Clearly out to tap the same heartline reached by last year's "Sleepless in Seattle," TriStar looks to have another summertime hit with this charming romantic comedy -- one that's less gushy than "Sleepless" and will probably be a bit less gaudy at the box office. Even so, the "Honeymoon in Vegas" team of director Andrew Bergman and star Nicolas Cage again find themselves holding a winning ticket.

Clearly out to tap the same heartline reached by last year’s “Sleepless in Seattle,” TriStar looks to have another summertime hit with this charming romantic comedy — one that’s less gushy than “Sleepless” and will probably be a bit less gaudy at the box office. Even so, the “Honeymoon in Vegas” team of director Andrew Bergman and star Nicolas Cage again find themselves holding a winning ticket.

Presented in fairy tale form — down to its awkward, “once upon a time” narrated introduction –“It Could Happen to You” cultivates and actually merits the designation “Capra-esque.”

The simple premise (very loosely inspired by a true story) has affable New York cop Charlie (Cage) finding himself short of cash and promising hard-luck, recently bankrupted waitress Yvonne (Bridget Fonda) that he’ll split anything he wins from the lottery with her in lieu of a tip. The ticket turns out to be a $ 4 million winner and, much to the chagrin of his avaricious wife, Muriel (Rosie Perez), Charlie decides to honor his pledge. As Muriel proceeds to go about ostentatiously spending the loot, the bond between Charlie and Yvonne grows, with the two sharing good deeds that range from doling out free subway tokens to entertaining neighborhood kids.

In that respect, Bergman and writer Jane Anderson (who wrote HBO’s satiric “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom”) wring a nice twist on the premise of “Indecent Proposal”

— namely, the power of money not only to bring people together but to drive them apart.

What really make the film, however, are Bergman’s general restraint despite the nature of the material, and the strong central performances. Cage and Fonda are extremely natural as the good-hearted lug and goodbye girl, while the squawking, raging Perez only needs to be fitted for a broomstick. Wendell Pierce also proves particularly likable as Charlie’s partner, a cop with an affinity for the Knicks and carbohydrates.

While less obvious than “Sleepless” in terms of dripping romance, “It Could Happen to You” does emulate some of its formula, from the classic song score (which includes a new rendition of “Always” by Tony Bennett) to Caleb Deschanel’s loving cinematography of the Big Apple.

Pic does have a balancing darker side, however, in Perez’s character and its clever spoofing of tabloid fascination in the central couple, which seems particularly timely in light of recent events. Bergman then really brings the homage to Capra home with the pic’s warm, bordering-on-irresistible finale.

Other tech credits are fine, with particular kudos to Perez’s laugh-out-loud wardrobe. As romances go, it should be noted the title works better than the initial “Cop Tips Waitress $ 2 Million”– a moniker still displayed on the cover of the New York Post, which plays a fairly significant supporting role in the movie.

It Could Happen to You

(Romantic comedy -- Color)

Production

A TriStar Pictures release of an Adelson/Baumgarten and Lobell/Bergman production. Produced by Mike Lobell. Executive producers, Gary Adelson, Craig Baumgarten, Joseph Hartwick. Directed by Andrew Bergman. Screenplay, Jane Anderson.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Caleb Deschanel; editor, Barry Malkin; music, Carter Burwell; production design, Bill Groom; art direction, Dennis Bradford; set decoration, George DeTitta Jr.; costume design, Julie Weiss; sound (Dolby), Gary Alper; assistant director, Henry Bronchtein; casting, John Lyons. Reviewed at the Beverly Connection, L.A., July 13, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG. Running time: 101 min.

With

Charlie Lang ... Nicolas Cage Yvonne Biasi ... Bridget Fonda Muriel Lang ... Rosie Perez Bo Williams ... Wendell Pierce Angel ... Isaac Hayes Jesu ... Victor Rojas Jack Gross ... Seymour Cassel Eddie Biasi ... Stanley Tucci Walter Zakuto ... Red Buttons

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