A well-upholstered but hopelessly contrived romantic comedy, "Picture Perfect" is too ineffectual to tickle either the funnybone or the heartstrings. Artificial from top to bottom, pic reps the cinematic equivalent of fat-free vanilla ice cream and serves as a showcase for Jennifer Aniston's limitations as a leading lady.

A well-upholstered but hopelessly contrived romantic comedy, “Picture Perfect” is too ineffectual to tickle either the funnybone or the heartstrings. Artificial from top to bottom, pic reps the cinematic equivalent of fat-free vanilla ice cream and serves as a showcase for Jennifer Aniston’s limitations as a leading lady. Some teenage girls may line up, but general commercial outlook is unpromising.

This sort of Hollywood confection may always have asked the viewer to buy far-fetched premises, but this one demands that you swallow far too much: that Aniston’s hotsy young account exec Kate is a wallflower at every party she attends, that her boss won’t promote her until she settles down and finds a fiance, that the candidate she recruits (Jay Mohr’s Nick) actually goes along with her preposterous ruse, and that the young man would still want to date her after all the humiliating crap she puts him through.

And what’s the point of insisting that Aniston and Illeana Douglas are the same age, or that 66-year-old Olympia Dukakis is 54, as cited in the dialogue? Every single aspect of the film undermines its credibility and one’s inclination to buy into it.

Profitably employed at a Gotham ad agency, Kate has decided to take a break from men for the first time in her life when she meets Nick at a wedding he is videotaping. Nothing happens between them, but when Kate is told she’ll go no further at work until she stops living “like a college student,” she allows herself to be dragged into a ridiculous scheme hatched by her long-married colleague Darcy (Douglas) in which she will pass off the Boston-based Nick as her rarely present fiance.

The news that Kate is spoken for proves a turn-on to office Lothario Sam (Kevin Bacon), who has previously told Kate that she’s not “bad” enough for him but is now willing to give the very willing gal a roll in the hay. But complications arise when Nick becomes an accidental overnight tabloid celebrity and Kate’s boss insists upon meeting him.

Confessing her use of him in her office charade and convincing Nick to come to New York, Kate proceeds to be rude to her guest and contrives to plot their public breakup at the dinner with her boss. The formal evening that follows is intended as the comic high point of the picture, but develops only a mild sense of anxiety and tepid laughs, due to the combo of unzesty writing and the severely constrained range of leading players Aniston and Mohr. Conclusion involving Kate’s inevitable public confession of her selfishness and her warm embrace by everyone in her sphere is cloying and unconvincing.

Package is wrapped so attractively that the gift inside would be easy to receive were it not so patently phony. Far-fetched premise feels more akin to TV comedy than to a modern film, and Aniston lacks the bubbly, energetic, seductive charm needed to sell a wispy film on her own. Only marginally expressive vocally, facially and histrionically, the actress is used extensively as a clothes horse for attractive outfits, which as often as not feature effectively plunging necklines, but requiring her to carry an entire film on her shoulders seems too much to ask at this point.

Much noted for his turn as Tom Cruise’s venal boss in “Jerry Maguire,” Mohr is colorless here as a stock nice guy, while Bacon pours on the charm as a poster boy for commitment anxiety. Dukakis is embarrassingly over the top as a screeching mom who calls her daughter 20 times a day.

If the film were as pro in the most important creative areas as it is in the technical departments, it would have been a total winner.

Picture Perfect

Production

A 20th Century Fox release of a 3 Arts production. Produced by Erwin Stoff. Executive producers, William Teitler, Molly Madden. Directed by Glenn Gordon Caron. Screenplay, Arleen Sorkin, Paul Slansky, Caron, story by Sorkin, Slansky, May Quigley.

Crew

Camera (Technicolor), Paul Sarossy; editor, Robert Reitano; music, Carter Burwell; production design, Larry Fulton; art direction, John Wright Stevens; set decoration, Debra Schutt; costume design, Jane Robinson; sound (Dolby), Les Lazarowitz; assistant director, Howard McMaster; casting, Mary Colquhoun. Reviewed at the Festival Theater, L.A., July 23, 1997. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 100 min.

With

Kate - Jennifer Aniston Nick - Jay Mohr Sam - Kevin Bacon Rita - Olympia Dukakis Darcy - Illeana Douglas Mr. Mercer - Kevin Dunn Mrs. Mercer - Faith Prince Sela - Anne Twomey

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