There are certain dogs -- and they've been around a few blocks -- that know one trick to perfection. They also know they can throw it down for the thousandth time and you'll be right there with the Snausages . You don't even hate them for it.
Hugh Grant is that old dog. "Music and Lyrics" is that trick. Actually, "Kibbles 'n Bits" might make a better title for this charming bit of Valentine's Day boilerplate. It's so unoriginal yet so adorable that your own leg may start kicking reflexively as the movie scratches you in the sweet spot.
The writer-director is Marc Lawrence, who made long plane flights safe for Sandra Bullock with his "Miss Congeniality" screenplays and "Two Weeks Notice," the latter of which he directed and which also starred Grant. "Music and Lyrics" substitutes Drew Barrymore for Bullock, increasing the ditz factor and the chance the whole thing might collapse like a mistimed souffle.
It doesn't, though. After a rocky early scene in which Barrymore seems shrill and unfocus ed, "Music and Lyrics" settles into breezy cruising gear, and the two stars snap together surprisingly well. Grant plays Alex Fletcher, a one-time one-hit-wonder from the '80s whose singing partner went on to megastardom and left Alex doing appearances at Knott's Berry Farm .
The movie starts off with the group's hit video from 1984: a stupid ditty called "Pop Goes My Heart" that sets the right tone of no-cal parody while sticking in your ear like tar. Then we meet the modern Alex: older, shaggier, content in his vastly diminished expectations but with a noodgy agent (Brad Garrett) who wants a bigger 10 percent. The agent puts Alex together with a baby Top 40 sexpot named Cora (Haley Bennett) -- think Shakira crossed with Tweety Bird -- who loved his music back then and wants him to write her a song within 36 hours and sing it as a duet.
A comeback beckons. Problem: Alex can't write lyrics. Enter: Barrymore as his substitute plant-watering lady, Sophie Fisher, who just happens to have a knack for wordplay. Exit: The audience's suspension of disbelief.
So why are we still here? Because the two are so darned cute together. Grant and Barrymore have complimentary stammers: He does his wicked, self-effacing, post-Divine Brown cynicism thing (and Lawrence's dialogue is just sharp enough to put it over), while she settles down and gives us a believable girl-woman with a smidgen of attention-deficit disorder.
"Music and Lyrics" indulges in byplay about Sophie's sister (Kristen Johnson), a power-mom with a high school crush on Alex, and it throws in a nonsensical subplot about a professor (Campbell Scott, fleeting and embarrassed) who wrote Sophie into a novel and left her a blocked mess.
Mostly, though, the movie hunkers down for a long all-nighter of song composition, during which the stars run through their respective tricks and win each other and us over. The movie insists Alex and Sophie get together physically (and discreetly), but that's just icing on a tasty pre-fab cake. They have to get together so they can then break apart so Grant can perform the hem-haw public apology scene he's apparently required by the terms of his work visa to do in every single movie in which he appears. Except here he sings it.
The last act of "Music and Lyrics" is increasingly mechanical; the charm fades even as you're willing it to stick around. Newcomer Bennett gets a few laughs as the pop-tart torn between Buddha and booty-shaking, though, and the song Alex and Sophie compose, which has sounded like the worst sort of Grammy swill in the making, turns out to be pretty good (if not good enough to make up for the windy dialogue about classic pop songcraft.)
In the end, the movie's just the kind of enjoyably empty-headed fluff it celebrates and mocks. It sits up, it begs, eventually it plays dead, and still you want to pat it on the head. It's a good dog.