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Faint praise aint all bad

'10 Ways' is better than you'd think

The term 'romantic comedy' has been seriously abused in recent years. Once a respected genre that included films by the likes of Billy Wilder, Frank Capra and Preston Sturges, romantic comedies have devolved into formulaic embarrassments Ñ 'It Happened One Night' has been replaced by (shudder) 'Sweet Home Alabama.'

Given the sorry state of the whole category, there's no reason to expect 'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' would be any better than, say, 'Maid in Manhattan.' After all, it has the same basic plot structure Ñ wacky cute meet, zany situation based on deception, gradual falling in love, discovery of lies and pronouncement of love followed by happy ending.

Yet this time, it works. Mostly.

To write a story about how to drive a man off by committing the most common female dating sins, magazine writer Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) picks up hunky adman Benjamin Barry (Matthew McConaughey) in a bar and sets about making his life miserable. What she doesn't realize is that Ben's made a wager with his co-workers that he can make a woman fall in love with him in Ñ quelle coincidence! Ñ 10 days, with his shot at a big advertising account as the prize.

Yes, the premise is idiotic. What makes it all watchable is Hudson and McConaughey, who share an extraordinary chemistry onscreen. They also sell the material with such likable sincerity that they manage to keep this leaky boat afloat during even the most appalling scenes.

Hudson is especially good as a smart woman who's pretending that she's alternately ditzy, clingy, manic-depressive and just plain psycho in her attempts to drive off her new beau.

At first, Andie gets a kick out of re-covering Ben's toilet seat with pink carpeting and dragging him to a chick-flick marathon, all the while cringing at her own behavior. When Ben steadfastly refuses to break up with her, she resorts to even more desperate measures Ñ like busting up his poker night with the guys and giving his willy a cutesy nickname.

McConaughey, who's having a welcome career resuscitation these days, makes a winning leading man. What starts out for him as a pleasant enough way to win a bet turns into a hellish nightmare as his new girlfriend goes round the bend Ñ yet, to get the account he wants, he can't leave. And, yes, he eventually starts to fall for her anyway.

The plot is tired, and the ending is so by-the-numbers that it feels like it was stamped out by a machine. And yet É the writing is just clever enough to pull off scenes that start to get a tad cringe-inducing, and the supporting cast is exceptional Ñ including an underused Bebe Neuwirth and Robert Klein as the couples' bosses.

A great deal of the credit also should go to Adam Goldberg ('A Beautiful Mind,' 'The Salton Sea') and Thomas Lennon ('A Guy Thing') as Ben's buddies. The pair steal every scene in which they appear and add a considerable amount of fresh charm to the proceedings.

'How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days' isn't a brilliant film, and doesn't do anything to help elevate the sagging romantic comedy genre. But it's not nearly as bad as it could have been. Sometimes that's as much of a recommendation as a movie can hope for.