Serious miscasting in the lead role, and a general lack of timing and pacing, put the bag on "Romance and Rejection," a potentially fizzyromantic comedy whose cork has been left off too long. This first feature by former commercials director Kevin W. Smith doesn't look like romancing many distribs but shows enough promise behind the lens to make the Australian-born, U.K.-based writer-helmer worth keeping an eye on in future.

Serious miscasting in the lead role, and a general lack of timing and pacing, put the bag on “Romance and Rejection,” a potentially fizzyromantic comedy whose cork has been left off too long. This first feature by former commercials director Kevin W. Smith doesn’t look like romancing many distribs but shows enough promise behind the lens to make the Australian-born, U.K.-based writer-helmer worth keeping an eye on in future.

Mike (Reece Dinsdale) is a thirtysomething composer who wants to write symphonies but is reduced to doing jingles for dumb commercials. A party bore, he still pines over ex-girlfriend Helen (Victoria Smurfit); his best pal, Tony (John Hannah), is a boozy painter whose relationship with the fiery Moira (Rowena King) is stormy, to say the least.

Things start to look up for Mike when he meets the French Sara (Clara Bellar); the two of them finally get it on and go on an idyllic trip together. Life, however, holds more surprises for Mike, not least the rediscovery of his mom (Susannah York), who walked out on his father (Frank Finlay) 35 years earlier.

With its sexual merry-go-round, and musings on happiness and women, there’s a feeling that Smith is trying for some kind of Woody Allen–type comedy, with North London replacing Manhattan. But neither the script nor the performance of Dinsdale (fine in the soccer-hooligan drama “i.d.”) as the emotional nebbish is sharp enough: instead, Mike emerges simply as an irritatingly self-pitying figure, when we should instead be laughing at his voiceovers and catastrophic tangles.

The supporting players are far stronger, especially Hannah as the happy-go-lucky best friend and under-used Irish stunner Smurfit as Mike’s very focused ex. Both better catch the tone that Smith is straining for, but can only do so much with the shaky script and vacuum at the center. Bellar is fine as the relaxed Continental, and veterans Finlay and York each get some good turns.

Ian Salvage’s generally bright lensing is an asset, and other technical credits are OK.

Romance and Rejection

(BRITISH)

Production

A Meltemi Entertainment/Bloomsbury Film Prods./Leopard Film Entertainment production. (International sales: Victor Film Co., London.) Produced by Jonathan English. Executive producers, Michael Guest, Chris Parkinson. Directed, written by Kevin W. Smith.

Crew

Camera (Fujicolor; Rank Film Labs prints), Ian Salvage; editor, Mark Talbot-Butler; music, Howard J. Davidson; production design, Lucy Reeves; art direction, Ian Hammond; costume design, Emma Gaskin; sound (Dolby), Bill McCarthy; assistant director, Julian Hearne. Reviewed at London Film Festival, Nov. 9, 1997. Running time: 92 MIN.

With

Mike ..... Reece Dinsdale Helen ..... Victoria Smurfit Sara ..... Clara Bellar Tony ..... John Hannah Moira ..... Rowena King Mike's Father ..... Frank Finlay Mike's Mother ..... Susannah York Sara 2 ..... Maryam D'Abo Alice ..... Kamilla Blanche
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