pharmacy to buy a certain personal hygiene product, for example, leads to a well-worn routine that is here simply repeated when it might have been refreshed.

Compensating in part for the film's comic shortcomings are the performances of Lee and Stiles and the capable supporting cast. The always engaging Lee, whose career up to now has been split between indie projects (including four for Kevin Smith) and smaller parts in blockbusters like Enemy Of The State, is perfectly at home with the film's zippy, sometimes slapstick comedy. Stiles, who had a hit in January 2001 with Save The Last Dance but has otherwise worked mainly in smaller films such as the notable 10 Things I Hate About You, seems slightly less assured in her first out-and-out comedy. Her performance, looks and screen presence, however, still add considerably to the film's appeal.

Prod co: MGM
US dist: MGM
Int'l dist: Fox
Prods: David Ladd, David Nicksay
Scr: Greg Glienna & Pete Schwaba, Matt Tarses & Bill Wrubel
Cinematography: Robbie Greenberg
Prod des: Dan Davis
Ed: David Moritz
Music: Mark Mothersbaugh
Main cast: Jason Lee, Julia Stiles, Selma Blair, James Brolin, Shawn Hatosy, Lochlyn Munro, Julie Hagerty