_Runaway_Bride_ (PG) *** 1/2 (out of ****)
Ever since _Pretty_Woman_ came out of nowhere to become a box office sensation in 1990--and propelling Julia Roberts's star and salary into the stratosphere--there has been ongoing rumblings about a possible sequel. Thankfully, no such unnecessary revisit with millionaire Edward Lewis and prostitute Vivian Ward has ever made it to the big screen, but some nine years after the release of that much-loved romantic comedy comes something quite close to a sequel: a reunion of stars Roberts and Richard Gere and director Garry Marshall. And while _Runaway_Bride_ isn't quite at the magical level of _Pretty_Woman_ (then again, what is?), this satisfying charmer has all the makings of (pardon the bad pun) another runaway hit.
Aside from _Pretty_Woman_, _Runaway_Bride_ must also face comparison with Roberts's early-summer romantic comedy hit, _Notting_Hill_, and again the newer film falls short; it lacks the running satire of Tinseltown celebrity that gave that fluffy film an unexpected edge. _Runaway_Bride_ is simply just fluff, with a typically preposterous set-up to match: New York-based _USA Today_ columnist Ike Graham (Gere) hears about Hale, Maryland resident Maggie Carpenter's (Roberts) penchant for abandoning bridegrooms at the altar--3 and counting--from a stranger at a bar and then proceeds to write an unflattering piece on her. His inaccuracy-filled article prompts a complaint letter from Maggie, costing Ike his job. Seeing a "corrected" piece on Maggie as a way to jumpstart a freelance career--and anxious to see her dump Groom Number 4, whom she is set to wed in a week's time--Ike goes down to Hale to investigate.
Once the knotty exposition is out of the way, it is Marshall and scripters Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott's job to step back and let the Roberts-Gere sparks take over, and the well-matched stars pick up where they left off on that Hollywood fire escape nine years ago; they sizzle together, and it is impossible not to have a rooting interest in their characters' eventual coupledom. Equally as well-matched are each star and their respective role. Maggie is a flighty kook not unlike _Pretty_Woman_''s Vivian, except (to crib a line from _She's_All_That_) "for the whole hooker thing," and accordingly, Roberts is very convincing in Maggie's skin. On the other hand, Ike is a polar opposite to _Pretty_Woman_'s uptight Edward, but Gere obviously has fun--and _is_ quite fun--as a charming, if troublemaking, scamp.
Of course, Marshall and the writers cannot completely disappear, and they bring a number of entertaining comic situations--including a couple of blatant, but not distracting, mirror scenes to _Pretty_Woman_--and witty dialogue to the affair. They also surround Roberts and Gere with a colorful supporting cast; the standouts are the always-effective Joan Cusack as Maggie's best friend and Christopher Meloni, a hoot as Maggie's athletic-minded fiancÚ. In addition to Roberts, Gere, and Marshall, Hector Elizondo is also on hand for the reunion, but his involvement in the story is limited at best as Ike's photographer friend. Especially disappointing is Elizondo's lack of onscreen interaction with Roberts, with whom he worked so memorably in the last collaboration.
_Runaway_Bride_ is sure to be knocked as ridiculous hokum, which, much like _Pretty_Woman_, it certainly is. And like that previous film, it gives the audience what it wants to see: an irresistible confection that serves up the laughs and a sweet, involving romance, with the proven Roberts-Gere electricity as the not-so-secret ingredient that gives the film its special kick.
Michael Dequina email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org | email@example.com | firstname.lastname@example.org Mr. Brown's Movie Site: http://welcome.to/mrbrown CompuServe Hollywood Hotline: http://www.HollywoodHotline.com on ICQ: #25289934 | on AOL Instant Messenger: MrBrown23
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