Andie Anderson (Kate Hudson) is a how-to columnist for a women's magazine called Composure (whose faithful readers, presumably, are known as Compo girls). Andie writes stories about how to flatten your tummy in two weeks, but what she really wants to do is write about politics, religion, economics and the environment. Which gives you an idea of how much disbelief you'll need to suspend to enjoy "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days." In the day and age of the TV punditocracy, a long-legged blonde waxing eloquent about Iraq, Islam, the deficit and global warming would be snapped up in the time it takes to say, "Sweetheart, call my agent."

But we digress. "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" opens in the estrogen-fueled beehive of Composure's headquarters, where editrix Lana (rhymes with Anna) holds editorial meetings as if they were part yoga session and part boot camp. Andie agrees to write a story about the stupid things women do to make men dump them, and that night she meets her guinea pig: Ben Barry (Matthew McConaughey), an advertising executive who, for reasons too meaningless to go into here, has just bet his colleagues that he can make a woman fall in love with him in 10 days.

It's actually a promising premise, and "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" has moments of recognizable human behavior -- at a recent preview screening, two of the biggest laugh lines were Andie's "I want you to respect me" and Ben's "I do." (This may have less to do with the perceptive talents of the filmmakers than with the cynicism of the typical modern moviegoer.) But all too quickly, "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" resorts to the kinds of cliches that were so yesterday two weeks ago: After reeling Ben in with her native charms and a couple of tickets to the NBA Finals, Andie sends him out for a soda during the game's final minute. After he returns, she sends him back for diet. And so it goes: The baby talk, the nicknames for his nether regions (Princess Sophie, to cite the most objectionable), the chick-flick marathons, the cucumber sandwiches at the poker game, the goofy little dog dressed in Burberry. In other words, nothing recognizable as remotely human behavior.

Donald Petrie ("Miss Congeniality") directs "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" with little energy or ingenuity; the theme is rife with possibilities for observant, honest humor but he's content to settle for the broad and improbable every time. (The most egregious example is the movie's climactic scene, when Andie and Ben engage in a preposterous and painfully forced duet of "You're So Vain.")

Petrie's lucky that he has Hudson and McConaughey to carry the day, which they do, with a lot of style. Let's face it: The purpose of movies like this is to revel in the leading lady's beauty, check out her hair and ogle her wardrobe. Done, done and done. Hudson, who happens to be Goldie Hawn's daughter, has her mother's comic knack, as well as that distinctive turned-down smile. But she's smoother than Hawn, more glamorous, as if she'd taken comportment lessons from Grace Kelly. She's delightful, if not entirely believable, as a "Sex in the City"-type New York woman, her hair is flawless throughout the film, and the clothes are fabulous. McConaughey is a good sport in a role that is well within his limits (in his case, the less actory, the more satisfactory).

Both lead players are appealing and attractive enough to make an otherwise tepid movie at least un-excruciating. But even at their best they can't make "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days" the movie it might have been.

How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (112 minutes, at area theaters) is rated PG-13 for some sex-related material.

Bright smiles but a dim script: Matthew McConaughey and Kate Hudson in "How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days."