Tragedy-romance 'Random Hearts' done in by auto-pilot performances, distracting subplots, out-of-place emotions
He's a Washington, D.C. Internal Affairs sergeant. She's a wealthy member of congress. What will happen between them when a fatal airline tragedy reveals their spouses were lovers running off to Miami?
Sound like a bad TV movie? Tell me about it. But attach Harrison Ford to the picture as the IA cop and suddenly its a $60 million feature film full of awkward, near laughable scenes of these two survivors (Kristin Scott Thomas plays the politician) jumping each others' bones way, way too soon for comfort.
Meanwhile, the cop is determined to discover everything he can about his wife's infidelity -- how long it had been going on, where they met, how often they met. It's in his nature as a detective.
The congresswoman, on the other hand, wants to keep both her husband's affair and the one beginning with the cop very hush-hush because she's preparing a re-election campaign.
First let me tell you how this movie could have worked:
The cop and the congresswoman form an uneasy bond through their mutual tragedy. They drive each other to reluctantly probe the details of their spouses mutual infidelity and gradually begin to take comfort in each other. By the end of the movie, something has formed between them that they realize was missing from both their marriages, and they move from mourning to the inevitable romance.
Now, here's what screenwriter Kurt Luedtke and director Sydney Pollack do instead:
Ford begins a barn-burning investigation into the affair that killed his wife. For him its a form of catharsis, but Scott Thomas is handling her grief differently and adamantly declines to help until Ford's conspicuous poking around starts bordering on harassment and threatens to become a political liability (not to mention exposing the infidelity to her teenage daughter).
Not long after meeting in Miami, where he's riffling through a hotel frequented by the unfaithful couple, cop and congresswoman become entangled in an affair of their own, full of forced cascades of emotion and really bad dialogue. "Nobody knows who I am anymore," she cries. "I know who you are," he whispers, gently brushing a wisp of her hair from in font of her eyes. The music swells, they smooch. Oh, brother!
Such scenes are so completely out of character for this angry policeman and this practiced politico that they feel like the should be prefaced with the words "Meanwhile, in another movie..."
In the early going, Ford is at his best -- strong as a semi-tough, honest cop who pursues his duty with boiling intrepidity. An opening scene in which he busts a crooked cop has some real fire. But by the time he and Scott Thomas sneak off to his woodsy cabin together, he's on auto-pilot as the soft spoken sensitive guy in a flannel shirt.
At first, director Pollack is in top form, too, wisely letting the audience discover the plane crash the same way Ford does -- through a news broadcast -- instead of wasting screen time and money on staging a spectacular crash. He knows where the story is and he does a good job of setting certain moods in the course of the film (Miami has never felt more gauche or sordid). But his steady hand starts faltering about the same time Ford goes south. A writhing-bodies-in-the-firelight love scene at the cabin is too much, too soon and makes the audience squirm.
Scott Thomas ("The English Patient," "The Horse Whisperer") is a little weak as the congresswoman from the get-go, if only because her put-on American accent is shaky. But her dewy-eyed performance is on par with her career full of great emotional parts.
The missteps in the script and the direction of "Random Hearts" snowball in the last act. After a watershed scene in which Ford and Scott Thomas discover each other in the apartment their cheating spouses used to rendezvous, a hackneyed internal affairs subplot rears its clumsy head to force the inevitable public exposure of their relationship when -- I'm not making this up -- she saves him from being killed by the vengeful, crooked cop he busted in the first reel.
"Random Hearts" is disappointing mostly because it didn't have to get this absurd. At its center is a decent enough idea for an emotional romantic drama, but the screenplay gets carried away with its exposure of the soullessness of politics (well, duh!) and its oil-and-water addition of the IA subplot -- and Pollack does nothing to slow it down or make it palatable.
Like Ford, he seems to be on auto-pilot, giving his film a similar visual signature to "Sabrina" and "The Firm," using the same muted-trumpet jazz throughout the soundtrack whether it fits or not, and letting his actors sleepwalk through roles that could have been so much more interesting.