Directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, starring Adam Sandler, Emily Watson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Luis Guzmán, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Lisa Spector.

In the grand tradition of romantic comedy, 'Punch Drunk Love' brings together a mismatched pair, in this case king of the gross-out comedy Adam Sandler ('Mr Deeds', '8 Crazy Nights') and respected director Paul Thomas Anderson. However, Anderson's attempt to subvert the genre - although it's finally proof that Sandler can actually act - is ultimately just an exercise and not a very engaging one at that.

Sandler takes the role of ineffectual small town businessman Barry Egan who is beleaguered by his family: seven sisters whose pained concern sometimes tips over into downright abuse. Although wrapped up in his business - selling novelty toilet plungers - Barry is a lonely and troubled man, beset by occasional outbursts of rage and fits of crying. One night, alone in his barren apartment, he makes the mistake of calling a phone sex line and lands himself in the hands of blackmailers just as he finds salvation in the saucer-eyed, kooky Lena (Watson).

Sandler, dressed in a snazzy indigo-blue suit throughout, moves believably from borderline crazy to empowered - but still slightly skewed - during the course of the movie. His awkwardness and stumbling delivery for once seem less of an affectation and more to do with his characters' flaws. While the idea of Sandler the funnyman turning into a serious actor might not be completely convincing, 'Punch Drunk Love' certainly shows him extending his range.

In this experiment, Anderson, however, comes off less well. Glaringly bright lights, loud ambient sound, discordant music and abstract images all contribute to a growing feeling of claustrophobia which is exacerbated by a deliberately choppy pace. 'Punch Drunk Love' is scattered with odd moments and people who seem to have wandered in from another movie - the appearance of a harmonium, the blankly mysterious Lena herself - which add to the confusion. While there are a few beautifully judged moments between Barry and Lena including their first kiss and the silhouetted meeting at her hotel in Hawaii, the characters are not engaging enough to make you care about what happens to them.

Occasionally interesting, but ultimately frustrating, 'Punch Drunk Love' is far less than the sum of its parts.

Caroline Hennessy