A slick, low-laugh-quotient romantic comedy, "Kissing a Fool" offers too few new wrinkles on the tired subject of yuppie commitment anxiety to make it worth the visit.

A slick, low-laugh-quotient romantic comedy, “Kissing a Fool” offers too few new wrinkles on the tired subject of yuppie commitment anxiety to make it worth the visit. Sporting a small, contrived plot and alternative-type cast more befitting a low-budget indie than a major studio production, pic looks to strike few sparks theatrically but might settle in as a reasonable vid title.

Designed to contrast the dilemma of a compulsive womanizer who doesn’t know if he can settle down with just one partner with the angst of an incurable romantic who can’t get over a love-of-his-life heartbreak, script winds up hinging upon a hokey third act device that forces a very unnatural confrontation and consequent confessions. Result feels artificially induced, forced rather than heartfelt, rendering the film even more negligible than it already was.

Story’s framing device proves more lively than much of the tale itself, thanks largely to sassy style of Bonnie Hunt, playing a wealthy Chicago publisher who is hosting a wedding on her splendid suburban estate and snappily relates how the bride and groom got to this happy day. Max (David Schwimmer) and Jay (Jason Lee) have been best friends since childhood, but the former has now become a popular local sports broadcaster with a quick-spinning revolving door for ladies, while the latter, a writer with his first novel on the way, is in mourning over the departure of great love Natasha (Vanessa Angel).

Unable to imagine that he’ll ever want another woman, earnest Jay sets Max up with his attractive book editor Samantha (Mili Avital), and while they seem ill-matched in terms of interests, the fireworks are so great that they are engaged within two weeks. Max’s eye is still roving, however, and when he realizes that marriage is supposed to mean that Sam will be the last woman he’ll ever sleep with, he freaks and proposes a ridiculous test to his buddy: Jay will hit on Sam, and if she shows no signs of being tempted to stray, then Max will be confident enough in her loyalty and fidelity that he’ll go ahead with the marriage.

To his credit, Jay rejects this plan, but the pressures of revising the book thrust him and Sam together nearly full time. When Max takes an overnight trip, during which his own inability to resist temptation is confirmed, the literary twosome must confront their own true feelings, which Max forces into the open the following night.

Despite the concise running time, script by James Frey and director Doug Ellin (“Phat Beach”) takes quite awhile running up to the inevitable pairing; there are no particular barriers, in the classic romantic comedy sense, standing in the way of the destined love match, only the blindness or fear of the participants to recognize it as such. As a result, film lacks the customary, frustration-and-fun-producing twists and turns of the genre’s best exemplars, and seems far too simple and underdeveloped for a bigscreen feature.

As written, Max and Jay seem too aggressive with each other to be lifelong best friends. Schwimmer, still looking for his bigscreen breakthrough, has all his moves down as the egocentric, unreflective lady-killer and is entertaining up to a point as he rams his desires and point of view through in every situation. Lee, who scored last year in “Chasing Amy,” is sympathetic though rather hyperactively defensive through most of the action, while Israeli star Mili Avital registers pleasantly as the femme in the middle.

The diversion at least comes in a very attractive package, thanks to the very scenic Chitown locations, complementary production design by Charles Breen and lush lensing from Thomas Del Ruth.

Kissing a Fool

Production

A Universal release presented in association with R.L. Entertainment and Largo Entertainment of a Tag Mendillo/Andrew Form production. Produced by Mendillo, Form, Rick Lashbrook. Executive producers, David Schwimmer, Stephen Levinson. Directed by Doug Ellin. Screenplay, James Frey, Ellin, story by Frey.

With

Max Abbitt - David Schwimmer Jay Murphy - Jason Lee Samantha Andrews - Mili Avital Linda - Bonnie Hunt Natasha - Vanessa Angel Dara - Kari Wuhrer Cliff Randal - Frank Medrano Vicki Pelam - Bitty Schram Andrea - Judy Greer
Camera (Deluxe color), Thomas Del Ruth; editor, David Finfer; music, Joseph Vitarelli; production design, Charles Breen; set decoration, Tricia Schneider; costume design, Sue Kaufmann; sound (DTS/SDDS/Dolby digital), David Obermeyer; line producer, Tom Busch; associate producers, Mark S. Hoerr, Warren Kohler, Liza Moore, Frey; assistant director, Gary Goldman; casting, Ferne Cassel. Reviewed at Universal Studios, Universal City, Feb. 19, 1998. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 93 MIN.
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