MOVIE REVIEW by Willard Manus

First-time indie director Justin Theroux had a lot going for him when he started shooting DEDICATION. Despite his low budget, he managed to cast Billy Crudup and Mandy Moore in the leads, Tom Wilkinson, Dianne Wiest and Bob Balaban as supporting actors. He was even able to sign Stephen (Transamerica) Kazmierski as director of photography.

Problem was, he forgot all about the script. Credited to David Bromberg, it tries hard--too hard, really--to emulate the screwball comedies of Hollywood's golden age. So shot through is the script with unpleasant, over-the-top characters and unlikely plot twists that it makes sitting through the finished film a torturous experience.

Crudup plays Henry Roth, a children's book writer whose neuroses approach insanity (e.g., because sleeping in a bed makes him feel unsafe, he stretches out on the floor with half a dozen weighty tomes pressing down on him). Wilkinson plays his wisecracking sidekick, Rudy Holt, who also illustrates his Dr. Seuss-like books. Rudy is a calming influence on the nutty, foul-mouthed Henry, but unfortunately he succumbs to a heart-attack in Act One. No matter, he comes back from the grave to comment on the action and give Henry fatherly advice. It's a boring and unoriginal device.

Moore plays Lucy Riley, the love interest. Called in by Henry's publisher, Arthur Planck (Balaban) to take the late Rudy's place and complete another successful book, she is naturally put off by his bizarre behavior. That's hard to understand, because she herself has a weirdo of a mother/landlord (Wiest), who spends most of her time shrieking at her for being late with the rent.

As if these obnoxious people weren't bad enough, DEDICATION also fails to make its story developments work. Planck offers Lucy a two hundred thousand dollar bonus to see the job through with madman Henry. Come on, Justin Theroux--not even Dr Seuss himself was paid that kind of upfront money for a book.

Just about every romantic comedy ever made follows the boy-meets-girl, boy-loses girl, boy-gets-girl formula, and DEDICATION is no different. That wouldn't be a big problem if the movie had something else going for it--strong chemistry between its stars, witty, charming dialogue, genuinely funny or touching situations.

DEDICATION, alas, has none of these, just a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.