Michael J. Fox has charm to burn in his latest screen outing "For Love or Money." A contemporary spin on bygone romantic comedies, the tale of an ambitious young man and the seemingly elusive woman in his life has a definite emotional pull. It falls short on story, however, and no amount of good humor can deter the thin tale from evaporating before the final clinch.

Michael J. Fox has charm to burn in his latest screen outing “For Love or Money.” A contemporary spin on bygone romantic comedies, the tale of an ambitious young man and the seemingly elusive woman in his life has a definite emotional pull. It falls short on story, however, and no amount of good humor can deter the thin tale from evaporating before the final clinch.

This is unquestionably a film designed for a movie star and, therefore, will be a true test of Fox’s appeal. The likely conclusion is that the actor has not yet reached a level where popularity can overcome the quality of his material.

Doug Ireland (Fox) takes on the role of the head concierge at an upscale Manhattan hotel with the zeal of a Sammy Glick. What makes Doug tick is the dream of putting together the financial package for a luxury hotel. He can see it vividly and has an option on a plot of land on Roosevelt Island.

Unlike the fictional prototype, Doug would never think of stepping over someone to reach his goal. So, only trouble can come from his association with charismatic wheeler dealer financier Christian Hanover (Anthony Higgins). But the “love” aspect of the title is indeed complex. Hanover just happens to be deep into an extra-marital affair with Andy (Gabrielle Anwar), the very woman Doug would actually take time out for in his busy schedule.

The dilemma is the juggling act, as Doug wants to reciprocate Hanover’s financial largesse by running interference with Andy, Mrs. Hanover and the Hampton crowd. Just how much crow can Doug eat for $ 5 million? Healthy guy that he is, not surprisingly quite a bit.

Call it screwball, call it zany, call it just a bit too convenient for comfort. But this shouldn’t necessarily be a detriment. The writing team of Mark Rosenthal and Lawrence Konner lack the deft touch of Preston Sturges or Billy Wilder, and director Barry Sonnenfeld has not quite perfected a modern Lubitsch touch.

The central flaw of “For Love or Money” is focus, in that what ought to be an intriguing triangle comes off less than bubbly. The real fun comes from watching Fox skillfully navigate treacherous waters at the hotel and come out a winner for the guests. This with the aid — conscious or otherwise — of a very motley, if colorful, staff.

Higgins provides a nicely observed evil foil, but Anwar is not very interesting in a sketchily realized role.

Sonnenfeld’s style appropriately verges on the elegant. This is a souffle by nature. Unfortunately, its chief ingredient — the script — deflates the whole concoction.

For Love or Money

Production

A Universal Pictures release of an Imagine Films Entertainment presentation. Produced by Brian Grazer. Executive producer, David T. Friendly. Co-producer, Barry Sonnenfeld. Directed by Sonnenfeld. Screenplay by Mark Rosenthal, Lawrence Konner.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Oliver Wood; editor, Jim Miller; music, Bruce Broughton; production design, Peter Larkin; art direction, Charley Beal; set decoration, Leslie Rollins; costume design, Susan Lyall; sound (Dolby), Peter Kurland; assistant director, Mark McGann; casting, John Lyons. Reviewed at the Writers Guild Theater, Beverly Hills, Sept. 22, 1993. MPAA Rating: PG. Running Time: 94 mins.

With

Doug Ireland - Michael J. Fox
Andy Hart - Gabrielle Anwar
Christian Hanover - Anthony Higgins
Harry Wegman - Michael Tucker
Mr. Drinkwater - Bob Balaban
Mr. Himmelman - Udo Kier
Gene Salvatore - Dan Hedaya
Milton Glickman - Fyvush Finkel
Mrs. Vigushin - Paula Laurence
Julian Russell - Isaac Mizrahi
Gary Taubin - Patrick Breen
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