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This week:

Return to Me

Filthy says:
"But Five Fingers if you work in a Hallmark shop!"


Nothing I can say about "Return to Me" should mean more than that the best thing about it is James Belushi. That's great news for Belushi fans, but bad news for those of us who get to use real scissors and who don't have to wear helmets whenever we go outside. Beyond Belushi, everything in this painful piece of sticky-sweet shit is bad. Bad, boring, bad, so fucking boring that sometimes I could barely hear the dialog over the snores from nearby moviegoers.

"Return to Me" is set up to be a "chick-flick" but that's a fucking insult. The women I know hate this kind of horseshit. Maybe a woman who grew up in a closet with nothing but Holly Hobbie dolls and old "Love is..." comic strips will dig it, but anyone with a grasp on reality will want to pound the snot out of the characters five minutes in. Fifteen minutes in I wanted to leave, and now I realize I should have.

David Duchovny is a successful construction guy (designer, architect, engineer, construction foreman? The movie never bothers to make this clear), and his wife is a popular zoologist who taught a gorilla sign language. They are the sappy shallow-minded screenwriter's idea of perfection. In their ten minutes together we get more moments of cuteness than you'd expect ourside of one of Nora Ephron's self-congratulatory disasters.

Anyway, the comedy part of this "romantic-comedy" really takes off when the wife is killed in a car crash from which Duchovny comes away with nothing more than some very attractive blood smears on his cheek and shirt. That same night, the equally perfect Minnie Driver goes into the hospital for a heart transplant and receives Duchovny's wife's heart. Minnie lives with her Irish grandfather, a fat old stereotype who vomits sugary sweet wisdom every time his mouth opens. He owns an Irish/Italian restaurant with his equally stereotyped old Italian friend, Ray Loggia. The restaurant is full of other old farts who are walking Hallmark greeting cards, not real people. They argue over who was the best ballplayer or who was the best singer. They are written by people who have only seen old people on PAX TV reruns of "Touched by an Angel."

What the fuck more needs to be said? You can guess exactly where this contrived bit of story telling is headed. What you can't guess is how suspenseless it is. It's like watching two trains approaching each other on a single track for two hours. There is nothing that could possibly happen except for the trains to collide. There are obligatory "bad" blind date for Driver and Duchovny before they fall in love with each other. These dates are supposed to be funny, I'm guessing, but they aren't. They're like every other bad blind date in every other corny romance about two people doomed to meet.

Duchovny and Driver meet in a "cute" way, guided by the chorus of stereotyped sidekicks. They bond and she gets along with his dog and his wife's old gorilla pal. At first she's afraid to tell him about her new heart. I have no fucking idea why, but this movie expects us to think guys are scared off by a lady who has had surgery. I'm not, I'm attracted by them because major surgeries usually result in vulnerability, and that means an asshole like me has a chance.

After she learns it's his wife's old heart ticking around in her chest Driver's sure he will bolt, but she steels herself and tells him. In real life, a guy would say "Wow, that's weird," and then try to see the scar. In this movie, that little piece of information is a big fucking deal. Huge. Enormous. It is supposed to provide enough tension to drive two hours of movie.

Driver and Duchovny overreact to the "big" revelation and run away from each other. Then the question is, will they or won't they get back together. I won't tell you if they do or not because that will spoil the surprise ending. I know I sure didn't expect a hot four-way orgy. Oops.

Consider a few things about how this movie was made. The song "Return to Me" is played twice within the first fifteen minutes. We see gauzy flashbacks of Duchovny's wife only ten minutes after seeing the scene that is being flashbacked to. As Duchovny's obligatory black best friend, David Allan Grier is either expected to be a serious actor or a comic relief character with nothing funny to do.

I would rather have blood in my urine than spend time with any of "Return to Me's" characters. They're all straight out of the Lifetime Channel Original Movie bin, where reality is irrelevant. We just need to be beat over the head with how good they are. There is no shading, no gray area, just sweetness and light. Driver's character is spunky, we know this because she rides a bike and even races two kids, who don't seem to be trying very hard. Other than the spunk, there is not a single thing about her that's memorable. Duchovny is such a good guy he builds a new gorilla habitat for free because he promised it to his wife. Other than that, he's as memorable as Driver. The old people are spunky and act like stupid fucking children because that's how it all works in this Hallmark world. Every piece of shit that falls from their mouths is wise and "cute." Well, fuck the moviemakers. Why don't they just pull a cart of horseshit up to my mouth and shovel it in. It'd be less painful. The makers have never seen senile old ladies in stained pants fighting over polyester blouses at the thrift store. "Return to Me" insults old people because it doesn't believe for a moment that they are capable of doing anything but being adorable.

There is hardly a moment in this movie where a character does what a real person would do. It's like the movie set out to defy all sense of logic. The characters are drawn like magnets to the ending, no matter how illogical or stupid it is.

In "True Stories" by David Byrne, a great movie from the mid-80s, there is a character who says "I can't afford to let that kind of sadness into my life." Only by ignoring sadness can she be happy, and if sadness gets in she's afraid she will never restore her precious balance. That's what this movie is trying to do, hide life's sadness, hoping nobody notices that living is mostly a difficult process full of disappointment. And I'm not just saying that because I lost fifty cents in a vending machine this morning (although, that has fucked up my entire day).

Some fairy tales are good, but not when they defy all logic. And isn't a happy ending more powerful when it follows sadness, trial and hard work? Was director Bonnie Hunt afraid that any hint of sadness would drive moviegoers to suicide?

This is Hunt's first crack at directing, and I hope she is sent to basic cable, or she learns some new tricks. The movie looks dull, like it used the leftover sets from a bad 50s "West Side Story" ripoff. She doesn't have anything new to say or show us in Chicago. In fact, it might as well be Buttfuck, Arizona for what the setting is worth. And the actors seem almost uniformly embarrassed by the material. They hold back, not wanting to look like they actually believe the tired, corny shit they say. Duchovny mumbles and pouts his way through the whole mess. This guy has the charisma of drywall. Driver gives off the aura of an after-school special actor, all pale and sickly before surgery, and all pale and sickly after. We only know she has spunk because it's spelled out to us, certainly not because her performance suggests it.

Carroll O'Connor has nothing to do but spout those awful aphorisms that even he seems embarrassed by. I would have given another finger if he would have slapped Driver and called her a "meathead." Bonnie Hunt, as the best fried of Driver, a role required in all cheesy romance flicks, doesn't have much to do but spout more wisdom and hope the best for her sweet, dear friend. James Belushi, as Hunt's husband, isn't given much to do, but at least he hams it up. He's not funny, because the material isn't, but at least he woke up the snoring guy in the theater.

This movie is also a visual mess. Hunt has two camera shots in her bag of tricks. One is the static shot of people talking, the other is a sweeping crane shot that descends upon the actors like a vulture. She alternates them, and that's all she does.

Finally, the plot is a serious stinker. There are no bad guys, just a lot of very sweet people you know will end up in the right place. The story is dragged along like a dead carcass behind a truck, growing more painfully dreadful the farther it goes. And the basic secret, that Driver had a heart transplant is revealed too late in the story. I sat and waited for her to tell Duchovny, but the longer she waited, the heavier the secret got and the more I dreaded when it would finally be dropped on him, triggering another round of lame plot contrivances meant to keep the couple apart.

"Return to Me" is awful, but even worse it's being very boring. It's not funny, it's not sad, it's not romantic. It's cornier than the shit in a Porta-toilet at a Fourth of July picnic. Two fingers, only because of Belushi.

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