Abundant, raunchy sex scenes twist sweet love story into incredulous, predictable flop

Film director Ed Zwick could be given at least this much tribute: in the midst of the latest comedy-drama “Love & Other Drugs” – about an upstart pharmaceutical salesman who falls for a 26-year-old stage one Parkinson’s-afflicted woman — he’s at least trying to give movie-goers something more than a disease-of-the-week over-sentimental show.

But revitalizing an exceedingly common genre with self-consciously “risqué” sex scenes might not be the best way to go. “Love & Other Drugs” strained to appear original but came off too awkward in the process.

The movie was loosely inspired by the 2005 nonfiction novel “Hard Sell: The Evolution of a Viagra Salesman” by Jamie Reidy. “Love and Other Drugs” is set in 1996 when American life started to drastically change forever as drugs became commercialized by way of advertisements in magazines and television, and the little blue pill called Viagra came out on the market and revolutionized sex. This brings two different stories together: the Jamie and Maggie sexcapades and how drug companies have influenced our way of life.

This movie follows Jamie, played by Jake Gyllenhall, who struggles to find his niche in life. After a drug representative training program he soon discovers that he has a knack for the schmoozing and sweet-talking skills that it takes to persuade doctors to begin prescribing the drugs that he sells.

But his presentation starts from an all too apparent place and cringingly evolves as expected from there.

On one of his doctor’s office visits, he meets Maggie, played by Anne Hathaway, a free spirit who asks for no sympathy despite her destructive disease. The two take on a relationship of sizzling, rampant sex with no strings attached, until Jamie decides that he wants more than just physical gratification.

There’s undoubtedly a great movie to be made about the phenomenon of “friends with benefits,” people whose sexual desires are so effortlessly satisfied that they never suffer the urge to expand or explore any deeper relationships.

That is definitely not this movie. The relationship between these two rabbits seems like an act,  and unfortunately, a not-so-sexy one.

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway are filmed in several couplings, often bare naked. But there’s no heat between the performers. They just seem to be well-lit models in a soft-core Cinemax fantasy.

Even more awkward than the romance are the attempts by Zwick and his co-screenwriters, Charles Randolph and Marshall Herskovitz, to score laughs.

Josh Gad plays Jamie’s obnoxious brother, recently single and camped out on Jamie’s couch. The rest of the supporting actors, including George Segal and Jill Clayburgh as Jamie’s parents, and Oliver Platt as his co-worker, are wasted.

At his best, in a movie such as Defiance or on the TV series “My So-Called Life,” Zwick applies a Hollywood sparkle to real human dilemmas.

“Love & Other Drugs” finds him at his worst: artificial.

THERESA PFISTER

[email protected]