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'Love and Other Drugs': Hathaway and Gyllenhaal are superb, and so is the movie

Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal pair up again in Love and Other Drugs.
Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal pair up again in Love and Other Drugs.

Two very good-looking people play two offbeat and abrasively charming lovers in Love and Other Drugs. And when your screen romance is as sexual as this one, it helps if your stars are about as good-looking with their clothes off as human beings get.

In Brokeback Mountain, Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal played a mismatched couple, and they re- couple here — on the floor, on the bed, in back alleys. It's a movie on the make about a guy on the make who meets a woman who isn't above using and tossing aside guys the way he discards women. And it's about what happens after all that mating, when things get serious.

Gyllenhaal is Jamie, a med school dropout who rattles through assorted sales jobs, getting by on his flirty sales pitch. Then he stumbles into pharmaceuticals. Director and co-writer Ed Zwick (Glory, Defiance, and more tellingly About Last Night ...) plops Jamie into Pfizer just as Zoloft and then Viagra take off. Some of the most interesting stuff in the movie concerns the tricks drug reps use to get doctors to prescribe their drugs and the little bribes doctors take that grease the wheels, the subject of a major news investigation by ProPublica just this fall.

Jamie quickly masters the trade, taking the advice of his boss (Oliver Platt), getting in good with a "thought leader" doctor (Hank Azaria) whose influence will influence others to prescribe his drugs. But then Jamie meets a patient, one with a wicked wit, a wicked temper and a funny attitude about her health. Maggie (Hathaway) is "not too bummed about having a major degenerative disorder at 26." And she's not interested in Jamie's mating games. Cards on the table, a tumble on the bed. Just don't call her "girlfriend" or it's over.

The arc of their relationship is cute. Some of the heart we hope for in a good romance, those lump-in-the-throat moments, are missing. But Gyllenhaal and Hathaway have great chemistry. She has turned her sexually aggressive princess thing into a second post-Princess Diaries career. He adds a touch of horndog to his doe-eyed innocence and takes his game to a new level.

But there's weight hanging around this movie's neck. It's the product at the core of the tale, the wonder drug that makes our young hero such a success. More than a decade after its introduction, is there a Viagra joke we haven't heard or seen, a "limp" or "stiff" pun we haven't heard?

Still, the Maggie-Jamie banter is sarcastic and adorable.

"I'm a drug rep. I'm not a creep."

"Same thing."

The casting — George Segal and the late Jill Clayburgh play Jamie's parents, and Josh Gad is hilarious as his boorish, bloated, blubbering brother — is spot-on, the pacing quick and the touch, for the most part, light. That Love and Other Drugs works according to formula as well as it does makes one wonder why there haven't been more Hollywood romances of this quality since Zwick paired Demi Moore and Rob Lowe in About Last Night ..., the prototype for the modern R-rated romance. We shouldn't have to wait 24 years between screen love stories this sexy.

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