Likable but uneven, this romantic comedy about sparring speechwriters features appealing performances by Michael Keaton and Geena Davis and hits the box office trail at a good time to generate some early returns. After initial turnout, however, many may file absentee ballots and wait for homevideo.

Likable but uneven, this romantic comedy about sparring speechwriters features appealing performances by Michael Keaton and Geena Davis and hits the box office trail at a good time to generate some early returns. After initial turnout, however, many may file absentee ballots and wait for homevideo.

While much may be made of similarities to dueling campaign advisers James Carville and Mary Matalin, the filmmakers have stressed that Robert King’s script pre-dated those events. The more telling link with reality, based on recent mudslinging campaigns, is the jaundiced eye the movie turns toward big-time politics.

Davis and Keaton play warring speechwriters (she’s a Democrat, he’s a Republican) who have a chance encounter before realizing they’re on opposite sides of the same New Mexico Senate race. Concern about fraternizing with the enemy creates tension between the pair even though they’re perfect for each other — both hyperactive insomniacs (they meet over a box of Nytol), though Davis’ Julia is more the idealist, Keaton’s Kevin the gun-for-hire.

Aside from the campaign’s ebb and flow, played out in the relentless pursuit of TV news sound bites, another wrinkle gets thrown into the budding relationship when Julia’s absentee boyfriend (Christopher Reeve) returns to try to sweep her away.

Director Ron Underwood (“City Slickers”) and writer King tend to be more clever than laugh-out-loud funny, with a few notable exceptions, such as the two scribes venting their hostility in front of a group of horrified schoolchildren.

But “Speechless” never achieves the madcap hilarity of the ’40s romantic comedies it seeks to emulate, and some of the dramatic moments feel a bit forced.

That said, Davis continues to radiate movie-star appeal beyond the confines of her vehicles (the last being “Angie”), and Keaton remains a gifted smart aleck, delivering a fine comic turn even though the material is often about as slight as the average stump speech.

King does a good job of skewering the political process, from the blustering campaign hacks to the local newscasters who keep leading their broadcasts with the story of a trapped bear cub, but like a politician, the screenwriter has generally trained his sights on fairly easy targets.

Few of the supporting players get the opportunity to shine, with Reeve appropriately smarmy as the globe-trotting reporter and Mitchell Ryan and Ray Baker looking their parts as the two candidates.

Tech credits take sparse advantage of the New Mexico vistas, while Marc Shaiman’s score and the song roster prove a bit heavy-handed. Still, held up against the recent spate of uninspired romantic comedies, “‘less” is, for the most part, a little bit more.

Speechless

Production

A Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer release of a Forge production. Produced by Renny Harlin , Geena Davis. Executive producer, Harry Colomby. Line producer, Mary Kane. Directed by Ron Underwood. Screenplay, Robert King.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Don Peterman; editor, Richard Francis-Bruce; music, Marc Shaiman; production design, Dennis Washington; art direction, Tom Targownik; set decoration, Marvin March; costume design, Jane Robinson; sound (Dolby), Richard Bryce Goodman; assistant director, Terry Miller; casting, Howard Feuer. Reviewed at the MGM screening room, Santa Monica, Dec. 7, 1994. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 99 MIN.

With

Kevin - Michael Keaton Julia - Geena Davis Freed - Christopher Reeve Nanette - Bonnie Bedelia Ventura - Ernie Hudson Kratz - Charles Martin Smith Cutler - Gailard Sartain Garvin - Ray Baker Wannamaker - Mitchell Ryan
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