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'Boy' is nothing new for Hugh Grant

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For most moviegoers, "About a Boy" will be more about Hugh Grant than the 12-year-old of the title.

Grant entered stardom as a world-class charmer, tarnished his clean-cut image with a personal scandal, and then broadened his range as a womanizing cad in "Bridget Jones's Diary."

"What next?" wondered fans, realizing that his up-and-down career path was more interesting than most of his movies.

Nothing exciting, I'm afraid.

"About a Boy" finds Grant scurrying back to his best-known persona, the raffish kook with a smile that never quits. He's cropped his hair, but it's hardly a zestful new look. Grant plays Will, a mischievous bachelor who pretends he has a child so he can hunt wooable women in a single-parents club. There he meets attractive Suzie, who cares for a 12-year-old named Marcus when Marcus's mom is beset by psychological problems.

Will puts up with Marcus for selfish reasons, then realizes the awkward lad needs help to overcome his geekiness. True to form in movies like this, Will's altruism rebounds and helps him do some growing up himself.

Nicholas Hoult is excellent as maladroit Marcus, but there's little he or Grant can do with the movie's most mawkish moments – especially the climax, a school-concert scene that's as implausible as it is sappy. Was this spiritless stuff really directed by Paul and Chris Weitz (see interview, page 20), of "American Pie" fame? How the rebels have mellowed!

• Rated PG-13; contains vulgarity.

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