Obsessive love is the engine that drives “Addicted to Love,” a romantic comedy that strives to downplay the creepier side of jealous behavior. To the filmmakers’ credit, the task is largely accomplished, albeit with several noticeable early stumbles. Still, this odd juxtaposition of light drama and outrageous antics is apt to confuse more than charm audiences. It poses a difficult marketing challenge during the crowded summer-event movie season. Theatrical prospects are OK, and pic could connect with a niche crowd akin to the aud for “Grosse Pointe Blank.” The film should have a long video shelf life and endless cable rotation.
Robert Gordon’s script takes familiar situations to their illogical conclusion. The well-worn setup involves a starry-eyed astronomer named Sam (Matthew Broderick) who’s gaga for school marm Linda (Kelly Preston). Their romance is an idyllic piece of vintage small-town Americana.
But things go awry shortly after she leaves for a post at an inner city school in Manhattan. In little more than a twinkling, her father arrives to read Sam his daughter’s “Dear John” note. The young man can’t believe it and hops on a plane to the Big Apple to set her back on the right path. Instead, he gets cold feet when he discovers that she’s moved in with another man — a restaurateur named Anton (Tcheky Karyo).
At that point the film gets into serious trouble, when the audience is asked to make a series of leaps of faith. For starters, Sam conveniently finds an abandoned loft directly across the street from his ex-girlfriend. Then, the mysterious Maggie (Meg Ryan) breaks into his digs not to rob him but to set up a similar perch to spy on her former beau, Anton. It’s an awfully big swallow.
To add to the digestive difficulties, there’s a rather nasty strain of peeping Tom-ism that’s central to the story. Sam, who’s abandoned everything to this vigil, imports a camera obscura, a pre-movie-era device that reflects and enlarges images — a sort of combination telescope and projector. He and Maggie sit around their hovel, watching their exes and plotting vile tricks to undo the relationship. It’s “Rear Window” with a bad attitude.
It helps that the meaner nature of the piece is pure subterfuge: Anyone with a passing knowledge of the genre will immediately understand that the true intent of the story’s far-fetched spying element is to get Sam and Maggie to fall in love. That conscious (or otherwise) realization goes a long way to soften the repellent aspects of the material.
The cast of “Addicted to Love” is also a key asset. The central foursome are all strong, with Ryan and Karyo distinct standouts. The vet actress toughens her usual screen persona, adopting a cynical edge, smearing on makeup and easing her pain with alcohol. It’s less a revelation than a reminder of her versatility.
Karyo, most familiar as a screen heavy, is giddily liberated in a buffoonish role that’s rife with physical comedy. A rich highlight is his tussle with Broderick despite the obvious limitation of being corseted in a body cast. For the cognoscenti there’s also an amusing turn by the director’s father — writer-commentator Dominick Dunne — as an influential food critic susceptible to a bribe.
While Griffin Dunne evinces no particular visual flair, his filming style allows the humor and pathos of Gordon’s yarn to prevail. He elicits warm performances that result in hilarity without guilt.