In Harvey Lowry’s The Competition, Chris Klein ups his game as Hollywood’s go-to for playing good guys with ditsy demeanors. Calvin Chesney (Klein) is the ultimate embodiment of the white knight, putting every ounce of his being into proving to Lauren (Thora Birch) that some men are faithful. The challenge isn’t easy, though, as Lauren runs a blog called The Pig Theory for which she’s created a formula that supposedly proves that every man, given the opportunity to get away with it, will cheat on his mate after six months in a relationship. At the behest of Calvin’s boss, Gena (Claire Coffee), who also happens to be Lauren’s sister, Calvin rolls in to charm Lauren and convince her to turn down a potential offer to adapt her man-hating blog into a book, which her family believes will duly turn her into a spinster.
Surprisingly, given how she’s established as being so guarded, Lauren is smitten with Calvin right off the bat, and throughout a maudlin and completely non-ironic montage of their early dates, they’re shown bonding during tandem bike rides and a fishing trip. One would expect—this is a romantic comedy after all—that Calvin’s secret task to reform Lauren would lead to conflict or come back to haunt him, but Calvin, ever the gentleman, quickly diffuses this potential source of drama by admitting to his initial intentions the moment he begins to have feelings for Lauren.
The will-they-won’t-they of the film is a non-starter, and as such the film’s climax is stripped of suspense.
The film’s sole conflict arises in the form of a competition in which Calvin attempts to disprove Lauren’s theory about men’s cheating ways. The contest pits five married male friends of Calvin’s choice against five temptresses of Lauren’s choosing, and he convinces her to abandon The Pig Theory and its book adaptation if a majority of his unwitting friends resist the allure of her mercenary sirens. But as the film laboriously follows each and every step of the competition, Calvin and Lauren’s burgeoning relationship is awkwardly sidelined in favor of a series of vignettes involving such cringing attempts at humor as a woman accidentally squirting a stranger with her breast milk and a stereotypical Latin lover wooing an older woman.
By the time The Competition finally returns to the will-they-won’t-they hijinks of Calvin and Lauren, it becomes even more apparent that their relationship neither has been nor is in peril. Even when the two get into a brief spat after she hits on one of his friends while trying to win the last leg of the competition, the eternally good-natured Calvin takes it all in stride, swiftly apologizing after punching his friend. And even after Lauren runs off, ashamed of her actions, both she and Calvin separately confess their desire to reconcile with one another to their friends, leaving the film’s climax stripped of suspense and even the most basic of dramatic payoffs.
Despite initially depicting Lauren as a cold-hearted man-hater, the film posits that apparently she would fall for a man who would forgive her for anything and stay loyally by her side, not like a pig but a domesticated dog with an ever-present smile. That someone like Lauren would fall head over heels for Calvin’s shameless rip-off of Kevin Costner’s “I believe in…” rant from Bull Durham when declaring his love for her isn’t only a complete betrayal of her character, but a profoundly lazy manipulation of the audience’s emotions.