Dir: NigelCole. US. 2005. 104 mins.

The coupling challenges faced by ambitious andgeographically mobile twentysomethings drive the plot in A Lot Like Love, a romantic comedy that casts Ashton Kutcher in hisstraightest romantic role to date and gives British director Nigel Cole, hotoff the success of Calendar Girls,his first shot at a US feature. Star and director acquit themselves reasonablywell, but the movie, with Amanda Peet as female lead, is a lightweight affairthat manages only rarely to deliver either sexy wit or truly affecting emotion.

Buena Vistareleases the Beacon Pictures production in the US this weekend. Kutcher'sgrowing celebrity (in the tabloids as well as in cinemas) should ensure adecent opening, but competition for the target audience - rival rom-com FeverPitch came out two weeksago and Kutcher's Guess Who' opened two weeks before that - may limit the eventual domestictake.

Internationalopenings - most through Buena Vista, a few through independent distributors -follow over the summer months, providing more separation from rival releases.Cole's track record (he also directed Saving Grace) will help sell tickets in someterritories, but with the stars' names having less pulling power outside the USthe overall international gross seems likely to be fairly modest.

The script, thefirst to be produced for the big screen from playwright-actor Colin PatrickLynch, has a similar structure to rom-com classic When Harry Met Sally. Kutcher's ambitious Oliver and Peet'sfree-spirited Emily meet first when she seduces him on a plane from LA to NewYork. After a flirtatious day in the city, the two go their separate ways, butover the next seven years they re-unite periodically on the West Coast, whereOliver becomes the co-founder of a San Francisco Internet startup and Emilytries to make it in LA as an actor and photographer. The romance persiststhrough each encounter but careers and relationships always get in the way ofanything too serious - until, that is, fate puts the two together at the righttime in the right place.

Each episodefinds Oliver and Emily cautiously picking up where they left off for what is,in effect, another date. For most of the film, Cole keeps things entertainingby maintaining a brisk pace and light tone. He also makes atmospheric use oflocations (nicely shot by director of photography John De Borman) that includeNew York streets and bridges, LA's funky Silver Lake neighbourhood and theJoshua Tree National Monument.

The problem isthat the episodes don't add up to much emotionally or dramatically. Emily andOliver both have other partners along the way but the relationships seem tocome and go fairly painlessly. Their own relationship, meanwhile, develops verygradually: though it's clear from the start that they're meant to be together,neither makes any claim on the other; and when they do end up together thecircumstances that bring the union about are more practical than romantic.

The two leadsare on screen for most of the film's running time and they make a handsomecouple and play off each other well. Kutcher's boyish charm, however, oftenseems too pronounced for this role and he sometimes appears to be struggling torein in the exaggerated mugging that has worked for him in broad, almost slapstickcomedies like Guess Who' and Just Married (as well as his breakthrough sitcom That 70s Show).

The supportingcast includes an underused Kal Penn (Harold and Kumar Go to White Castle) as Oliver's business partner andKathryn Hahn (from TV drama Crossing Jordan) as Emily's happily married best friend.

Prod cos: Touchstone Pictures, Beacon Pictures,Kevin Messick Productions.
Worldwidedist: Buena VistaPictures/BVI.
Intl sales: (France, Italy, Japan): SummitEntertainment.
Prods: Armyan Bernstein, Kevin Messick.
Exec prods: Charlie Lyons, Zanne Devine, SuzannEllis.
Co-prod: Lisa Bruce.
Scr: Colin Patrick Lynch.
DoP: John De Borman.
Prod des: Tom Meyer.
Ed: Susan Littenberg.
Mus: Alex Wurman.
Main cast: Ashton Kutcher, Amanda Peet, KathrynHahn, Kal Penn, Ali Larter, Gabriel Mann.