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Since “Avatar” and “Sherlock Holmes” first grabbed the top spots at the box office, Hollywood hasn’t put up much competition against the blockbusters, leaving them free to make millions (or billions, in the case of “Avatar”). That will likely change with next week’s “The Book of Eli,” but until then, the only other movie to make a splash has starred squeaking chipmunks.

To movie fans with traditional values, however, a film new this week deserves attention: “Leap Year.”

This film starring Amy Adams – the candy-apple sweet star of “Enchanted” who has nonetheless displayed serious acting chops with two Oscar nominations for “Junebug” and “Doubt” – may have little more depth than a cliché, romantic comedy “date movie,” but it also confronts its characters with a radical moral idea virtually unheard of in Hollywood: that sex should be reserved for marriage.

The film follows Anna, an ambitious woman who knows what she wants and orders her world with precision to make sure she gets it.

But when her longtime boyfriend throws her a curveball by failing to propose before his trip to Ireland, she is swayed by a family legend that claims on Feb. 29 a woman in Ireland can propose to the man instead. Thus, she follows her boyfriend overseas.

The Emerald Isle, however, throws her yet another curveball when her plane is diverted by the weather and she must make her way across the country in the care of the dashing but cynical Irishman, Declan.

The story is then fairly predictable, as Anna is eventually torn between her perfectly planned cardiologist fiancé and the unpredictable Declan. The movie is a sappy, cheesy, funny, remarkably clean and traditional morality-affirming romantic comedy that carries an unusual PG rating.

A key series of scenes to watch, however, happen at the home of a train station manager, who happens to run a bed-and-breakfast with his wife.

When, in compassion for the misfortunate Anna, the manager and his wife offer to take in Declan and Anna for the night, they do the unthinkable: They ask if the couple is married.

“Right is right,” the hostess insists, as she tells the couple of a pair of backpackers that she refused to house because they were not man and wife. She insists that guests have traded vows before they share a bed.

Though Declan and Anna lie to get the room, the moment when they lie together in the bed – clearly attracted to one another – is a rare glimpse of a sexually charged movie moment where self-control actually wins the day.

There’s not much of a worldview displayed in the film, but it was a pleasant surprise to see a movie in which romance can be portrayed on the screen without cheapening it with … dare I type the word? … fornication.

How often I have been disappointed by good – even great – films where a love story was woven in and yet the storyteller couldn’t muster the skill to portray love in any meaningful way without the characters having sex. Like a scriptwriter who can’t get his characters to express emotion without cussing or a comedy sketch that relies on dirty jokes because it hasn’t the intelligence to tell a clean one, too many on-screen love stories become nothing more than lust stories when the writers reduce loving relationships to their basest common denominator.

The film “Titanic” comes to mind, a great movie that nonetheless couldn’t convince us Rose loved Jack without the couple getting busy in the backseat of a Model T. Or “The Matrix Reloaded” (not a masterpiece), which simply trashed the first “Matrix” film’s metaphor for Jesus and the Holy Spirit by throwing the two allegorical characters into the sack together!

Hollywood – and therefore much of our culture – simply has no definition for romance that doesn’t include sex. Young couples today often think – as I did as a lusty teen – that you can’t decide whether to marry a person or not until you’ve found out what he or she is like in bed.

But sex before marriage, in God’s design, doesn’t enhance love, it poisons it. And it takes the wondrous, beautiful gift of sex and cheapens it. There’s a reason “fornicate” is such an ugly word – because it’s an ugly thing to do to lovemaking.

Too often, it’s an ugly thing to do to movies, too.

Props to “Leap Year” for taking the moral high road and giving moviegoers a romantic comedy long on the love and short on the lust.

Content advisory:

  • Despite the values-friendly approach to sex in “Leap Year,” the film does have some sexual elements. Declan ignites the film’s sexual tension by walking in on Anna dressing, a scene that includes brief glimpses of her in bra and panties. Later, Anna dances behind a semi-transparent shower curtain, and there is some innuendo in the film. Declan is also seen shirtless. There is also a married couple that – for comedic effect – engages in some heavy, on-screen kissing.
  • The film contains a handful of mild profanities.
  • Religious content includes a priest praying during airplane turbulence and Anna accidentally interrupting a church service with the shout, “Jesus Christ!” before then amending it with “is Lord” when she discovers her error.
  • There is a bar brawl scene and several scenes of drinking and drunkenness in the film.

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