The floundering romantic comedy “Anyone but You” has several things going for it: the rising stars Sydney Sweeney and Glen Powell, a luxurious Australian backdrop, and more white teeth and washboard abs than the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. The plot is a classic switchback prank. Sworn enemies Bea (Sweeney) and Ben (Powell) pretend to fall in love at a destination wedding so that their friends and family (Alexandra Shipp, Hadley Robinson, Bryan Brown, Michelle Hurd and GaTa) will quit trying to trick them into liking each other. It’s a loose reworking of “Much Ado About Nothing,” and, presumably, the first Shakespeare adaptation where a dog does yoga — and certainly the first in which a man (GaTa) serenades a koala. Nevertheless, the film, directed by Will Gluck, who wrote the screenplay with Ilana Wolpert, is so awkwardly assembled that our attention gets pulled away from the leads to the bizarrely lavish buffet spreads in the background. We’re mildly curious about whether these two fakers will slip between the sheets for real — and majorly interested in why a guest bedroom has so many bowls of fruit.
“Anyone but You” is being sold as a return to the salacious rom-com, although that’s only true for one good scene. Overall, it’s more bawdy than erotic. “You know a lot about bathroom law,” Ben purrs to Bea when they meet-cute wheedling a restroom key from a barista. After a whirlwind first date, Bea wakes up in Ben’s arms fully clothed. The night appears to have been innocent — at least, that’s the implication from Gluck’s close-up shot of Bea’s cinched belt buckle — but both panic and settle into a shtick of exchanging public insults with the spite of jilted lovers.
We can barely make out whether a month has elapsed since that encounter or several years. Just resign yourself to nonsense, like the entrance of Margaret (Charlee Fraser), Ben’s ex, with her new boyfriend, Beau (Joe Davidson), a galumphing surfer who promptly attempts to eat a bundle of ceremonial sage. The running time is all flimsy bikinis and flimsier excuses to get people undressed. A tarantula? Strip off those shorts! Itchy sand? Swim trunks begone! A fire? Snuff out the flames with a dress! By the time Bea tumbles into Sydney Harbor, it’s a shock that Ben leaps in after her without tearing away his pants.
Sweeney and Powell could do wonders with a better script, something that makes more use of the way they grin at each other like they ate knives for lunch. She’s skilled at layered insincerity; he specializes in smirky, put-on machismo, shooting the camera a horrifically funny tongue waggle. Here, their performances get bullied around by the insistent pop soundtrack. One genuinely tender scene involves Bea crooning a peppy Top 40 hit to steady Ben’s nerves. But she only gets in a few quiet a cappella bars before Gluck cranks the original at an earsplitting volume — are you not entertained!? — and, for good measure, blares it again at the end over some riotous behind-the-scenes karaoke. You wonder if he spent more time on the closing credits than the actual film.
Anyone but You
Rated R for nudity and brash language. Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes. In theaters.