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MOVIE REVIEW

Looking for the perfect man has never been more painful

Diane Keaton and Mandy Moore are mother and daughter in the romantic comedy "Because I Said So." (SUZANNE TENNER/UNIVERSAL PICTURES)

The new romantic comedy "Because I Said So" has no flesh and no blood. It's made of sugar, spice, and lavender, less something you'd find at a movie theater and more what you'd order by the ounce at Teavana .

Diane Keaton plays Daphne Wilder , a long-divorced Los Angeles baker determined to pair off her daughter Milly (Mandy Moore), a caterer. She's the youngest of three daughters and the only one who's still unwed. Daphne places an epic online personal ad, then arranges for an ultra-yuppie architect (Tom Everett Scott ) to sweep Milly off her feet. Meanwhile, the musician/single dad (Gabriel Macht ) who expresses interest, pursues Milly despite mommy's objections. When the fudge hits the fan, mom justifies it all by explaining that she just loves her daughter too much not to lie to her and manipulate her into companionship.

I left this movie devastated. Not because it's one of the worst films ever made about having a mother, dating two men, or catering (although on all three fronts, it is). I was upset because my own mother apparently doesn't love me enough to connive dates for me, especially while wearing little sunglasses around the house and absurd layers of clothes always -- always -- topped off with a ginormous belt, the way Keaton does.

Feeling inadequately obsessed over, I called home and demanded an explanation: Why no sneaky setups with perfect men, mom? Why no anaconda-size belts, huh? "Because I'm not crazy," she said. "You can make your own matches." She went on to explain that she failed to see the need to lie if she ever did want to set me up, anyway.

Of course, deception is the only way to get this movie past the 60-minute mark. The script's various ruses require maximum stupidity on Milly's part. Even after the film displays a remedial obviousness in telling her (and us) which of these two men is worth keeping, she seems torn. In one scene with the yuppie, Milly breaks one of his family heirlooms, and he snaps at her. In the very next scene with the musician, she drops some dishes; he comforts her. But no light goes off in her head. Not only does this character not have a bulb, she's missing a socket, too. Moore does have one fantastic flash of positive self-realization, but this immensely lik able woman is required to be a nitwit.

Eighteen years ago, the director Michael Lehmann helped bring us "Heathers," a smart anti-chick-flick flick. The renegade teens in that movie would have snarled at the whiny woman in "Because I Said So." It's unfortunate that he's swilling the industry Kool-Aid now, eking out would-be romantic-comic contraptions. This is a sloppily made bowl of reheated chick-flick cliche s. There are the obligatory inappropriate-suitor montage and the depressing overreliance on a cute canine for many reaction shots. The Wilders drop in on department stores like a quartet of yammering cluster bombs, and subject the Korean day-spa staff to their vapid family dramas. (Piper Perabo and the priceless Lauren Graham , who takes the least conventional approach to this material by taking none of it to heart, play -- alliteration alert! -- Mae and Maggie, the two married daughters.)

Firmly in middle age, Keaton seems more popular and glamorous than ever. But the movies she stars in keep getting lousier. "Because I Said So" isn't nearly as good as "Something's Gotta Give" and "The Family Stone," which were mediocre. Here she doesn't transcend the overbearing material with brilliant facial acrobatics or wry goodness as she did, respectively, in those other two movies.

In fact, she's required to be overbearing herself, a trait that betrays what's best about her unique brand of comedy, which erases the line between prideful self-confidence and crippling self-doubt. In "Because I Said So," Keaton is accidentally sad. And I haven't even mentioned the odd scene where Milly has to explain to poor, laryngitis-afflicted mom what she's been missing in bed all these years. (Women's-studies classes will have a field day with Keaton's having literally lost her voice in this moment.) I wish that she and her pal Nora Ephron would consider tailoring a few of Ephron's essays in "I Feel Bad About My Neck" for the movies.

In the meantime, watching the generations team up (even unwittingly) in the search for love, I was reminded that "Because I Said So" is a movie of its moment. On MTV's "Parental Control," moms and dads, disgruntled with their offspring's current mate, interview more suitable suitors. And on VH-1's "I Love New York," a charismatic, street wise chick from Syracuse, nicknamed New York, and her steely mother sift through a cast of nerds, players, and thugs to find the daughter's prince.

That entertaining show is about the balancing act between keepin' it real and real love. "Because I Said So" exasperates because even its best intentions are phony. When one of Milly's smitten suitors tells her, "I love that when I breathe you in, you smell of cake batter," you can imagine New York's mother kicking that dude to the curb.

Wesley Morris can be reached at wmorris@globe.com. For more on movies, go to boston.com/ae/movies/blog.

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