Forget Paris, the shamelessly schmaltzy new film from writer-producer-director-star Billy Crystal, is a by-the-numbers '90s romantic comedy straight from the boilerplate. With its wall-to-wall soundtrack of classic jazz ballads, its geographic reference points, its flimsy musical-comedy plot with the undercurrent of fatigue, longing and worldliness about men and women, it's the last word in Hollywood's soft-sell summer model. At this point, all these yuppie date movies are starting to blur together into one big wet epic - While You Were Sleeping in Seattle, Harry Met Sally, French-Kissed and Forgot Paris.
The picture - which opens in a Manhattan bar where Andy (Joe Mantegna) has assembled his closest buds to meet his fiancée (Cynthia Stevenson) - is presented as one of those great stories told among old friends. In this case, the heroes are Mickey and Ellen (Crystal and Debra Winger), and the story is about their meeting.
Some years back, Mickey's father died. His last request was to be buried in France alongside his buddies who died during World War II. Though he and his father didn't have much of a relationship, Mickey decides to honor his request and takes a leave from his job as a National Basketball Association referee. But on the flight over, the airline loses the coffin.
After several days' delay, Ellen enters as the airline's customer relations representative to save the day. After some obligatory banter, Ellen becomes Mickey's guide through a greatest-hits collection of Parisian stuff.
Almost instantly, Ellen and the little referee are madly in love, strolling arm and arm through the streets, nuzzling one another in cafes and, in general, having the most divinely romantic time of their lives.
The problem, of course, is that their time together in Paris was so special, so magical, so dazzling that their life after she follows him back to America seems dim by comparison. Their friends say, Forget Paris - meaning, live in the real world with the rest of us. But, then, Ellen and Mickey don't live in the real world; they live in a '90s romantic comedy.
On most of the big points - such as romantic chemistry between Crystal and Winger, direction and the jokes - the film deserves no better than a pass. Though the pictures give lip service to serious issues, whenever the material comes close to an actual human moment - as opposed to some confected revelation or bogus Hollywood moment - Crystal backs down, preferring to dodge the issue with cute quips.
The scenes dealing with Mickey's life as a referee are easily the picture's best - especially those moments when Crystal is actually on the court with the players. Crystal has said that he wanted these sequences to function as a sort of mini-documentary about refereeing, and if it falls short of that mark, it does so by inches. But then what documentary could give you the pleasure of seeing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's slouchy delivery in his brief cameo - Mickey ejects him from his farewell game in Detroit - or the sublime delight of seeing ex-Piston Bill Laimbeer get T'ed-up again, just for old time's sake?
Crystal is actually at his best in these scenes too. Free of the pressure to be a leading man and seduce every member of the audience, seat by seat, row by row, his face relaxes, the camera finds its proper place and the movie falls into a nice rhythm. However, in his scenes with Winger - who looks smashing and slightly bemused - the camera always seems to zoom in too close and too often. Crystal's always selling, always pitching, and always dying for us to find him adorable. If he'd relax, we might have room to, but he crowds us out, doing our reacting for us.
Ultimately, it's the same old story - the clown wants to win the girl. But Crystal passes for a romantic the way Bob Hope did, which is not very well. As an actor and a director, Crystal is so eager to please that, if he were the host at a party, he'd meet his guests at the car with their drinks. And if desperation looks bad on a comic, it looks even worse on a leading man.
Labels: comedy, Paris, romance, sport
Sunday, September 13, 2009
Forget Paris (1995) [PG-13] ***
A film review by Hal Hinson, Washington Post, May 19, 1995.