Fate Dont Fail Me Now

Patient: Serendipity

Profile: Romantic comedy about star-crossed lovers who meet and then part—for no apparent reason other than that's the way it was storyboarded—and spend the rest of the picture looking for and just missing each other. It's true to life in that, like most relationships, the beginning feels forced, the middle is pretty good and the whole thing just kind of keels over at the end. I blame women. Think The Night We Never Met meets Four Weddings and a Funeral meets Thank God I'm Married and My Nonexistent Sex Life Doesn't Depend on Taking Dates to Date Movies LikeSerendipity.

Symptoms: In any movie about fate—or time travel—you're asking the audience to suspend logic, which they'll do happily if they like the premise and the characters. We like John Cusack, who does an admirable job of playing John Cusack. But the woman, played by Kate Beckinsale, is a classic pontificating ballbuster—"I don't believe in accidents"—empowered to ramble on nonsensically by the man's engorged and rigid interest in what she's saying. She's every theater-arts major you ever dated who thought her opinion mattered because she once read the Cliffs Notes to the Bhagavad-Gita. The movie's not even true to its premise of trusting fate. The couple doesn't trust fate. They fiddle with and finesse fate so that the first 15 minutes make you feel as manipulated as if you'd just spent two weeks in Bangkok.

Diagnosis: Successful in answering the age-old question "Why do women mess with men's heads?" Because dogs can lick themselves.

Prescription: The middle hour of this movie is pretty good, owing mostly to the comic possibilities of New York and a powerhouse grouping of such comic actors as Cusack, Eugene Levy, Molly Shannon and Jeremy Piven. But to get to that middle, you have to get past the beginning, which just leaves you angry and generally hating women—like listening to Laura Schlessinger. Instead of coming up with some manufactured facsimile of fate, why not have the lovers really separated by forces out of their control? It could be anything: freak occurrence, natural disaster, perhaps a difference in language and fascistic immigration laws that don't allow travelers to transport their Thai "therapist" home as part of their carry-on luggage. You figure it out. Just fix the beginning, and we'll all enjoy the mindless ride and barely notice that the main characters' previous flames are just kind of sloughed off in the last act, disappearing without comment like the Brady Bunch dog or Jennifer Love Hewitt's singing career. The doctor loves a happy ending.

 
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