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Along Came Polly

A romantic comedy whose no-holds-barred gross-out elements sour an already graceless mix of crude pratfalls and heartache. Pathologically cautious Reuben Feffer (Ben Stiller) has channeled his aversion to uncertainty into a lucrative career in risk-assessment and thinks he's made a prudent marriage to lovely realtor Lisa (Debra Messing). He even decides impetuously to surprise Debra by buying the house they both fell in love with but rejected as a little out of their price range. Reuben's dream of a secure and predictable future is shattered when, on the first day of their honeymoon in St. Barts, he catches Lisa in flagrante with a hunky French scuba instructor (Hank Azaria). Reuben's longtime best friend Sandy (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a big-hearted boor in deep denial about his acting career (which peaked with '80s high-school comedy "Crocodile Tears"), makes it his business to drag Reuben out of his funk and back into circulation, starting with an arty party in a downtown gallery. There Reuben runs into cater-waiter Polly Prince (Jennifer Aniston), whom he last saw when she was a middle-school junior achiever. Their first date makes it clear just how much Polly has changed: She's become an iron-willed free spirit who moves constantly, deliberately accepts only menial jobs, balks at making so much as a commitment to dinner and recoils from the word "relationship" like a vampire from garlic. The date is a disaster foretold; it starts with sensitive-stomached Reuben suffering through an exotic meal at the restaurant of adventurous-eater Polly's choice and ends back at her apartment with a toilet catastrophe of mortifying proportions. But Reuben keeps trying, while conducting a particularly arduous assessment of daredevil CEO Leland Van Lew (Bryan Brown), who stands to lose control of his soon-to-go-public company unless he can qualify for life insurance. While common sense dictates that Reuben should forgive the repentant Lisa and Polly should have a fling with loony Van Lew, the laws of romantic comedy require that Reuben and Polly find their bliss in the attraction of opposites. And so writer-director John Hamburg's desperate comedy flails its way through a series of contrivances — including a raft of bodily function gags whose foul miasma smothers any spark of romantic chemistry between Aniston and Stiller — to its appointed end, which finds Reuben eating mixed nuts off a filthy sidewalk to prove he's mended his sensible ways. As romantic gestures go, it's less than overwhelming.