If you’re going to the movies for love, look further than the multiplex, look much further. In fact, just close your eyes all together.
Hey, remember when movie love mattered? When it spoke to the fundamentals of human longing and carnal passion? When the only thing bigger than your baby’s heart was that 30-foot screen? When the power of two perfectly hot creatures’ lust for one another made you deaf to loathsome dialogue because the “bump-bump, bump-bump” of your hearts was just that in sync to the actors’? Ah, the fantasy of romantic truth 24 frames per second.
Well, this Valentine’s Day, forget that. Judging from the crop of films begging for you to drop $14.50 a couple so you can make out in front of them, you’re better off spending your umpteenth night on the futon bathed in the blue glow of “Titanic” from your 19″ Zenith. From Buffy cooing over Young Indy to Batman feeling up Romy’s Michelle, the stars of these inept stabs at love are more uncrossed than Catherine Trammell’s legs.
Those who scoff at Meg Ryan, Julia Roberts and, dear God, even Jennifer Aniston’s forays into big screen romance would be more than happy to slap some sense into the stupid, avaricious executives responsible for thinking Sarah Michelle Gellar deserves a romantic comedy of her very own. And in further attempts to plunder young money clips and Kate Spade change-purses, look for an all-wack-cast update of “Dangerous Liaisons,” also starring SMG. Apparently, all 12-25 years olds are expected to do these days is spend, scream, swoon and spend some more.
But that’s cool — almost three decades ago their parents lined up for weekends on end to behold what was then the dregs of movie romance. The film was “Love Story,” and alas, it’s good to know that as daffy as its star sounded, Ali McGraw wasn’t all that wrong when she exhaled “loves means never having to say you’re sorry.” Which is why none of these movies apologize for how awful they are. To hell with Cupid, and spend the rest of this mini-month celebrating what’s left of Black February. Predictably, it sho’ nuff ain’t at the movies.
Note: All these movies are from the last century. So there is a good probability that most of you might not have watched it.
Message in a Bottle
Starring: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright-Penn, Paul Newman and Illeana Douglas
Ever wonder about the back-story for those Nautica ads — the ones with that stubbled creature with the square jaw staring out to sea in a cable-knit t-neck and wool carpenter pants? No? Doesn’t matter. “Message in a Bottle” tells it anyway, with Kevin Costner as Nautica’s unofficial spokesman for its yacht division. The best part is that he barely says a word. It’s the never-been-more-fly Robin Wright-Penn who does most of the talking in this sudsy version of “The Notebook,” Nathniel Sparks’ insufferably insufferably maudlin bestseller. She’s that divorced journalist with no life and no new man Hollywood loves so much. When she finds a bottle with a letter Costner’s boatman wrote to his dead wife, she has to track him down so he can put a message in her bottle.
Uncertain whether you’ll buy Wright-Penn in this film, the makers go extra lengths to give her blonde locks that saucy Julia! corkscrew. It works. With Costner back in prime, charming-Neanderthal form (he’s silent not because he’s dim but because he’s healing), the two have chemistry that makes the cowardly four-hanky ending something to tear up over.
# Best explained as: Princess Buttercup stalks The Postman.
# The redemptive (horny, gay or black friend): Agedly-horny Paul Newman as Costner’s practical dad. Workplace-horny Illeana Douglas as Wright-Penn’s lunch break gal.
# The moment they know: When he tracks her down at her hotel just to return her strategically-forgotten jacket.
# What makes her so special: Her super-huge Chicago brownstone.
# Would Julia?: Absoltely.
# Would Meg?: With a different ending. Sure.
# Would Jennifer?: She’d leave her “Friends” for a piece of this.
# Line that says it all: “She’s gonna smell like haddock for the rest of her life.”
Blast From the Past
Starring Brendan Fraser, Alicia Silverstone, Christopher Walken, Sissy Spacek and Dave Foley
What begins as a surprisingly funny satire of millennial paranoia disguised as atomic-bomb angst — science geek Christopher Walken hides family in homely fall-out shelter — collapses into cheesy romantic comedy. Brendan Fraser, who’s the most expressive, handsomest dolt since Tab Hunter, emerges from the fall-out 30 years later looking for groceries and a girl. He gets late ’90s L.A. and eventually Alicia Silverstone. “Blast” oscillates between lame and funny with a script that gives the heretofore MIA Silverstone nothing to do but pout while Fraser owns the movie after a swing number.
# Best explained as: The Encino Man of Pleasantville tries unpacking someone’s excess baggage.
# The redemptive (horny, gay or black) friend: Gay Dave Foley takes Fraser shopping and dispenses advice.
# The moment you know : They’re named Adam and Eve.
# The moment they know : Not sure they really do know.
# What makes her so special: Twenty minutes go by before we even see her.
# Would Julia?: “He’d make me look 35.”
# Would Meg?: “Ewww. Brendan Fraser.”
# Would Jennifer?: “Omigod, Brendan Fraser!”
# Line that says it all: “Eeeeve. He wants to skate around your block. Can he?”
Playing By Heart
Starring Angelina Jolie, Gillian Anderson, Dennis Quaid, Sean Connery, Gena Rowlands, Ryan Phillippe, Jon Stewart and Anthony Edwards
The news that the title of Willard Carroll’s first film had been changed from the elusive “Dancing About Architecture” to the dumber, more obvious “Playing by Heart” initially disturbed the director. Then he corroborated the name change, relieved that people would go to the newly titled movie not thinking it was some art film. Art is precisely what this film could use more of — that and a heaping dollop of Angelina Jolie.
These are lonely, tragic, sad, unhappy, pathetic, loserly, desperate, you-name-it people in movie that does all its crying and loving for you. Only Jolie and Phillippe (better sullen than suave) manage to cut characters you can feel amid all the soggy human episodes and “calculated artificiality.” Lawrence Kasdan did a better job of connecting lost souls in “Grand Canyon.” Here, love is used as the euphemism for AIDS, cancer, for dying. It’s the symptom and the salve Carroll naively mistakes for the cure.
It plays like an insipid, tenuous, overly-sentimental “Short Cuts” with its intersecting compartmentalized stories that unearth very little about love, life or acting. With an unforgivably bad Sean Connery.
# Best explained as: All walks of B-and-C-list-actor life pretending to be in a Robert Altman film.
# The redemptive (horny, gay or black) friend: Ross, Rachel, Joey, Monica, Phoebe and Chandler — oops.
# The moment we know: When Jolie gives the “talking about love is like dancing about architecture” monologue.
# The moment they know: There’s a wedding.
# What makes them so special: The characters names pop up and the weepy score floods the soundtrack.
# Would Julia?: “Isn’t Angelina Jolie supposed to be the next me?”
# Would Meg?: “Wow. Tony Edwards. What a throwback.”
# Would Jennifer?: “Oo! Oo! Can Courtney and Lisa do it to! We love Jon Stewart.”
# Line that says it all: “We’re all damaged goods!”
At First Sight
Starring Val Kilmer, Mira Sorvino, Kelly McGillis and Nathan Lane
Mira Sorvino is too-through with Manhattan, today at least, so she drives to an upstate resort when she meets Val Kilmer, her masseur, her blind masseur. But trust me, he can see her with his hands. Before long, he’s telling his seeing eye dog about her, and she’s trying to get him to see. “At First Sight” is one of those romances that needs stars not actors to make you forget how ridiculous the story is. Otherwise, let’s have that Douglas Sirk s�ance. Sure the film is based on Dr. Oliver Sacks’ true-story book, but he’s one of those weird-science cats, so you’d need graphs and charts to tell a love story. No thanks. Just get Matt and Minnie back together.
Moreover Sorvino has what sounds like a cold for the entire movie, and Kilmer plays blind like Ray Charles constantly on the verge of an orgasm. That’s interesting, given that he’s playing a guy named Virgil, which is Hollywood for “I’ve never had actual sex with a woman” and hospital for “He’s never gonna make it.” As a couple, they seem like two people who used to go out but realized they’re better off friends — cooled-off rather than hot. Meanwhile, the telltale sign of what kind of sight-restoration movie “At First Sight” is? Kilmer’s not positive he doesn’t belong in the seeing world until he’s at a party where everyone can do the Y-M-C-A but him. I’d rather go blind.
# Best explained as: Romy dumps Michele and goes for a hunk who’s blind as a Batman.
# The redemptive (horny, gay or black friend): Horny Kelly McGillis as Kilmer’s jealous, over-protective sister…Not buying? Gay Nathan Lane as Virgil’s psychologist.
# The moment we know: As soon as Kilmer tells Sorvino he’s going to start off pretty deep, she’s all about being his seeing-eye bitch.
# The moment they know: When she doesn’t realize he’s not actually squinting at her.
# What makes her so special: She’s an architect with a degree in erections.
# Would Julia?: “He’s such a perfectionist.”
# Would Meg?: “Val’s done me — twice.”
# Would Jennfier?: “How long do I have to stand in line?”
# Line that says it all: “Watch out honey, he’s all hands.”
Starring Sarah Michelle Gellar, Sean Patrick Flannery, Dylan Baker and Patricia Clarkson
No matter how much you love this whole teens-in-love resurgence, regardless of how you ache to see Sarah Michelle Gellar on the big screen, there’s no preparation for a film that tells its audience it’s all right to run your hands through your hair while you’re preparing gourmet meals. Gellar plays a chef who can’t cook until a portly stranger (Christopher Durang, the playwright, the cutting, sagacious, talented one) casts a spell on her (or on a crab). Either way, suddenly she can flambeau her way in to Sean Patrick Flannery’s heart, or at least, his kitchen. When you’re not obsessing over how much Flannery looks and acts like David Cassidy, you’re praying for some kitsch miracle like a Cassidy cameo to make up for the fact that director Mark Tarlov’s chief muse for this picture seems to have been 1985’s “Mannequin.”
A movie so abysmal it makes homicide seem like the only way out of the theater. And watching amply talented actors like Dylan Baker, Patricia Clarkson and Betty Buckley (I know) wade through this only makes you wonder how big the paychecks were. At least, on the small screen you’re not completely enveloped in swill. Even so, no one should wish this on their least favorite “Party of Five” cast member.
# Best explained as: “Mannequin” reinterpreted with Buffy the Vampire Slayer pretending she’s the Food Network’s Sabrina the Teenage Witch whose pastries crack Young Indiana Jones’ whip.
# The redemptive (horny, gay or black) friend: Gellar’s horny, black sous-chef buddy who wears sleeveless T-shirts and wave caps while dispensing advice = sensitive b-boy = gay.
# The moment we know: When she tries to stop a crab from climbing up his leg.
# The moment they know: When she tries to stop a crab from climbing up his leg.
# What makes her so special: The titles sequence announces Ms. Gellar’s wardrobe designed by Todd Oldham.
# Would Julia?: (Silence)
# Would Meg?: (Silence)
# Would Jennifer?: “Uh, do I get to keep the clothes?”
# Line that says it all: “Her crab bit me this morning.”