FOR HALF AN HOUR OR so, "Crazy Stupid Love" is like an expanded version of the classic how-to-talk-to-women bit in "The 40-Year-Old Virgin."
Wherein Seth Rogen tells Steve Carell to phrase everything as a question, a method that works improbably well on Elizabeth Banks.
Here, Carell plays Cal, a divorcing man who gets pickup instructions from ladies man Ryan Gosling, who is an even slicker version of the Rogen character - penthouse, fine threads, bottomless credit card.
It's familiar turf for Carell, whose Cal is a sexually cloistered guy (faithfully married 25 years) halfheartedly learning the ropes of seduction. He's still in love with his wife (Julianne Moore), who's in turn halfheartedly dating a co-worker (Kevin Bacon).
"Crazy Stupid Love," as the title implies, is about the shocks that can occur from cross-wired romance. There's a babysitter (Analeigh Tipton) in love with Carell, and his son is in love with the babysitter.
The movie has two directors, and often feels as if it was directed by two people. Carell has some effective, honest scenes with Moore, full of middle-aged regret and confusion.
And Gosling has some nice scenes with Emma Stone, the down-to-earth girl who makes him want to give up the one-night stands and the scripted moves (really scripted, like from "Dirty Dancing").
At other times, the comedy feels given over to audience-baiting, test-screening stunts. One subplot has the desperate sitter taking (apparently) X-rated photos of herself to get Cal aroused and interested.
Laughing yet, mom and dad? Wait till the end, when the photos make an even creepier appearance.
You may also roll your eyes at some of the crazy narrative turns. Whatever you do, though, don't read too many reviews. The movie is best experienced cold.
"Crazy Stupid Love" is all over the place, but a good cast can take a movie a long way, and this one does. Gosling and Stone are particularly cute together - she brings her "Easy A" spunk, he reminds us why so many folks loved "The Notebook."
After "Blue Valentine," he needed a pick-me-up. We all did.