The premise of "The Favor" recalls the insouciance of some great French moral comedies, but the unfunny moral of this story is, it won't recall many to the B.O.

The premise of “The Favor” recalls the insouciance of some great French moral comedies, but the unfunny moral of this story is, it won’t recall many to the B.O.

An almost happily married woman relieves the tedium of her oh-so-perfect marriage and family with somewhat wild fantasies of love-making with her hunky high school beau.

However, when the prospect of fulfilling that fantasy looms at an upcoming class reunion, the woman opts for a safe-sex solution. She enlists a single friend to do the deed and report back the results.

This is delicate material, and, unfortunately, it’s executed by comparative barbarians. The banter makes Neil Simon seem sophisticated.

The direction and technical elements are obvious, bright and vapid, while the performers struggle against staggering odds to provide nuance. Added together, the prospects don’t amount to much theatrically or in subsequent exploitation.

Kathy Whiting (Harley Jane Kozak) is the mother of two young girls. She’s married to Peter (Bill Pullman), a college science professor/researcher.

Her life is cozy and affectionate but downright dull.

In contrast, her best friend Emily (Elizabeth McGovern) lives a swinging life. Her sometime boyfriend Elliott (Brad Pitt) is a visual artist and Em is constantly jetting off to places exotic — like Cleveland — on business.

The wild abandon of her friend is what prompts Kathy’s proposition. When Emily goes to Denver for a trade show, she is to take Tom (Ken Wahl) — the unconsummated love of Kathy’s past — to dinner and bed.

The mission is only partially accomplished. The offscreen union is a success, but the bad news (for Kathy) is that the reality more than lives up to the long-smoldering fantasy.

Sara Parriott and Josann McGibbon’s screenplay is like a good joke ineptly related. Somehow the punchline has been positioned in the middle of the story, and all that follows is excess baggage. With the focus obscured, the tale dissolves into a series of non sequiturs that include Emily’s unwanted pregnancy and the prospect that Kathy might just want to verify Tom’s sexual report card.

The performers barely manage to slink through with their dignity. They, rather than director Donald Petrie, provide whatever shadings “The Favor” has to offer. This is one of those rare instances where the shock troops were sent in and survived, albeit with copious scarring.

Held up in Orion’s narrow escape from corporate death, the film, of two-years-plus vintage, has not aged like fine wine. Still, it would be futile to argue that the passage of time is the primary problem of this production. Rather, its fiber is intrinsically threadbare.

Of some interest, though, is the arrival of a third Elwes brother in the credits (following actor Carey and producer Cassian). Damian Elwes is the painter of the work Pitt’s character creates.

The Favor

Production

An Orion Pictures release of a Nelson Entertainment presentation. Produced by Lauren Shuler-Donner. Executive producers, Barry Spikings, Rick Finkelstein, Donna Dubrow. Directed by Donald Petrie. Screenplay by Sara Parriott, Josann McGibbon.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color), Tim Suhrstedt; editor, Harry Keramidas; music, Thomas Newman; production design, David Chapman; art direction, Mark Haack; costume design, Carol Oditz; sound (Dolby), Stephan Von Hase; assistant director , Marty Elcan; casting, Bonnie Timmerman. Reviewed at the Orion Screening Room, L.A., April 18, 1994. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 97 min.

With

Kathy Whiting - Harley Jane Kozak
Emily Embrey - Elizabeth McGovern
Peter Whiting - Bill Pullman
Elliott Fowler - Brad Pitt
Tom Andrews - Ken Wahl
Joe Dubin - Larry Miller
Maggie Sand - Holland Taylor

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