Runaway Bride (1999)

reviewed by
Harvey S. Karten


RUNAWAY BRIDE

Reviewed by Harvey Karten, Ph.D. Paramount Pictures/Touchstone Pictures Director: Garry Marshall Writer: Sara Parriott & Josann McGibbon & Audrey Wells Cast: Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Joan Cusack, Hector Elizondo, Rita Wilson, Paul Dooley, Tal Carawan Jr., Tom Hines, Donal Logue, Christopher Meloni, Sandra Taylor.

With "Runaway Bride" and "Deep Blue Sea" opening at about the same time across the country, the screens will be flooded and running off with the usual summer cliches. "Deep Blue Sea" has the typical trajectory of its genre: human creates peaceful-enough monster, monster becomes agitated and eats humans, humans blow up monster. "Runaway Bride," more a romantic than an aquatic horror, fills the blanks: woman dislikes man, woman gets to like man, events conspire to keep them apart, woman and man get together.

Julia Roberts--the principal audience attraction for the event--tries heartily to make up for the inanity of her recent role in "Notting Hill." While she has no clunkers to equal "I'm just a girl looking at a boy asking him to lover her," her colloquy conveys no great revelations here, though to the credit of the three scripters, this sitcom has the customary array of sharp one-liners. Director Garry Marshall would have done well to cut the last fifteen minutes not simply to reduce the time (the movie is not overlong) but to end the show at just the right moment, as the runaway bride jumps on the FedEx truck. The curtain could have appropriately come down when one wag in the wedding party clucks, "I don't know where she's going, but wherever it is, she'll be there at 10.30 tomorrow morning."

Like "Notting Hill," which could be taken as a thinly veiled sketch of Julia Roberts' own fame, "Runaway Bride" has some resonance in the mega-star's life. In 1991 she was scheduled to marry Kiefer Sutherland but backed out at the last moment, at which point she began a romantic interlude with Jason Patric. Recanting an engagement is not so unusual: bolting at an actual wedding party just before the taking of vows is (although many of us could probably recount tales of people who did just that, using their cold feet to head for the hills at the very moment the guests are seated). "Runaway Bride" is about a woman who is notorious in her little town of Hale, Maryland for leaving three men literally at the altar. She is about to become nationally famous as acerbic regular columnist Ike Graham (Richard Gere) writes a biting column in USA Today about this "man-eater." When the titled character, Maggie Carpenter (Julia Roberts), dashes off a letter to the editor listing specific inaccuracies in the commentary and hinting a lawsuit for defamation, Graham is fired by the editor, who is also his ex-wife (Rita Wilson). Given a chance to regain his national reputation by writing a cover-story interview with Maggie for GQ magazine, Ike leaves New York for the Maryland sticks to get the scoop. Approaching Maggie--who already dislikes the man for his column and is irritated by his chutzpah in coming to the town- -he ingratiates himself with everyone including, ultimately, his subject, whom he defends against the snide cutthroats of her own town who roast her repeatedly.

Here is just another one of those movies that the most tired businessman rained out of his weekend trip to the Hamptons stays way ahead of. The characters are all predictable: the would-be bride's grandma whose psychoanalyzes Maggie's problem as her being simply an innocent woman afraid of the "one-eyed snake" she will inevitably encounter on her wedding night. Paul Dooley is the lovably curmudgeon of a small-town dad who gets thoroughly drunk on weekends (understandable since he lost his own wife) and who jokes throughout about the money he shelled out for three aborted nuptials. But as Maggie's best friend Peggy, Joan Cusack stands out as the picture's queen of the quip, alternately chiding her pal and being her main support.

Hale, Maryland could be the sort of cute American location that would indeed have a beauty parlor called the Curl and Dye and whose beauticians and nail technicians would crumple at the first site of the hotshot city slicker columnist. Yet there's something downright condescending about portraying these rubes as suckers for Ike's attentions and manipulations, even the little leaguers looking starry-eyed at the big man from the Big Apple.

Richard Gere, often disparaged for projecting little more than ennui, is particularly assertive in his role of the guy who will save the pretty woman from the likes of her current fiance, an athletic coach who patronizingly teaches Maggie to focus on him just as he trains the kids on the diamond to focus on the ball. None of these small-town specimens can match Ike's urban charm ("I guarantee we'll have a tough time" is his winningly realistic way of proposing marriage) or his ability to analyze Maggie's problem--having no mind of her own.

Ironically both agree that "attraction is often mistaken for rightness and attraction does not mean anything," and yet the two, who know each other for a week, fall into each other's arms on the basis of attraction alone. While the hackneyed dialogue that swims throughout the entire film is flaw enough, the feel-good ending drowns the show thoroughly.

Rated PG.  Running Time: 111 minutes.  (C) 1999
Harvey Karten

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