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Marginal recommendation due to attractive features, original screenplay, and some fascinating characters. *** out of ****
MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE (1999) ***
Starring: Kevin Costner, Robin Wright Penn, Paul Newman, Ileana Douglas, Jesse James Director: Luis Mandoki 126 minutes Rated PG-13 (for sexuality)
By Blake French:
What do you do when somebody asks you a question? Well, if you're like any normal person, you'd answer it. How do you form romantic chemistry between two characters in a movie? If there isn't already dramatic fire when you look at two characters, then you have to form it will dialogue.
In the new romantic drama "Message in a Bottle," all that the two main love birds do is ask each other and respond to questions. They meet when a Chicago newspaper worker named Theresa finds a bottled up note on the shore while jogging. She becomes curious as her friends find more evidence leading to this man that she deeply wants to meet. When she does meet him, a boat worker named Garret Blake, (hey, Blake is my first name, isn't that neat) romantic music instantly surrounds them. And the questioning begins.
Theresa asks Garret many questions, but all Mr. Blake does is answer. Is that a bad thing? Not really, but when a movie is trying to form romance chemistry, well, this is not the way to do it. The only character who seems to be at all alive here is Paul Newman, as Blake's father, who masters every scene he is in.
The scenery in "Message in a Bottle" is absolutely stunning. From the busy landscape of Chicago to the blue sea waters and crystal clear waves. This kind of material sweeps me away every time I see it in the movies. I would compare this film to the beautiful Montana countryside's in "The Horse Whisperer," one of the best movies of 1998.
The performances in this film are mostly quite good, but none are Academy Award material. Robin Wright Penn is realistic and well-casted. She uses confusion and sorrow to build up momentum for the Costner character. As for Costner himself, however, he is surprisingly bad. I mean, just recovering over last year's "The Postman," this man should be rebuilding his career, not destroying it even more. He gives another "Waterworld" type of performance, acting dumfounded throughout most of the film. It's Paul Newman who is the real surprise. He adds comic relief from all the ineffective melodrama which permits most of the movie.
The characters themselves are indeed likeable. Some are a bit stubborn and bull-headed, others are freewheeling and care-free. This is okay because variety is good, you know. I liked Newman the most, but Robin Wright Penn is right up there with him.
A major flaw in the film, however, is the ending, which is completely out of place and disappointing. I have nothing against this type of closing, but I have already seen this in material in last years "City of Angels," sorry if that gives anything away. It leaves the audience with a feeling of depression and disappointment as they walk out of the theater.
In the end, "Message in a Bottle" is a close call, but I do recommend it. Thanks to some attractive features, original screenplay based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, and some fascinating characters, Luis Mandoki has created a satisfactory movie that I did enjoy for most of the way.
Brought to you by Warner Bros.
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