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Message in a Bottle

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Message in a Bottle

Starring: Kevin Kostner, Robin Wright
Director: Luis Mandoki
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 110 Minutes
Release Date: February 1999
Genres: Drama, Romance

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Kevin Costner is one of Hollywood's most bankable stars because he's so congenial. His flat voice and bland accent proved apropos in his first starring role as the upright Eliot Ness in "The Untouchables" and he was as fine a performer as he ever was in "Bull Durham" and "Field of Dreams." Lately, though, he has been defeated by strange scripts that ranged from the thoroughly embarrassing Mad Max spinoff "Waterworld" and the movie that people are still trying to figure out (camp? new spirit of patriotism?), "The Postman." Doubtless he was picked for the male lead in "Message in a Bottle" because he can capture the soul of the ordinary American, plying his craft with his hands in a picturesque little fishing village on the Carolina coast. But "Message in a Bottle," which features travelogue-perfect photography and highlights one of Hollywood's most enchanting actresses (Robin Wright Penn)--as well as the legendary Paul Newman in the role of a crusty ol' dad full of tough love for his disoriented son--is utterly banal, an old-fashioned weepie romance that may call up nary a solitary piece of Kleenex from the middle-aged audience it hopes to attract.

"Message in a Bottle" brings to mind the typical error that tourists make while on vacation, the miscalculation that makes the happy wayfarer say, "I could live here." In fact, spending just one extra week in a distant paradise would likely yield a condition of homesickness. The picture features two people who are at vulnerable stages in their lives, who could easily find a glowing, romantic attachment, and who might believe that they could make a go of their lives together. In fact, Garret (Kevin Costner) and Theresa (Robin Wright) are so different in temperament and background that had they decided to get together for a more permanent union they would run out of things to say in a month. Sure, the chemistry is there, though they do not exactly sizzle together. Still, the audience might feel it got its money's worth simply by gazing at the frequent closeups of the handsome couple who are lonely enough to be an easy target for Cupid's arrows. But Nicholas Sparks, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, and Gerald Di Pego, who adapted it for his screenplay, fall back on one of the seasoned incitements to love: a woman's penchant for a man's lines of poetry.

The poetry is found in a message in a bottle which Theresa discovers washed up on a beach. Opening the rolled-up stationery, she determines that it was written by a man who is stricken with heartache at the premature death of his wife, Catherine, and who feels so guilty at his helplessness that he introduces virtually every line with the words "I'm sorry." Since Theresa works as a researcher for the Chicago Tribune, she takes the note to her editor, Charlie (Robbie Coltrane), who decides to publish it under his byline and to research the age and source of the note via the stationery, the typewriter, and the sort of bottle used to convey it. When readers respond, Charlie sends Theresa to the Carolina shore to meet its author for a possible feature on this newly- found minstrel. Theresa discovers the man, Garret Blake, falls in love by their second day together, and becomes enamored with the essence of this fishing village that seems to have sprouted out of the 19th century. Like all romantic melodramas, the lovers must be kept apart until the end. The distance they put between them is not geographical but psychological: Garret cannot put his devotion to his deceased wife to rest.

Luis Mandoki does a creditable job of directing the photogenic couple against the backdrop of a fishing town unspoiled by tourism and captures the crustiness of Paul Newman as the unhappy Garret's father--a man who takes pride in cutting back to "no more than two beers a day" and who is eager to get his son to rejoin the human race. A contrived conflict sees Garret at war with his former brother- in-law and his wife's mother, both of whom blame the poor guy for "allowing" their Catherine to die and who insist that Garret return the paintings which were executed by the young woman. But the movie, which shows the seasoned beauty of Ms. Penn as well as any other she has done is mired in overdone exchanges of the lovers and between father and son; a sham contention among neighbors; and a vapid resolution devised to prevent these two essentially incompatible souls from establishing a more permanent footing.

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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