To be fair, Hallmark Channel’s target movie audience knows precisely what to expect — a combination of hankie-waving and moral uplift. That said, there is something vaguely creepy about “A Stranger’s Heart,” a romance built around two people who meet while awaiting heart transplants and gradually bond as both are mysteriously drawn toward the orphaned child of the couple whose hearts they inherited. Predictably sappy, it’s a just-in-time-for-Mother’s-Day showcase that promises inspiration about “living in the moment,” which, frankly, would dictate spending one’s time watching a higher class of cable movie.
Samantha Mathis plays the workaholic Callie, whose lifetime of heart trouble has kept her at arm’s length from everyone around her. You can tell she’s ailing because her eyes are really sunken in, and later, after receiving a new heart, she looks much, much better.
Callie arrives in the heart-patient ward, where she’s introduced to “waiting-list humor” by the fun-loving Jasper (Peter Dobson), who explains, “In this place, if you don’t laugh, you cry.”
Yet when both Callie and Jasper finally receive transplants, a funny thing happens on the way to happily ever after: They each turn up at a local playground, practically stalking a young girl who, it turns out, is the daughter of their donors.
Actually, the concept of a romance between these heart patients — and little wrinkles, like how understandably tentative they are about having sex — wouldn’t be such a bad backdrop by itself, though writer Kelli Pryor seems to be engaged in a contest to see how many groaning lines with “heart” she can incorporate into the dialogue: “Our hearts have known each other for years,” “Let’s go with our hearts on this one,” “Thank you from the bottom of my heart.” OK, we get the idea.
Still, the subplot involving the kid is simply bizarre — neither fully embracing its spiritual dimension nor the not-terribly-reassuring notion that while she’s lost mom and dad, she can take solace in — what, being close to their hearts?
Mathis and Dobson give it the old college try, but there’s only so much that can be wrung from material this stilted, which requires a magical touch and, under director Andy Wolk, finds none. Think of it as a trip to Oz where the Wizard grants just one wish: The movie has a little heart, to be sure; now if it only had a brain.