Hugh Grant is a world-class charmer, and he pours it on as Britain’s prime minister, a sort of bachelor Tony Blair in heat for a chubby staffer (Martine McCutcheon) who also attracts the U.S. prez, played as a Clintonesque horn dog by Billy Bob Thornton. The PM has a sister (marvelous Emma Thompson), whose husband (Alan Rickman, of the witty sneer) lusts for his secretary. There are laughs laced with feeling here, but the deft screenwriter Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill) dilutes the impact by tossing in more and more stories.
As a director (it’s his debut), Curtis can’t seem to rein in his writer. Did we need Liam Neeson as a widower teaching his ten-year-old stepson about shagging? It’s tough to see talented Laura Linney and Keira Knightley wasted in nothing roles. It’s even tougher to endure the language-barrier humor between Colin Firth as a writer in love with his Portuguese housekeeper. And why the ungallant fat insults? As for the girl-boy porn actors too shy to ask for a date, that’s one joke pounded into hash. And the subplot about the geeky British kid (Kris Marshall) who has to go to Wisconsin to find babes is not only subpar, it wouldn’t work in any movie. It helps that the great Bill Nighy nails every comic line as an aging rocker who claims Britney Spears was a lousy lay. Nighy’s rocker refers to the old song he’s recycled into a Christmas chart-topper as “solid-gold shit.” If only Curtis’ ear had stayed that acute. He ladles sugar over the eager-to-please Love Actually to make it go down easy, forgetting that sometimes it just makes you gag.