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Friday, Dec. 15, 2006

'Stalked' by a 'muppet'

Let's see now, if I had an extra grand in my pocket, how would I spend it? A week at a resort in Bali? A new set of speakers for my stereo? A suite at the Grand Hyatt for an, ahem, intimate evening with my girl on Xmas eve?

My Date With Drew Rating: (3.5 out of 5)
Star Star Star Star Star

Director: Brian Herzlinger
Running time: 90 minutes
Language: English
Opens Dec. 16, 2006
[See Japan Times movie listing]

Not that I'm going to have an extra grand, unless The Japan Times has decided to reward my years of dutiful, keyboard-crunching labor with an unexpected winter bonus. Let's just say I'm not holding my breath. But if I did land an extra grand, I do know how I wouldn't spend it. I would not spend it on hunting down Nastassja Kinski, who I had a hopeless crush on at age 16, badgering her friends and associates to give up her phone number so I could ask her out on a date. I have my pride. I have my sanity. I have a life.

Brian Herzlinger, director and star of his own documentary, "My Date With Drew," clearly does not. His no-budget doc follows him in his attempt to prove that even a schmuck like him can land a date with an A-list Hollywood star like Drew Barrymore. "Follow your dream" is the film's feelgood message, and it's clear that this will be an empowering experience for stalkers everywhere.

Taking a cue from Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me," Herzlinger sets himself a 30-day deadline to score a date with Barrymore, or die trying. Well, maybe not "die," but the digital video camera he bought only has a 30-day return policy, and since the budget for his project is a mere $1,100 -- which Herzlinger won on a T.V. quiz show -- he's not about to shell out for a luxury like a camera.

The thing that Herzlinger has going in his favor is his naivete, the belief that he can make this happen, and that Barrymore -- who he's had a crush on since he saw her in "E.T." at age 6 -- won't let down a true fan. He's lucky he chose Barrymore, a down-to-earth, funky member of Hollywood's royalty. Someone like Catherine Zeta Jones would have had a restraining order slapped on him so fast it would make his head swim.

The film follows Herzlinger as he tries to get in touch with Barrymore, working off the "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" principle. He tries producers, writers, agents, Drew's former costars like Corey Feldman of "Goonies," and even long-shots like her cousin or a limousine driver. (Of course, Herzlinger seems to have missed the obvious approach, becoming a film critic. I've met Barrymore twice in person without even trying.)

The challenge for Herzlinger, which even he admits, is "how to approach her without seeming like a stalker." Even Feldman tells him, "Yeah, you come off a little weird." (Though considering Barrymore once dated comedian Tom Green, this shouldn't be a problem. In the Tokyo press conference for "Charlie's Angels," Green ran from the stage and would only respond to questions by squealing in a high-pitched voice "I'm hiding!")

The film dives into Herzlinger's personal life to accentuate the pathos of his situation: He's out of work, his credit card is maxed out, he's relying on checks from his parents to pay the rent, and the film becomes very much a question of whether he can maintain his self-esteem. Of course, given that he puts himself in the film howling in agony as he gets his chest hair waxed (a scene straight out of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin"), it's not entirely clear how Herzlinger defines "self-esteem."

As the above scene indicates, Herzlinger is the class clown, and a lot of the film involves him mugging for the camera, or motor-mouth kvetching about his insecurities. ("I'm a muppet!" he exclaims in despair, to which a friend can only say, "Well, that's who you are.") This works in spurts, but wears thin at times when it seems like his quest has stalled and he's grasping for filler, like a visit to a psychic, or a "practice date" with a Barrymore lookalike.

One other thing that sticks out, and most documentarians learn this sooner than later, is how the presence of the camera changes the reality being filmed. At times, whether bursting with joy or about to break into tears, Herzlinger's moods seem exaggerated, like he's playing to the camera while supposedly responding spontaneously. It makes you wonder how "naive" the guy actually is. But perhaps it just means the "real" Herzlinger is a bit of a ham.

"My Date With Drew" may seem at times like a short-movie stretched out to feature length, but it's not without its charms. You've got to admire a guy who can take what was probably a late-night drinking bet and turn it into a career breakthrough. Also recommended if you've ever wanted to learn how to crash a Hollywood red-carpet premiere.

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