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Wasted Wedding

Star power can't rescue this unreally bad story

Runaway Bride, the long-anticipated reunion of Pretty Woman stars Julia Roberts and Richard Gere, isn't a sequel, but it feels like one. In everything, there is a distinct sense of predestination, of events occurring according to some irresistible force of the inevitable. This makes life especially easy for Garry Marshall, the director responsible for originally bringing Roberts and Gere together in 1990. Marshall is now released altogether from having to bother with such bothersome details as setting up his story or following the rules of narrative logic.

In this debonair but ever-so-slight romantic comedy, things just happen. Never mind how or why. In its opening scene, Maggie Carpenter (Roberts) is shown galloping briskly over hill and dale in a wedding dress while U2's I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For plays on the soundtrack. Given the film's title, we're able to surmise that she is escaping from yet another marriage ceremony (and not, say, foxhunting), but where that might be, or why, is unknown.

We do learn that Ike Graham (Gere), a New York City newspaper columnist of the most desperate sort, is nearing his deadline and is still without an idea. Naturally, he heads for the nearest bar, mind you not to drink but to bounce ideas off the willing and only partly drunk clientele. After a few dry holes, one helpful chap does manage to tweak his interest with an item about a young Maryland woman who, it seems, has made a hobby of getting engaged and then leaving the grooms standing, devastated and confused, at the altar.

Roberts and Gere lose their earlier magic.
Ron Batzdorff
Roberts and Gere lose their earlier magic.
Roberts (shown with Joan Cusack) plays the worst role of her career.
Ron Batzdorff
Roberts (shown with Joan Cusack) plays the worst role of her career.

Knowing a good yarn when he hears one, Ike uses the story for his column, making the uncertain bride come off as the female equivalent of Jack the Ripper. As might be expected, this makes tongues wag all over Maggie's hometown of Hale, Maryland (though why everyone in this town reads this particular New York City rag is another of those unexplained details), and Maggie is furious. Armed with pen, paper and the facts — which unfortunately Ike had neglected to check — Maggie rips out a letter to the editor that causes Ike to lose his job. (That a star columnist for a New York paper would be fired for a few minor inaccuracies may be the movie's most laughable gaffe.)

Ike is given one last chance, though. The indefatigable Maggie is already engaged to be married for the fourth time. According to the deal he strikes with the paper, if Maggie bolts again (which, given her track record is a pretty good bet) and Ike is there to get the story, he gets his job back.

Even judged against other substanceless Hollywood confections, the setup here seems especially lame. But if it allows the stars to make their magic, perhaps no one will care. This is primarily why movie studios hire stars (and pay them their exorbitant salaries): to make sure no one notices just how god-awful the screenplay really is for whatever film they're watching. In this case, however, all the stars in heaven couldn't provide the distraction we need.

At this late moment in the millennium, Julia Roberts is the most bankable — and the highest paid — female star in the movies. And it was her performance in this team's initial pairing that gave audiences their first real sense of what she could do. Runaway Bride, unfortunately, gives her little opportunity to strut her stuff. In fact, Maggie — who seems totally unfazed by her behavior — may be the most unpleasant, off-putting character in Roberts' career. Nor does she seem even the slightest bit attracted to her co-star until the crucial moment when they simultaneously discover that they are smitten.

Strangely enough, it's Gere, usually laid-back in his romantic roles, who's the more energetic of the two stars. As Ike, Gere is more animated than he has been for some time and pulls it off, uncharacteristically, without seeming antic or strained. (Think of his manic performances in Breathless, or Looking for Mr. Goodbar, or Mr. Jones.) Nor is there a trace of the smugness and self-satisfaction that tarnishes so much of his work. His performance here is easygoing and balanced and one of his most appealing. Too bad it all goes to waste in a movie that is on the verge of collapse from the opening frame.

When the film finally does fall completely apart, it seems little more than a foregone conclusion. Ike and Maggie get together for one reason and one reason only — because they have to, that's why. Everything about Runaway Bride — the sitcom pacing, the unvaried shot selection, the clichéd music — is perfectly ordinary.

 
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