An exceptionally tasty comedic romance, "Jerry Maguire" runs an unusual pattern on its way to scoring an unexpected number of emotional, social and entertaining points. Smartly written and boasting a sensational cast, Cameron Crowe's shrewdly observed third feature also gives Tom Cruise one of his very best roles.

An exceptionally tasty contempo comedic romance, “Jerry Maguire” runs an unusual pattern on its way to scoring an unexpected number of emotional, social and entertaining points. Smartly written and boasting a sensational cast, Cameron Crowe’s shrewdly observed third feature also gives Tom Cruise one of his very best roles, and this combination of audience-pleasing factors looks to translate into muscular B.O. through the holidays and beyond.

Ostensibly a tart look at the greed and selfishness rampant in professional sports as seen through the career of a sharp players’ agent, the film takes gratifying twists and turns on its way to keenly examining the lifestyles of numerous characters and hitting emotional chords one never would have anticipated in such a picture. Although it has its conventional, sit-commy elements and goes on a bit too long, the dialogue is so good and the performances so alive to the potential of the characters that the faults remain quite minor.

Pic actually gets off to an uneasy start with an overly frenetic, unattractively cut opening sequence revealing the fast-lane lifestyle of Jerry Maguire (Cruise), a slick agent who handles 72 clients for L.A.-based Sports Management Intl. But in a crisis of conscience, Jerry asks himself, “Who had I become? Just another shark in a suit?” and dashes off a long memo to the company staff titled, “The Things We Think and Do Not Say: The Future Of Our Business,” an uncensored think-piece that suggests the agency should represent fewer athletes and care about them more. Even at the outset, the film gets credit for beginning where the more typical Hollywood film would end, with the previously avaricious hero suddenly renouncing his lifelong crassness in a climactic conversion to moral and ethical goodness.

Jerry’s ill-advised frankness promptly gets him fired, although his bold words win him the loyalty of agency accountant Dorothy Boyd (Renee Zellweger), who quits to join him on his Quixotic effort to be true to himself and stay in the game at the same time, this despite her being a single mother to 6-year-old Ray (Jonathan Lipnicki).

The desperate Jerry manages to hang on to one steadfast client, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Rod Tidwell (Cuba Gooding Jr.), who wants major bucks in a forthcoming contract renewal. But Rod’s recent performance and attitude make him a questionable commodity, so Jerry goes to great lengths to represent the top college draft pick, quarterback Frank Cushman (Jerry O’Connell), which would definitely put him back in the game.

When Jerry suddenly begins to look like a loser rather a winner, his relationship with eyes-on-the-prize fiancee Avery (Kelly Preston) hits the rocks, whereupon he looks at the pretty, vulnerable Dorothy with different eyes. Dorothy and her son live with her divorced, remark-prone older sister Laurel (Bonnie Hunt), and the constant presence in the livingroom of a bunch of nattering women from a divorcees’ support group seems like something straight out of one of co-producer James L. Brooks’ old sitcoms.

But the relationship between Jerry, who is humbled but not deterred by his diminished status, and Dorothy nonetheless proceeds, and in very interesting ways, as they nimbly navigate the initial boss-employee conflict, cautiously reveal the extent of their mutual physical attraction, consider the implications of an affair and confront the realities of life beyond the fun part, particularly where Dorothy’s son is concerned.

Tiptoeing through potentially maudlin territory, Crowe makes the kid stuff some of the very best in the picture, with the considerable help of young Lipnicki, who is simply fantastic. A funny-looking tyke with blond hair and glasses, he quickly comes to adore the new man in his mother’s life, and when Jerry and Dorothy hit a turning point in their relationship, the difference the resolution will make to the boy’s future becomes the substance of wrenching, and fortunately underplayed, emotion.

Contrasted boldly with this rather touchy and unresolved situation is the wildly devoted relationship between the flamboyant Rod Tidwell and his outspoken wife, Marcee (Regina King). This man and woman, who have one kid and another on the way, live at high intensity, are often among members of their extended family and set a standard of compatibility that proves somewhat intimidating to the newer couple.

This and more relationship and lifestyle scrutiny provides the rich fabric against which is played out the foreground action of Jerry’s quest for the primacy of personal loyalty. Rod impressively sticks with his downtrodden agent through the toughest of times, and their many conversations about the player’s career and the realities of life in pro sports possess the verisimilitude of good journalism, Crowe’s former trade.

Since as long ago as “Risky Business,” Cruise has specialized in playing slick operators who get what they want. This is Jerry Maguire at the beginning, but the majority of the film has him hanging by a thread, often in embarrassing positions, and the actor conveys this with his customary enthusiasm as well as with a self-deprecatory quality and humor that are new and welcome. One can truly credit him with a fine performance.

All the same, there is nothing he can do to prevent the scene-stealing of Gooding as the larger-than-life Tidwell, every inch the modern athlete with his strutting ego, showboating style and frank preference for money over the glory of the game. Zellweger and little Lipnicki also commit their fair shares of larceny, as both are adorable and heart-breakingly appealing as Jerry’s potential future family.

Cast is all but perfect down to the smallest role, and is filled out with plenty of real-life sports figures and newscasters. Crowe’s script is considerably more off-center and distinctive than his somewhat slick direction, while production values are deeply pro all the way.

Jerry Maguire

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release from TriStar Pictures of a Gracie Films production. Produced by James L. Brooks, Laurence Mark, Richard Sakai, Cameron Crowe. Co-producers, Bruce S. Pustin, John D. Schofield. Directed, written by Cameron Crowe.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Technicolor prints), Janusz Kaminski; editor, Joe Hutshing; music, Nancy Wilson; music supervisor, Danny Bramson; production design, Stephen Lineweaver; art direction, Virginia Randolph, Clayton Hartley; set decoration, Clay A. Griffith; costume design, Betsy Heimann; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS), Jeff Wexler; associate producers, Lisa Stewart, J. Michael Mendel; assistant director, Jerry Ziesmer; second unit/football sequences director, Allan Graf; second unit camera, Chuck Cohen; casting, Gail Levin. Reviewed at the Century Plaza Cinemas, Los Angeles, Dec. 4, 1996. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 138 MIN.

With

Jerry Maguire - Tom Cruise Rod Tidwell - Cuba Gooding Jr. Dorothy Boyd - Renee Zellweger Avery Bishop - Kelly Preston Frank Cushman - Jerry O'Connell Bob Sugar - Jay Mohr Marcee Tidwell - Regina King Laurel Boyd - Bonnie Hunt Ray Boyd - Jonathan Lipnicki Chad The Nanny - Todd Louiso Bill Dooler - Mark Pellington Dennis Wilburn - Glenn Frey

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