Adrien Brody completists will appreciate Love the Hard Way, if only as an example of the kind of self-conscious, brat-noir projects their man probably won't be doing anymore. Not that the star of ''The Pianist'' doesn't have the off-center magnetism to keep playing variations on downtown cigarette suckers, sensitive scammers, and unconventionally alluring skinny gents who look great in any wardrobe. But the post-Oscar Brody will probably be choosier than the ambitious, dues-paying young actor who did this soft-boiled gig before ''The Pianist'' was released.
As Jack, the very model of an urban-hipster con man, Brody wears his hair in a perma-mess and shrugs on a snakeskin blazer that appears freshly harvested from the original owner. Jack kerouacs away at a novel when not engineering rip-offs of foreign businessmen with his buddy Charlie (Jon Seda), and he's immune to dames until a dewy grad student catches his eye. Claire (WB-pretty ingenue Charlotte Ayanna, previously in ''Spun'') is as emotionally transparent as Jack is hooded and prone to speaking in purple pulp (''Come on, baby, the world is full of fallen angels''); their whole love affair is not much more than a pile of pulp itself, and Claire is not quite as doll-like as she looks. As Charlie sagely snarls, ''I'd say you got a complicated bitch on your hands.'' (Everyone snarls, including Pam Grier in a throwaway role as an undercover detective.)
German writer-director Peter Sehr (with cowriter Marie Noëlle) adapted his overwritten script from a novel by noir-besotted Chinese writer Wang Shuo, shot the picture in colorful pockets of New York City, and threw in a strutty music mix. I figure Brody chose his own hip-jutting, fashion-runway postures, little realizing at the time that he was about to punch a big-time ticket out of this indie palookaville.