As Just My Luck opens, we meet Ashley Albright (Lindsay Lohan), and never has a girl been more aptly named: Everything is all bright for Ashley, who seems to be blessed by good fortune. On a rainy day, she steps outside with no umbrella ... and the rain stops as soon as she goes to step out from under the awning. She strides to the curb to get the cab that arrived just as she needed it ... and finds a fiver stuck to her heel as she gets in. As we follow Ashley through her day, the film makes it apparent that as lucky as she is, it's in direct proportion to the trials and tribulations of Jake Hardin (Chris Pine). Jake is a sad-sack schlub; he gets splashed by cabs, tears his pants, falls over and so on: If Jake dropped a piece of toast, not only would it land butter-side-down guaranteed, it'd probably set off a long-forgotten landmine as it landed. The other thing that becomes apparent as Just My Luck opens is that we, unintentionally, pretty much hate Ashley.
And it's not difficult, either; Ashley's life is a breeze, and ours is not. Things come easily for Ashley, and they don't for us. And Ashley seems likeable enough -- sharing good fortune with her friends in a shallow, callow way -- but it's pretty apparent that Ashley is unlikable because she's untested; she has no real character because she's never had to develop any in the face of adversity. Ashley's latest success is throwing a charity masquerade on behalf of record mogul Damon Phillips (Faizon Love, channeling Damon Dash, Jay-Z, Russell Simmons and every other hip-hop titan); Jake's latest doomed-to-fail scheme is getting a demo for the band he manages into Phillips's hands, which involves sneaking into the party. Between Ashley's work and Jake's subterfuge, the two still find time to have a dance; they kiss; and suddenly, our two ships crossing in the night have traded karmic cargo: Jake is now lucky, and Ashley is not.
My first reaction to Just My Luck's premise was to rent Intacto again, a moody 2001 Spanish urban-magical-realist parable about a secret society of gamblers who understand that for some people, luck is physical; you can build it like a muscle, steal it like a wallet, take it with a touch. Or a kiss. Saying that Intacto is a better film than Just My Luck is like suggesting that Nabokov has better-developed characters than an Archie comic; the question is if Just My Luck is a well-made Archie comic based around the idea of luck and fate. And Just My Luck is a little piece of fluff, a mix of Freaky Friday's the-pitch-is-a-switch plotline and a few other elements -- a touch of Sex and the City, a dash of MTV and TRL, a little bit of Horatio Algier as Ashley discovers that working to make things happen and help one's friends is better than letting it happen by accident.
And there's also a certain amount of flailing and broad comedy, as well, some of which is good and some of which is not. To confirm Ashleigh's lost her luck, her friends Dana (Bree Turner) and Maggie (Samaire Armstrong) conduct some very non-scientific tests with a handful of lotto scratcher tickets. There's a great brief line here that does a lot to show how good fortune's warped Ashley's worldview: "I happen to be very good at these." After a string of losing tickets, Ashley realizes she's switched luck with the dancer she's kissed, so she sets out to find every dancer and kiss them. This involves montages, physical comedy and impossibly overdone sight gags, but Lohan, Turner and Armstrong bring such brio and enthusiasm to the task it's hard to resent them.
As for Chris Pine's performance as Jake, he's got some chops, too: An unflinching optimism, an eye permanently on the lookout for the worst-case scenario, great hair. Plus, he handles physical comedy well, and he can look hangdog and glum without looking ugly or mean. After being found sprawled over a female jogger with his pants around his ankles -- all by accident -- and arrested, he simply sighs. "Can you take me to the 36th Precinct? They're nice to me there." Nobody is going to confuse Lohan and Pine with Audrey Hepburn or Jack Lemmon, but as far as romantic comedy leads go, they're not horrible.
And not horrible is the perfect phrase to sum up Just My Luck. There are obvious product placements, up to and including the band Jake manages, McFly. There are poo jokes throughout. There's a pervasive, creepy sense of consumerist fantasy: Ashley earns a company credit card, which is an obvious product placement for CapitolOne -- wow, that's two things to hate in one second of film! Director Donald Petrie has been putting out C-level comedies for years: Grumpy Old Men, The Associate, Mystic Pizza and many more. Watching his directorial style is like watching a T-bill mature: a slow, steady exercise in acceptable profitability. The list of writers is too long to go into, but it includes people responsible for everything from Max Keeble's Big Move, Sex and the City episodes, and Larry the Cable Guy: Health Inspector. That trio of terror goes a long way to explaining the script of Just My Luck, which is aimed like a cruise missile at the heart of the 13-18 female demographic, and about as wholesome. Just My Luck is junk food cinema, the kind of comedy that offers a sugar rush of charm and no nutrition. It's well-made junk food with some charming elements, but that's about the nicest thing I can say for it.