movie review by
Crissa-Jean Chappell


(© 1999 Dreamworks LLC. All rights reserved.)

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Forces of Nature
There once was a famous Hollywood producer who kept a stack of scripts on his desk. When he finished the first one, he slipped it to the bottom. In time, he reached the first one again, only to recycle it as something else. A Western became a science-fiction epic. A spy thriller became a romance. The producer knew that good stories deserve re-telling. Like children at bedtime, movie audiences demand more of the same. They know what to expect after watching the previews (which give away so much, it hardly matters whether we see the movie itself).

Forces of Nature is a screwball comedy that steals elements from ‘30s road movies and romances that might’ve starred a Hepburn or two. Don’t fault it for trying to kindle the flirtatious sparring that separates "classic" movie romances from modern, sex-drenched capers. This is a very old-fashioned kind of duet. Unfortunately, it forgets that these classic romances concerned more complicated questions than who gallops off into the sunset. They spoke about class systems (sometimes race or gender issues) and poked fun at them through romantic incompatibilities.

"No matter what society says," these movies boast, "we’re made for each other..." (and those outside forces are not important). Boy meets girl. Boy looses and gets girl again. The couple has to arrive at self-knowledge. The characters must change. The Great American Myth says we can start all over, repent and recreate new identities for ourselves. We dream of finding likeminds . . . when they already exist closest to us. The dream blinds us to recognizing that reality. Such transcendental thoughts bring Emerson to mind. You can’t know yourself without acknowledging others and the roles they play in our lives. It’s a profound human theme . . . the value of those around us.

Forces of Nature mimics these motifs with the enthusiasm and subtlety of a ventriloquist’s dummy. Sandra Bullock’s character is clearly modeled after Audrey Hepburn’s free-wheeling "Holly Golightly" in Breakfast at Tiffany’s. Both women have helmed flamboyant personas to protect a secret past. They captivate a stoical, button-down businessman (in this case, Ben Affleck, whose character is also named "Ben" lest we forget). As in Tiffany’s, Ben works as a writer (actually, a dust-jacket blurb artist) who meets his fantasy gal in New York. He can’t allow sparks because he’s getting hitched to a high- society belle. Things run amuck when the unlikely pair keep colliding (as if Cupid insists in making cinematic magic). His plane teeters off the runway. Her car happens to be heading south. And so they hitch along for the ride (ala It Happened One Night).

Is it cosmic intervention? "I think I’ll just sit here," Ben says, "and wait for the locusts to come."

In less than two hours (movie screen time) they suffer a drug arrest, a holdup, a Biblical hailstorm, a gay striptease, and a bus tour stacked with elderly couples in sombreros. In addition, they board a train going the wrong direction. The solution to this is quite American in itself—the two go shopping (in a scene borrowed straight from Tiffany’s famous drugstore escapade). See Ben and Sarah try on goofy sunglasses, sprawl on plastic lawn furniture, surrounded by astro-turf. Is this the consumer’s version of tropical paradise? When Ben and Sarah dream of happily-ever-after, it’s K-Mart, not Cupid, that guarantees happiness.

Director Bronwen Hughes (Harriet the Spy) has difficulty timing her scenes. One disaster after another is hurled in typical, noisy MTV fashion, never allowing the lovebirds to strike much rapport. The result is a devastating lack of connection (or "chemistry," as people are fond of saying). There’s a sense of desperation on both actors’ parts. Bullock tries too hard—thumping her chest like a caveman, snorting and braying in a most unattractive manner. Affleck plays the straightman, either rolling his eyes or aiming them in her direction. If not for multiple close-ups of his "lovestruck" mug, we wouldn’t sense anything but irritation.

Romances of recent years are preoccupied with playing shrink. It’s not enough that two people like each other. They must labor over why those feelings exist and what brought them to this stage in their lives. Bullock is bogged down with ex-husbands and a kid she hasn’t seen in ages. Is this the stuff of comedy or talk shows? These days, there’s little difference between the two.

While classic films celebrated independence in a most modern manner, Forces of Nature is intent on keeping promises and making the "right" decision, no matter the circumstance. In the end, there’s a feeling of emptiness. The story didn’t change but the characters should.

[rating: 2 of 4 stars]