Runaway Bride (1999)

reviewed by
Jon Popick


The scariest film to take place in Maryland this year isn't The Blair Witch Project – it's the paint-by-numbers re-teaming of Pretty Woman director Garry Marshall and stars Julia Roberts and Richard Gere. Here, in Marshall's second directorial dud of the year (The Other Sister was equally unimaginative), Gere's triumphant acting style that made Red Corner a box office smash remains unchanged, while Roberts conjures up memories of debacles past, just about erasing any memory of her fine performance in Notting Hill.

The tired story begins when a jaded USA Today columnist named Ike Graham (Gere) writes a piece after hearing a barroom tale about a small-town girl named Maggie Carpenter (Roberts), a woman who purportedly left seven beaux at the altar by dashing out of the ceremonies `like the running of the bulls in Pamplona.' The trouble is that Ike never checked his source and is immediately canned by Ellie, his editor-in-chief (and ex-wife) played by Mrs. Tom Hanks/Rita Wilson (Psycho). Out of work, Ike is persuaded by Ellie's husband, photographer Fisher (Hector Elizondo, Chicago Hope, doing his best impression of `Kristof' from The Truman Show) to actually investigate the `runaway bride' story in the hopes of selling his narrative to the highest bidder and, verily, jumpstarting his career.

When Ike arrives in Hale, Maryland, he quickly discovers that Maggie has only really ditched three grooms on their wedding day, but she is still the running joke of the town. Her drunk pop (Paul Dooley, Telling Lies in America) even aims a few zingers at his only child, adding that `wedding cake freezes – this we know.' Ike tries to track Maggie down at the family hardware store that she runs (Carpenter - hardware store - get it?), but she's off at the local beauty salon, run by best friend Peggy (Joan Cusack, In & Out and perennial funny-enough-to-be-a-sidekick-but-not-attractive-enough-by-Hollywood-standards-to-be-a-romantic-lead. Why can't her agent find her a script like Muriel's Wedding?). Maggie agrees to talk to Ike, but only if she and Peggy can `wash' his hair. Stupidly, he agrees, and ends up looking like that guy with the rainbow wig and the `John 3:16' sign that is always at pro football games. Yup, we're talking pretty high-brow humor here.

After speaking to most of the townsfolk, Ike learns that Maggie's first victim is a burnt-out Deadhead who still works in town as a mechanic. Patsy #2 (Donal Logue) has become the local priest, while the third dupe is a boozehound in New York City. Remarkably, there is yet a fourth man ready to by discarded by galloping Maggie - uni-browed high school athletic coach Bob (Christopher Meloni from HBO's wonderful OZ). Now, I'm not going to say who Maggie eventually marries, but you will definitely be surprised…if you've never seen a movie before in your life. The story is so remarkably predictable that even the simplest-minded will see the placement of the Hall & Oates song `Maneater' coming from very far away.

Could the problem be with Marshall's direction? He hasn't done anything worthwhile since his television trilogy (Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and Mork & Mindy). Could it be novice screenwriters Sara Parriott, Josann McGibbon and Audrey Wells? Could this have come from anywhere but the minds of three women? There are a few decent lines, mostly from Elizondo and Cusack, the latter of whom is so wasted in this role, but not nearly as misused as Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) who plays the local baker for all of about 90 seconds. I am still amazed that there was so little packed into a film that ran so long. Hello, Hollywood? Romantic comedies are supposed to be 90 minutes long - 100 if Kevin Smith is involved. (1:51 - PG for language and some suggestive dialogue)

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