There's charm to burn in "She's the One," Ed Burns' sophomore romantic comedy. Very much in the vein of his award-winning "The Brothers McMullen," outing is a decided step forward artistically and technically. Endowed with a refreshing honesty and poignancy, the film should score well with audiences and rack up upbeat theatrical returns.

There’s charm to burn in “She’s the One,” Ed Burns’ sophomore romantic comedy. Very much in the vein of his award-winning “The Brothers McMullen,” outing is a decided step forward artistically and technically. Endowed with a refreshing honesty and poignancy, the film should score well with audiences and rack up upbeat theatrical returns and strong secondary revenue from video and pay cable arenas.

Once again the focus is family, and two of the McMullen brothers have been re-christened Fitzpatrick. Mickey (Burns) is an emotionally fried cab driver who’s swept off his feet in the opening moments by Hope (Maxine Bahns) — a passenger — and marries her after a couple of days of whirlwind romance. Francis (Mike McGlone) is younger and seemingly more buttoned-down. He married childhood sweetheart Rene (Jennifer Aniston), got a respectable job on Wall Street and, despite success and security, has the driving need to compete with and best Mickey.

The battleground between brothers is represented by Heather (Cameron Diaz). She was supposed to wed Mickey, but he walked away from the relationship after catching her in bed with another man. They meet again whenshe steps into his hack, and they exchange some barely civilized, if sexually charged, banter. But he does manage to retrieve the television set he neglected to take when he walked out of her life. In barter, she exacts the watch she gave him as a present.

Unbeknownst to Mickey, Francis is carrying on an affair with Heather. She gives the watch to him, leaving out the significant detail of its history.

This microcosm of predominantly Irish-American society also includes the boys’ hard-nosed, blue-collar father (John Mahoney), their never-seen mother, Heather’s best “friend,” Connie (Leslie Mann), and Hope’s smart-mouthed sister (Amanda Peet). It’s a first-rate ensemble and a vivid portrait of contemporary mores.

What sets apart “She’s the One” from a slew of modern American romantic comedies is the fact that it doesn’t rely on the glib or cute. Burns manages to take on a laundry list of touchy issues in a relatively frank, unflinching manner. His characters retain their dignity and integrity without false dramatic redemption. It’s a true adult saga.

One can quibble that Burns has a tendency to cut away from the most painful aspects of situations — best exemplified by the decision to keep the boys’ mother offscreen — but this is, after all, primarily a comedy. (He also tends to overuse scenes in which characters talk out problems as they walk through the streets of Brooklyn and Manhattan.)

Burns is a natural-born filmmaker. There’s no sign of artifice in his style. The seeming ease with which he anecdotally conveys the interwoven tale belies the degree of difficulty involved in keeping so many narrative threads active, distinct and lucid. His graceful, unfussy visuals and fluid editing lend facility to material prone to drift into the complex and cumbersome.

The picture also is blessed with a uniformly strong cast. Both Diaz and Aniston revel in the opportunity to flesh out familiar types and imbue them with more than just comic dimension. Mahoney, rarely offered a major part in movies, demonstrates his consummate skill as a mature actor. Burns'”McMullen” alums are the picture’s major revelations, with McGlone humanizing an essentially unpleasant character with aplomb. Bahns radiates a kinetic energy that places her among the first rank of sexy screen comediennes. But it’s the filmmaker himself who emerges as the most significant screen presence. Assured and centered, he has the quiet intensity of a movie star, and could have a major acting career in films by other directors.

A deceptive piece of blarney, “She’s the One” has a universal appeal and a disarming honesty. It sweeps away the presumption that Burns was a lucky newcomer who would quickly falter.

She's the One

Production

A Fox Searchlight release of a Good Machine/Marlboro Road Gang production in association with South Fork Pictures. Produced by Ted Hope, James Schamus, Edward Burns. Executive producers, Robert Redford, Michael Nozik. Co-executive producer, John Sloss. Directed, written by Edward Burns.

Crew

Camera (DuArt color, Panavision widescreen), Frank Prinzi; editor, Susan Graef; music, Tom Petty; production design, William Barklay; art direction, Caty Maxey; costume design, Susan Lyall; sound (Dolby SR), T.J. O'Mara; casting, Laura Rosenthall. Reviewed at Fox studios, L.A., July 25, 1996. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 96 MIN.

With

Rene - Jennifer Aniston
Hope - Maxine Bahns
Mickey Fitzpatrick - Edward Burns
Heather Davis - Cameron Diaz
Mr. Fitzpatrick - John Mahoney
Francis Fitzpatrick - Mike McGlone
Molly - Amanda Peet
Ron - Frank Vincent
Carol - Anita Gillette
Connie - Leslie Mann
Mr. De Lucca - Robert Weil
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