Genres don't come very much more unmalleable than the Hollywood romantic comedy. Unless you're PT Anderson, your rom-com will be forced by some unwritten La-La-Land law to involve an against-the-odds relationship, which hits its stride about halfway in before being knocked off course by a supposedly unexpected obstacle, leading to some frantic soul-searching and, finally, a climactic scramble to salvage things.
"No shit, Sherlock," you may well say. Cats hate dogs, the Pope wears a silly hat and - shock - American rom-coms are predictable. But given that Along Came Polly stars Ben Stiller and Philip Seymour Hoffman, and is helmed and scripted by the co-writer of Meet The Parents and Zoolander, we can surely be forgiven for expecting something even vaguely surprising. Can't we?
Of course we can't. Our mistake. Other than making the woman (Jennifer Aniston's Polly) the commitment-phobe rather than the man, Along Came Polly is plotting-by-numbers, featuring tried-and-tested comedy set-pieces. It even has a scene where two people burst through a door laughing and are suddenly silenced by something surprising just off camera. And, in keeping with post-Farrelly convention, is, of course, rife with toilet, fart and big knob gags.
That said, however, it's impossible to dismiss Stiller when he's on top, lovable-loser form. His perma-tense, cleanliness-obsessed office nerd is a guaranteed affection-hooker, a wronged man desperate to make the right choices. And while it may be the kind of role he could phone in these days if he wanted to, there's no doubting he's thrown himself into it. Obviously he loves these beleaguered schmucks as much as we do, and he's determined to give them their due.
With Aniston simultaneously making the most of her congenial flake and Hoffman gleefully rumbling out the sporadic belly-laughs as Stiller's slobbish, ex-'80s child-star mate, the principals elbow themselves just enough room to flex within the plot's rigid structure. Thanks to them, this middle-of-the-road trundler becomes a comfortable journey rather than an annoying one.