movies: No Kidding 

The "American Pie" creators make a stunning career move, giving us a comedy sporting character development, Hugh Grant and a moral.

They've also hired Hugh Grant to embody the cad around whom this tale of family values, parenting and the insightful (but often overlooked) focus of a child's point of view revolves.

Grant plays Will Freeman, a late-30s unattached Londoner who's never had a job or been in a relationship that's lasted more than a few months. Ensconced in his "neat" bachelor's pad, he lives well off the royalties from a corny Christmas carol composed by his late father. More than just a rounder, Will is so dedicated in his pursuit of getting laid he's turned it into an art form, the central theme of which is sexual pleasure with the least work required. In other words, he's made courting single moms his sexual raison d' etre. Ironically, what makes those women easy targets is what Will dislikes the most: children. But Will is more than adept at faking all sorts of emotions, including pretending to take an interest in the child of a babe he fancies, such as Angie (Isabel Brook). As we watch Will's macho machinations, we are introduced to Marcus (Nicholas Hoult), a 12-year-old nerdy preteen who's still walked to school by his mom, Fiona (Toni Colette). A baggy-trousered, ex-hippie, vegan-type, Fiona clearly is not quite playing with a full emotional deck.

When Angie gets wise and dumps Will, he takes refuge at a single-parent support group. What better place to meet and exploit women starved for male attention? But to his eternal consternation, he finds the women at these meetings are unattractive, man haters or more emotionally messed up than he is. Needless to say, he sets his cap for the sole beauty among the group, Irishwoman Susie (Victoria Smurfit). Will devises a ruse about being left with a 2-year-old when abandoned by a conniving, heartless female, and Susie falls hard for him.

Twenty minutes into the movie, at an outing where Susie brings along her best friend Fiona's son, the film's twin thematic strands finally intertwine. In a very funny scene in a public park, where Grant's fumbling romantic schtick is allowed free rein, Marcus and Will connect. But back home, Fiona has attempted something stupid and everyone makes a mad dash to the hospital, neatly combining comedy with near-tragedy.

Thereafter, the stage has been prepped and set for the main event — a friendship between a mature but lonely 12-year-old boy and a hugely immature but equally lonely 38-year-old boy in a man's body. Both finally learn the timeless, universal truth that everybody needs somebody.

Grant delivering a decent performance is something of a given, especially when the role calls for his trademark fumbling, stuttering, slightly confused mannerisms. What makes the movie and the central relationship work is Hoult. The talented youngster has depth, range and an engaging sense of humor. (Where was he when they were casting "Harry Potter"?) Cute to-boot, Hoult's rather like a Haley Joel Osment but with a British accent.

Though the dialogue rarely sends off sparks, and some of the British pop-culture references will fly by most American audiences, the movie hums along amiably. Agreeable and breezy, and definitely character-driven, "About a Boy" offers a cinema rarity — a truly platonic love story. S


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