As distribs continue their end-of-summer clearance sale of commercially dubious items, “A Smile Like Yours” ranks among the lamest of the lot. Flat and formulaic, this painfully charmless romantic comedy is destined to disappear quickly after its halfhearted theatrical release. And it probably won’t fare much better in ancillary markets.
The directorial debut of Rysher Entertainment founder Keith Samples, pic is an overly familiar and thoroughly uninspired confection about a young couple’s efforts to conceive a child. For ticketbuyers involved in their own baby-making efforts, the subject matter may be appealing. But Samples, who co-wrote the script with Kevin Meyer, is unable to exploit the situation for either sharply sophisticated satire or warm-and-fuzzy, feel-good humor. At its infrequent best, “A Smile Like Yours” generates only a few fleeting chuckles.
Danny (Greg Kinnear), a construction subcontractor, and Jennifer (Lauren Holly), co-owner of an aroma-therapy boutique, are upwardly mobile marrieds in San Francisco. Things threaten to turn terminally cute very early when Jennifer shows up at a construction site to enjoy a bit of conjugal bliss with Danny aboard an elevator. Judging from the response of Steve (Jay Thomas), Danny’s best friend and co-worker, such afternoon delights are common occurrences.
Jennifer claims the semi-public lovemaking is part of her plan to perfect a new perfume with aphrodisiac powers (not that Danny really needs, or requests, an explanation for her behavior). In truth, however, she is scheduling their close encounters to coincide with her fertile periods. Jennifer desperately wants a baby. And even though she knows Danny is ambivalent about becoming a father, she figures that, once she gets pregnant, he’ll share her enthusiasm.
So, right from the start, Jennifer is established as a devious schemer. And things only get worse when, in order to check Danny’s sperm count without his knowledge, Jennifer obtains a semen sample in a scene that uses off-camera oral sex as a sniggering joke.
For the first third of “Smile,” Jennifer’s behavior seems terribly immature — and more than a little creepy. Holly works hard — too hard, really —- to convey a sunny sweetness as Jennifer relentlessly pursues her goal. After a while, however, the character comes perilously close to coming off as a manic-obsessive. And it doesn’t help that, quite often, Holly delivers her lines in a little-girl singsong voice that indicates arrested development.
Jennifer keeps the semen sampling a secret from Danny even after they sign up for services at a fertility clinic run by the soothingly professional Dr. Chin (France Nuyen). By the time Danny finds out just how deceitful his wife has been , he’s already been marked as a target for conquest by Lindsay Hamilton (Jill Hennessy), a leggy architect who has her own ideas about what Danny can do in elevator shafts.
In an equally predictable subplot, Jennifer joins Nancy (Joan Cusack), her partner, in negotiations with a major company that wants to purchase all rights to their new perfume. Richard Halstrom (Christopher McDonald), the company’s representative, appears to be attracted to Jennifer, but nothing comes of this. (Here and elsewhere, there are signs “Smile” underwent some drastic retooling in the editing room.) The negotiations exist only as something else Jennifer can lie about: She doesn’t tell Danny anything about a deal that might earn her big bucks, because she wants him to think he’s the one who’ll pay for their fertility treatments. Or something like that.
Pic abounds in hokey contrivances, mistaken assumptions and, when it suits the filmmakers’ fancy, blithe departures from real-world logic. Worst of all, when the two leads briefly separate — she’s jealous of the architect, he’s upset by her dishonesty — the audience has no compelling reason to hope they’ll reunite. In fact, some viewers may think that he would be better off with the architect.
Much of this would be forgivable if the characters were engaging and the dialogue amusing. But Kinnear’s bland performance seldom rises above the level of a good try, Holly is more off-putting than endearing, and the supporting players — most notably, Cusack and Thomas — are given criminally little to do.
Only Marianne Muellerleile, as the hard-bitten nurse who tends to Danny at the fertility clinic, manages to make much of an impact. She steals every scene that isn’t bolted to the floor with her steely-eyed, tart-tongued cynicism. Another pleasant surprise: Shirley MacLaine (star of executive producer Robert Harling’s “The Evening Star”) makes a brief, very funny appearance as Danny’s blunt-spoken mother-in-law. MacLaine is not billed in the credits, for which she doubtless will be eternally grateful.
Tech credits are unremarkably adequate.