Movies

Paul Giamatti, Thomas Haden Church, ...

(Sideways: Merie W. Wallace)

Director Alexander Payne says he’s made a buddy comedy. Sure, in the same way 1999’s wickedly dark ”Election” was a teen movie. And the plot, based on the novel by Rex Pickett, sounds Payne-ful: Paul Giamatti (whose role George Clooney reportedly was interested in) is a depressed divorcé who takes his altar-bound friend (Thomas Haden Church) on a wine-tasting week that results in bachelor-party debauchery. ”I play this guy who’s cultivated this ersatz sophistication – I’m a writer! A wine expert! – but I’m just a failed writer and a drunk,” says Giamatti. ”We’ll see if people think that’s funny. Though I still say Payne should have gone with Clooney.” With his fourth feature, Payne isn’t messing too much with the sardonic style that’s earned him acclaim – and decent box office. In fact, there may even be a little overlap with 2002’s ”About Schmidt.” ”I show my bare ass in one scene,” says Giamatti. ”But hopefully not in a disturbing, Kathy Bates-in-a-hot-tub way.”

WHAT’S AT STAKE ”Both ‘Election’ and ‘About Schmidt’ doubled their money,” says Payne. ”As long as I can keep that going, all is well.”

Originally posted August 11 2004 — 12:00 AM EDT

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