As if more evidence were needed, “I Love Trouble” stands as yet further proof of how hard it is to make a souffle, as well as to successfully re-create the pure pleasure of the old movies today’s filmmakers so revere. A Cary Grant-Audrey Hepburn vehicle some 30 years too late, this ultrapolished romantic suspenser serves up mild romance, mild suspense and mild humor. But the toplined duo of Julia Roberts and Nick Nolte in a spiffy package make for passable entertainment that Disney can parlay into solid summer B.O.
Filmmakers Charles Shyer and Nancy Meyers display a sympathetic and understandable nostalgia for the newsroom classics of the 1930s and George Cukor’s “Adam’s Rib” and “Pat and Mike,” Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and Stanley Donen’s “Charade.”
But having one’s taste in the right place is not a substitute for originality and zest, both of which are in relatively short supply in this luxuriously appointed yarn of a rugged, legendary scribe who meets his match in a beautiful young cub reporter.
Nolte plays Peter Brackett, a Windy City columnist in the Ben Hecht tradition who’s coasting on his reputation at the Chronicle now that his first novel is out. A notorious womanizer, boozer and cynic of the old school, Brackett is temporarily forced back onto the beat as punishment for his laziness and finds himself scooped by competing Globe newcomer Sabrina Peterson (Roberts).
Story inquestion involves the derailment of a passenger train in which several people are killed, but it quickly builds into a case of corporate intrigue and subterfuge involving missing briefcases, microfilm and something called LDF, a genetically produced hormone that makes cows produce milk much more quickly.
After vying to outdo each other for some time, Brackett and Peterson (who, in good old newspaper fashion, call each other by their last names) agree to team up on research while still filing separate stories. But they continue to bluster about their lack of sexual attraction.
The chase leads them to rural Wisconsin, Las Vegas — where they marry in an act of self-defense against a bad guy — then back to dairyland, where the quickly estranged couple must prove their love by trying to save each other’s lives in perilous circumstances reminiscent of any number of romantic thrillers of the past.
Nothing that happens is very surprising, including the outcome, meaning that the film mustrely on its moment-to-moment charm to seduce the audience. Roberts and Nolte do their share, but Meyers and Shyer, who co-wrote the script, with Meyers producing and Shyer directing, have given them more in the way of ticklish situations to contend with than sharp repartee and fizzy dialogue. The goings-on seem lacking in wit and inspiration, tolerably entertaining but far from effervescent.
Pic’s most exceptional elements are its top-drawer production values. Dean Tavoularis’ production design is lush and evocative, especially in its newsrooms and the climactic chemical company set that evokes Frank Lloyd Wright’s Wisconsin Johnson Wax building.
John Lindley’s subtle, appealingly dark lensing not only displays the settings to lustrous effect but provides the stars with glamour lighting unusual in this day and age. David Newman’s score helps the proceedings seem less overlong than they are.