A by-the-numbers romantic comedy, "Nick and Jane" has a solid cast and time-tested premise, but the whole is worth rather less than the sum of its parts. Destined to be buried under a slew of late-fall theatrical releases, pic should play well on video, where its technical shortcomings will be more easily overlooked.

A by-the-numbers romantic comedy, “Nick and Jane” has a solid cast and time-tested premise, but the whole is worth rather less than the sum of its parts. Destined to be buried under a slew of late-fall theatrical releases, pic should play well on video, where its technical shortcomings will be more easily overlooked.

Story borrows heavily from the screwball comedy tradition: A man and woman from entirely disparate backgrounds are thrown together and forced to confront several obstacles, including their own attraction for one another. Add a dose of modern comedies, including “Pretty Woman,” “Working Girl” and this summer’s “Picture Perfect,” and you’ve got “Nick and Jane.”

Jane (Dana Wheeler-Nicholson), a compulsively organized N.Y. corporate exec, discovers her colleague and longtime boyfriend John (John Dossett) in bed with another woman. Cleverly edited and boldly hilarious, the discovery scene soon gives way to more predictable events. Enraged and upset, Jane leaves the building and jumps into a dilapidated Checker cab. Her driver — and improbable eventual suitor — is Nick (James McCaffrey).

That brief meeting gives way to another chance encounter in a nightclub. In one of those only-in-the-movies coincidences, John and his new squeeze are also there. That prompts Jane’s friend Vickie (Lisa Gay Hamilton) to devise a scheme: Determined to make John jealous, they’ll give Nick a false corporate identity (“Nolan Miller”) and pass him off as Jane’s new beau. Seizing the bait, John suggests Jane bring Nolan to the annual company luncheon. When Jane offers Nick $1,500 to play the part, he agrees.

This plot point provides an excuse for the obligatory makeover montage. After a reluctant trip to the tailor and barber, Nick looks like he belongs on Madison Avenue — although it’s the Rodeo Drive of “Pretty Woman’s” celebrated shopping sequence that looms heavily over this bit. While Jane finds herself falling for Nick, she soon proves herself both fickle and flighty when she returns to the supposedly repentant John. A “Working Girl”-style climax sets everything right in the end.

If predictability were its only shortcoming, “Nick and Jane” might have been redeemed by the winning performances of Wheeler-Nicholson (“Fletch”) and McCaffrey (“The Truth About Cats and Dogs”). There’s convincing electricity between them, but their romantic sparks are given little screen time. Instead, writers Rich Mauro and Peter Quigley weaken the central relationship with a distracting, unfunny bunch of supporting players, including a transvestite (Clinton Leupp) and a Japanese foot fetishist (Gedde Watanabe).

Equally distracting, director Mauro and lenser Chris Norr made certain cost-saving decisions that are far too obvious on screen. Office scenes, at times crammed with three characters, are often presented in single master takes without essential cut-away shots and closeups needed to indicate character reactions. And when the script calls for sharp, witty banter, the stagnant camera work undermines the film’s humor.

Nick and Jane

Production

An Avalanche release of an Esmeraldo/Cobalt Films/Mauro Entertainment and Miravista presentation of a Bill McCutchen III production. Produced by Bill McCutchen III. Co-producer, Rich Mauro. Directed by Rich Mauro. Screenplay, Mauro, Neil Alumkal, Peter Quigley; story by Mauro.

Crew

Camera (color), Chris Norr; editors, Mauro, Wendey Spanzler; music, Mark Suozzo; production design, Mark Helmuth; art direction, Stacy Tanner; costume design, Liz McCaffrey; associate producer, Quigley, Damon Barone; casting, Eve Battaglia. Reviewed on videocassette, Nov. 12, 1997. Running time: 94 MIN.

With

Jane - Dana Wheeler-Nicholson Nick - James McCaffrey John - John Dossett Vickie - Lisa Gay Hamilton Carter - David Johansen Enzo - Gedde Watanabe Miss Coco - Clinton Leupp Stephanie - Saundra Santiago Mr. Morgan - George Coe

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