Reviewed by Colin Jacobson
Paramount, widescreen 1.85:1/16x9, languages: English DD 5.1 [CC] & Dolby Surround, French Dolby Surround, subtitles: English, single side-dual layer, 21 chapters, rated PG, 116 min., $29.99, street date 1/25/2000.
Directed by Garry Marshall. Starring Julia Roberts, Richard Gere, Joan Cusack, Hector Elizondo, Rita Wilson, Paul Dooley.
Ike Graham (Richard Gere) is a New York newspaper columnist with a problem - his deadline is an hour away, his ex-wife is his boss and his writer's block is working overtime. Retreating to his favorite watering hole to "brainstorm," Ike hears about a young woman in rural Maryland named Maggie (Julia Roberts) who, apparently, loves being engaged, but who has very cold feet about getting married. Intrigued, Ike composes a column about Maggie, beginning a chain of events which leads him to Hale, Maryland, her hometown.
Maggie Carpenter also has a problem - Ike Graham. Furious with the column and its author, she plans to even the score with him. Ike eventually discovers there is much more to Maggie than just a problem with commitment; and he ends up with the story of a lifetime.
In addition to working in a hardware store, Maggie is an inventor who makes things out of industrial parts and stays in shape by kick boxing in her home workshop.
Ike Graham (Gere) is a definite fish out of water when he arrives in Hale to prove that what he has written in his newspaper column about Maggie is true. The cynical New Yorker causes quite a stir among the townspeople, who soon learn he is the author of the column about Maggie. Most displeased with Ike's arrival on her turf is Maggie herself. She is about to make her fourth attempt at marriage, and has been embarrassed and deeply hurt by this stranger's very public exposé.
Through the course of the film, as Maggie exacts her revenge against Ike, and while he infuriates her by ingratiating himself to her friends and family, the two begin to learn more about each other and about themselves.
About ten years ago, Pretty Woman earned about a jillion bucks at the box office as it both ignited Julia Roberts' burgeoning career and gave a shot in the arm to faltering hunk Richard Gere. Both have encountered their ups and downs over the subsequent years, though most of Roberts' were up and Gere's seemed mainly down, which is probably why she gets top billing for their reunion effort, 1999's Runaway Bride.
While it's clear that the hopes of another career revival enticed Gere to perform in this bland and unfunny romance, Roberts' motivations seem less obvious. After all, although she slumped with mid-Nineties fare like I Love Trouble and Mary Reilly, Roberts has been back on top for the last few years with hits such as My Best Friend's Wedding and Notting Hill. Hell, even disappointments like Stepmom and Conspiracy Theory took in $91 million and $76 million, respectively.
So why is she here? Money, I'd guess; I expect someone wrote her a big ol' check. I can't think of any other good reason to show up for work each day when you're making a stinker like Runaway Bride.
When I saw RB theatrically last summer, I was coming out of a bad breakup with my ex-fiancee. Here's a spot of advice: if such circumstances befall you, do not go to see a romantic comedy! I didn't enjoy the film, but I chalked up most of my displeasure to my muddled emotional state.
Six and a half months later, my nerves are much calmer, but the movie still sucks. Probably the biggest problem with RB stems from its utter lack of originality. Initially I wanted to call it a remake of Pretty Woman but that's not really the case. Instead, it's more of an attempt to channel that earlier (and much better) film; clearly the participants want us to remember how much we loved these folks back in 1990 and love them just as much here.
Unfortunately, they don't earn our affection this time. During their first turn, a genuine warmth came through the film and the stars demonstrated a strong chemistry. That reaction's gone now, perhaps inevitably given the career water under both bridges, but regrettably nonetheless; virtually no sparks fly between Gere and Roberts in this picture.
Despite that, director Garry Marshall - also desperate for a hit after a long series of flops - does his damnedest to invoke the ghost of PW. For one, a large number of supporting cast from that film appear here. Most notable is Hector Elizondo, but we also see Larry Miller and a horde of others in minor parts. Some of this is forgivable since Marshall, like many directors, has a few favorite actors who tend to pop up in many of his films; for example, Elizondo has appeared in every Marshall film since PW.
The number of PW alumni is absolutely absurd, though, and clearly seemed an intentional attempt to recapture that magic. An even more obvious stab comes from a few scenes that directly echo pieces from PW. In the subtle category fall those like the bit where Gere accidentally tosses a crab leg (remember Julia's loss of the snail?), while more blatant is the shot where Roberts gets snubbed while shopping and Gere has to rescue her; that's such a flagrant recapture of the Rodeo Drive scene in PW that it seems shameless.
For its complete heritage, though, we have to go much farther back than 1990, for Runaway Bride more strongly remakes 1934's classic It Happened One Night. Granted, many films have borrowed that picture's "initially antagonistic couple eventually falls in love" theme, but RB seems more blatant than most, if just because it had the balls to make Gere a desperate newspaper reporter ala Clark Gable 65 years ago. While I wasn't all that wild about the earlier film, it certainly blows the modern effort off the screen.
Put simply, nothing about RB makes for compelling viewing. It's a nauseating mixture of treacle and sugary sentiment that completely wastes a good cast; how could a movie with Joan Cusack, Rita Wilson, Laurie Metcalf, Paul Dooley, and all those previously mentioned stink so bad? This picture smacks of filmmaking by committee and positively pours on the cutesy subjects to push the buttons of those women who fall into its target audience; Marshall goes absolutely over the top with "funny" scenes of spunky old ladies, wacky dogs and adorable children, all of which show just how devoid of spark and content this film really is.
Runaway Bride appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. While not without flaws, it offers a fairly good picture. Sharpness seems consistently strong throughout the film, with no signs of any softness. Occasional moiré effects appear, though, and I detected some jagged edges as well, though neither issue pervades the movie.
The print itself seemed fine, but some interior scenes looked vaguely gritty; I can't necessarily say I saw grain, but I simply felt these shots appeared a bit murkier than they should. Colors look very good and are probably the film's best aspect. The movie makes excellent use of a variety of hues in scenes like the pre-wedding luau, and the DVD replicates them brilliantly. Black levels seemed satisfactory, and shadow detail was decent, though vaguely cloudy at times. It's not a great transfer, but it appears pretty nice nonetheless.
Also good but not special is the film's Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix. Granted, one doesn't expect a full-on sonic blast from a romantic comedy, but I still thought this track seemed a bit weak. It's a very forward-oriented mix, with very little activity from the rears; I detected music back there - usually in a light, echoed way - and some occasional gentle effects, but that was about it. The front soundstage compensates to a degree by opening things up in that area; the audio seemed pretty well-spaced in the front and it spread out the sound nicely.
Audio quality appeared acceptable for the most part. Dialogue sounded good, with fine clarity and a natural tone; I never had any difficulty understanding speech. Effects, as soft as they were, also appeared clean and realistic, with no signs of distortion. Only the music really gave me a problem, particularly in regard to the pop songs that fill the track; the movie's score sounded pretty full-bodied, but the pop music appeared far too thin and light. The mix seems to lack much low end, and the music suffers because of this. It's an adequate soundtrack for the film, but not an especially good one.
Paramount aren't exactly known for feature-packed DVDs, and their release of Runaway Bride won't do much to alter that conception, but it does manage to toss in a couple of extras. Of most interest is the audio commentary from director Garry Marshall. I'd previously heard his terrific track for Pretty Woman, and while this one's not quite as good, it's close, and it's a lot more compelling than it should be since the movie's so lame. Marshall's both witty and informative; he does a great job of telling us about the details that go into making a film, and relates all sorts of cool data. At times he gets bogged down in the names of all the PW alumni in this picture, but it's still a very warm, funny and revealing track - I highly recommend it.
Also included are a music video for the Dixie Chicks' "Ready to Run" and the movie's trailer. The latter's okay but unexceptional, while the former's really pretty good. It's unusual because a) it ties into the film without using any movie footage (the video shows the Chicks fleeing their wedding), and b) a subtle ET reference actually made me laugh, one of the few times attempted humor in a music video worked for me. The song itself is catchy but nothing great, but it's a fun little clip.
I wish I could say the same for Runaway Bride itself, but the movie is formulaic and contrived to an extreme. It's one of those films that's mildly tolerable and entertaining the first time through but that absolutely collapses during the subsequent viewings; every fault that seemed forgivable initially screams to the forefront and makes the poor quality of the work all the more apparent. I didn't think much of RB when I first saw it in August, and I really dislike it now. Paramount have produced a pretty decent DVD, but the film itself is sugary, artificial pap and should be avoided.
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